Saturday, February 11, 2012

Test Post 2-11-12

So, is this thing still on?

Testing 1-2-3-4...

wow it's been a while, hasn't it?

So i'm working on a few new things, and you should be seeing some new Fanzine content within the near future. Unfortunately I have lost contact with the rest of the staff here, so if any of you are reading this let me know!

At any rate i'm back, and be sure to stay tuned for more stuff later this month!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Flashback - 002 - Streets of Rage 2's soundtrack

Streets of Rage 2 was, on its own merits, a spectacular beat-em-up. One might go so far as to say things never really got much better than that one point in time, with competition being fierce between SoR, Final Fight, Double Dragon, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and lets not forget about all the early 90's amazing arcade only experiences. The one thing that this specific game had over every other game at the time was the amazing soundtrack. Most games had simple medleys that would stick in your head forever, but something about the soundtrack here was just so much more than that. To this day, I can start the game and spend a lot more time than I should just listening to music in the sound test.

Remember that part where you're in that park at night, walking through and beating up thugs as they wake up from laying on benches? Guaranteed if you don't, you could load up that song and remember how magical it made the entire environment feel. The big thing in gaming since Uncharted 2 was released has been trying to create these elaborate set pieces, making the game one of the characters instead of just players and npcs. While games hadn't really progressed to that point all those years ago, the soundtrack is just as important as any boss, character, or level. All in all, I seriously love this game, and the soundtrack...? Let's all just take a moment to thank the composer, Yuzo Koshiro, for an effing amazing job.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Flashback - 001 - Ninja Gaiden 2

After recently watching the Angry Video Game Nerd Castlevania retrospective and hearing his final statement about those games, both the good and bad, being like a photograph of moments he'll never forget, then thinking about Chad Concelmo's excellent Memory Card articles over at Destructoid, I felt it was time that I wax nostalgicly about games that were important in my life. Anyone else out there that's reading this, either comment on it or feel free to join in the movement, because as long as Superman 64 had some sort of significance in your life, it's always good to hear about it and why it left such an impact. The first entry in this series for me? Ninja Gaiden 2.

After FINALLY completing the game, I was debating on writing an actual review in my head. I felt this would be much more appropriate, considering how important this game was in my life as a gamer, instead of critically analyzing every aspect of it. Ninja Gaiden 2 is one of the earliest video game memories for me, along with Super Mario Bros., Mike Tyson's Punch Out, and Contra. I'm not sure why, but I have distinct memories of being 4 years old and holding the controller in my hands, knowing that as long as I had the controller, I was a badass ninja, running across rooftops and slashing enemies out of existence. While the first game gets the credit for starting the franchise and pioneering that cinematic storytelling technique via cutscenes, the incredible graphics of this sequel actually made me feel like I was Ryu Hayabusa. And that's just the beginning.

It seemed like all the kids I knew at the time (including myself) were really into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Since the first TMNT game was pretty not good, something about this captured what I really wanted my ninja to be. Ninja Turtles had the advantage of selecting 4 different turtles. NG2? Although it's just one dude against hordes of strange enemies, who could possibly forget all the amazing power ups? By slashing any of the floating orbs in the game, items would then drop out, ranging from scrolls that could restore your life or magic, to the invincibility-granting firewheel, all the way to the amazing shadow ninjas that would follow you around and help you take down enemies without actually taking damage. Speaking of them, I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person in the world that somehow convinced myself that there was some sort of secret code to make the game into a 3 player game by getting one of those ninja and having a friend enter some elusive code on the controller.

Another major advantage of this game to that other ninja franchise is that the storyline in NG2 was definitely more gritty. After reaching and taking down the first boss, you stumble across a strange man that gives you pointers on where to go in your quest. All of a sudden, the guy pulls a gun out and fires at you - or does he? Turns out, that monster you just killed wasn't all the way dead and he totally just saved you. After finishing that amazing city level and seeing that jaw dropping cutscene for the first time, you're...on a train? Until about 10 minutes from the time that I'm writing this (3 AM on November 3, 2010), I never realized that the boss of the first level just so happens to be -gasp- in a train yard. Anyway, after boarding the train and fighting your way to the front of it, you're in one most memorable NES stages I've had the pleasure of enjoying. Most platformers have their ice and lava levels. This game places you on a mountain (which I'm assuming comes from the mountains on the background on the preceding stage). As a result of the elevation, there happens to be snow. This snow isn't coating the ground, so at least you can hold your footing and don't have to worry about slipping and sliding around like you do on so many similar stages. Oh no. Instead, you watch the snows direction. When it's falling straight down, there's nothing to worry about. When it's moving left or right, it pushes you in that direction, meaning if you're fighting the elements, you're going to be going a lot slower than normal and incapable of making what would have previously been the most simple jumps. If you work with it, you'll be going twice as fast and fly twice as far through the air, Since the game wasn't satisfied with difficult jumps on its own, this levels nasty trick is that sometimes the snow just stops going in a direction, or pushes back in mid jump, causing you to fall to your death.

In many games, that would be infuriating. In NG2, it came across as being incredibly innovative and gave you one more thing to master. After working your way through this level, the 3rd stage is a battle across a treacherous path leading to a castle. Unfortunately, this is the last highly innovative level that I can think of. Instead of it just being a bunch of perilous blocks and platforms strewn about, with a constant threat of enemies, there are certain parts of the level that are too dark to see any of the terrain, forcing you to wait until lightning strikes, then carefully move towards your goal. Keep in mind that you could technically do this entire area if you had the layout memorized, but realistically, you won't, so it's just one more amazing element that makes this game such an impressive feat in the world of 8 bit platformers. The rest of the game has you using your platforming skills to eventually fight the end boss, which has 2 forms, since that's what every end boss ever has to do.

The last thing that really stands out for me aside from the awesome level design, amazing cutscenes, and gorgeous graphics was the fantastic soundtrack. Since this was towards the end NES life cycle, but the SNES hadn't hit American shores just yet, developers had managed to crank out some beautiful sounds coming from the consoles sound chip. While it's no Streets of Rage 2 by any means, every single sound fits the enviroments you're in. The main melody on the snowy mountain stage is something that will probably forever be etched into my memory, probably thanks to how long it took me to clear the level. Something about the song used in the first level always feels like it's ramping me up for what's almost always going to be a long adventure until the end of the game.

All in all, while I can't say Ninja Gaiden 2 is the best game of all time, it definitely sticks out in my memory, and it's nice that it's one of the games that I feel holds up incredibly well to this day. When people ask what games they should use to get a friend into gaming, instead of going with a game like Modern Warfare because of graphics, or Flower because of the innovative control scheme, there's something that's really simple about having 4 directions on ONE d-pad and 2 buttons to perform any of the possible in game actions.

Hope you enjoyed this first feature of what will hopefully turn into a either daily or at least weekly series, as long as I can keep writing. For anyone wondering, this isn't going to follow any sort of chronological or top 10 order, it's just going to be games that have meant a lot to me over the years for whatever reason, from the 2600 to the PS3 and everything in between. Hell, I might even include some pinball tables if I feel like it!

