Friday, September 28, 2007

Metapost: Bring in the guestbloggers


Hola, Games For Lunch readers,

Tomorrow morning I leave for a two week honeymoon in beautiful Hawaii. While it pains me to leave you, rest assured that you'll still get your daily dose of one-hour reviews thanks to a bevy of guestbloggers that have generously donated their time to keep the home fires burning. They are, in alphabetical order:

Please shower them with the appropriate praise in the comments and visit their sites, multiple times if possible, to help reward them for their participation. Don't get used to this sudden bump in the quality of the site, though... I return to regular posting on Oct.15.

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass


Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: Oct. 1, 2007
Systems: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Reach out and touch some Link.

0:01 Bird fly over an ocean that spans two screens. Familiar Zelda tunes rise over images of a pirate ship. Who's riding on the jib but Link. Hey, that's dangerous! Get back on the deck, Link?

0:02 The game asks if I'm right or left handed. A very nice touch. Every DS game should have it, not just the Nintendo-made ones. I love the paper cut out aesthetic on the intro. (see picture above). It'd be even cuter if it moved.

0:03 The intro. tells a very condensed story of Tetra and Link that will be familiar to players of The Wind Waker. I won't spoil it... you can look it up elsewhere. Love the sparse, classic Zelda tunes.

0:05 Turns out one of the pirates was telling the story with paper cutouts. Link fell asleep and Tetra wakes him and tells him to get to work. "Ha, some legendary hero you are." The cel-shaded polygonal characters look a bit rough around the edges... some weird shading going on here. I'm not that impressed.

0:07 So we're out in the middle of the ocean looking for a ghost ship. Tetra (who's actually Zelda) makes fun of the rest of the crews' superstitiousness. Heh.

0:08 Wouldn'tcha know it, a fog rolls in and none other than the ghost ship appears. HA! Who's superstitious NOW Zelda? "It's just a ship... But it does look like it could be the Ghost Ship." OPEN YOUR EYES PRINCESS! IT'S GOT A HUGE SKULL ON THE FRONT!

0:09 Zelda goes aboard to look and we hear her scream. Not again... Link goes off to rescue her, but falls in the water instead.

0:10 Aw hellz no.... I wake up to the annoying "HEY!" of Navi from Ocarina of Time. Kill me now.

0:11 Oh, it's not Navi, it's Ciela the fairy. Her "HEY!" is just as annoying though. She's asking all sorts of questions and generally getting in the way of ADVENTURIN'.

0:12 Running around is as easy as pushing the stylus where you want to go. Tapping on people to talk and tapping on barrels to pick them up is incredibly intuitive. Who needs buttons? The top screen is an ever-present map... a necessity for a game like this.

0:14 Ciela's grandpa, Oshus, tells me not to go after the Ghost Ship. Right... like that'll happen.

0:15 So I'm off to the harbor to find out more about the Ghost Ship. Ciela's coming along too. Fine... as long as she stops with the 'HEY!"

0:18 Grumble. I click on a sign from the side and it says "You can't read it from here." Look, if I can see it on the screen and I can tap it, just tell me what it freakin' says, OK?

0:20 So in Oshus' storehouse, it says to ask before taking stuff. OK... but when I go talk to Oshus he just tells me to go to the port. But I want your stuff! Wah!

0:21 Hmm.... an earthquake broke the bridge, so I have to go through a "cave of monsters" to get to the harbor. Also, conveniently, Link can't swim anymore.

0:22 Oshus suggests waiting for the bridge to be fixed. "Don't even think about braving the path to the North." I can just picture some poor gullible player watching the DS, waiting patiently and obediently (and fruitlessly) for the bridge to get fixed.

0:24 Oshus: "Tried the path to the North, did you?" He acknowledges the problem with monsters encroaching on the town, but still won't give me a freakin' sword to deal with them. ARGH! I'M THE LEGENDARY DEFENDER OF HYRULE! LET ME DEFEND!

0:25 "If only you found a sword, then you could show those monsters." YES THANK YOU CIELA!

0:26 Are you kidding? Ciela finally remembers that, to get in the storehouse, you have to write a number on a sign. "I think it's the number of palm trees on the beach." When did this game become Link's Counting Challenge DS?

