One of GrrlGotGame's favorite shooter series is Saints Row, so we made a beeline to the Deep Silver booth to check out the new standalone Gat Out of Hell story expansion. We were both drawn to the visuals of Johnny Gat flying about with demon's wings.

We also heard about Saints Row IV: Re-Elected, a next gen update to the popular fourth installment of the series. In less than 4 minutes, you can get the scoop on what makes these games so damned hot.

As always, you can download Busy Gamer Nation on iTunes, Zune, or our own RSS feed.

This is another in our continuing series of PAX Prime 2014 reports. We're finishing up the editing on our interviews for The Order: 1886 and more - read our full show impressions now, and check back for more podcasts.

That Dragon, Cancer

One of the most emotional podcasts we've ever produced: Our interview with daddy/developer Ryan Green about his forthcoming game That Dragon, Cancer examines why we need shared experiences to release our emotions when dealing with loss.

The game just reached its Kickstarter goal, but there's still time (four days at this writing) to back the game, get a copy at launch, and maybe even provide your own message or artwork to be included in this cathartic creation.

No matter what your choice, we hope you'll spend a few minutes getting to know Ryan and his late son Joel's story. It's an easier journey to make than you might think, and might just change your life.

As always, you can download Busy Gamer Nation on iTunes, Zune, or our own RSS feed.

This is another in our continuing series of PAX Prime 2014 reports. We've also recorded interviews for Boo Bunny Plague, Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell, The Order: 1886, and Rebuild: Gangs of Deadsville - read our full show impressions now, and check back for more podcasts.

GrrlGotGame was most excited to see a large Dead Island presence at PAX Prime this year. Swatting down zombies with sharp blades is her life's chosen work, and few games do it as well as Deep Silver's continuing franchise.

Escape Dead Island - out now for PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 - left her cold. The combat we previewed wasn't polished, and she spent most of her time dodging attacks rather than diving in with weapons blazing. Gamewatcher was curious about the story, stealth, and sleuthing but not enough to plunk down $40 for a last-gen release.

On the other hand, Dead Island 2 scratched our collective zombie apocalypse itch nicely. Set in sunny California, the emphasis on co-op at first put us off but the reveal that it's optional and single-player remains a personal choice lessened our concerns. We both enjoyed our time in the game, which is rare when it comes to zombified fare. Preview it now, and look for it in 2015 on PC and next-gen consoles.

As always, you can download Busy Gamer Nation on iTunes, Zune, or our own RSS feed.

This is another in our continuing series of PAX Prime 2014 reports. We've recorded interviews for That Dragon Cancer, Boo Bunny Plague, Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell, The Order: 1886, and more (read our full show impressions and check back for more podcasts).

Never Alone was quite the eye-catching platformer at PAX Prime 2014. A young Native American girl and an artic fox battle the elements and environment (playable alone or co-op) to explore themes important to the Native American culture that spawned this story now told in an interactive format.

Dig beneath the surface, and Never Alone is more than a pretty videogame, due out Nov. 18 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC via Steam (with a Mac version also on the way).

The tale of how the game came to be is quite interesting all on its own. In less than 7 minutes, you can learn all about how the Alaska native Iñupiaq art and stories of Kunuuksaayuka developed in partnership between the Cook Inlet Tribal Council and developer E-Line Media delivered this amazing work.

This is another in our continuing series of PAX Prime 2014 reports. We've recorded interviews for Escape Dead Island, Boo Bunny Plague, Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell, The Order: 1886, and more (read our full show impressions and check back for more podcasts).

As always, you can download Busy Gamer Nation on iTunes, Zune, or our own RSS feed.

As you'll know if you read our State of Busy Gaming 2014 piece, we're finally getting into Steam games. (Yeah, late to the party - but not so late that we don't have 400+ titles and some cool recommendations.) One of the side effects of this particular obsession is the extra codes you accumulate when buying irresistible bundles.

So here is your chance to score some great games, some of which we've talked about on the podcast!

Gone HomeShadow ManSystem Shock 2

  • Shadow Man (PC/Mac). Two codes = two winners! This third-person action game was one of our favorite dark titles on the usually chipper and bright N64. Seriously, there's some sick stuff in it - but it's pretty great if you're up to playing through. It was also one of our top nominees for a reboot in an early Busy Gamer Nation podcast.
  • System Shock 2 (PC/Mac/Linux). This is the progenitor to BioShock, and quite awesome. If you haven't played it, here's your chance!
  • The 7th Guest (PC/Mac/Linux) and The 11th Hour (PC/Mac). These games come as a set - so win one, you win them both. While a bit dated by today's gaming standards, the puzzles are fun and the acting is hilariously bad. Listen to our review of the iOS version of The 7th Guest for a taste. The music alone is worth the trip (and it's in our Steam music library so we're guessing it's included).
  • Gone Home (PC/Mac/Linux; Humble Indie Bundle gift code includes soundtrack). Billed by some as a "walking simulator," we'll take this kind of action (or lack thereof) any day of the week. It's compelling storytelling with mood you could cut with a knife.
  • I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream (PC/Mac/Linux). This is in our backlog but it's a classic horror title. You know you're curious!
  • Gunpoint (PC/Mac/Linux). Not scary per se, but a neat action puzzle game.
  • Papers, Please (PC/Mac/Linux). Not so much scary as horrifying. This instant indie classic has you step into the shoes of a customs agent and what you see (and must process) may give you sympathy for people who really do this sort of thing for a living.
  • Monaco: What's Yours Is Mine (PC/Mac/Linux). A heist game best played with friends.

Here's how to enter (and get some bonus entries!):

  • Post a comment here. SAY WHICH GAME(S) YOU ARE PLAYING FOR, IN PRIORITY ORDER. That's all you really need to do. Make sure you use a real email address. (Don't worry, we won't send mails to you unless you win, and it won't show on the site.) You may also want to white list this domain; we've had MANY would-be winners lose out because they never responded to their prize notification! If you use TypeKey/TypePad, be sure your e-mail address will be shared. No e-mail address, no prize.
  • For an extra entry, post a real comment elsewhere on the site. Our ongoing PAX Prime 2014 coverage is a good place, but any post will do. Look around, enjoy the sights and sounds.
  • Tweet this for another bonus chance to win: Win spooky Steam games from Busy Gamer Nation, the original Free Stuff Friday: - Winners selected Sunday! #BGNFSF

We will draw the winners Sunday after 5 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. So be sure to enter at least once by then!

Please don't double post. Your comment might need approval (probably not) and it's very likely NOT to appear until you refresh the page properly (our site has a weird caching thing going on).

We do sometimes give away real prizes (the kind you get in the mail) and unannounced Instant Win prizes. For instance, we have some PAX Prime swag we're compiling into prize packs, and these are always very coveted yet you'll likely have decent odds since we're a reasonably tight-knit community. Also, your activity here might just inspire us to make that giveaway happen. Your sincerity and passion may ignite ours. So give it a little spark!

Here are a few tips since Instant Wins can happen at any time (plus you'll want to know the next time we invoke Free Stuff Friday). 1) Follow Gamewatcher on Twitter. Before we post an Instant Win, we'll give you a fair warning tweet (or the giveaway may be entirely on Twitter). 2) Subscribe to our RSS feed and set it to check for updates frequently.

Pig Eat Ball is one of those games you'd probably pass by on the way to seemingly more interesting fare at PAX Prime 2014.

Fortunately for you, we dug below the surface and found that there's more than meets the eye with this interesting party game based on the improbable premise: What would happen if Ms. Pac-man gained weight with each pellet that she ate?

The answer is a surprisingly fun party game that's vying for your love on Steam Greenlight right now. Or, you could just buy it direct and get immediate access to the most recent alpha build of the game - level editor included.

Your call. Also, there's the matter of the vibrating and flashing seatpads we, um, enjoyed at PAX. Listen to the podcast to learn how you might enjoy them too.

This is another in our continuing series of PAX Prime 2014 reports. We've recorded interviews for Never Alone, Escape Dead Island, Boo Bunny Plague, Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell, The Order: 1886, and more (read our full show impressions and check back for more podcasts).

As always, you can download Busy Gamer Nation on iTunes, Zune, or our own RSS feed.

Borderlands: The Pre-sequel is 2K Australia's take on the Borderlands franchise, set between the first and second game. At first glance, it's more of the same stuff that made Borderlands so fun - loot, guns, betrayal - but there's a twist.

Now you can play as Claptrap! And this changes everything.

GrrlGotGame is the Borderlands hound in our home, and she adored the brief game demo she played at PAX Prime. Hear all about the game in our brief but illuminating interview and then enjoy one of our most hilarious musical outros! (Yes, it's from a game trailer - but we've re-cut it for maximum effect.)

This is another in our continuing series of PAX Prime 2014 reports. We've recorded interviews for Boo Bunny Plague, Dead Island 2, Never Alone, Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell, The Order: 1886, and more (read our full show impressions and check back for more podcasts).

As always, you can download Busy Gamer Nation on iTunes, Zune, or our own RSS feed.

Evolve was a game we almost dreaded playing. We signed up for a game demo more out of obligation - it was a requirement to get an interview - than out of a genuine desire to try it. It looked like so many multiplayer only games we play for a day or so and then avoid.

Boy were we wrong. The game is a deeper rabbit hole than we imagined thanks to the specific hunter roles you need to choose between and the monster specializations that keep you guessing. And, if you don't want to go online, you don't have to. AI players will fill in all of the other roles if you choose. Be a monster and kill everyone, or be a tracker and hunt down the surprisingly hard-to-find creature before it levels up too much.

Best of all, there's a Big Alpha sign-up going on now for a chance to play the game online for a short window starting Oct. 30 for Xbox One and Oct. 31 for PS4 and PC.

This is another in our continuing series of PAX Prime 2014 reports. We've recorded interviews for Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Boo Bunny Plague, Dead Island 2, Never Alone, Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell, and more (read our full show impressions and check back for more podcasts).