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game Review

Normally when there's a movie and a game to accompany it, it ends up being utter trash. Strict release dates and short development times usually means the core experienced has a tendency to affect the games in the worst way possible. This makes Scott Pilgrim vs The World probably one of the biggest surprises I've ever seen when it comes to games based on an already established franchise. With fast, furious, yet familiar mechanics, this easily is one of the best deals of the summer.

Gameplay - 8/10

Scott Pilgrim is a series that's known for it's geek culture references. Instead of trying to design a next gen game and throwing in subtle hints towards Mario, Zelda, or whatever else, this game goes all out and embraces it, just like the material it's based around. Following the story, which a friend summed up for me as "Nerdy unintentional jerk scores mega-hottie but has to battle her seven evil exes in order to continue dating her. Hilarity ensues," The game uses Scott's quest through a beat-em-up, using the exes as end bosses to each of the levels. While a lot of games in the genre had a tendency to devolve into you maybe hitting your enemy first, but normally trading hits until you run out of lives, SP slowly expands your move list the more you play. On your first few times playing the game, you might end up getting your rear handed to you, the more you play, the more experience you earn, ultimately unlocking new moves. Taking cues from River City Ransom, you're able to defeat enemies that turn into coins, which can then be spent in stores found throughout the game for food or items that can be used to boost your experience/stats. There's also a lot of charm that presents itself at every opportunity possible. The game sports a 4 player co-op mode, a few unlockable characters, and a zombie mode, which can be unlocked by entering a code at the start screen. Unfortunately, there's no online co-op at the time of this review, which feels like a missed opportunity.

Graphics - 8/10

Since I haven't read the comics or seen the movie, I can't comment on how accurately the game portrays scenes from there, but I CAN say that SP is a gorgeous game. Using pixel art from a Mr. Paul Robertson, every single inch of the game looks like a work of art. While the developer (or at least whoever tried to describe the art style) claims it's an 8/16 bit art style, I'm pretty sure every one that plays it or at least sees the game in action will admit that the stuff here is of a much higher quality.

Sound - 9/10

Part of me feels like I should elaborate on this a bit, but there's not too much to say. In addition to some very retro sound effects from attacks, the reason this scores so highly is that the entire soundtrack consists of music created by Anamanaguchi. If you've never heard of them, they're a chiptune band, meaning they produce music that sounds like it's coming from one of the retro gaming consoles of yesteryear. Despite what your feelings may be about the genre, the best part is that every single melody is highly appropriate for whatever stage you're currently on, and it's also pretty good to listen to on its own.

Overall - 9/10

SPvTW is a game that anyone who ever had a soft spot for beat-em-ups absolutely has to own, along with people that are just looking for a good downloadable game that's a bit different from the other offerings present on the downloadable services. 4 player couch co-op makes this game an easy recommendation for anyone that tends to get a bunch of people together, even if it's only for an hour. Unfortunately, most people have traded in the social experience of slapping your friend a high-five after that tough boss fight in favor of playing games with people from across the globe. Since the game doesn't feature online play as of right now, it limits the appeal for people who claim the game is too hard or only want to play a game that they can finish with iPwNn0oBz69. Regardless, it's still a solid title and worthy of belonging on almost everyones hard drive, young and old. What else are you going to do with that cash, after all? Buy t-shirts on PS Home or Xbox Live?

Heavy Rain Review

I know I’m months late with writing this review, but here it is nonetheless! Heavy Rain was one of the highest anticipated games released on PS3 so far this year. Garnering buzz from critics with the early Casting Call tech demo showcasing the PS3’s potential at an E3 years ago, the game it spawned is here and worry not, it’s actually a spectacular title

Gameplay – 8/10.

Although everyone’s been wrapped up in the eye candy, it’s nice to know the game itself presents a solid experience. After a tragic event relatively early on, one of the main characters children is kidnapped, plunging you straight into the center of the mystery of the Origami Killer. In order to unravel everything, the player alternates between 4 different characters throughout the experience, each contributing in their own way. Most games would have used a point and click interface for an experience like this, but Heavy Rain relies heavily on creative controls using the six-axis and button combinations, along with a timer to keep dialogue moments moving while feeling fresh. On one hand, you could look at the game as being a gigantic QTE exercise, but that’s only a perspective that the most cynical could ever take. One of the most interesting things about the game is that it is completely possible to mess up too many QTE’s or just make a few bad decisions and one or multiple characters can die, while still allowing the experience to go on. There are also normally multiple solutions to many of the sequences, offering tons of branching paths if you choose to go down them in subsequent playthroughs. While a lot of the sixaxis movements contribute to the immersion, there are times where you’ll fail something due to shoddy movement detection. The movement controls are also very untraditional, leading to a few annoying moments as you adjust to having to use R2 to move forward and the left analog just for steering your character.

Graphics – 10/10.

The wait was completely worth it. When the tech demo was first shown, it was considered one of those graphical benchmarks that showed what the future could hold for Sony’s console. With the release of Heavy Rain, the bar has been raised for every other console game on the horizon. While some games would be satisfied with having some amazing looking cutscenes or some incredibly fleshed out areas, while ignoring some of the minor ones, every single location of every place you visit in the game is jaw dropping. Since there is now a game instead of just something to look at, the graphics might not be exactly as good as the early footage of the game, it still is easily one of the best looking games of this generation. The character facial animation does wonders for breathing life into every character that you come across, so much so that Quantic Dream felt the need to include a close-up of different characters during some very awkward loading screens.

Sound – 7/10.

With the game offering a solid experience with some of the best graphics to be found in any title since the launch of this console generation, it’s sad that these lifelike characters do have some incredibly strange tropes in terms of voice acting. The most cited example is during an early moment in the game where you essentially “Press X to ‘JASON,’” turning what should be a tense experience into one of the funniest things I’ve probably ever seen in a game. Most of the voice acting issues stem from the fact that it sounds like they hired French actors to pretend to be Americans, leading to over enunciation of every syllable, or just an awkward pacing to some of the speech. While the voice acting is a bit strange at certain times, the sound effects and musical themes are all expertly done, making the VO discrepancies are definitely a minority that is made more jarring when compared to how well other moments are.

Overall – 8/10.

Contrary to most of the other big name PS3 releases, this is one game that I feel every single gamer, and even many non-gamers should experience at least once. With the excellently crafted story, emphasis on realism, making QTE's a compelling part of the gameplay, and breathtaking graphics, it's guaranteed to draw in even the most skeptical person. The story is brief enough to keep you going until the end, and ends at just the right time to feel like you had one of the most unforgettable experiences you'll find on the console. The downside to the brevity of the game is just that; while you feel completely satisfied by the end of the game, it's worth mentioning that it's probably going to clock in at around 6-8 hours for most people, but the multiple endings, plus the possibility to have any of your characters die at any time due to a bad decision more than make up for it. I'd give the game a higher score if those jarring voice acting issues weren't present and while I loved it, I could see some people being put off by how cinematic of a game it is, sacrificing rocket launchers, double jumps, and world-threatening terrorists in favor of a dad that just wants to save his son from harm, even if it means sacrifing his own life. If you don't pick it up for full price, make sure that if you're a gamer to at least give it a shot whenever you get the chance, you won't be disappointed.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Pre-Order Flight of the Conchords: The Complete Collection

Just recently I heard that there's going to be a complete collection of the show, Season 1 and 2 plus a ton of added features. I really am hoping for deleted scenes from season 1, since the original season 1 set never had any bonus features. You can pre-order it now for the price of $38.99. I'm guessing that the price is actually higher on the actual HBO site, since both seasons and their CDs were priced higher. Anyways, this wonderful DVD set comes out on August 24th. I also posted this on my fotc blog located here: Folk You!