0:27 1...2...3...7 palm trees. That was fun... if you're in preschool. Also, someone explain to me how writing "7" on a wooden sign opens a big stone door? And don't just say "magic."

0:28 Sword get! Tap an enemy or slash across the screen to use it. A few practice swings seem pretty responsive.

0:30 Oshus insists on training me in sword use. Sigh. Let's get on with it already. I've got places to go, princesses to save.

0:32 Heh. Too many spin attacks in a row makes Link dizzy. He stumbles around dazedly for a second.

0:33 Apparently the rolling attack I've been accidentally triggering is done by making "tiny circles on the edges of the screen." Now that I know how to do it I have trouble pulling it off reliably...

0:34 Cave time. Tapping on octoroks to kill them is amazingly easy. Maybe because they're barely mobile.

0:36 "Pull the four levers in the correct order... or else!" OK... and the correct order is...?

0:38 Despite not having found wherever the correct order was hidden, I manage to get it on the third try. Lucky! Also: I know what a door opening looks like. Do we need a five second unskippable cut scene every time I open one?

0:42 Cute little puzzle. I need to use a block to stop a fast-moving snake with a key on his tail. It takes a while but I get it. Also: You don't need to tell me what a key is EVERY TIME I GET ONE. Once should be enough.

0:43 Cave = conquered!

0:44 Chickens are back in this game. Of course, I can't resist slashing them and causing a barrage of chickens to come out and attack me. Heehee.

0:46 I'm not welcome in the bar until I "get a bit farther in life." Oh come on. I rescued Princess Zelda for god's sakes.I think I deserve a vodka tonic on the rocks!

0:47 Wait, a guy outside says he "Can't wait to sit at the milk bar." I'M NOT OLD ENOUGH FOR THE MILK BAR?

0:48 Aw nuts. The shield is 80 rupees. I have 79. Time to go grass cutting...

0:50 The sailor I need to talk to, Linebeck, went off to the "Temple of the Ocean King." The locals tell me to steer clear. Yeah... like that'll happen.

0:52 Octoroks bounce off my new shield with a pleasant "boing" Hee!

0:53 I find an obviously bombable wall, but I have no bombs yet. Mark it with a B on my map to remember. Useful!

0:55 A cute skeleton of what could be Linebeck sits at the entrance. I should be creeped out, but really I'm just enchanted =)

0:56 Nope, Linebeck is alive and trapped behind some small, rather non-threatening spikes. Oh, also, the temple sucks the life out of you unless you're in safe zones. Thought you should know that.

0:58 I open a chest, the "You got an item" music starts, Link does his characteristic item-getting pirouette and... there's nothing there. I'm laughing here.

0:59 "Hey kid, you're pretty brave for someone so short." Hey, Linebeck, you're pretty brave talking that way to a kid with a sword.

1:00 Some nice slapstick humor here as Linebeck pretends to have a sprained ankle and shakes Link silly. Nice to see some believable characterization from this series.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? I'm looking forward to Zelda's characteristic puzzles and using the touch screen in new and exciting ways.

This review based on a retail copy provided by Nintendo.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Jeanne d'Arc


Developer: Level 5
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: Aug. 21, 2007
Systems: PSP
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: The totally, absolutely, completely accurate history of Joan of Arc, told through anime and turn-based strategy. Plus: demons.

0:01 The game opens to a simple menu screen set on an ornately prepared table in a cathedral of some sort. I'm loving the orchestral music already.

0:02 Lightning rends the sky over a castle. A small boy that looks like a girl asks his uncle for a bedtime story. "I wonder if you have heard this story yet..."

0:03
A demon set his sights on the human realm, and set reapers to take it. The humans forged five magical armlets to contain the demon. Lord of the Rings much? Some beautiful anime battle scenes here. Top notch production values.

0:04
The kid's out cold. "Much time has passed and now England finds itself embroiled with France in a war that has lasted nine centuries. What an irony then that I must call on the fiends immeasurable power to ensure young Henry has a future beyond these troubled times." NO,! DON'T DO IT, YOU FOOL!

0:05
An armored knight tries to stop the sorcerer/uncle, but all he does is cut a hole in the summoning pentagram. Also: why is this guy summoning the dark powers in Henry's room? Doesn't he have a secret lair or something. "You were one of the five. How can you tolerate selling your soul to a monster like that?" "You were a dear friend once, so I will not end your life." Good voice acting here.