As always, you can download Busy Gamer Nation on iTunes, Zune, or our own RSS feed.

Slender: The Arrival is one of those games we checked out at PAX Prime 2014 largely because our 11-year-old son has been begging to play it since he heard his friends discuss it on the playground in elementary school last year.

He won't. Not any time soon. As fans of survival horror and exploration games, we might though. Slender is not gory or super violent, but its chilling antagonist Slenderman may give even the grown-ups nightmares.

Find out how the console versions, released this week, compare to the original PC release. And if you bought the PC version as a standalone or on Steam, you may want to check back where you bought it for some free bonus levels.

This is another in our continuing series of PAX Prime 2014 reports. We've recorded interviews for Evolve, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Boo Bunny Plague, Dead Island 2, Never Alone, Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell, and many more (read our full show impressions and check back for more podcasts).

As always, you can download Busy Gamer Nation on iTunes, Zune, or our own RSS feed.

When GrrlGotGame told me she found this awesome co-op game involving a Chariot, I was skeptical. The last game we really enjoyed playing side-by-side on the sofa was Borderlands, Dragging a wheeled cart around the screen sounded sketchy but proved... really great fun.

Canadian developer Frima, perhaps best known for Nickelodeon tie-in games for kids, seems to have cracked co-op platforming with this little gem. While you can play it through solo, we can tell from our hands-on time that it'll prove much more fun with a friend or loved one to yell at while trying to maneuver the chariot to its final destination.

This is another in our continuing series of PAX Prime 2014 reports. We've recorded interviews for Evolve, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Boo Bunny Plague, Dead Island 2, Never Alone, Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell, and Slender: The Arrival - among others (read our full show impressions and check back for more podcasts).

As always, you can download Busy Gamer Nation on iTunes, Zune, or our own RSS feed.

Free Stuff Friday - Cannon Brawl


Cannon BrawlUPDATE (9/19/14): The Cannon Brawl folks sent us some more codes! ReinaPerla (who didn't win before) has received one too. The first four additional commenters to post below and comment on another post will get one.

Twitter posts are optional but feel free to spread the word! No drawing this time, just first come first served.

Cannon Brawl is an indie game we actually missed at PAX Prime 2014, and it's a shame. Because it seems like a pretty advanced real-time strategy game in the vein of Worms and the 1983 classic Artillery Duel.

This $15 game officially releases next Friday (learn more on Steam), but you can win one of two Steam codes to play it early (and for free) on Mac or Windows just by commenting here! You could even play against us in the game's multiplayer mode, if you're up to it - and, yes, you probably are. Go ahead, kick our asses.

Here's how to enter (and get some bonus entries!):

  • Post a comment here. That's all you really need to do. Make sure you use a real email address. (Don't worry, we won't send mails to you unless you win, and it won't show on the site.) You may also want to white list this domain; we've had MANY would-be winners lose out because they never responded to their prize notification! If you use TypeKey/TypePad, be sure your e-mail address will be shared. No e-mail address, no prize.
  • For an extra entry, post a real comment elsewhere on the site. Our ongoing PAX Prime 2014 coverage is a good place, but any post will do. (New podcasts are on the way, so you may want to check back! We're editing a bunch of them now!)
  • Tweet this for another bonus chance to win: Win Cannon Brawl from Busy Gamer Nation, the original Free Stuff Friday: Winners selected Sunday! #BGNFSF

We will draw the winners Sunday after 5 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time. So be sure to enter at least once by then!

Please don't double post. Your comment might need approval (probably not) and it's very likely NOT to appear until you refresh the page properly (our site has a weird caching thing going on).

We do sometimes give away real prizes (the kind you get in the mail) and unannounced Instant Win prizes. For instance, we have some PAX Prime swag we're compiling into prize packs, and these are always very coveted yet you'll likely have decent odds since we're a reasonably tight-knit community.

Here are a few tips since Instant Wins can happen at any time (plus you'll want to know the next time we invoke Free Stuff Friday). 1) Follow Gamewatcher on Twitter. Before we post an Instant Win, we'll give you a fair warning tweet. 2) Subscribe to our RSS feed and set it to check for updates frequently.

Evolve-GolaithIt seemed like PAX Prime 2013 had Kickstarter Fever, while this year it appears that fever has broken. We did see some of the same games - including Neverending Nightmares and Chromancer - approaching completion. We didn't interview anyone actively fundraising this year, so we can't recommend anything new to back: So if you're into that, you're on your own.

But we did check out some awesome big to indie-sized projects coming to your consoles, PCs, and/or mobile devices this year or next. (And a few that are out now!)

This year wasn't a great one for indie press like us. We had a harder time than usual penetrating the PR veil that covers most triple-A titles. You ask to talk to someone in a booth about their game, and they refer you to their PR or community manager. That person may or may not be possible to find over the course of 4 days, particularly when you're exhausted and being pulled 10 different ways. We tried 4 times to speak to someone about Dragon Age: Inquisition, but never could find the elusive approved talker. In addition, it seems that the no cameras policy for canned demos was widely expanded to audio this year (normally audio gets a pass, which is how we brought you Portal 2 (MP3) and Infamous: Second Son (MP3) previews in years past), so we skipped Assassin's Creed Unity (among others) in favor of more accessible titles.

Welcome to PAX 14It's also worth noting that the sheer mass of people at PAX makes visiting all of the games at PAX impossible. In early days, we could do circuits around the show, visiting the booths we liked several times. Now you really have to pick your targets. Last year, while we had a blast, we got locked into appointments for games that sometimes proved disappointing or at least not worth the time investment (some publishers require you to lock in an hour per title for both play time and interviews). We prefer to sometimes just watch the games we don't have time to play and record short, quick interviews. So this tends to be overkill - so we kept our schedule as open as we could. On top of that, some publishers (like Bethesda) had no real PR presence, meaning we couldn't talk to anyone about The Evil Within - which is a shame, since the demo was a disappointment but we have a sense that there may be a really good game in there.

That said, the interviews we wrangled were good and reasonably short, so we should have all of the podcasts out to you much faster this year!

Here are the PAX Prime 2014 games we found noteworthy:


Costume Quest 2

Costume Quest 2. This gentle turn-based adventure game is one of our top picks for Best of Show - and a long-overdue sequel to a fantastic game. Everyone's favorite trick-or-treaters must travel back in time to stop an evil dentist overlord (is there any other kind?) from taking away all of the world's candy and cancelling Halloween.

Your adventure will take you to the Louisiana Bayou and New Orleans French Quarter (among other places), collecting new quests and costumes along the way. Choose your active costumes carefully since your combat style is based on your costume. Our new favorite costume: a Thomas Jefferson-esque figure, who has the best powered-up attack of all time. (We won't spoil it - just use it as soon as you can.)

The game has solved two issues with previous Costume Quests. First, speed. The original Costume Quest offered up one costume on wheels, allowing the kids to fly around town. I ended up keeping that costume in constant use purely to get through game in a reasonable period of time. This time, EVERYONE gets skates, so speed is no longer a consideration when choosing costumes.

To help keep things challenging for more advanced players, the game also introduced a Candy Corn costume that makes the character takes damage but doesn't attack. Use this costume for one of your crew to increase the combat difficulty and see the incredibly funny Zen zingers that explain what's going through the Candy Corn's mind.

The Candy Corn abides in October 2014, just in time for Halloween.



Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! Our former Game of the Year IP returns with even more Wub-Wub - and a playable Claptrap character that is likely to cause some serious divisions among co-op players. Claptrap is the adorable/annoying single-wheeled robot that has guided vault hunters through past adventures. He comes equipped with his own action skill, an unstable program called "VaultHunter.EXE." You might rain down a pirate ship's worth of cannonballs at your enemies, or... send everyone in your party into an uncontrollable fit of bouncing on the moon. Who knows? Like I said, this may break up some friendships. Or marriages. (Sorry, honey - but you know I loves me some Claptrap. Wub. Wub.)

As for the rest of the game, it's Borderlands. The story explains the rise of Handsome Jack, the star of Borderlands 2. But really, it's all about the shooting and looting. Go it alone or bring a friend; just remember to save your buddies (real or NPC) when they inevitably start to die.

The cel-shaded insanity continues on October 14, 2014.



Chariot. Our favorite games this year were off-the-beaten track and - for the most part - surprisingly non-violent. (I know, right?) The Chariot team describes their game as a "humoristic physics-based couch co-op platformer," but really, all you need to know is that it's delightful and fun for two players. The game follows a princess and her fiancé as they drag her father's funeral chariot through ancient caves filled with looters and bats.

At first glance, it looks like your basic puzzle/platformer hybrid. Each player has the ability to tether him/herself to the chariot to push, pull, and lift the wagon wherever it needs to go. Every level requires significant cooperation; all it takes is one missed button press to send everyone tumbling back down the hill.

And the King really hates it when you drop him.

That's right, Dad is dead, but his spirit didn't get the memo... and he really, really hates his daughter's taste in men. This becomes clear very quickly, as the ghost of his royal highness takes humorous potshots at his daughter's intended. Perhaps a successful run to the graveyard will change Dad's mind. We'll find out when it rolls onto your favorite platform later this year.


Dead Island 2

Dead Island 2. GrrlGotGame is a huge Dead Island fan, and this was by far her most anticipated game of the show. Gamewatcher, not so much - though he ultimately enjoyed the demo more after taking a fruitful detour and killing the most zombies in a 10-minute period!

Dead Island 2 continues the tradition of outstanding trailers that have almost zero to do with the game (at least what we played). At E3, it was revealed that the zombies were coming to Venice Beach. The game itself is set in the Los Angeles area (and apparently other parts of the state - one of the logos has an outline of the Golden Gate Bridge), but the areas we saw were definitely more city than beach.