Here are the special features:

Comes with 4 discs
All 22 episodes within the two seasons
Flight of the Conchords: One Night Stand--Never-before-released 30-minutes special
Flight of the Conchords - On Air Documentary feature
Dave's Pawn Shop Commercials
Outtakes, Deleted Scenes, and More

Buy it below:

Link obtained from here.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Red Dead Redemption review

Every time I come across one of these great new Sandbox games, it really makes me think that we could possibly be entering a new renaissance. Back in the PS2 days, when the games first started really coming into their own, we were slammed with tons of GTA wannabes. Now, we've got all of these incredibly unique experiences and it's easy for some of them to get overlooked. What is it about Red Dead that has gamers so excited about Rockstars latest release?

Gameplay - 9/10

It feels like every single game Rockstar has worked on has lead them to this point. Taking the best cues from GTA4, a bit of Manhunt's brutality, and almost a bit of (I know it's not a R* game) Gun, all thrown into a pot and blended excellently together has culminated in one of 2010's biggest games. Red Dead Redemption probably does a better job than anything else I can remember of really recreating that wild west that we can only imagine or see in films and books. While a lot of games like open world games fall into a trap of making the world a playground, RDR makes it feel like a living breathing place by adding in tons of npc's that will approach you as you ride your horse from town to town, asking for assistance or even trying to mug you. While you could look at these elements from a distance and complain that these are boring but brief sidequests, when you're in the world, it helps to reinforce the immersion. The character of John Marston is probably their most likable protagonist ever, and one that you can truly understand the motivation for his actions without them seeming completely outlandish. Marston's adventure has him coming across some of the best developed characters in the genre as well, motivating you to keep pushing forward from one mission to the next until the spectacular ending, which is probably one of the most badass endings you'll see in a game.

Once you tire of the single player's 20-30 hours campaign and have had your fill of collectibles, you can hop into the online mode. Similar to GTA4, all of the players in each game are dumped into the exact same world as the single player campaign and are free to explore the world alone or with a posse. In order to give players a bit more of a focus, you'll occasionally come across bandit hideouts that need to be cleared, animals that can be hunted in specific ways to progress through challenges, multiplayer versus games, or you could even roll around making life a living hell for other players. Unfortunately, the last time I played the game, there were a ton of glitches that made the entire experience hard to enjoy to the full extent, but even with those in place, it was easy to lose hours at a time online just messing around, and I'm sure a lot of those have been ironed out now, especially with the new DLC packs having been released.

Graphics - 8/10

As I previously said, Red Dead does a great job of making the old west come alive with all of the wildlife you'll see flourishing in each of the areas you come across. All of the different towns and regions sport a unique feel that feels appropriate to the location and time period, and the character models look great as well. Unfortunately, graphical glitches prevent me from scoring this higher, such as the infamous horse woman and the limited number of models of some of the games classes (whores what) can take you out of the experience a tad bit, but considering the scale of the world, Rockstar did a spectacular job.

Sound - 9/10

Each character in Red Dead Redemption really comes alive with the great voice acting. It's also great to know that, yes, it IS possible to have a great male lead that ISN'T Nolan North. The subtle ambient music really reinforces that cinematic western feel, with some truly amazing songs normally kicking in once you transfer from one area to the next that give the whole thing a somber feel when the moments appropriate. There's something really nice about walking into a bar and hearing people murmur something about one of your latest exploits or a bandit that's been plaguing the town recently.

Overall - 9/10

I hate to be trite, but Red Dead Redemption is one hell of a ride. Games like this a few years ago would have been reserved solely for a big holiday release, but with all of the content in this 60$ package, not to mention the DLC that's out and the amazing stuff coming, this might be one of the best purchases you make all year. There have been complaints raised about the beginning of the game being a bit on the slow side, but it's entirely appropriate for the game and helps you out later down the line. Once you've exhausted the single player game, there's an entirely separate set of online objectives to complete for the completionists, not to mention tons to do in the world if you just want to screw around with other fans of the game. How could anyone possibly be complaining about a summer drought with great games like Red Dead Redemption having been released and giving you more than enough to keep you busy for a long time.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Chrono Trigger DS Review

Chrono Trigger has always been one of those games. You know, the ones that everyone who plays it, adores it and has nothing but praise, yet has a lot more people that have never given it a chance. With this DS re-release, now is everyone's chance that either missed it the first few times around or just wants to go back and revisit the classic for old times sake to get reacquainted with this classic adventure.

Gameplay - 10/10

I was worried when starting Chrono Trigger that my view of the title was going to be tinted heavily with nostalgia. Instead of starting up a dated rpg, after a few short moments with the game, I remembered exactly why it's been such a highly praised game for all these years. What's the point in having another amnesiac or vengeful hero when you could have an adventure that spans the entire history of mankind in an effort to make the future a better place? Of course, story alone is not enough to carry a 30+ hour RPG. Thankfully, CTDS has one of the best combat systems that's ever been done in the genre. The ATB system and constantly moving enemies really help to add a strategic feel to the combat while keeping the player engaged in order to get an edge over their enemies. There's also an incredible feeling of exploration, particularly when you're able to go between different time periods, and when you forget, the games narration does a great job of pushing the story into the right areas, keeping you from ever becoming truly overwhelmed by the number of possible things to do at once.

Graphics - 7/10

Maybe it's just me, but it feels like this game was designed for the DS. Even though the screen may be small, the world feels like it truly comes alive as you're staring down at the screen, admiring the sheer amount of detail that goes into every single animation of the characters. Chrono Trigger does a great job of disguising their dungeons and making each location feel like a truly important place instead of just swapping a color pallate or throwing in a generic layout. More impressive is that each time period has a look that feels entirely appropriate for the story and age you're in. Unfortunately, I feel like some people out there might look pass this classic in favors of more modern games, such as The World Ends With You or Dragon Quest IX, which is a true shame considering that the Pokemon games sell millions with every single release yet don't look anywhere near as beautiful as Chrono Trigger.

Sound - 9/10

How often do you find yourself playing a modern game and wondering why, even though the soundtrack sticks with you, you couldn't hum any of the themes even if your life depended on it? Chrono Trigger does a great job of reminding players of a much more simple time in gaming when people were forced to make these amazing scores with the hardware limitations of whatever console their project was tied to. It's amazing how much passion feels like it went into each song in the game, and especially that all of the music, despite coming from the SNES sound processor, feels entirely fitting to the time period in game as well as occasionally making you wonder how in the world such a beautiful sound is coming out of these tiny speakers. One of the most welcome additions is the new jukebox, which allows you to go back and listen to any of the songs from the game whenever you want to.