0:07
The soldiers' armband glows and he throws his sword at a demon that threatened to take Henry. The sorcerer insists forcefully that Henry "not be kept from his destiny." What destiny? Life as a cursed prince? "I do this all for the good of young prince Henry. Now he shall rule over this world as it's true king... for all eternity." Henry lets out a demonic laugh. I'm hooked!

0:08
Suddenly, the game switches to cel-shaded polygons and text boxes instead of voice-acted anime. The transition is pretty jarring. Phoo. Anyway, Jacques flirts with young Jeanne and Lianne at a festival. Oh, Jacques is their dad. Never mind.

0:10
Jeanne and her sis Liane get sent off to deliver an herb to the church, and find their brother in the woods while they're at it. Nothing good can come of this...

0:11
Jeanne and Liane gossip about Roger, who was awkward when he first came but now everyone loves him. No time for that, an unconscious soldier falls off a horse. More anime.

0:12
A glowing bag ensnares Jeanne and make her wrist glow. It turns into an armlet (another armlet, eh?). The horse indicates there's something in the saddlebag. It's a large purple toad? Huh?

0:13
Some sort of pig demon emerges from the woods nearby. And we're back to cel-shaded blockiness. A voice from the darkness: "YOU MUST FIGHT... TAKE THE SWORD......" See, Joan of Arc heard the voice of god. It's historically accurate! Except for the purple toad, I imagine.

0:14
Time for the first battle. You can move and then perform one action: attack, skill or item. A combat forecast appears before you attack an enemy telling you expected damage and counterattack. Don't like it? Move and try again. Very Advance Wars.

0:15
Attacking from the side seems to do more damage, so that's what I do. The damage forecasts were off by one, so it seems you don't have totally perfect information going in.

0:17
Liane's turn... she attacks with a stick and kills another one of the pig beasts. 30 G for the trouble and lots of experience.

0:19
Oh, there's one more enemy I didn't see. I make sure to keep out of his range. Luckily he walks into mine next turn.

0:21
Man, this orc is tough, but I manage to kill him without having to heal. I level up already? That was easy.

0:22
"Where did you learn to wield a sword." "I didn't... the strength came from the armlet. And that voice..." Roger was too late to help, delayed by his own demons as he was.

0:23
Back to anime briefly. The village is burning. Note to RPG characters: NEVER LEAVE THE VILLAGE! IT WILL BURN DOWN IF YOU DO!

0:24
No time to mourn for the dead villagers... there's an English soldier leading some orcs nearby. Time for battle!1

0:28
So far Rogers has missed with his first two attacks. What a worthless addition!

0:29
Roger finally connects, and it's the killing blow. "Kill them" the English soldier helpfully commands from afar. What gripping dialogue...

0:30
Mid-battle cut-scene time. The voice tells Jeanne to hold the armlet aloft to unlock its powers. And if the voice told you to jump off a bridge... would you? A Sailor Moon style anime transformation commences. Jeanne is now a super-badass knight. "This...power. Where is it all coming from." Er, the PSP battery? Super-Jeanne can move again if she kills enemies and has other special skills, but you can only transform for a few turns and once per stage.

0:33
Holy crap, Super-Jeanne does four times the damage! She's tearing across the countryside killing enemy after enemy in one massive turn! Yeehaw!

0:37
Uh oh... back to normal Jeanne. Good thing the enemy is all but defeated anyway.

0:39
Shift to the throne room of little King Henry VI. He loves loves kittens despite being possessed. That is all.

0:41
Uncle sorcerer, who's now a duke, is a little put off by the evil demon king he created. "I suppose even the weak have a role to play. Perhaps wishing painful deaths upon them might be a bit hasty," he argues. YA THINK?!

0:42
That large purple toad saunters by and agrees to come on the journey with us. It's OK, though... it's a well known historical fact that Joan of Arc consorted with large purple toads at many points throughout her life.

0:43
"I can take care of everyone if I need to. I have the armlet." Yeah, you proved that pretty well last battle.

0:44
More anime. Jeanne might be a badass warrior, but she's not above crying and cutting her hair short. "I can not lie down when they have trampled our honor." Chapter I: A Legend Begins.

0:48
The controls for the menus and world map and such are explained extremely clearly. Navigating menus is a breeze.

