Gaming Update: WikiPad balks, Ouya forges ahead, Zynga ain't all bad and GameZen brings Facebook gaming to Windows RT

Welcome to another gaming update. We've made it to November and Black Friday is right around the corner. Time to get those holiday lists ready.

This week's big releases were Assassin's Creed 3 and Need For Speed: Most Wanted. Both are garnering decent reviews and as usual with the big releases, I haven't tried either of them. I still haven't played Assassin's Creed 2, to be honest, and while I do enjoy the Need For Speed games, my plate is just too full at the moment. May as well wait for a sale.

Next week the 800lb gorilla release is Halo 4 and that one I do have pre-ordered. I feel like I've seen Master Chief through this much, having played all the other Halo games, that I couldn't let him down by skipping this new chapter of the series. Yesterday the review embargo expired and every site you can imagine has their review up. I haven't read any of them since I hate spoilers and already have the game ordered anyway. Hopefully it'll have a good single player campaign (that's the part I'm most interested in). Polygon has the most dramatic layout so I'll link to that one, but if you read any gaming blogs at all I'm sure you've already found reviews if you're looking for them. By the way, if you haven't yet, check out the live action "Forward Unto Dawn" Halo series. You can find it on your Xbox or on YouTube. Here's episode 1:

Moving onto the news, Android gamers got some good news and some bad news this week. The bad news is that the WikiPad encountered a last minute delay. To refresh your memory, Wikipad is an Android tablet that ships with a game controller attachment. The makers of Wikipad are trying to spin this, saying they had an opportunity to enhance the bundle and improve the hardware, and they're offering some kind of free gift to pre-orderers. I would've felt better about this delay if it'd been announced a week or two ago, but the fact that it was announced on the day the Wikipad was supposed to start shipping makes me uneasy. Maybe it'll all turn out for the best, but according to Gamasutra, Gamestop has stopped taking pre-orders for the device. Gamestop is the undisputed king of pre-orders so again, that doesn't bode well for the Wikipad.

In better news, the Ouya folks sent out an update this week and it was pretty upbeat. Ouya is the $99 'open' console that's scheduled to ship sometime in Q1 2013. It sounds like things are progressing on or ahead of schedule (seems unheard of for a Kickstarter-funded project) and they've announced that Ouya will be running Android Jelly Bean instead of the older Ice Cream Sandwich. If you're a game developer, it's not too late to order a DevKit which will ship a few months ahead of production units. More info can be found on Ouya's Kickstarter page.

Speaking of Kickstarter, Polygon has an update on Haunts, the Kickstarter game project that imploded a few weeks back. There's now a playable demo and you can download the source code of the game.

Zynga is a company I like to talk smack about, but I have to give them props this week. In the wake of "Superstorm Sandy" Zynga turned off timer-based functions that have negative connotations in at least some of its games. Concrete example: crops will not wither in Farmville 2 (don't ask me how I know that). If you've lost your home to Sandy your Zynga games are probably the farthest thing from your mind, but if you were just without power you might have been fretting. Granted it's a small thing, but I thought it was a nice gesture.

Remember iSwifter, the company that created an iOS app that let you play Flash games on the iPad? They're now called Agawi and they're branching out into streaming games on other platforms. This week they released GameZen, a Windows Store App that will let you play games on Windows RT that normally wouldn't run for you. (The 'app' version of Internet Explorer 10 doesn't support plugins such as Flash.) It looks like the first batch of games are all Facebook titles, but here's hoping Agawi branches out into supported games from sites like Kongregate soon. GameZen is really meant for Windows RT. While it would run on my full Windows 8 installation, the experience was clearly not meant for me. For instance when I tried to log into Facebook (which you need to do in order to play the games) I had to use an on-screen keyboard, mousing to letters and clicking on them, rather than the keyboard on my laptop. Of course, users of the full version of Windows 8 really have no need for GameZen since they can use Desktop IE (or Firefox or Chrome) and play Facebook games natively.

Keeping in mind my testing was a bit hobbled by having the full version on Win8, then, it did seem like GameZen will let you keep tabs on your Facebook games while using a Microsoft Surface or other Windows RT device. That's a huge deal for hardcore Facebook gamers (and believe me, they're out there).

This week I've been playing a couple of mobile games. The first is Borderlands: Legends on iOS. I'm playing the $6.99 iPad version. I like the full Borderlands games, but I'm finding Borderlands: Legends kind of lackluster. This one is played from an overhead ¾ perspective, and you control all four of the Hunters from the original Borderlands game. Basically you tap and drag a character. Drag to open terrain and he (or she in the case of the Siren) will move there. Drag to an enemy and he'll attack it. Drag to a team-member and he'll use his special skill on that team member. Missions consist of several single screen sub-levels where enemies charge in from various points and you kill them. After every few screens you'll get access to a vending machine where you can spend cash from fallen enemies to buy better gear, and as the Hunters level up they get skill points to spend.

It all sounds pretty decent but it's missing that indefinable something that let's a game grab hold of you. Controls can be a bit iffy and I kept winding up with my Hunters standing in a group overlapping each other, which makes it hard to see what's going on. Buying new gear felt more like a chore than a reward and every battle kind of felt the same. I can't say I'd recommend it, particularly since $7 is pretty expensive for an iPad game.

The other game I'm playing is Ragnarok Odyssey for the Playstation Vita. This is a combat heavy action-RPG that involves a good deal of button mashing. It's a good mobile game since missions are pretty short and there's no 'overworld' to traverse. You get a Mission from the Mission Counter at HQ, then click on a door and you're in the mission. Once complete you're transported back to town.

Ragnarok Odyssey feels a lot like the Monster Hunter games to me, though I'm no expert in the latter. (I fully expect a Monster Hunter enthusiast to leave a long comment explaining how wrong I am about that. Don't fail me, Internet!) You basically are taking on missions where you fight monsters to earn cash and monster parts that you'll use to improve your character so you can take on more difficult missions and fight bigger monsters. The story is so thin as to be pretty much non-existent.

One of the most interesting aspects is character development. Rather than gaining experience to level up, your character's development comes from gear, and more specifically via cards that you slot into your armor. Each card has one or more attribute modifiers. So if you want to tank, you'd use cards that increase your armor and hit points. If you want to do dps, get +damage or +crit cards, and so on. There are six classes in the game and again, your class is determined by a card (so you can switch classes once you get the appropriate cards) .

It's still early days for me in Ragnarok Odyssey but so far I'm liking, but not loving, it. Most significantly, I haven't had the chance to play Multiplayer which is where the game should shine. You can play via Ad Hoc or online in parties of 2-4 people. That should be a good time. Ragnarok Odyssey is $40. If you like combat-heavy, somewhat grindy character development games (rather than narrative driven titles) then you might enjoy it (though I'd urge you to seek out some full reviews before throwing down your cash). And again, it's a good mobile title; I've been sneaking in a mission here and there during the day, rather than doing marathon sessions in the evenings.

If all goes well, next week's gaming update will be one word: HALO! Until then, leave a comment and let me know what you're playing!

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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