Overall - 9/10

Every single aspect of Chrono Trigger makes this one of, if not THE best portable RPGs that more than earns its spot in your collection. For fans of the original that 100% cleared everything, possibly numerous times, the new endings give you something to work towards as well as the perfect opportunity to relive this classic, while newcomers can finally understand exactly why this game has had such a gigantic fanbase since its original release. When you find yourself humming Far Off Promise or thinking about all of the amazing adventures you'll have gone on by the end of the game long after the game has ended, you'll completely understand why this is a definite must-own for every DS owner.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

F.E.A.R. 2 Review

The first FEAR was critically praised for its marriage of intense firefights, ferocious AI, and creepy atmosphere. Shortly after the original game released, there was a big stir as the IP was torn between the developer and the publisher, leading to two forgettable expansions (Perseus Mandate and Extraction Point) developed by another studio since the publisher had owned the name. During all of this chaos, Monolith began work on a game known as Project Origin, and as more information became available, it was fairly apparent that this would be the true successor to the F.E.A.R. name, just possibly without that title stuck to it. Things started to fall into place for Monolith however, primarily that they earned the right to use the series name and were signed back with Warner Bros. Does F.E.A.R. 2 manage to make up for those horrendous expansions? Read on to find out!

Gameplay - 7/10

FEAR 2 doesn't really do much to differentiate it from the original game when it comes to gameplay, which is a good and bad thing. While this means that the incredible AI has made a triumphant return, it also means that the game is going to rely a lot on the same scare tactics as the original. Stumbling down hallways and looking for a door in dimly lit areas while lights flicker overhead might scare the bejesus out of you once, but by the end of the game, you'll be more surprised when it doesn't happen. In order to break up the tedium of walking through cramped areas, the developer integrated outdoor areas and a giant mech every now and then that you can pilot, effectively turning your once vulnerable hero into a clone-slaying war machine. It's a bit jarring at first, but I actually appreciated the change after a while. Many games lose their tension when you gain a super weapon like this, But FEAR 2 keeps these sections brief, keeping it from turning into some sort of Dynasty Warriors slaughterfest. The last minor, yet incredibly annoying thing that needs to be mentioned is that there are no options to customize the control scheme from what I noticed. This means that all of the crazy melee moves are rendered somewhat useless on the PS3 version of FEAR 2 because of how awkward it is to have to press in the analog sticks, jump, and tap the melee button all at once for whatever move you're trying to execute.

Graphics - 7/10

As previously mentioned, this game still relies heavily on dimly lit environments and a clone army. On the bright side, the dimly lit environments are no longer just once office complex consisting of brown corridors. Instead, you stumble through some fairly eerie locations that all look slightly different from each other when you can actually see what's going on. While the change in color is greatly appreciated, something about the actual models looks a bit dated and you ultimately still spend a lot of time wandering down halls. Enemy designs, while effective, never really struck me as anything creative. When you consider that most of the things you face are just clones, you'll love it when the game introduces more enemy types until you realize that, yes, it's just 10 or so different types of enemies that all look exactly the same. At least the action keeps moving at a steady framerate the whole time!

Sound - 7/10

I've always appreciated it when a game nails weapon sound effects. This is the one area that FEAR 2 succeeds in incredibly well. Fitting in the the tense action sequences and creeping through hallways comes some great environmental sounds, from leaky pipes to rattling cans. The enemy voice overs in battle, although basic, still mange to add to the gameplay experience, especially when you come around a corner and hear "Flashlight over there, get in position!" and are able to get a somewhat accurate count for how many enemies you're about to face based on their footsteps in the next room. While these sounds are amazing, the voiceovers for plot points are questionable at best. I'm still unsure what kind of story they were trying to create, which is why this score is so low, but when you hear characters comparing you to pizza or making fun of other characters for being secretive, you want to let out a laugh, but it's kind of awkward in a game that made a name for itself by being a scary action game.

Overall - 7/10

FEAR 2 is one of those games, like Wolfenstein, that you could go your entire life without ever playing and might not be missing much, but if you're bored and just want something a little bit different and on the cheap side (now), it's worth a play through. If you're thinking of picking this up for the multiplayer component, you might want to pass since it's incredibly hard to find a game now, and when you do, it's just Deathmatch or Team Deathmatch. If you loved the first game, or are a fan of shooters/horror games, I'd advise picking up FEAR 2, but for everyone else, I'd say check out the demo first.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Wolfenstein Review

You ask any gamer what the first FPS was, you generally get the same answer: Doom. Sorry, brah. Wolfenstein 3D was id Softwares first game, which essentially put them on the map and allowed for Doom to be developed. The original Wolfenstein 3D laid forth the formula for the series that continues all the way up into 2009's Wolfenstein, boiling down to a bunch of Nazis that gain control of a relic that empowers them with some sort of super powers, which is ultimately taken down by B.J. Blazkowicz. How does it measure up, all these years later? Is it still fun to take down super nazis? Read on to find out.

Gameplay - 7/10

While all the previous games in this series took an incredibly linear format, this most recent release goes for a much more open hub world system. Although it's a refreshing change to the stage-to-stage format every other first person shooter goes through, ultimately it ends up with you running to an area on a map, getting a mission, then going there anyway. It's a nice alteration, but ultimately doesn't make any real difference to how you'll be going through the game. Another change I feel was made to be console friendly that probably isn't present in the PC version is that when you go into the menu to switch weapons, you set it so you can switch between your two favorite weapons, but if you want to pick a completely different one, you're going to be staring at what is essentially an equipment menu, which takes you out of the game a bit. All of these are minor issues, and I'm sure we're all wondering how this games nazi blasting formula deviates from World at War or the previous Wolfenstein games. Thanks to the fact that you're traveling through a much more believe war-torn Europe, there are tons of things in the environment that are entirely appropriate to use for cover.
These elements hold up well for the standard soldiers you come across, but it's the supernatural forces that might make you want to eat your controller a few times. After a certain point, you start coming across the trademark sexy female ninja nazis, cloaked enemies, and a lot of other things that you've got to see to believe, including one of the most frustrating end bosses I've seen in a game in years (excluding Killzone 2). While there is a multiplayer component in the game, I was unable to find anyone playing online when I tried it out, which was probably in March or April 2010, so I can't say how enjoyable that is. The last thing that needs to be mentioned is how insane the weapons get towards the end of the game. Other games settle for giving you a badass rocket launcher. Wolfenstein? Sure, feel free to take this hand-held Tesla Cannon.

Graphics - 8/10

While I was going through this game, I was wondering why some other games don't have the attention to detail in the textures that this has, specifically God of War 3. A lot of games give you decent texture work when you're playing the game, but under closer examination, such as when there are lulls in the action, it's hard not to notice blurry textures. Another thing that surprised me, considering that I'm sure a lot of people skipped this title, was how imaginative a lot of the models and environments become, especially in enemy design towards the latter half of the game. Early on, you'll be facing hordes of generic soldiers, but as the adventure progresses, you start seeing some of the things that seem like they could only come from the minds at id and Raven.