0:49
The world map is massive. This is gonna be a long game. My objective is to "head to Vaucouleurs," though I'm not sure why. I guess any place is better than my burnt down hometown.

0:50
In Vaucouleurs, Jeanne tries to convince Captain Robert that she hears the voice of god and should be let in the army despite being a commoner. He's not receptive, to say the least. "I don't have time to haggle with men like him," she cries and they run off to Neufchateau, where there's a battle a-brewing and no spare soldiers to fight it.

0:53
For some reason, Jeanne can't get her super armor to work in a cut scene. Good thing Bertrand and Jean run in and save the day and join our party.

0:57
Lots of new stuff introduced in this battle, including initial troop placement, power granting "burning auras" that appear when you attack, and "unified guards" that form when your party is close together. "A pact with friends is they greatest Aegis!" Wha?

1:00
I have a limited number of turns to finish this battle, but something tells me it won't be too hard... at least not yet. Also: There's an enemy named Lizardman. Someone tell Namco!

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? Great interface, interesting, well-told story and strategy that shows some signs of depth.

This review based on a retail copy provided by Sony.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Pac 'N Roll


Developer: Namco
Publisher:
Namco
Release Date: Aug. 16, 2005
Systems: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: So, like, Pac-Man is a ball now?

0:01 The Pac-Man-ball greets me with a chirpy "Pac N Roll" on the title screen but it sounds more like "Kakuro." It seems the person who rented this before me made it all the way to world 7, "Pac-Moon." Way to go!

0:02 "Go to the exit in the goal area to complete the stage." Simple enough.

0:03 Rolling is a simple matter of a quick swipe in the direction you want to go on the touch screen. Pac-Man-ball's movements are a little jerky -- he'll quickly speed up then lose his momentum almost instantly.

0:04 So far it's just rolling around collecting dots. I need 80 to get through a gate. Easy peasy.

0:05 First stage done. Well that was painfully straightforward. What's next?

0:06 If I get caught by ghosts I have to flick them away with the stylus. This sounds ever so annoying already.

0:07 Sure enough, getting hit by a ghost slows the game to a halt as you tap wildly at the screen. Just let me take my damage and let on with the game, huh? Not everything needs to be an excuse to use the touch screen.

0:08 Hmm, I didn't expect to get stuck so soon, but I can't get up a tilting platform to the ledge above without it dumping me unceremoniously back down.

0:09 Ah ha! Holding the stylus at the screen's edge does a little dash. Where's the helpful hint telling me about this?

0:10 Say what you will, the real genius of the original Pac-Man was the table-turning power pellets. Eating ghosts is just as fun in this game.

0:12 Level 2 completed. The controls allow for some fine navigation through narrow passages. Hope they make me use this soon.

0:13 NOW comes the helpful on-screen hint about the speed boost. Hey, mail that hint back to last level when maybe I would have cared...

0:14 My first death... a tricky jump, followed quickly by my second on the same jump. Harsh.

0:15 My wife tells me this is the "single most annoying video game music experience I've had... and I've had many." I like it... bouncy and repetitive in an old school way. Meanwhile, death No. 3 = game over = restart the level. No biggie.

0:16 Changing the camera angle with the directional pad helps with the jumps. Again, I just had to stumble upon this.

0:18 "Eating Knight Chocolate will turn you into Knight Pac-Man" If only this were true in the real world.

0:20 Knight Pac-Man is sluggish but impervious to arrows. Not to ghosts though... they're just as annoying as ever.

0:21 Eating a ghost with a power pellet on his head gets me that pellet. Doesn't that ghost realize he's making himself a big target? It's like you or me balancing a nitroglycerin bottle on our noggin. Put that thing away somewhere safe, dude!

0:22 As far as I can tell, the giant Pac-Man on the bottom screen serves no real purpose except being EXTREMELY CUTE.

0:24 Winged Pac-Man is light as a feather and can roll in mid-air. He's also a lot faster and smoother rolling. This is officially awesome. I wish this kind of responsiveness was the default

0:26 Ghosts riding in little wind up cars = INCREDIBLY CUTE!

0:27 Tapping and holding the stylus in place stops Pac-Man easily. They really seem to have put some thought into making fine control simple.

0:28 So world 1 is over with no boss fight, no giant puzzle, no nothing. What kind of platform game is this, anyway?

