Puzzle Quest: Addiction > Fun

Why am I still playing Puzzle Quest? I don't enjoy it, it has no particularly riveting gameplay features or a compelling story. It's completely unsatisfying to play, yet... I load it up almost every night. I used to accuse it of cheating, but I've realised there's something even worse at work here: It's so utterly random that it negates any attempts at strategic play, yet it sells itself as a game that requires such an approach. As a result it's a completely hollow experience. A game that demonstrates more strongly than most a sense of futility and pointlessness. Nothing more than a time waster.

You can't plan ahead at all, because with every turn the situation changes. Winning a match is very rarely about playing well - it's almost exclusively about being lucky. In fact, I would argue that it is 100% about being lucky. This being the case, it's simply not satisfying in any way other than the basic thrill you get out of watching matched-up pieces disappear - sometimes explode - and a new bunch dropping down. Victories aren't to be celebrated because each match could go either way. It's not an achievement.

I don't have an answer to that opening question, by the way. This is what frustrates me more than anything. I'll probably keep playing it until I've cleared it, but I can't think of any other occasion where I've stumbled so blindly through a game with such a minimal amount of enjoyment.

Virtua Fighter 5

I'm shaken. My steadfast belief that gaming is fast degenerating into an mire of creative bankruptcy is in peril. Even Halo 3 didn't have this effect on me. Some games just get better and better the more technology you throw at them, and Virtua Fighter 5 is a prime example.

I've dabbled in the VF series since its home debut on the Saturn, but I was always a fan of the faster-paced action of Street Fighter 2 or the easy returns of Tekken, and for a glorious while the undeniable visual splendour of Soul Calibur. Virtua Fighter passed me by. Too technical, too demanding. Not flashy enough.

The latest in the series has just arrived on Xbox 360 and I'm absolutely blown away by it. It's so solid, so well made, well constructed that it demands respect. That alone isn't enough for greatness of course, but the fact is that it's also a genuine pleasure to play. The wealth of options, game modes and customization possibilities could keep me going for months. I'm reminded of Soul Caliburs quest mode, the compulsion to play and play in order to unlock every last extra mode, every last gallery picture. Virtua Fighter 5 takes this to incredible lengths. Hairstyles, jewelry, outfits, accessories... dozens of each can be won or bought. It's a collect 'em up fans dream ticket.

In the end that's all superfluous though - what you're left with is the meat and bones of the finest, most intricate one-on-one combat game ever made, and that alone is enough to warrant months and years of playing.

It's a first impression - I've only spent one short evening with the game so far - but I can only see myself becoming more enamoured of it. The best game on the 360 yet.

Castlemania - Castlevania (NES)

Defeated Death using the holy water trick last night. A hollow victory considering the method I had to resort to. Bit cheesed off with this at the moment so it's going on the backburner.

Castlemania - Castlevania (NES)

losing the will to continue with this game now, after losing track of the number of attempts I've made at beating Death. On several tries I had him down to one health point before one of those effing scythes found its way to me. It's been a very long time since I've been so physically wound up by a game.

Castlemania - Castlevania (NES)

Stage 15 - Medusa heads coming from both directions + axe-throwing knights. Lovely. Timing your jumps to avoid the heads while timing your hits on the knights to avoid the axes makes for a pleasant experience. I made it to Death, but the pitiful amount of health I had left ensured I lasted approximately 3 seconds.

That ain't friendly.