The gameplay hasn't changed significantly: There are zombies and tasks, but now you can choose if you want to actually do any of the offered missions. More disturbing (to us), it appears there is strong co-op focus at play here. We found it extremely jarring and annoying to have random people just appear in our past Dead Island games, and we always turn that functionality off. The developers said that we'd still be able to turn off unannounced visitors or restrict it to friends only, but it's not clear how important this is to enjoyment of the game.

It's worth noting that the game engine appears significantly improved, and the weapon upgrade system has been streamlined. You still need blueprints and items, but now, you don't have to find a workbench to combine weapons. Time won't stop while you're upgrading your weapons, so the devs recommend having a friend watch your back while you do it. (There's that forced co-op again!) That said, it's not impossible to find a nice, quiet place to do it. Say, the top of a school bus. Join in the fun (or please don't, if it's our game!) when Dead Island 2 washes ashore in 2015.


Escape Dead Island

Escape Dead Island. Deep Silver jumps on the cel-shaded bandwagon with this somewhat bizarre entry in the Dead Island universe. The demo didn't really say much, but it appears that you play someone left behind on an island during the zombie apocalypse. GrrlGotGame took an excruciatingly linear path through the beach/trees to yell at someone who may or may not really exist, while listening to the spirit(?!) of someone yelling in her character's head.

Oh, and she totes killed a couple zombies, too.

This one didn't do much for GrrlGotGame (it's looking more like a Telltale game, where story trumps action, and thus may be more in Gamewatcher's wheelhouse). We'll see what the voices in our head say when Escape Dead Island releases November 18. Preorders get access to the Dead Island 2 beta - which is odd since the only overlapping platform is PC.



Evolve. Also known as the "You can be the monster" game from E3. GrrlGotGame played first as a Goliath and latera medic on the human team, and she didn't really get into either class. Gamewatcher, on the other hand, played a medic and was very successful at it (much less so as a Tracker - he let down his team by not finding the monster quickly, before it had leveled up a couple of times.) That said, flying around and unleashing Hell from above has its moments.

GrrlGotGame prepares to play as the monsterThis was where our lack of co-op experience and practice with the game really hurt. With single-player campaigns, you have a chance to get your skills up before going into an online melee. In this case, we were playing against people who knew what they were doing... and they took us down hard. GrrlGotGame did last longer as a monster than a medic, however. A bit more prep and clarity on how to use the controls before diving in would have been very helpful.

Prepare to release the Kraken (and the Goliath, and 1-2 more TBA monsters) when Evolve comes out in February 2015.

GrrlGotGame prepares to play as the monster


The Order: 1886

The Order: 1886. This highly anticipated PS4 exclusive attracted a lot of attention at E3 earlier this year, and with good reason. The Order takes players back to Victorian-Era London and hands them super-powered weapons (fictionally) created by Nikola Tesla. You play Galahad, a member of an elite order of knights charged with fighting a centuries-old war against a powerful threat.

The game has some lovely anachronisms, from the Tesla-powered energy guns to a female cohort. One of the cooler weapons disperses powdered thermite into the air around your enemies, which then ignites into a fireball when you shoot a flare at it. Realistic for the time? Not likely. But it sure is fun!

The environment remains much more firmly rooted in reality. The designers clearly did their research, exploring the Whitechapel area of London today as well as delving into the history books for reference. But let's not kid ourselves, folks. The heart of the game remains a third-person action/adventure/shooter. It just happens to be one with some extremely cool style.

The demo level we played was slightly confusing due to a lack of instruction. We presume the developers picked a later level to ensure players saw some real action. We could have used a few hints about combining attacks to get the desired effects. That said, we both had some fun stumbling around semi-blind.

Assuming the demo represents the final product (and they add some in-game training), expect to have a jolly good time when this releases on February 20, 2015.

  • Releasing on: PlayStation 4
  • Busy Gamer Nation podcast interview on the way!


Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell

Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell. Saints Row fans know that Johnny Gat was a very, very naughty boy. It appears his actions caught up with him after his storyline ended, because Johnny now resides <echo voice>IN HELL</echo voice>. In other words, Deep Silver thought of an excuse to take their way-over-the-top franchise straight to Hell.

Everything you expect from a Saints Row game is here, and more. There are new weapons based on the Seven Deadly Sins (no, you really can't begin to imagine) and guest appearances galore from some of history's most reviled humans. Plus Johnny has earned his devilish wings, allowing players to make some gorgeous sweeps through Hell. The new location, imaginative weaponry and addition of winged flight make this a welcome addition to the Saints Row franchise.

Prepare to heat things up on your favorite platform when Gat Out of Hell releases as a standalone digital game on January 27, 2015 and as part of the retail bundle Saints Row IV: Reelected for Xbox One and PlayStation 4.


Tales from the Borderlands

Tales from the Borderlands. The Borderlands franchise gets the Telltale Games treatment, which means lots of conversation and cut scenes with a little combat mixed in. This one breaks with the traditional Telltale approach of generally following one person, and neatly tweaks the story based on player actions.

The tales take place on Pandora after the events of Borderlands 2. While it helps to be familiar with the story and characters, it's not required to play. (You will be spoiled on some Borderlands 2 details, to be sure.) The story unfolds through multiple playable characters, including scheming Hyperion employee Rhys and con artist Fiona.

The demo was a bit too heavy on the cut-scenes for GrrlGotGame's taste (she's a run and gun gal), while Gamewatcher was quite at home. She almost missed a few dialog trees because frankly, she was a little zoned out (it was our first stop of the first day of PAX). Not bored, just waiting for something to happen. (She's still waiting for Telltale to adapt "My Dinner with Andre" into a game.) Once the combat started, it was the standard "Push LEFT!" "Now quickly Push UP!" combat you see in any Telltale game. Not terrible, just not her style.

The demo ended right about the time it started getting interesting, which is a good way to build a demo. We're both intrigued by the multiple character approach, and very curious to see what they do with Fiona.

Plus we all love The Wolf Among Us, so even GrrlGotGame is willing to give this game a chance when it comes out in late 2014.

  • Releasing on: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC - plus likely (though unannounced) for iOS.
  • Sorry, no interviews were available.


Boo Bunny Plague

Boo Bunny Plague. A fantastic original soundtrack and an Adult Swim sensibility drives this "animated musical adventure through dimensions of time and space-time space." You play a robot Bunny who becomes annoyed with his father/creator and does what any bratty kid does: He takes off, leaving a path of destruction in his path. Expect a ton of 1980s touchstone references (RoboCop, Say Anything) and some extremely adult language.

The gameplay is essentially third-person destruction. Your weapon of choice is a thrashing guitar with which to pummel your foes, apropos of the original metal track that accompanies your mission. The soundtrack reportedly bounces around time and styles, which should keep things interesting. Bonus points for the coolest booth freebie of the show, an original Boo Bunny comic by Hack/Slash creator Tim Seeley.

Rock out with your bunny tail out now on Steam (released on September 4, 2014, just after the show).

  • Released on: PC, Mac, and Linux
  • Busy Gamer Nation podcast interview on the way!


Sunset Overdrive

Sunset Overdrive. We don't get into multiplayer much, but really wanted to try out this game's grind system - it reminds us a bit of one of our all-time favorite games, Jet Set Radio Future, but with guns. The only option was an hourlong line to play a 10-minute melee battle for a fabulous prize (well, a pin) if you were the top player in a group of 7.

The game rewards you for grinding and doing tricks, so runners and gunners may stay alive but they won't get the top scores. Gamewatcher mostly alternated between grinding and shooting (occasionally pulling off both at the same time) and managed to snag the winning position (and the prize) after three quick waves of enemies.

While we're more likely to enjoy the story mode, we might be tempted to jump online occasionally to shoot some mutant enemies with friends when this releases in October.

  • Releasing on: Xbox One
  • Sorry, no interviews were available.


The Evil Within

The Evil Within. So Resident Evil mastermind Shinji Mikami has developed a very bizarre Silent Hill-ish survival horror game that should have our names written all over it. This was one of the few games that we voluntarily waited almost two hours to see, and we were deeply disappointed. A brief video that displayed Xbox controls was provided to teach us how to play the demo... on a PlayStation 4. Then, we were dumped into Level 9 with no direction or even idea what to do. 30 mostly painful minutes later, we left wondering where this could have gone so very, very wrong.

To be fair, we both felt the same way about publisher Bethesda Software's Dishonored demo at a previous PAX - and that ended up being one of our favorite games that year. So we may still give The Evil Within a chance.

But it will have to work hard to get into our heads when it releases in mid-October.

  • Releasing on: Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and PC
  • Sorry, no interviews were available.


Panda PandamoniumCascade

Panda Pandamonium and Cascade. Big Fish Games has developed a Mahjong game as dated as the awful '70s and '80s music blasting from their booth. Panda Pandamonium for iOS is basically a Mahjong game with a goal: Match the two Panda tiles, thus freeing them from... being tiles on the Mahjong board. Don't get us wrong; we love matching games (including Mahjong), and we totes love Pandas, too. May they live long and happy bamboo-filled lives. But these South Park rejects didn't add anything to the game whatsoever. Maybe if the designers had spent more time designing the rest of the tiles into something comprehensible, we would care. Instead, we had a hard time figuring out what matched what on the board. The Boston/Cyndi Lauper train wreck of a soundtrack didn't help any.

Also showing on the floor: Cascade, a match-3 game that was a whole lot better when it was called Bejeweled.

  • Available now: iOS only
  • We skipped the interviews on these.


Pig Eat Ball

Pig Eat Ball. At every PAX, there is a game so bizarre, so out there, that we honestly don't know what to say about it.

This is that game.