0:29 Now without the wing cap, Pac-Man feels downright sluggish. Sigh.

0:30 Yet another wing cap. Yay! But that means I have to avoid the knight chocolate. Boo.

0:33 The level design is beginning to show some promise, with tilting platform puzzles and twisting hills full of ghosts and power pellets. Fun, if not yet horribly challenging.

0:36 Now there are jump panels. Hard to master the controls on these -- I have to be very precise. Like everything, it's a lot easier and more enjoyable with the wing hat. Sigh again.

0:41 Some nice organic levels design here. This section leads you down a twisty path but allows for more exploration later.

0:43 Pac-Man is bouncing around like a barely controllable pinball on a steeply inclined field.I love it! Reminds me of Sonic's Casino zones.

0:45 Rolling around the inside of an inverted cone is simple and fun. Whee!

0:47 Finally, an honest to goodness boss. You know he's badass because it takes three power pellets eaten in quick succession before you can faze him. Even then you have to eat him three times. Once I figure this out, beating him is not too much of a problem.

0:50 Enough of this "Story" jazz; let's try a time attack. By the way, shouldn't a story mode include, er, a story of some kind. I've seen no kind of narrative yet.

0:52 The level changes a little bit for the time attack, and this throws me just enough to be really slow in the time attack. I suck!

0:55 Can we call Challenge mode "Annoying Wind mode" instead? because so far it mainly seems to add an annoying wind to a level that I used to like.

0:57 Never mind, it actually changes the level up with some tough jumps, hidden gems, and a strict time limit. I like how you can continue to practice the level even if you fail the time challenge.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? I'm a sucker for a good platform game, and like Kirby: Canvas Curse, this one manages to be an innovative use of the DS and fun at the same time. A tough combo.

This review based on a retail copy rented from GameFly.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

MySims


Developer: EA Redwood
Publisher: EA
Release Date: Sept. 18, 2007
System: Wii (reviewed), DS
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: The Sims, but cuter.

0:01 The EA logo flashes by, followed by some super-cute, super-rounded Sims pushing the game title into place, smiling and waving all the while. Oh my are they endearing.

0:02
A black-haired girl in pigtails and a sushi chef with a sushi hat are disturbed from their activities when houses start falling from the sky and morphing at random. It's madness! No, it's just another day for the Sims... everyone seems pretty happy with their state of affairs.

0:03 I name the town Wiiville, for obvious reasons. Mayor Rosalyn P. Marshall tells me the story of the town... that I just created. Hmm. It used to be full of life and happy, unique Sims thanks to a super-powered freak who built things using "Essences." But then he left and the Sims, atrophied after generations of not having to lift a finger, were left in squalor. People started to move away. But a new person who can use essences! Who could it be? I have a guess...

0:05
Build-a-Sim time. There are an impressive number of options for everything from hairstyle to dimples, but you have to cycle through them one by one. You can even choose a voice and pitch. One worry -- the loading is kind of jerky and the frame rate gets jumps up and down... and the game hasn't really even started yet!

0:07 I name my buck-toothed, blonde-haired, dark-skinned, bewhiskered boy Ug Lee, for obvious reasons.

0:09 Ug walks himself to town hall to meet the mayor. I get some slantwise views of the town, which doesn't look too worse for wear. Everything is extremely brightly colored, even if some of the buildings are falling apart.

0:10 So the Sims speak in the usual Pidgin Simlish, but also their words appear as text in boxes on the bottom of the screen. Odd. Mayor Rosalyn: "Oh I love paperwork so much!" It takes all kinds I guess. Even wholly unrealistic kinds.

0:11 The mayor apparently has nothing better to do then lead me to my new house, so I follow her out. "Oh, no! There's no house here! How embarrassing..." And the award for understatement of the year goes to... "Well, you're a good builder, so let's try building now." Jeez... first you don't have a house for me, now you make me build it on my own! Talk about presumptuous!

0:13
The loading hasn't been too bad so far, but it's relatively persistent... maybe five seconds or so every two minutes or so, every time the scene changes. It's getting a bit annoying.

0:16 The house-building tools are pretty intuitive -- pick up a bock and slide it into place with the remote, rotate it with the control pad. It's a bit weird building a house out of huge blocks instead of walls and the like. I finish up a pretty basic block house, but before I can check out my handiwork, though, the mayor drags me off to find out about "essences."