Sound - 6/10

Most of the time, you're going to be hearing the same gunshots you hear everywhere else. The voice acting is nice, although some characters feel like they might be overdoing the foreigner-attempting-to-speak-english dialect, but it's functional and probably won't bother you that bad unless you pay special attention to it. Although they're nothing new, the explosions tend to create a real sense of tension, as well as that familiar tinkling sound of a grenade rolling slightly too close. Let's also not forget how satisfying it is to come across a horde of enemies, ignite them, and hear/see them screaming in agony. It's a bit demented, but it feels like that sound is one of the hardest for any voice actor to portray right, and its more than adequate in Wolfenstein.

Overall - 7/10

Part of me wants to score this higher just to encourage people to give it a chance, but another part says that there are probably better things to spend the cash on. The sci-fi nazi twist is a nice change up from fighting terrorists in a first person shooter, not to mention how awesome it is to be using fictional weapons again instead of the standard pistol/sniper rifles that fill so many other games (don't worry, those are included in this too). The story isn't exactly full of unpredictable plot twists or anything, but it's nice to pick up a game for once and have an idea of exactly how it's going to start and how it's going to end. Out of all the overlooked shooters from 2009, this stands out as one I encourage everyone to try, especially if you can find it for 30$ and under or possibly a weekend rental.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Skate 3 Review

Skate 3 is the sequel that Skate 2 should have been. That's not to say that Skate 2 was bad or inferior to Skate, but there are a lot of additions that I'm looking at in this game that feel like they should have made it into the second game, but possibly didn't do to time constraints. All of that aside, the third game in this series worked its way into retailers on May 11th, bringing with it a hosts of improvements and alterations to the tried and true formula. Read on to find out how well the overall package came together.

Gameplay 8/10

With the original game, the skateboarding game genre was forever transformed, as evident by the number of sales against its rival that year, Tony Hawks Proving Grounds. In addition to that, the realistic gameplay, creative control scheme, and size of the open world was met with tons of critical acclaim and cemented the namesake into the hearts of gamers everywhere. The sequel improved on this formula by setting the game in the same city after a major disaster occurs, which alters the landscape a bit, giving you tons of new areas to skate, pros to meet, and an even more in depth replay and photo editor. This, coupled with more open areas of online freeskate, not to mention the addition of walking, made this sequel more than deserving as its title of successor.
Now, here we are with Skate 3, which in every way feels like the game Skate 2 would have developed into had there been more time between releases. Major changes to the game include the fact that now every single player challenge can be played online in co-op, meaning any thing you're having issues with is made a lot more tolerable by possibly bringing someone else in that is better than you or functions better than your new AI teammates. While Skate 2 had the option to drag items around and set up your own unique spots, Skate 3 allows you to use an object dropper anywhere in the world, not to mention an extensive park editor that allows for in depth customization of every single rail, ledge, ramp, or even elevation change on your own park, which can be shared with other people online (provided you buy the game new!). The fact that the entire game is entire co-op has its weaknesses, primarily coming from the team challenges that feel like its necessary for someone else to be doing with you instead of relying on the AI provided, which might be a deal-breaker for some.

Graphics - 8/10

For the first time, the game is running at a steady 60 FPS throughout the entire city. While the graphical style looks similar to Skate 2's, the fact that everything is consistent the whole way through makes a huge change in how fluid the game moves. The camera work this time around gives you a much more clean view of the world, since the series ditched that dirty looking filter and fisheye effect from the previous games, but if you desire to have them back, you can turn them on in the options, at the sake of reducing the framerate. Another huge change in the graphics is the fact that now, if you fail at doing a trick, instead of going into an automatic bail animation, there's a possibility that your skater will stumble and attempt to regain balance, which looks exactly like you'd expect it to if you've ever been the victim of this or witnessed in real life. Not only does it serve to immerse you in the sim like experience, but it helps from a gameplay perspective, as this makes it a lot easier to recover your momentum than faceplanting into the cement.

Sound - 8/10

While the previous games offered samples of other genres, it feels like Skate 3's soundtrack offers more of whatever it is that you're looking for. I can't name another game off the top of my head that can take you from Young Jeezy to Neil Diamond, then back over to The Pixies or Joy Division all within the course of 10 minutes. If there's anything in the soundtrack you don't want to hear, you can go into the menu and disable it. The PS3 version implements custom soundtracks right off the disk, meaning you don't have to wait for a patch to skate to that Rod Stewart cd you've secretly hoarded on your hard drive. For anyone that had been annoyed with the cameraman in the previous games, he's gone now and replaced with a new guy that rarely ever says anything unless you come across a really awesome spot, have an incredibly harsh bail, or pull off an insane trick. The score only gets an 8 here mostly because the sound effects from the actual skateboard just don't sound as satisfying as they did in earlier games. Maybe it's just me, but everything sounds a lot more muted now.

Overall - 8/10

While I can easily say Skate 3 is a much more refined game than Skate 2 was, it's a bit harder to recommend if you're not able to play online, and you should also be aware that if you buy it used, it disables your ability to share parks, logos, and pictures online. If you've never played a Skate game in your life before, however, the addition of difficulties, variety of landscapes, and refinements to the overall gameplay mechanics makes this easily a welcome starting area, probably even more than the first two games! The last thing I feel needs to be mentioned is that as of May 28th, 2010, it's been increasingly hard to find games online, especially considering a lot of players are probably on one of the other games that's come out this month. I'm hoping the community returns maybe during the post-E3 pre-fall down time, but I'm no psychic and this makes it a lot harder to get the full enjoyment out of the game due to the increased attention to online play.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

After Burner Climax review

Remember the days when games were based around a core mechanic and lived or died by said mechanic? During that period of time, Sega birthed an arcade flight action game under the name After Burner. While the original did fairly good, when most people think of After Burner, the memories are almost always associated with the second game; holding the flight stick in the arcade while shooting down countless enemy planes at insane speed. While there was an After Burner 3, the series hadn't seen a sequel since the 90's, but all of that changed in 2006 with the arcade release of After Burner Climax. The game succeeds in catching the attention and quarters of many in the arcade, thanks to it's blistering speeds and somewhat familiar gameplay with a few new tweaks, but is it worth the price of admission to play at home?

Gameplay - 8/10

Just like Outrun Online Arcade, ABC succeeds in taking one solid mechanic and making an incredible game out of it. The default control scheme might take a while to get adjusted to, but its well worth the dedication. If it's still not clicking for you, there's a few custom control schemes that you can select from as well, which are great, but it's a bummer that you can't fully customize the layout. Once you've got that out of the way, you select your plane and take to the skies. For those hoping for a free roam flight game akin to Ace Combat, you'll quickly realize that Climax sticks to its roots and forces you to constantly move forward, allowing you to use the throttle to accelerate or decelerate, which becomes vital in dodging shots and evading enemies behind you. Although the game is constantly hurtling you in one direction, you're free to move in a fairly large area using the left stick, all while using your machine gun to take down nearby enemies or locking onto them with your missiles before letting them go. The last thing in the controls department is the inclusion of the climax mode, where everything slows down, allowing you to lock on to tons of targets at once while making some dodges that would otherwise have been incredibly tricky, then firing off a volley of missiles, taking down all of the selected targets almost instantaneously. Unfortunately, that's about as far as the game goes in terms of controls.
Due to the unrelenting forward movement, the game also normally only takes between 8-12 minutes to finish, which would be a huge problem if this was an epic first person shooter or something, but despite its simple controls and short total gameplay time, chances are that you won't be making it to the end in your first few playthroughs (JUST LIKE IN OUTRUN!), since you're initially only given 3 credits to work with. In spite of what I said about the simple controls earlier, there's a surprisingly deep combo-chaining system present here that rewards you for continuously stringing together kills before a timer runs out, meaning that you occasionally need to leave one or two stragglers if you want to continue chaining between waves of enemies. After each mission, you're ranked on how well you did, along with getting letter grades after every 4 stages or so, which usually give you a chance to take a branching path to reach the ending.