Pig Eat Ball is a local co-op party game that challenges players with a series of fast-paced levels, each with its own unique goal. It starts pretty simple: Chase after tennis balls on the screen and eat them. Your avatar gets a little chunkier with each bite, making it difficult (and sometimes impossible) to navigate through the maze. Just to keep things interesting, your opponents can ram you from behind, causing your character to vomit up skanky green balls. And yes, you gobble them back up to keep your score up. (Barfing is also a valid strategy to make it through tight corridors. Yes, it tacitly encourages bulimia.) Later levels include challenges like "make a sandwich" (seriously!) and eat the stars, which is complicated by some prickly stars that pop your fat piggy.

Days later, we're still not sure exactly what to think of the game. Eating vomit balls isn't our cup of tea, but our 11-year-old sure loved it. The game was also a huge hit with three young adults who played before us. Maybe we're just old. There's also the complication that it's a PC only game, and gathering around a work laptop isn't exactly a party-friendly space. Perhaps if it gets ported to consoles, we'd be more inclined to commend it.

There is the (optional) accessory that gave the game an added dimension: DIY vibrating chair pads that rocked our world whenever someone attacked us, which was actually pretty often. Every bump to our character's behind gave a nice, therapeutic butt massage while lighting the chair up like a Christmas tree. We don't know if we would buy this game, but I would definitely buy that peripheral (the devs promise to share the instructions on how to build your own, if you're handy with Make-style projects).

Check it out and consider giving it a Steam Greenlight vote today. Launch window is early 2015.


That Dragon, Cancer

That Dragon, Cancer. We skipped this booth last year but decided to dive in for a closer look this year after spying the eye-popping visuals.

This is an unusual game with a heart-wrenching twist: The young boy, Joel, who inspired it died earlier this year. The game, however, lives on and provides unexpected solace and release for those in similar situations. It's less a game and more a series of emotionally charged play spaces that encourage you to explore and experience what it's like to be a parent of a child undergoing cancer care. Gamewatcher spoke to Ryan Green, Joel's father and the game's lead developer, and then played a lake scene which included a duck's eye view of being fed by the boy. Another station nearby put you into the role of the father trying to comfort his inconsolable son in a hospital room.

Having recently lost a family friend to a related dragon, the feels came crashing down. And that can be a good thing. The game's creator hopes that others will find catharsis and peace by sharing in his son's brief but meaningful life when the game is completed.


Never Alone

Never Alone. There's almost always a title - usually a puzzle game - that pushes the visual boundaries of what we expect from our hobby. Never Alone was instantly striking; we were drawn to it from across a crowded room and spent a lot of time just watching someone else play. You explore an icy Alaskan landscape as a young Iñupiat girl and her artic fox companion, solving puzzles while exploring tales inspired by native folklore. Naturally, the fox can access areas that the girl cannot - and vice versa - and success will unlock stories told by the tribe that inspired the game.

We'll be living the legends together when Never Alone launches on Nov. 4 (delayed to Nov. 18).


Slender: The Arrival

Slender: The Arrival. Already available for PC, Slender - a licensed game featuring the Internet mythical and supernatural villain Slender Man - is making its way to Xbox 360 and PS3 later this month. If Gone Home caught your fancy and you want some more spooky wandering in your life, this might scratch that itch.

We played a small section of the game that took us, with little explanation or exposition, into a dark spooky mine where we had to flip on some generators to open up a new area. Like we really wanted to go deeper into the mine with Slender Man wandering around?! But we did it anyway and were rewarded with a few skin crawl-inducing flash cuts that definitely made us jump. They served it up in a dark booth, so we skedaddled at that point... so that other people in the lengthy booth line could have their turn! Yeah, that's why.

This strikes us as a great couch game, so yeah, count us in when it releases in late September.


Rebuild: Gangs of Deadsville

Rebuild: Gangs of Deadsville. This one is for our 11-year-old son, who recognized it was a sequel to a resource-management zombie game he'd found and played on his Web browser last year. He proclaimed it to be great and we plunked out for a pair of Steam codes right there at the show. It's a bit like State of Decay but with a similar look and feel to Farmville and turn-based fighting.

The game is out on Steam Early Access now and the deluxe edition contains desktop versions of the two earlier games - or you can play them online here: Rebuild and Rebuild 2. iOS and Android versions are in the works but will likely lag behind the PC version.

  • Releasing on: PC, iOS, and Android
  • Busy Gamer Nation podcast interview on the way!

Maestros panel at PAX Prime 14After several interviews with videogame musicians (and a passion for game audio, which we incorporate into our podcasts as often as possible), we attended and recorded the PAX Prime 2014: Maestros of Videogames Panel for our son (a budding composer) and any other fans of game music and audio who might want to learn from some of the pros.

Here's a quick rundown of the panel members:

  • Emily Reese (moderator) - host of Top Score on Minnesota Public Radio
  • Sascha Dikiciyan - Borderlands, Mass Effect 3, and Dead Rising 3
  • Darren Korb - Bastion (interview and game review) and Transistor (interview)
  • Jesper Kyd - Assassin's Creed, Borderlands, and Hitman
  • Oleksa Lozowchuk- Dead Rising 2 and Dead Rising 3
  • Martin O'Donnell - Halo series through Reach (music review) and Destiny
  • Boris Salchow - Sunset Overdrive, Ratchet & Clank, and Resistance: Fall of Man

Download the PAX Prime 2014: Maestros of Videogames Panel (MP3; 50MB). For a limited time, you can download this "Extra" from our Busy Gamer Nation podcast feed on iTunes, Zune, or via RSS.

Costume Quest was a thoroughly charming game of the last console generation, and its sequel - the predictably named Costume Quest 2 - is well on track to become one of favorite titles of 2014.

Learn what changes have been made to the winning formula of turn-based combat, empowering costumes each with its own special attacks and powers, and deep exploration. For instance, you can now play as a Candy Corn and the game is actually better for it!

This is the first salvo of our PAX Prime 2014 coverage. We've already collected interviews for Evolve, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Boo Bunny Plague, Never Alone, and Slender: The Arrival with more on the way. We'll also post our game impressions for many more titles than we could ever podcast about as soon as we can catch our breath to write it all down!

As always, you can download Busy Gamer Nation on iTunes, Zune, or our own RSS feed.

We attended Geek Girl Con lin Seattle last year and were pleasantly surprised to find these gaming gems:

  • Project Spark, which releases officially Oct. 7, can be downloaded in public beta for Xbox and Windows 8.1 now. It's free to play, and your creations will carry over - so feel free to dive in.
  • Zhurosoft has its own free-to-play thing going on. They make iOS battle games including the Pokemon-inspired Monster Kingdom 2 (still in development) and the strategy title Kingdoms of Zenia. Learn what these games are about and how they work, and then go grab them for free at the iTunes store: the original Monster Kingdom and Kingdoms of Zenia: Dragon Wars.

As always, you can download Busy Gamer Nation on iTunes, Zune, or our own RSS feed.

This concludes our podcast coverage for, ahem, last year. We'll do our best to expedite this year's PAX Prime coverage (starting this weekend!) and create some new, original features. Stay tuned!

PrizesYes, it's been a long time since we've had a Free Stuff Friday. Which is funny, since we actually coined the term back in 2008! But the long drought has ended because we are DROWNING in codes.

Here's what you can win:

  • Ratchet and Clank Future: Quest for Booty on PS3 - great standalone digital only game. (1 winner)
  • $10 in Xbox digital currency courtesy of Harmonix - they'd love it if you used it for songs for Rock Band or Dance Central, but you can use it for pretty much anything on Xbox 360 or Xbox One. (24 winners)
  • Gears of War 3 Thrashball Cole Plushie avatar item for Xbox 360 - from PAX Prime several years ago. We checked, and the codes still work! (4 winners)
  • Threes game for iOS - this popular twitch math action puzzler was free at Starbucks awhile back, but if you missed out on the code we have some extras. (2 winners)

Here's the deal:

  1. First come, first served.
  2. You need to post two comments on our site: Post which prize you want here first (so we know what to send you!), and then a real comment elsewhere. Some suggested articles are below. Make it real, not weak forum banter like "gamez r kool, can I have my <prize>."
  3. One prize per person with the exception of the Cole Plushie codes. If you want both $10 in Xbox money and a plushie code, you can have it - as long as we still have 'em both to give.
  4. If you want to help us out, post on Twitter something like "Free Stuff Friday is back! Act fast to get some great gamer goodies at Busy Gamer Nation:"

Here are some recent articles you might want to check out and comment on:

Or search around the site. When you comment, we'll get a notification and will check it out as soon as we can (and approve it if it's being held for approval). And then dispatch your prize requested below (while supplies last).

The Fine Print

Prizes will be delivered via email, so you must USE A VALID EMAIL ADDRESS WHEN YOU REGISTER. (Don't worry, we won't send mails to you unless you win, and it won't show on the site.) You may also want to white list this domain; we've had MANY would-be winners lose out because they never responded to their prize notification! If you use TypeKey/TypePad, be sure your e-mail address will be shared. No e-mail address, no prize.

Note that unless you're an authenticated poster who has been active on the site and marked as trusted, your comment will NOT appear immediately. It will go into a queue for me to approve, which I'll try to do several times a day. Do NOT double-post (though feel free to comment as much as you want!).

We do sometimes give away real prizes (the kind you get in the mail) and unannounced Instant Win prizes - and with PAX Prime coming up, this is increasingly likely! Here are a few tips since this can happen at any time. 1) Follow Gamewatcher on Twitter. Before we post an Instant Win, we'll give you a fair warning tweet. 2) Subscribe to our RSS feed and set it to check for updates frequently.

Dying Light is another zombie action game from the makers of Dead Island. If you're new to the site, GrrlGotGame is a massive fan of zombie action games, and she couldn't wait to get her hands on this one! Hear her learn the basics and find out what to expect when this game is released in 2015.

If you're curious about why this podcast took four months to edit (almost a year from the actual interview!), well, apart from living up to our names as busy gamers... this was an excessively long interview that was tricky to make concise and listenable. If you're interested, I'll post the raw audio and you can compare.