0:18 I really like the dual Nunchuk/pointer controls here. One hand shakes a tree with the remote, the other moves my Sim to collect the fallen fruit with the control stick. Easy as pie.

0:20 "Splash in fountain" should be an option in every game. EVEN GAMES WITHOUT FOUNTAINS!

0:21 The map has the nice feature of letting you mark a location and guiding you to it with an on-screen arrow. Nice touch for a guy with no sense of direction like me.

0:22 I finally get to inspect the inside of my house. It's sparsely decorated with a mirror, a bed, a dresser and a kitchenette for one. What am I, Amish?

0:24
The "be mean" option causes me to bop the mayor in the back of the head. I pick up the teardrop shaped "sad" essence she drops and add it too my bag. That's right... I thrive on other people's sadness! MWAHAHAHAHA!

0:26 I've got to build my own workshop, too? What's wrong with this cheap-ass town?

0:29 I do the workshop up right, with skylights, a picket fence, a lawn gnome, and a pink flamingo on the multi-tiered roof. It's a thing of beauty. I could play with this building designer all day.

0:33 I'm building a chair in my workshop now. Everything snaps into place so nicely. You can stick to the 3D blueprints or go nuts and build outside them. I make a monstrosity of a chair that looks more like four chairs stuck together. That's right. I've gone MAD WITH POWER!

0:35 It's twilight now as we walk to place the Franken-chair in my house. While I'm at it, I place my bed in the living room, which gives my house a 1% "tasty" rating. Placing an apple on the floor raises it to 2%. Who knew?

0:38 Mayor: "Brilliant! That's how to redecorate your house." Er... did you see the apple on the floor? Or the bed in the living room?

0:39 That's it for the tutorial for now. The mayor tells me to talk to people about town and gives me blueprints to make some more stuff. I put on my finest cowboy outfit and get ready to go out on the town!

0:41 ...after a quick nap that is. Unlike other Sims games., there seems to be no biological need for sleep. So what's the point? Just to watch my Sim nap? Cuz that's a little creepy.

0:42 Ug wakes with a start and I get two "scary" essences for my nightmarish trouble. So I guess it was a good dream?

0:44 Mini-game time. I go fishing for essences in the pond outside my house. Just point at the bubbles, hit B and pull. I catch four rainbow trout, six clown fish and two tires. Ha!

0:47 Another mini-game... prospecting. This one just involves walking around until the metal detector goes off and tells me to dig. I find some cement blocks and some eight balls. Groovy.

0:48 In the hotel, Buddy the bellhop busts out a Game Boy. He seems annoyed when I interrupt him to talk. Then he tells me is to get see the mayor. Boring.

0:49 I practice being "nice" and "mean" on buddy. Oh man, the animations are SO CUTE. So far I've blown him a kiss, patted him on the back, and socked him in the nose, the last one leading to a huge, cartoony dust cloud fight (which the bellhop won). Buddy's reaction to all three are priceless!

0:51 An on-screen tip keeps telling me to go to see the mayor, so I guess I'd better do that. But first, let's remodel the hotel! Yay!

0:53 I reduce the hotel to a mere shadow of its former self -- just a sliver of a building. Yet when I go in it's just as spacious as ever. What is this, a Harry Potter book?

0:54 Always take time to smell the daisies. AND THEN DESTROY THEM BY STOMPING WITH YOUR HUGE BOOTS. BWAHAHAH!

0:55 Poppy's flower shop is nice, but I can't seem to... oh, what's the word... BUY FLOWERS in it. Seriously... what's the point of a flower shop that won't sell you flowers?

0:57 The way to the ranch is blocked by rocks that I can't get through. "Maybe if you had the right tool." Nice to see the town will get bigger later.

0:58 "Nekkam bazarka... blerp!" the Mayor tells me. This roughly translates to "Build me a podium, jackass! And make sure it has four red apples on it! Or else!" Roughly. Nowhere in there does she say what's in it for me.

1:00 Between playing slapfight with the mayor, splashing in the fountain, and planting apple trees, I seem to have forgotten all about that task. What was it again?

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes
Why? Great interface, open-ended structure and some of the cutest characters I've ever seen.