Graphics - 7/10

When you first fire it up, you'll realize how incredibly well this looks for not only a downloadable game, but also as a next-gen game. All of this will be made more amazing once you realize the game was released in arcades back in 2006! As you blaze through the games levels, the variety of environments will continue to impress you, constantly making you wonder what the next level looks like or what the other path might lead to. The planes featured in the game all sport a surprising amount of detail and the explosions all look incredibly satisfying. The more you play, especially if you go for that achievement that requires you to finish the game with a D or E rank in speed (protip: hold the brake the whole game), you'll start realizing that under closer examination, the textures only look detailed if you're playing the game right (blazing through or just slowing down long enough to dodge enemy fire). This also brings to light that some of the effects are kind of...not as detailed as they look when you're going through faster, most notably the planes emerging from beneath the clouds, but as long as you keep your speed up, none of this will be an issue at all.

Sound - 6/10

ABC's biggest weakness is it's lackluster soundtrack. While I give Sega props for including the ability to use the Afterburner 2 soundtrack in the game, it still doesn't excuse how forgettable the soundtrack in this game is. It's appropriate considering this is an arcade flight combat game, but there's definitely not any jingles that are going to be left in your head or most likely songs that you really want to hear when you're not playing the game. The game does get an extra point for having some incredibly funny dialogue going on in the background, and I don't think that it's intentionally humorous, but it's almost campy for an arcade game "WOO! I MADE IT HERE FIRST!" There's just something really charming about the banter you hear between the pilots or the lack of concern in their voices as they take down an imaginary country's entire air force.

Overall - 7/10

After Burner Climax is highly recommended that everyone at least tries out, because it's a throwback to when games were pure and lived or died on one mechanic, this one being its combo system. Fortunately, it gets the combo system right, along with having tons of unlockables, and then you have the leaderboards and a personal high score board as well to encourage you to keep trying to do better. If you're not the kind of person that is addicted to constantly trying to see how much better you can do than your own previous best, the short nature of the game might make you want to leave it behind. Again, at least give the demo a shot, leave some comments, and let me know what you think.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

My ode to the Dreamcast

When I was a young lad, I remember my brother and I went to this mystical place called "Blockbuster", along with a few other local rental places (does anyone remember when grocery stores had their own video stores in them?) to pick up these amazing arcade ports on NES, SNES, and Genesis. I'd sit there for hours in front of the TV playing these perfect ports of games like Street Fighter 2, NBA Jam, Joe and Mac, and tons of others. At the time, I thought nothing could ever get any better than that. You could practically play authentic renditions of the same games you would normally have to plop quarter after quarter into in your own home! Sure, maybe the graphics weren't quite as polished, they might have altered some of the sounds, but the core experience was the same! How could it ever get any better?

Things started to change once the move to CD-based consoles started. When the Sony Playstation launched, instead of playing these compressed arcade games, we were getting closer to replicating that very same experience without having to sacrifice nearly as much, thanks to the superior hardware and the increased storage capacity on CD's. Unfortunately, as with most changes in technology, there was a trade-off: insane load times. Mortal Kombat 3 on Genesis was the first time I really noticed how much less crisp its sound was compared to the SNES, along with the fact that the color pallet seemed lacking. The SNES version seemed to look closer but still lacked that definition that made it stand out in arcade. The PS1 port, however, looked and sounded JUST like its big brother. Enter the trade-off: due to the laser having to read data off the disc, whenever Shang Tsung morphed, the game would freeze for a few seconds as it loaded the new characters moveset, which kind of ruined the whole experience, not to mention the loading time between fights. As time went on, the Playstation would become the next home for arcade ports, but we were always forced to just deal with the loading. All of that changed on 9/9/99.

When the Dreamcast finally hit, we saw a significant difference between what had been available during the 32-bit era (Saturn and Playstation) in terms of graphics, sound, and the core gameplay experience. While previous consoles had to sacrifice something, Dreamcast benefited from being constructed on the same basic hardware as what was then available in arcades. This meant that everything you saw at the arcade was finally playable at home with no losses, going so far as to throw in tons of extra modes (Street Fighter Alpha 3 says "Hi"), allowing you to refine your skills at home without having to take frame rate or input differences into account.

As previously mentioned, this was not the Dreamcast's only strength. It definitely makes it easy to go back into if you feel like playing Capcom vs SNK 2 or Soul Calibur, but there were tons of amazing games that were exclusive to it that still hold up well today. Jet Set Radio is still a landmark title thanks to its introduction of the cel-shaded art style that games use to this day. Shenmue can be blamed for the origin of so many QTE events in games for years to come, even going so far as to be the primary control element in this years hit, Heavy Rain. While online console gaming technically existed years before thanks to the xband, Phantasy Star Online is the title people look back at and remember how excellent the netcode was, or that crazy night they jumped on to trade items with some guy from the other side of the world. With the creation of the 2k sports games, it felt like Madden and NBA Live had some serious competition, forcing them to seriously consider what their strategy was. Sure, there was NFL Xtreme, Game Day, NBA Shootout, and other franchises that tried, but none ever managed to really get the experience as refined as NFL and NBA 2k did, which also looked leaps and bounds better than anything we'd seen before. Last, but definitely not least, who can possibly forget their first time seeing the Ready 2 Rumble commercial?

I could go on and on forever about how amazing the Dreamcast was and still is, and there might be future posts nailing down specific experiences I had with the amazing, but for now, I'd like to bring this to a close. The Dreamcast is still my first choice for amazing 4 player split screen games and loading up amazing arcade ports, and while the PS2 is a close second, I really feel that this was the niche Sega carved out for itself in the hearts of gamers everywhere. The next time you hear that ridiculously loud beeping sound the VMUs made when starting up or hear about a new Cel Shaded game, or even when you're cursing out a game because of that damn QTE you missed, think of the Dreamcast and pour one out for Sega. Better yet, track one down if you don't already have one, get some friends, some controllers, and bask in the glory of one of the finest consoles of all time.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune Review

I've owned a copy of Uncharted 2 since shortly after it came out and haven't even touched it yet, although I spent extensive time with the multiplayer betas. Even though I've heard so many great things about how Uncharted 2 pushes the possibilities of narrative and character development, I felt I'd be doing myself a disservice by not touching the original Uncharted first. After finishing Uncharted 1, I would like to say that I'm totally ready to move on to the next game to see where this goes, and as a sort of goodbye to the original, I'm writing this review while my thoughts are untainted.