This concludes our extensive PAX coverage (take a look, we covered a ton!) - just in time for PAX Prime 2015. We're going to make it fast and loose this year with few, if any, scheduled appointments so that we can post all of the gaming goodness we collect quickly. (Hopefully like we did last year with our report on Transistor, which went up the first night!)

As always, you can download Busy Gamer Nation on iTunes, Zune, or our own RSS feed.

Graphic novels (or comics, if you prefer) have a hallowed place in the Mount Olympus of geekdom. Your local comic shop can take you virtually anywhere you want to go and on most any type of adventure you desire.

The art form - yes, comics are an art - boasts some of the best storytelling you will find in modern day fiction and artwork worthy of any gallery. Add animation to the mix, and you have the recipe for one helluva great videogame.

Telltale Games has proven very adept at taking comic-based intellectual properties ("IPs") and converting them into enjoyable games delivered in bite-sized sections with decent replay value. These are not your standard comic-based brawler or action games. They are generally low-key, story-heavy adventures. They are also highly entertaining.

But do they resemble their source material? Let's check them out.


The Wolf Among Us by Telltale Games

Comic Source: Fables, created by Bill Willingham

What's the story? Both the comics and the game are set in Fabletown, a magical neighborhood in modern-day Manhattan. The area is home to a variety of fairy tale-based "Fables," both human and animal, who have escaped from the occupied Homeland. Both the comic and game tap into familiar fairy tales for characters and origin, but these are not your child's bedtime stories. Snow White is a bureaucrat. The Big Bad Wolf is a very hairy sheriff named Bigby. Mr. Toad is a landlord. And so on. All animals or creatures that might freak out the "mundies" (aka mundanes - basically non-magical folk much like the Muggles in Harry Potter) must pay to have humanoid glamours applied by a local witch, disguising their true appearance. Failure to comply can result in being shipped off to the Farm upstate. (No, that's not a euphemism. They really do go live on a farm!)


The Wolf Among Us game
Before, there was the Book of Fables


The comics bounce between modern-day events in Fabletown, the Farm, and the Homelands, with occasional deep dives into an individual Fable's origin tale. The game sticks to the city, but there's plenty of adventure to be had when you're a wolf in the Big Apple. Bonus points for picking up background details from the comic world and peppering them throughout the game. It adds to the atmosphere while also giving a nice shout out to fans.


Fables comic

Bigby accidentally watches Keeping Up with the Kardashians on Mundie television


Game, comic, or both? Depends on your taste. The comics tend to have more sex and violence. Expect the comics to be more graphic, but it's not a big difference - the game's pretty mature, too. If you can handle one, you should be able to take on the other. The comic storylines tend to bounce all over the place. If you want a straightforward cohesive story, stick with the game. That said, both are extremely well done and entertaining. Pick your medium to start, but definitely consider picking up both.


The Walking Dead by Telltale Games

Comic Source: The Walking Dead, created by Robert Kirkman

What's the story? Yet another zombie story, albeit one that can go an awfully long time without any zombies appearing. While the undead - or walkers, as they are known in this universe - are definitely a consideration, the bigger enemies tend to be other people. The book follows a core group of characters led by Rick Grimes, ex-cop and father to budding young psychopath Carl. Fans of the TV show will find a lot more in common with the book than the game, but there are still plenty of differences between the comics and the series. (Hint: Some of your favorite TV characters are dead in the book, and vice versa.)


The Walking Dead comic

Fear not the sword, but the chick who wields it


While the comic gives all-new meaning to the term "graphic," the games have been relatively tame. You still follow a core group of people that includes a kid, but this time it's a smart young girl who has been separated from her (presumably dead) parents. That's where the resemblance ends. There's no prison, Woodbury, or Hilltop in the game, and the violence is a thousand times milder. Expect to spend your time wandering around searching for clues, solving puzzles, and trying to figure out what to do next.

Important safety tip: Make sure you get Telltale's Season 1 to start and NOT the poorly regarded first-person shooter subtitled Survival Instinct.


The Walking Dead game

This sums up my reaction to the Woodbury storyline in the comics


Game, comic, or both? This is one of those choices you're going to have to make for yourself.

Let's go to the decision tree:

  • Option A: Unspeakable acts of violence lovingly illustrated in black and white? Bring it on! I’m dead inside anyway. You chose: Comic
  • Option B: I can handle a gory scene every 10 minutes or so, as long as it's tastefully done and entirely necessary to the plot. Also, I love button mashing to avoid getting hit/attacked/eaten when I least expect it. You chose: Game
  • Option C: I can handle the gore and violence, but sometimes I just want to chill and press a button periodically. It depends on my mood. You chose: Both
  • Option D: You lost me at "child in the zombie wilderness." You chose: Move along, there's nothing for you here


Bone Complete Bundle by Telltale Games

Comic Source: Bone, created by Jeff Smith

What's the story? Bone follows the adventure of "The Bones" (including Fone Bone, Smiley Bone and Phoney Bone), a group of vaguely humanoid white creatures who roam Boneville having little adventures. Other denizens of the world include a human girl named Thorn and her Gran'ma Ben, a feisty old broad who could probably kill you with a spoon (but she won't - these are kid-friendly stories). The books focus more on relationships than actual adventures, but are completely engaging and charming. They were also oddly banned by some school districts for sensuality (Thorn and a Bone become involved in the most chaste love affair in comics history) and alcohol (Gran'ma Ben likes her some moonshine).


Bone comic

It's a Bone fashion show!


The games follow the same characters exploring the world beyond Boneville, but don't expect any major anachronisms. This is not "Bone in the City." They stick to the valleys and regions familiar to readers - or areas like them.

Bone game

I dunno, what do you want to talk about?


Game, comic, or both? Adults and kids alike will dig the comics. Younger kids may not understand a lot of the subtext, but will find The Bones amusing. (Hint: There's a lot more going on in these comics than meets the eye.) The games were among Telltale's earlier forays into this style of gameplay, and it shows. It's slow, and may not keep your attention. Your kids will love it, though.


Books that need their own games

As I researched this story, I realized that the majority of comic-based videogames out there come from either Marvel or DC books. Superheroes, mainly. There's plenty of room out there for more subversive stories, including a few covered in Make My Game 2.0 (Mercy Sparx is still one of my favorite untapped IPs!).

I know most of those will never happen, although some have had real-world negotiations that haven't lead to anything... yet. There is one title that really needs to happen, in my mind. It has outstanding writing, a rabid fan base, and a creator with a great pedigree and talented collaborators. For your consideration:


Runaways, created by Brian K. Vaughn

What's the story? A group of teens discover their teenage angst bullshit has a body count, courtesy of their supervillain parents. Add in newly discovered special abilities and - oh yeah, hormones - and you have one of the best origin stories ever.


Runaways comic

Say hello to my little friend


What's so great about it? Imaginative storytelling that always maintains a level of palpability, even when they drag stuff like time travel into it. The female characters all exhibit individual strengths, from the literal (Molly, who is like a pint-sized Thor) to the emotional (Gertrude Yorks, who controls her dinosaur companion with her mind). Everyone acts their age. Some are cool, some are curmudgeons, some are just jerks. Everyone has good and bad days. When someone dies, it guts you inside. In short, it's the comic you regret reading month-to-month, because you need to know what happens right now. I'm still waiting for them to tell me if (spoiler) lived or died in the last panel of the last book. (OK, who's the joker who canceled it on a cliffhanger?!?!)

Anything else I should know? Expect a variety of stories and art styles that change, sometimes radically, as writers and artists join or depart the book. There are a few artistic styles that are rather jarring, but you'll figure out who everyone is soon enough. Oh, and Joss Whedon wrote the second part of the second series. Amazingly, he was NOT responsible for one of the most shocking deaths in the series.


Have a favorite comic-sourced game or a graphic novel to recommend? Let us know in comments!

Taking Aim! Marvel Puzzle QuestMaybe I'm getting older, maybe even a tad wiser, but there are definitely more gaming options vying for my attention - and I've been finding myself making some unexpected choices on how to spend my limited play time.

It's easy to build a backlog of retail games that's both intimidating and packed with pressure that can make gaming feel like work instead of fun. We've all been there. But lately I've noticed my gaming habits have shifted. I'm bypassing the stacks of unopened and incomplete games and starting to enjoy a wider variety of busy gamer friendly fare.

My Nintendo DS was once my go-to gaming machine. It's portable, and you can snap it shut to save progress (as long as you don't pop out the game cartridge or let the battery run out). Perfect for busy gamers, right? But my 3DS, for whatever reason, just doesn't grab my interest any more. Instead, I favor iPad games, particularly free-to-play titles that can be played in bite-sized sessions.

I haven't abandoned console games, but I'm becoming more selective and devoting my time to the rare triple-A and indie games that grab my attention and won't let go. I'll play these for an hour or so a day for a few weeks and then move on when I either finish or lose interest. I'm realizing that there's no shame in saying "I'm done" if a game is no longer doing it for you.

The final category of games that I've become enamored with are PC games. Which is funny, because I've only rarely become interested in playing a PC game for more than an hour or so (at least that's been the case since my Commodore 64 days). My excuse has been that I don't usually want to stay in front of a computer monitor after a long day of riding my laptop for work. I use games to step away from work and de-stress. I'd much rather play on the couch in front of a large TV in the evening with a shot of tequila or frosty beverage close at hand. The last game that had me hooked to my PC every night was Dungeon Siege, and that was 12 years ago!

But the Humble Indie Bundle, launched a few years ago, convinced me to start collecting low-cost Steam games. It started out small but now I'm hooked and scouring the Steam sales and bundle sites such as Bundle Stars, sometimes on a daily basis. My Steam library recently broke 300 titles, though I actively play about 10 or so regularly. Yeah, I'm a little late to the party here, but I came around and found a way to integrate PC gaming into my day and now I'm a lot happier.