This review based on a retail copy rented from GameFly.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Halo 3


Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: Sept. 25, 2007
Systems: Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web Site

Also see: An hour with the Halo 3 multiplayer beta test

In a nutshell: If one of the biggest marketing campaigns in the world didn't clue you in, nothing I write will.

0:01 "Aahhhhh ahhh ahhhh ahh ahh ahh ahh" the choir sings over a twilit menu screen. I like the descriptions for the difficulty levels. Easy says it "practically plays itself," Legendary punishes the slightest error with death and Hard is "the way Halo is meant to be played." Normal for me, please.

0:02 Stars. "They let me pick," Cortana says. "Did I ever tell you that. Choose whichever Spartan I wanted. You know me, I did my research, watched as you became the solider we needed you to be." It's a regular Master Chief lovefest. She says I'm lucky as a shooting star comes to Earth.

0:03 It turns out the shooting star was me. I fell two kilometers and was found by a group of military guys. Eventually I wake up. "Why do you always jump?" a gruff looking marine tells me. "One of these days you're gonna land on something as stubborn as you are." Heh. Cortana's words echo in my ears: "Don't make a girl a promise if you know you can't keep it."

0:04 I'm in control already. My armor's a bit messed up from the fall, so one of the guys makes me look up and down at a target. Is this the game's subtle way of doing analog calibration?

0:05 Oh, I'm no longer in control. Apparently there's an arbiter with our team. The same marine from before stops me before I can kill him. Loading screen...

0:06 OK, time for action. We're trying to make it to the river for an evacuation. The jungle is incredibly lush and beautifully rendered. But it's quiet... too quiet.

0:08 Some of my compatriots climb up a ledge. I can't figure out how to follow them. I'm the freakin' master chief... I should be able to climb five feet!

0:09 Doubling back (since I can't climb on), I come across a small invading force. My team and I force them back easily with some covering fire. I'm impressed with their retreat -- shows some intelligence.

0:13 We come to a ledge and spy a small group of far off enemies, I can't get a good zoom with my current weapons, so I just jump down, guns blazing, outrunning my reinforcements. I almost die, but my shields recharge quickly as I hide behind a crate. That was simple.

0:15 First wow moment... we stumble across a huge glowing dude punching and ripping apart a marine. Just as I zoom in to watch, a battle starts.

0:16 The lighting here is really amazing. I really feel like I'm under a thick forest canopy.

0:18 Cortana appears in my helmet: "Could you sacrifice me to complete your mission. Could you watch me die?" Shades of BioShock's creepy imaginings.

0:21 The planes that were gonna extract us go down to enemy fire. D'oh! Now we have to find the wreckage.

0:22 Whoops. As I try to jump a small log I accidentally fall to my death into the river below. Yeah, I suck. Also: seeing enemies explodes via their own grenades is priceless.

0:24 "Can you hear me. My bird's down. Half a click *static* from your position." Wow, that static was conveniently timed, eh?

0:25 I'm really liking the AI so far. Enemies jump to the side to avoid fire and work well as a group.

0:26 My first non-suicidal death... I'm taken out by a needler that has the high ground. I see him with plenty of time but can't get back to cover quickly enough.

0:27 This time I take the sniper out from afar using my Carbine. Nothing to it.

0:28 A brute puts up an energy shield, then immediately runs right through it to attack me. Weird, that.

0:30 Cut scene time. The friendly arbiter points out the brutality of his kin. "I will help you spring him." Well aren't you sweet?

0:32 Being trapped in a corner with no ammo. really sucks and leads to death #2. I really should have picked up more weapons as I went.

0:35 Another death. This is a lot harder with only one ally, and the checkpoint save seems to have left me with only 5 brute shots to start. This is not going to be easy.

0:36 Enough cautious planning ... this time I go in guns blazing. I die much more quickly.

0:37 OK, I finally get some ammo. and make it to an access tunnel that seems to avoid the main enemy force. No light at the end of the tunnel, though... just a huge brute bitch slaps me back to the stone age with a giant club. Oy!

0:40 I'm getting pretty proficient with the plasma pistol. It's quickly becoming my weapon of choice.

0:44 This is getting old. I've now died four times to the same big guy with the energy club at the end of the tunnel. At least this time they restart me at a closer checkpoint. Did the game detect how much I suck and have pity?