Graphics - 8/10

For a game that came out in 2007, this is still one of the most impressive PS3 games I've seen. While some people have dubbed Uncharted as "Dude Raider" or "Larry Croft", it has a lot more in common with Indiana Jones than Tomb Raider. The way the scenes transition to cutscenes, and then the in-game cinematics all combine to create an incredibly beautiful game. While some games might give you a lush jungle and fail at creating any other locations, Uncharted looks phenomenal at every single location you end up in. The high quality graphics don't just stop with the environments either; all of the models, while not as realistic as something like Heavy Rain, their animations along with the attention to detail (Drake's Half Tuck comes to mind...) help to make these some of the most life-like characters you'll ever encounter in a game. Unfortunately, even though all of the models and environments look great, it's a bit of a bummer that eventually, you start getting into firefights (which have some amazing explosions, by the way) with a lot of the same enemy models, which kind of ruins things a bit, but it's understandable. If every NPC had been completely original, who knows how long it would have taken for this to come out!

Gameplay - 7/10

Uncharted's weakest area might be in its techniques used to build tension. Adventuring through the amazing locales, taking in the sights, even the platforming and shooting are all incredibly well done. The controls feel tight the entire time, allowing you to go to whatever cover you need to, pop a few headshots, then move somewhere else. So if the core mechanics are as good as I say they are, how is it possible that this section gets a 7/10? First issue is the problem with how they set up certain battles. When you're walking through twisty tunnels in a cave and suddenly come to a big clearing with randomly strewn about boulders and pillars, you'll start to realize that this means there are going to be dudes pouring in from everywhere. It doesn't matter where it is, this always happens, and during these encounters, you tend to die a lot until you figure out exactly where that rocket toting soldier is, where the snipers are, and when the enemies that keep punching you to death are spawning from (tip: it's probably behind you somewhere). Also, the last few hours of gameplay introduce a completely different enemy, and while the change starts off as being completely welcome, it quickly grows trite when you realize it's essentially forcing itself to become a straight up action game, which isn't the best path for this type of action/adventure game and brings focus to the respawning enemies + arena formula that plagues the whole game.

Sound - 9/10

I don't think I've played any other game where the dialogue between characters comes off as natural as it does here. Every time I've heard someone mention either Uncharted, they immediately start talking about how much the liked the characters, ranging from the archetypes they represented to simple character design. The presentation of archetypes are mostly done through their dialogue and how well the actors did, elevating the scriptwriting from lines on a paper to sounding like believable responses for any of the characters during these harrowing situations. Fortunately, the voice acting isn't the sounds only strength; the soundtrack is incredibly fitting. In addition to every song being fantastically composed to create that treasure-hunting atmosphere, all of the songs are used at fantastic times. Last but not least, the weapon sounds are all distinguishable from each other during gunfights, allowing you to audibly tell who you should be avoiding or precisely where that guy with a sniper rifle is firing down at you from.

Overall - 8/10

While the whole experience is fantastic, it's a bit disappointing that some of the gameplay mechanics really do drag what would otherwise be a fantastic experience. To this day, all these years later, I've yet to come across more believable characters, and while the graphics aren't the best any more, thanks to titles like Final Fantasy XIII and Heavy Rain, they are easily in the upper echelon of what's been presented on PS3. Despite its flaws, Uncharted 1 is a title I highly recommend every PS3 owner at least try out and any collector needs in their library.

Monday, April 19, 2010

God of War III Review

I was going to attempt to hold off on writing this review until I finished the 14 other reviews I've had pending since last October, but the more I think about my experiences with God of War 3, the more I realize I need to let it all out. First and foremost, I would like to say that I was a huge fan of the first game, skipped the second, played the PSP one which made me hate the entire series, and I'm back again giving 3 a chance. This was the one release this year that was guaranteed to be at least a good, worth owning PS3 title, especially after enduring all of the hype it was getting. What were my impressions and most importantly, could it possibly rekindle the flame that Chains of Olympus urinated out then shoved into a vat of steaming elephant dung for me? Read on to find out.

Graphics - 8/10

I think it goes without saying that as of right now, the graphical powerhouse titles on PS3 are Killzone 2, Heavy Rain, and Uncharted 2 (leave a comment if I missed one). While I can't comment on the last one since I've barely played the single player in it, I can safely say that God of War 3 does a stellar job of pushing the cell processor just as hard if not harder than the previously mentioned titles, and all without a hint of slowdown. GOW3 continues to emphasize the scale of Kratos vs. the insurmountable odds he faces at every turn, from minotaurs to titans. While the previous games looked particularly well considering when they came out, God of War 3 manages to keep everything running at a smooth 60 fps the entire time while presenting almost every story event using the in-game graphics engine instead of prerendered cutscenes, which is just about the only time you get to see how impressive the models look up close. All of the models sport incredible detail, even down to the way that sash around Kratos' waist moves. So why is this only an 8/10? Unfortunately, there are moments in the action based gameplay where when the camera zooms in and you get to see the texture work on the regular geometry and you realize that the only reason the world looks so detailed is because those textures were clearly meant to be seen from a distance and lose that sharpness as you get closer. Another downside is that there are also a lot of enemies and locations that have been (or at least look) recycled from previous games and while they have been increased in detail, it would have been nice to see completely original enemies or new designs for the pre-existing ones. Fortunately, some of the bosses you come across (the first comes to mind) look spectacular and there's a rather clever 300-styled cutscene that happens early in the game.

Gameplay - 7/10

I managed to not come close to touching the demo since I had a really weird feeling that God of War 3, at its core mechanics, would be more of the same. I'm a bit conflicted on how I feel about the end result. After unlocking more weapons, the ability to switch them on the fly mid-combo comes as a welcome change of pace. Despite this innovation for the series, most of the time you'll end up just hammering out the same button combos that you've been doing since the first title. It's nice to be able to pick up the controller and instantly know things, such as how the right stick has to be dodge, but it makes me wish that there had been more originality overall instead of falling back to the if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it end result that we're left with. When you consider that Heavy Rain came out a few weeks before GoW3 and completely changed how most people feel about character interaction and presenting you with compelling QTE's, it's almost disappointing to see almost all of the events in GoW3 resort to hammering on a single button. At it's best, the game slows down long enough to let you see the button presses and make sure you hit the right ones or offers a cinematic camera angle from the enemies perspective, but the competition seems like it's moved way beyond the basic mechanics presented here.

Sound - 8/10

Since I've relocated to an apartment that I'm sharing with someone else, I feel like I shorthanded myself by not having experienced this game in 5.1 glory. Fortunately, I did have a set of Turtle Beach X1's handy, and while they don't simulate surround sound or anything dramatic, they do have great bass reception. When you get to hear the booming voice of Hades, it really made me appreciate how much effort went into the voice acting. Even Kratos' trademark anger is present, if a bit trite. The score continues to be phenomenal, just as it has been in the previous games, while fitting in appropriately to each section of the game, easily succeeding in further immersing the player into the insanity of the situations at hand. While all of the voice acting is phenomenal, it's a shame that the lines written for the characters have to be so weak at times. "WHAT TREACHERY IS THIS?!" Really now?! At least the line was delivered well in spite of its content!