Here are some of my favorite games from each gaming segment:



I have an iPhone and an iPad, but I use my iPhone mostly for mail, Twitter, camera, and the occasional e-book. I don't have much time for gaming on it. Also, I prefer the larger screen on my iPad 3, so that's become my gaming portable of choice. I do buy iOS games from time to time, but I was surprised at how good some of the free-to-play titles are and how much fun I can have with them.

Best of all, most of these games can be played with the sound turned down while you're watching TV or a less than engaging movie. Oh, and I've tried game controllers but so far I haven't found one that's super easy to use (the Drone we kickstarted was a bust). And there aren't any significant mobile games that have controller support that I'd want to go to that much trouble to hook one up anyway. For now, I'd suggest you save your money.


Trials Frontier

Trials Frontier. I bought Trials Fusion on my Xbox One and downloaded the free-to-play Frontier on the same day. I've barely scratched the surface on Fusion, but I'm deep into Frontier despite the cooling off period required to refuel if you don't want to pay for extra in-game currency. In fact, one of the things that I love is that I can play for several minutes, make some progress, and then switch off to something else while my fuel meter recharges. I normally avoid action games with touchscreen controls, but after a few minutes I found I was intuitively revving and flipping with ease. Upgrading your bikes (combined with hours of practice) will make the controls seem even tighter, but the handling was solid right from the start.

The only knocks I have are that the hourly slot machine challenges can make you a bit obsessive as you attempt to get extra spins in to win new tracks, and the game became unstable while I was writing this review - crashing whenever I tried to launch a specific slot machine challenge, making it unplayable. Each day, the slot machine resets but eventually I hit the challenge that triggers the crash and I'm out again. That said, this is likely a speed bump that will get fixed soon enough.

When it works, Trials Frontier is seriously fun and addictive. Perhaps I should be thankful for the occasional instability that forces a break in play and makes me resistant to investing actual cash in it. Because this game is really good.

UPDATE (June 5): The game no longer crashes on slot machine spins, and the hourly challenges have become significantly easier. 


Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign

Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign (also on Steam for PC). If you've enjoyed Puzzle Quest games in the past, you'll probably love this. For one thing, it's free (though you may find yourself opening your wallet to add more character slots - more on that in a bit!). It's also remarkably deep. You start out with a few heroes, and you collect more by winning tokens redeemable for random comic book covers. You beat enemies by matching gems to power up devastating attacks and sturdy defenses. Part of the challenge is putting together a winning team or two. It can take several weeks to get good and collect enough characters, powers, and levels to become a consistent winner. Until then, you'll grind through the easier levels over and over. There are also player vs player battles, though you're really fighting AI that uses another person's top roster characters. And, once you've leveled up a bit, the single-player tournaments can yield great rewards - though you'll need to grind a lot for a day or so to benefit. And sometimes the rewards you earn this way may lag a few days.

As with other Puzzle Quest games, part of the challenge is adapting when the game's parameters change. For instance, a new enemy may exploit an unforeseen weakness in your otherwise "bulletproof" strategy, such as when Falcon began dropping massive defenses or Hulk smashed my weaker characters before I could unleash their formidable attacks. You also may be restricted from using a favorite character, or find yourself choosing boosted characters - with unfamiliar powers - to succeed in a tourney.

Just be aware that the economy is stacked against you. Slots for adding new characters to your roster are extremely expensive and require coins that are hard to come by unless you pay $2 to $100 in real money for varying quantities. I put in $5 as a "tip" to the developers - which got me about 4 roster slots - but I almost resisted due to my unhappiness with the poor pricing structure. I would have gladly invested $10 except that the major price break for coins happens at $20, quite a bit more than I wanted to pay. So rather than pay $5 twice (with no savings benefit for doing so), I left it at $5. I'm at 20 slots now, and could use a few more - but I've been selling off unwanted covers and only preserving characters that I deem vital. I'm still having fun after several months of nearly daily play, so I'd say it was worth the investment.


The Simpsons: Tapped Out

The Simpsons: Tapped Out. When I downloaded Tapped Out, I didn't expect to still be playing nearly a year later. But here I am, still tapping every day on this free-to-play gem. The main reasons are the holiday activities and ongoing storylines, incredibly funny and crafted by the writers of the TV show. Every month or so, there's a new update that introduces a character or quest, such as collecting holiday gift cards or Easter eggs (hatched from swarms of rabbits!) that earn you spins for cool random prizes. There are so many collectibles that it's easy to get hooked on grinding for the in-game currency of dollars and donuts (the latter can be bought though I saved up 200 donuts for Hank Scorpio's Volcano Lair without spending a dime and I've since banked 50 more).

My main complaint is that, for a game where tapping is literally the name of the game, the engine seems to pick up every nearby tap EXCEPT for the thing that I'm aiming for. Once I realized that money and other pickups don't need to be picked up (they just whoosh into your account after a few seconds), I began focusing on the objects that I do need to touch. But it seems like every scrap of money and experience in the vicinity needs to be gone before you can tap something new - like a roving Sideshow Bob, who easily hides in clusters of characters that I'll accidentally select instead of the obvious target.

The other big problem is that the game can become unstable. I missed out on the last two weeks of the holiday grind due to a corrupted cloud save that prohibited me from recovering my progress with my Origin account. EA support was unresponsive, but fortunately the next update fixed my save with minimal losses (except for a few limited-time prizes I might have earned during the downtime). More recently, there was crippling lag that made the game virtually unplayable for a couple of weeks, but a patch repaired it and provided a donut bonus as a make-good.

If we'd invested money in the game (as so many players apparently do), I'd be pretty annoyed - but this is one of the easier games to put down, especially if there's no holiday event active.


Candy Crush Saga

Candy Crush Saga. I know that King made a lot of enemies over that whole "candy" trademark snafu, but I'm nearly 300 levels in without ponying up a penny (no "tip" for you, King!) or bothering a single Facebook friend. So I'm not about to give up now. That said, this game is at the bottom of my playlist so I only launch it once or twice a week to see if I can clear a level or two, some of which get pretty hard. I've actually spent months, playing nearly every day, to complete a single level. There are also speed bumps every so often that require you to beat a challenge and then wait a day before attacking the next. This is one of the few games I keep on my phone (with a separate save) to while away a few minutes when I'm stuck waiting in a line somewhere and away from my iPad.


Tiny Bang Story

Tiny Bang Story (also on Steam). This game will actually cost you $2-3 on the iTunes/Google/Amazon stores (and $5 on Steam) but it's the most beautiful, endearing puzzle game ever. It's not super difficult but somehow very gratifying to tap (or click) to uncover hidden items and puzzle pieces. Unlike the other mobile games I've reviewed here, this is a more traditional "beat it and move on" title - but sometimes that's just what you need.



I've not been one to disparage PC games or predict their downfall. I can see the appeal of the keyboard and mouse for first-person shooters, but I much prefer a controller. I play games to explore and decompress, not to memorize hundreds of keyboard mappings.

The good news is that my wired Xbox 360 controller plugs in nicely to my Windows 8 computer, and a surprising number of games I've picked up on Steam work great with it. And it's opened up a world of gaming for me. Best of all, many of these games are patched regularly, can be family shared (though not on a title-by-title basis), and are relatively future proof - so there's little to no concern about backward compatibility. Depending on the game, saves may be automatically recorded to the cloud, so portability is also becoming less of an issue.

Another interesting thing about Steam is that many games offer free trading cards earned for time spent playing. You can collect these or sell them for Steam credit. Even just selling my duplicate cards, I've earned several dollars - sometimes 10 cents at a time - by auctioning them off in the Steam store. Hey, every penny counts, and these credits can help you justify your next Steam sale purchase.


Cook, Serve, Delicious

Cook, Serve, Delicious (also on iOS). I bought this game on impulse during a Humble Indie Bundle flash sale, and it's one of the best PC games I've enjoyed in years. It's basically one of those cooking/restaurant management "sims" similar to Cooking Mama, which I enjoyed briefly on the Nintendo DS. But this one grabbed me and won't let go. I liken it to BioShock: If you read my review, I would try to savor that game by playing for brief spurts and then I'd shut down my console - only to reboot it just minutes later. This became a cycle that continued until I gave up and powered through the story. I'm doing the same thing here, only it only takes a second to reboot and about five minutes to play through another day in my restaurant's life.

You also can use a keyboard or DualShock 4, but I have the iconic Xbox buttons memorized better than the PlayStation buttons - which makes reading and reacting to the on-screen button cues easier. One small error can ruin a "perfect day" and the resulting $250 bonus. The game includes enough distractions to throw you off your game, from online dates who demand difficult dishes executed perfectly (and then text you as you're completing the evening's orders) to robbers who must be identified from a witness description to prevent a costly loss in hard-earned revenue. Building the right menu to succeed requires strategy and sometimes extra practice with complicated dishes to maximize profits and build buzz. You also must complete clean-up chores to avoid a devastating health inspection.

I only wish there were a console version (the iOS version's free demo convinced me that tapping isn't nearly as fun as using a controller). I might just have to try the HDMI output on my laptop so I can play this on a bigger screen.


Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign

Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign. Yes, I reviewed this already in the Portable gaming section above but I also play it daily on Steam. Since I much prefer the mobile version and its tap interface, I play here both because it's an easy way to kill a few minutes at lunch when I've out on a client visit and it's good practice. I can try things outside of my comfort zone without impacting my iPad game. For instance, when I started collecting dozens of recruit tokens without roster slots to store the extra heroes, I spent a bunch here to gauge the impact. I found that I would get some covers that could be used to train my existing heroes, new covers that were common and easily sold, and others that I wanted to keep and needed to juggle roster slots to make space. This gave me an idea of how many to unlock at a time, since up to 99 tokens can be stored indefinitely but unrecruited characters expire after a week.