Overall - 8/10

God of War 3 did manage to convince me that all hope was not lost for the franchise, even if it's supposed to be the end of a trilogy. While the whole game isn't continuously full of the high notes like the first hour or so, it did make a good job of making me want to see what was around the next corner, more for the experience instead of story. One thing I did forget to mention in the gameplay segment is how infuriating the double jump system is. While it is a total bummer to survive a tough fight only to fail at jumping a tiny pit because the timing is so strange for it, it still doesn't completely drag the experience down. I almost feel like if the studio had been tasked with creating a new title from a fresh IP, they might have put more effort into overcoming some of the traps they fell into (Kratos is still one dimensional, the double jump issue, and an incredibly predictable story). God of War 3 this still succeeds in being one of the best action games of this type on the PS3 and a must play for anyone owning the console. If you're a fan of action games or the series, this is easy to recommend as a purchase. If you're new to the franchise, you might want to just rent this one or pick up the God of War Collection instead. While it is a fitting end to a trilogy, it's also incredibly formulaic which keeps it from scoring higher.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Beatmania US Review

With DJ Hero just recently coming out, I feel like it's time to go ahead and give credit where it's due. That's right, ladies and gents: it's time for me to finally review Beatmania.


Beatmania (US) is actually based on the 9th game in the popular and long running Beatmania IIDX arcade series, which is also a sort of reimagining of the original Beatmania series. The gameplay consists of buttons falling from the top of the screen to the bottom, with the player having to press the corresponding button as soon as it reaches the bottom. While the formula doesn't sound to different from any other music game out there, its real charm comes from the sheer difficulty and learning curve. While most games tend to make concessions towards introducing players to the game, then getting progressively harder, Beatmania starts you off at the bottom of the staircase, shows you the first two steps, then smashes the rest of them with a gigantic hammer, lights it on fire, then lines the rubble with nails dipped in poison and asks you to reach the top. Part of the challenge comes from the fact that the samples you're playing usually involve tapping rhythms and melody at the same time, while managing the turn table. This might not be that big of an issue, but it requires you to have at least 85% of the notes played correctly through the entire song, with your percentage becoming a life bar. Once you reach the upper threshold, any missed notes will slowly pull it down. Basically, this boils down to you possibly being great at a song and failing because of the last 5 seconds of the song if you don't know the ending, which can lead to a lot of frustration. If anyone out there is a fan of the previous (or later) releases, the US version is a perfect port in terms of gameplay, along with giving you a chance to get an official Beatmania controller.


While the US music games tend to focus on creating unique interfaces, characters or customization, Beatmania focuses more on a minimal graphical style that makes it feel more like you're learning some bizarre language instead of playing a game. Most of the time, you'll be staring at a plain black background with white, blue, and red keys flying down screen. If you can peel your eyes away, there's a video playing on the side, but that's about it as far as in-game visuals are concerned. The music select screen is nice, but there's really not too much that sets up any sort of atmosphere other than music-game-in-corner-of-arcade, which doesn't really cut it for console music games anymore.

SOUND - 7/10

If you're one of those people that criticizes DJ Hero for not having enough trance/techno, the soundtrack here might float your boat a bit more. While there's still a bit of the traditional eurobeat stuff that plagues so many japanese music games, you also get some of the more original songs from the franchise (Bad Boy Bass? Yes plz). In addition to that, you get a few original songs along with the required American tracks, which includes a decent remix of Britney Spears' Toxic, Funkytown, etc. In total, you've got 58 songs, some exclusive to Beatmania, the others in IIDX, and a few more that are selectable in both modes once you unlock them.

OVERALL - 7/10

For anyone that's always loved Beatmania or is a huge fan of music games, this is well worth at least trying out, however the steep difficulty curve and song list might alienate some players. If you persevere and manage to pass some of those more tough songs and possibly even AA them, you'll get one of those rare moments where you might jump out of your chair or away from the TV in excitement. This is also probably one of the easiest way to score an affordable and decent Beatmania controller for long time fans, but it's a bit hard to locate copies of the game since it didn't sell too well in the US. While BM US is easily a must buy for Beatmania fans, people that are hardcore fans of American music games might want to approach this one with caution and everyone else might want to look at videos to see if it looks interesting before even trying it out.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Wii Sports Resort review

It's nice to know the first Wii game reviewed here is a pretty good one! The original Wii Sports was one of those games that really helped to showcase the features of the Wii and was a primary reason so many people purchased the console, but it was clear after a few sessions that it was pretty much just a glorified tech demo. Is it possible that Wii Sports Resort presents the player with more of the same, or does it bring anything new to the table? How does the Motion Plus affect gameplay? Why are there so many questions here? Read on to find out!

Graphics - 7/10

Annnnnnnnnd it looks like we're off to a bad start. Unfortunately since Wii Sports came out, there have been a lot prettier games produced without having to add the "good for a Wii game" qualifier after it. While the graphics in Wii Sports Resort do have a certain charm to them, it's mostly just a few small enhancements to the same visual style from the original game. Your characters are all Miis, which is cool and all, but they aren't exactly the most detailed things out there. I know it's nitpicking, but I feel like things might have been a bit better had they pushed this into a slightly more unique art style. To be fair, the new levels feel a lot more organic with the miis walking around in the background or cheering you on, or even subtle things like the ducks swimming in the lake while you're canoeing. Most importantly, even though it might not be pushing any graphical boundaries, it still feels like it captures that classic Nintendo feel that nearly all of their first party games have.

Gameplay - 9/10

The first game did a phenomenal job of convincing people to spend 250$ on an experience they couldn't get anywhere else, but unfortunately didn't keep anyone really coming back for more past the first week. Wii Sports Resort relieves all of those issues by offering 12 different sports, each with tons of unlockable bonuses that change up the gameplay (frisbee golf, speed slice, 3v3 basketball, etc) with the core gameplay of most of the modes being incredibly fun and accurate to their real life counterparts. While there's tons of content for all 12 games, the typical reaction from people is to love some of them, like a few more, then have 1 or 2 that they utterly despise. The other small issue is that while most of the games take full advantage of the motion plus, a few of them feel like they could have been done without it, which is a shame since the game requires each player to have the accessory attached during multiplayer. I'm not sure if you want to at the package as a full game with a pack-in that you might end up needing in the future or a 40$ accessory with a 10$ game, but this time there's definitely more than enough on the game side to keep you coming back for a long time.

Sound - 6/10

While the graphics get by because of the sheer charm, the sound in WSR is actually harder to excuse. On one hand, you have an incredibly catchy theme with some decent sound effects that you'll hear from time to time, but you'll quickly realize that those few sounds are what you're going to be hearing every single time you play. It would have been nice if they gave you an option to use a custom soundtrack or maybe had a few classic Nintendo game songs just to help things stay fresh a bit longer. While most games feature overly cinematic scores, Wii Sports Resort skips all of that and uses some incredibly simple, yet memorable songs that you might actually find yourself humming while not playing the game for the first time in years.

Overall - 8/10

If you're a Wii owner or considering purchasing one soon thanks to the new price drop, WSR definitely deserves a place in your library. Not only does it blow the original out of the water, but the enhancements to the returning games gives you tons to keep coming back for. If anyone is looking for a title to show off the graphical prowess of the Wii, you might want to shy away from using this, but if you're looking for one of the most flat-out fun experiences this year, look no further than Wii Sports Resort.