Broken Age

Broken Age. I did not back the Kickstarter for this game, but picked it up when the buzz from early adopters threatened to overwhelm my Twitter feed. I'm glad I did. I'm only halfway done (the second part is due later this year) but was thoroughly blown away by the storytelling and humor. This is basically a point-and-click adventure with some occasionally maddeningly sneaky puzzles that left me scratching my head for days. I resisted the urge to look up the answers and worked first through the girl's story and then the boy's. I'm glad I chose this order because I found the Act I reveal to be a jaw-dropper, and I'm not sure it would have been as impactful had I chosen the alternate path. Either way, if you like adventure games at all, this one is worthy of your time.


Gone Home

Gone Home. This is another game that received amazing online buzz. I've heard it disparaged as a "walking simulator," but if you like to explore and unravel mysteries this one is a doozy. I found myself both captivated and on the edge of my seat for the entire three hours or so that it took to beat. I played it in the dark, which added to the mood and my ongoing expectation that a psychopath could and would leap out at any time. The game is more interactive story than first-person shooter but - at least for me - that's even more reason to revel in it.



Portal/Portal 2. You know that we love our Portal games (we named Portal 2 our Busy Gamer Nation Game of the Year in 2012). We actually won the first Portal as part of a Valve prize package at a Child's Play auction years ago, starting our Steam habit early (we thought we'd never play most of those games at the time, but it was for a good cause). I picked up Portal 2 recently during a Steam sale that included The Final Hours of Portal 2 interactive book (also available on mobile). Replaying these fantastic games on the PC is a nice fallback when I get a console game jones but GrrlGotGame has dibs on the living room TV. And with saves between test chambers, it's easy to knock out 1-2 puzzles at a time.



Type:Rider (also on iOS). As a former print journalist and typeface nerd, I found this little puzzle platformer to be charming and, ahem, illuminating. (Type nerds just snickered... the rest of you, play this game to get it!) You guide what's basically a sideways colon (two dots that roll) around picking up letters and bonus items that unlock mini-history lessons. Yes, I stopped to read them all. The levels are themed around the type face, and there are lots of cool touches that make this a joy to explore. I picked up the iOS version as well, but alas it won't play on our son's first-gen iPad without crashing. So I got an extra Steam code for him from one of the Bundle Stars sales (shh, it's a surprise!).


Luxor Evolved

Luxor Evolved. If you enjoy Luxor games (basically Zuma with a movable marble shooter that runs along the bottom of the screen, Space Invaders style), this one amps it up with nifty retro graphics reminiscent of Tempest. Best of all, you can save anywhere - even mid-level. There's really not much else to say. It's a solid puzzle shooter. If that's your thing, this is a solid buy.


7 Wonders II

7 Wonders series. If you can't get enough match-3 action, the 7 Wonders games are all pretty good. 7 Wonders II has an edgier art style that diverges from the rest of the games, while Ancient Alien Makeover is the only one to offer up Steam achievements. Magical Mystery Tour is the one I've played the most, beating it in about 13 hours. For some reason, The Treasures of Seven won't run at all on my Windows 8 machine (it launches as a background process but no amount of troubleshooting has fixed it - and the game's Steam forum has been a bust on the issue). Here's hoping that it gets fixed before I finish the rest of the series!

Update (June 5): A few days after this went live, The Treasures of Seven was patched to work on Windows 8, and it adds a compelling twist: You can rotate the board. Worth the wait!



We're not giving up on consoles any time soon. We have all of the major ones from the past 20 years, including the PS4 and Xbox One. But console games still tend to be the least busy gamer compatible, with poor checkpointing and a seeming aversion to "save anywhere" and other time-saving amenities. It takes a really good game to earn our devotion. Here are a few that we're currently in thrall of:

Infamous: Second Son

Infamous: Second Son (PS4). I've enjoyed but never finished an Infamous game, until Second Son. Perhaps it was because it's set in my home town (though with many notable and sometimes vexing discrepancies), but I could not get enough of this open world. You unlock portions of the city at a time, and clear them out of enemies to gain control. At times the story feels optional - you can run around and just shoot up the town with your growing range of powers. But the story is solid and mostly enjoyable, even with a few difficult boss battles thrown in to slow you down. There are some emotional moments, regardless of whether you play as a hero to the people (as I did) or a scourge upon humanity (as GrrlGotGame prefers).


Wolfenstein: The New Order

Wolfenstein: The New Order (Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, PS3, PS4). This is not your father's Wolfenstein. It's dark, brutal, and refreshingly revisionist. Even with the difficulty lowered, it presents a hearty challenge. I'm only a little ways into it, but I don't see myself putting it down until I'm done. If so, this will be the first Wolfenstein game I've fully completed (though I've played deep into several others).


Transistor (PS4 and PC). We waited a long time for the spiritual successor to Bastion. And while the game is beautiful, the mix of action and turn-based combat and complex skill tree system takes some getting used to. This is a game to chip away at, not blaze through. It may be impossible to recreate the deep-set emotions evoked by its predecessor, but time will tell. If nothing else, Darren Korb's music will draw us to the end.

South Park: The Stick of Truth

South Park: The Stick of Truth (Xbox 360, PC, and PS3). This is a rare gem: a solid RPG and South Park game with great writing, enjoyable storyline, and a variety of classes to experience. My first impression was that the character's bouncing made me a little dizzy, but I soon acclimated and found the game to be one of my all-time faves. After beating it once, I'm already preparing a second run through. Just keep in mind that the content is very mature, more so than even the foul-mouthed, offend-'em-all TV show. It's more in line with the movie, minus the musical numbers and with much more fart humor. This one's so good I picked up a Steam copy on sale (thanks Humble Indie Bundle!) so I could try to finally best the toilet mini-game, which is much easier to do with a keyboard than a game controller.


The Wolf Among Us

The Wolf Among Us (PS3, PC, Xbox 360, iOS). This is my favorite Telltale adventure game to date. It's dark yet garish with a compelling story, interesting choices, and bursts of action. Fans of the comic Fables, upon which this is based, are in for some surprises. Each episode is about an hour or so, with chapter breaks. You can't save anywhere but, at least on the Xbox 360 version, you can pause at almost any time by pressing the Start button. My only complaint is that they put the season pass on discount before Episode 2 came out, so day one purchasers like myself felt a bit cheated. If they had waited until Episode 3 or 4, it wouldn't have stung. That said, I can't wait to finish this and play through again, making different choices.


BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea

BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea (PC, PS3. Xbox 360). BioShock Infinite was a solid game with some great moments (and really cool music!) but overall it just didn't enrapture as much as the first two games. But the Burial at Sea DLC, especially Part 2 where you play as Elizabeth? That was aces. In total, it's only another 5-10 hours back in Rapture, but it felt just right in length and filled in some interesting backstory.


PlayStation Plus

Instant Games Collection (PS3/PS4/Vita). After resisting its pull for some time, we picked up a PlayStation Plus subscription when they were on fire sale right before the next-gen console launch. There really are a lot of games, though truth be told I spend more time downloading them actually playing them. I did play Contrast quite a bit since there wasn't much else of interest at the PS4 launch, and recently nabbed Stick It to the Man!, which looks to be worth a try. My PS3 hard drive is much more packed with Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Devil May Cry, Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee HD, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, and Puppeteer to name a few. I don't have a Vita, but if I ever do get one I'll have more games than I could ever play (as long as I keep PS+ paid up). Actually, that's probably a good enough reason NOT to get a Vita. But if you have one, this is a good way to stock up on stuff to play.


Games with Gold

Games with Gold (Xbox 360/Xbox One). Yes, as I've mentioned before, I consult for Xbox marketing - but that doesn't mean I don't like the free games (for Gold members). Recent highlights include Hitman: Absolution, Saints Row the Third, Sleeping Dogs, Deadlight, and one of my all-time favorite sandbox games, Crackdown (review). And Xbox One will start getting free games in June, starting with Max: The Curse of Brotherhood (a solid puzzle game that I bought during the early post-launch game drought). As with the PS+ offerings, the challenge is finding the time to play all of the games I download. But there's less guilt since they're - more or less - free. One important note: On Xbox 360, you keep the games even if your Gold expires but on Xbox One, they'll be tied to your Gold membership the same as with PlayStation Plus.


Everyone's tastes are different, so I'm not saying that these gaming paths are perfect for everyone. My point is to not skip any paths or channels that might contain game experiences that you will unexpectedly and inexplicably love. Game on!

The Stranger weekly billboard in Infamous: Second SonMILD SPOILER WARNING: This article contains specific visual details about locations in Infamous: Second Son but does not discuss gameplay or story.

There's a unique thrill to seeing your hometown onscreen, be it in a movie, TV show, or game.

Sucker Punch Productions (based just outside Seattle in nearby Bellevue, Washington) takes that thrill nearly to 11 with Infamous: Second Son, a sloppy wet kiss to the Emerald City.

Of course, as with any work of art that attempts to evoke a real-world location, there are plenty of WTF?! moments for the people who actually live there. One of the games that came closest to faithfully re-creating a specific place was Test Drive Unlimited, and its take on Oahu was still a far cry from the real Hawaiian isle - as we found when we visited a few years back. But it's remarkably close.

Second Son, on the other hand, doesn't seem to aspire to replicating the real Seattle all that closely - most likely to compress locations into tighter quarters to reduce the player's travel time and cut the cost of licensing pricey brands and landmarks. Herein, I have collected some of our favorite Seattle scenes, from popular locations to obscure touches of local color.

But let's start with some of the things that make us Seattleites go "Hmmmm."


I-90 Bridge relocated several miles north, becomes the 520

Does this image look familiar?

Mount Baker Tunnel on I-90

Once you manage to get across what's left of the "520 Bridge" in Second Son, you encounter a tunnel that seems identical to the Mount Baker Tunnel (one of the first things we saw upon entering Seattle for the first time when we moved here in the mid-1990s).

There's just one problem: That tunnel is part of I-90, a second floating bridge a few miles to the south of the real-world 520 bridge.

Why not just name it I-90 and be done with it? Someone at Sucker Punch knows, but they aren't telling. Maybe they were too busy coming up with bizarre impossible exits like the Bellevue/Kirkland one that's right before Seattle's "City Center."

520 signage in Second Son

For the record, Bellevue and Kirkland would be BEHIND you when facing downtown. This exit itself is a bit forgivable, as it's at least got you headed in the right direction. Alas, you would find a similar sign a few miles down the road on another highway that 520 dead ends into: I-5 South.


Tourist traps we love, but pretend not to

Locals love to deride the downtown attractions. Most of the vitriol is hurled at Seattle Center, home to the Space Needle, Pacific Science Center, and several large entertainment venues. If you've seen a picture of the Seattle skyline, you've seen Seattle Center. If you've managed to avoid our city somehow, well, consider this your introduction to our top attractions.


The Space Needle

The top of the Space Needle changes periodically, but it was orange during a significant part of Second Son's development period.

The real Space Needle

The tangerine glow paid homage to the Space Needle's original color during the 1962 World's Fair. I'm pretty sure that "Space Needle roof painter" is right up in there in "jobs worse than whatever you do for a living." Unless you're the painter, in which case, rock on.

The Space Needle in Second Son

The Second Son version of Seattle's iconic tower retains the orange hue, which is more visible once you ascend to the top of the Space Needle. Those spiny scales leading up the side were added for the game, however. I do wonder if it looked something like that during its construction in the 1960s, however.


The Pacific Science Center

Despite what Second Son might suggest, the Pacific Science Center is not a military zone.

The Pacific Science Center in Second Son

That's nearly the only thing they got wrong in their digitized model, which is a spitting image of a place we spend many days a year. From the always empty but oddly damp shallow pools to the giant dinosaur statues every visitor wants to climb, this beloved children's museum has been lovingly recreated. (Well, there isn't a giant dinosaur model in the back; in its place, you'll find the "Pac Sci" - as we call it - abuts a busy thoroughfare called Denny Way.)

The real PacSci at night

Fun Fact: The Pacific Science Center buildings were originally the United States Science Pavilion, built for the 1962 World's Fair. The Pacific Science Center arches were home to the World of Science. Today, the arches are like giant mood rings, lit to reflect the successes and sorrows of the city.


Pike Place Market

To outsiders, Pike Place Market is "where those guys throw the fish." Go deeper into the market, and you'll find an incredible Italian market, fresh-from-the farm fruits and veggies, and what is typically much better (and generally cheaper) seafood.

Pike Place Market

The less trafficked lower levels hide magic stores, bookshops, peek-a-boo walls, and enough reputed ghost activity to keep Spengler and Venkman busy for years.

Seattle Fish Market in Second Son

The "Seattle Fish Market" in Second Son is a smaller, sadder version of our vibrant market. I was disappointed to see Seattle's expansive, vibrant, iconic space reduced to little more than a few fruit barrels (which reminded me of the markets in Dead Island: Riptide).

I guess all those militarized checkpoints in Second Son's Seattle killed the farm-to-table movement?


The Monorail

The Seattle monorail, also built for the World's Fair, extends above a mile of 5th Avenue.

The real Seattle Monorail

Its primary purposes are to alternately 1) break down in the summer, and 2) thrill tourists traveling between the Seattle Center and Westlake Center, itself a short walk to Pike Place Market (and an even shorter walk to the open air crack market across the street).

The Monorail in Second Son

The in-game monorail has been converted into a closed loop around the city's central hub, providing a nice thrill ride if you can manage the jump onto the roof of the train.

In real life, your trip is short and limited – but you will see a good chunk of Belltown. Plus the train drivers will usually let you sit up front if possible. (Ask nicely – and locals, let the tourists have first shot!) Try to contain your excitement as you pass Tom Douglas row, and be sure to check for you all your belongings before you exit.


Seattle Icons you probably didn't realize were real... but are!

Seattle has a history of bizarre creativity in its local retail and public art. Sadly, our local color is disappearing faster than you can say "Ballard condos." There are still pockets of whimsy (and questionable taste) here and there, though. Here are just a few of the odd details sprinkled throughout the game.


Lincoln's Toe Truck statue

Let us take a moment to remember Seattle's fallen hero, Lincoln Towing's Toe Truck statue.

The real Lincoln's Toe Truck

The bane of grammar fans and bad pun haters alike, the statue stood proudly on a popular commuter route. It was big. It was pink. It was tacky as Hell. But it was ours, dammit. And now, it's gone... the Museum of History and Industry, where tacky Seattle icons go when they get booted to make room for progress (or offices.) And now it's immortalized in Second Son.

Lincoln's Toe Truck in Second Son

Lincoln's Toe Truck, we salute you. May you keep on truckin'.


Elephant Super Car Wash

There are about a dozen Elephant Super Car Washes in the Seattle/Tacoma corridor. While they are not particularly prominent, they do tend to stick out at night when their iconic neon elephants are lit up. By far the most famous – and infamous – location is at Denny and Aurora Avenue, just on the tip of downtown.

The real Elephant Super Car Wash

Sucker Punch did a nice job of capturing the environment. Business meets sketchy during the day, and a different kind of commerce after dark.

The Elephant Super Car Wash in Second Son


The Lenin Statue

This genuine Lenin statue was purchased from the former Soviet Union and imported to Seattle's Fremont neighborhood, the self-described "Center of the Universe" - but nowhere near the downtown location where it's featured in the game. Lenin has been a controversial figure here through the years. Anonymous protesters have painted his hands red numerous times, while outraged locales have demanded that he be removed completely. Recent events in the Ukraine have renewed calls for Lenin to be deported from Fremont.

The real Lenin statue

The statue may leave Seattle one day, but a cheeky version that casts Lenin as a fisherman will live on in Second Son's "Lantern District."

The Lenin statue in Second Son

Lenin is one of the more notable relocations in the game, but it makes sense. Fremont is far away from downtown, which is the heart of the game. His new home is a heavily fictionalized and, perhaps, somewhat sanitized version of Seattle's Chinatown-International District.

Second Son's Lantern District


The Post Alley Gum Wall

This is the one thing that no one believes until they see it for themselves. But I'm here to tell you children, it's real – and all those dots you see in the photo are real gobs of gum that people have chewed and then slapped on a public wall.

The Post Alley Gum Wall

That window-shaped area below the red sign? That's a real ticket window for Unexpected Productions. And yes, it's covered in gum. Ishy bugle. That said, I have to give mad props to Sucker Punch for...

The Port Alley Gum Wall in Second Son

...The Port Alley Gum Wall. New name, same disgusting idea. I don't want to touch it in real life, and I have to say, I wasn't in a hurry to press up against it in the game, either. If you were wondering how realistic the graphics are in this game, get up close and personal with the gum wall. You'll be reaching for the Purell within seconds of touching it.


Local business shout-outs

Seattleites will recognize homages to regional businesses that have been given a slight twist. It has a new name, but there's no mistaking the vaguely alien-like logo on the side of the Metropolitan Market grocery store in lower Queen Anne. You'll see The Stranger alternative weekly logo everywhere, from the familiar newspaper boxes to the occasional billboard. And just like Seattle, Starbucks is everywhere – disguised with a blue variant on the coffee giant's globally familiar and - no doubt - expensive-to-license seafaring logo.

Not every Seattle business has been fully disguised, though. A handful of local businesses have been sprinkled around the game for ambiance. Here are a few you might not recognize.


Dick's Drive-In

Dick's Drive-In is a Seattle institution known for cheap eats, good pay and scholarships for employees. It's also famous for its "You get what you get" mentality. No substitutions. If you don't want it on the burger, remove it yourself. At these prices, poor college students and teens aren't going to argue.

Dick's Drive-In

OK, technically Dick's does not appear in the game - but the Burger Mann chain sure looks familiar. Note the use of orange, the 1950s-style design, and the sign shape.

Burger Mann in Second Son

All that's missing is the "Congratulations Graduates" banner that hangs in front of the store each May, and the hordes of teens and college students surrounding the stores every night.


Sonic Boom

Sonic Boom is a hyper-local record store chain that brings to mind High Fidelity.

The real Sonic Boom

You just know the people who work there are judging you for your incredibly bad taste. That said, most people aren't there to buy Miley Cyrus records. This is where the Seattle music cognoscenti go to discover new sounds and buy records you won't find anywhere else, except perhaps on eBay. This is where you'll want to be on April 19 (Record Store Day).


Sonic Boom in Second Son

I'm fairly certain there are more Sonic Booms in Second Son than in Seattle, but that's not a bad thing. I like to think that music stores will survive anything, even the militarization of Seattle. Nice job on the neon, too.


Gone but not forgotten

That's just a small list of the things any good Seattleite will identify as they dash around the city. We didn't even discuss the mountains, ever-present construction cranes (nice touch, Sucker Punch!), the Pioneer Square Pergola, the vamped-up Crocodile nightclub, and countless other small touches. There are a few things I wish they would have included for selfish reasons, though.

I would love to spend some time bashing on the EMP/SFM, a giant Frank Gehry-designed blob of colors on the Northeast corner of the Seattle Center. To this day, I still think it looks like the Space Needle threw up, particularly when viewing it from above.

The EMP/SFM seen from above

It would have given me great joy to destroy a digital version of this violation against architecture. I also wouldn't mind doing some damage to the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum and the tourist-ridden Ride the Ducks amphibious tourbus/boats, too. Basically, the entire northeast corner of the Seattle Center.

Can you say, "Sequel?" Your move, Sucker Punch. Just next time, try to capture a bit more of the Seattle flavor. For us locals.

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