0:46 Whoo. I finally beat the guy by drawing him slowly into the tunnels and continually firing as I retreat

0:48 Taking down a turret on the bow of a flying ship = cool. Taking down the whole ship with the help of allies = awesome. Having friendly air support come and take out all the ground enemies = triple awesome.

0:51 We come to a base of some sort. "Tell the commander her ace is in the hole." Dirty!

0:52 Lots of story gets thrown out quickly. We stopped Halo temporarily, but the prophet of truth is looking to launch all the Halo rings which will "destroy every sentient being in the galaxy." Sure... who wouldn't want to do that. The power goes out in the middle of a briefing on our next move. The prophet comes on the screen. "All of you vermin, cowering in the dirt, thinking... what, I wonder. That you might escape the coming fire? No, your world will burn until it's surface is glass... Your destruction is the will of the gods. And I... I am their instrument." Creepy.

0:54 Time to evacuate. "They're requesting a rally point. Where should they go." "To war." Cheesy!

0:55 Back in control. No enemies yet... I get a chance to scope out the lay of the land before the imminent attack. I watch some rats crawling around base... nice touch.

0:57 So they entered through the hangar. My allies tell me to go help fend them off. Great! Er, where's the hangar, again?

0:58 "The marines downstairs could use your help." But they told me to come up here! Ah, an on-screen arrow points the way to the hangar door

1:00 OK, I went through the door and found an empty corridor that seem to be a dead end. A voice in my ear tells me I need to clear the hangar. I'd love to! Really, I would! Help me!

1:03 Finally, stumbled upon the hangar and a few short bursts of action. Feels pretty similar to the jungle battles, though. Is this all there is to the game?

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes
Why? There have been some awesome moments and amazing-looking environments, even though it's already getting a bit repetitive and it's not really my style of game.

This review based on a retail copy provided by Microsoft, and an Xbox 360 borrowed from a friend. Thanks again Mike.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Venice PC

Developer: Popcap Games, Retro64
Publisher: Popcap Games
Release Date: June 26, 2007
Systems: PC
ESRB Rating: N/A
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Galaga for mentally challenged people.

0:01 A cupid-styled angel explains that I have to shoot items straight up into matching slots. Reminds me of fitting blocks through holes in preschool.
0:02 Welcome to Venice. "Strong hands made me, gilt me, set me on the sea." Heady stuff. There's a decent bit of loading for a casual game.
0:03 "Victory" over level one already. That was possibly the easiest thing I've ever done in a video game.
0:05 So you can get "tumble bonuses" for hitting spots higher on the level and cascading the pieces down to lower spots. But they don't always work. Sometimes I get them, sometimes not. Annoying.
0:07 There's no time limit, which is a good things because it lets you plan out shots, but a bad thing because it takes away the one thing that might have made this challenging/interesting. Also, having to wait for a rotating platform to line up = boring.
0:10 The wing power up is a little too powerful, I think. You can go right up next to your target and shoot. Too easy.
0:16 Things are getting a little tougher now, with required bank shots, but still nothing too taxing.
0:20 It can be hard to predict where your bounces are going to go, especially off oddly shaped pieces like keys and stars. I prefer Peggle's strict determinism.
0:27 I've entered a kind of fugue state, playing without really thinking. Usually this would be good, like getting "in the zone," but really I'm more just bored.
0:32 The latest power up just let's cupid place the pieces for me. I just give the shots to him and he does all the work. Way to take away even the little bit of skill I've been using up to this point.
0:38 The last stage finally showed a bit of difficulty with hard to reach ricochet shots, but I still managed OK.
0:43 The game at this point seems to alternate between levels that a blind infant monkey could finish and stages that require some extremely lucky ricochets.
0:47 What is with this funeral march music? I think it's trying to be soft and lilting but it comes off more like a dirge.
0:49 The levels are getting pretty inventive with the concept, but it's a pretty weak concept to start with. Simple timing and angle puzzles are the best they have to offer.
0:50 These text intros are getting weird. "The plates shift like lovers' hearts, circling each other, orbits of doubt and hope." Trying a bit hard, there, guys.
0:58 After 58 minutes without losing or really having to think, I call it quits.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? No
Why? The concept is too basic, no matter how much they try to tweak it to make it interesting.

This review based on a full downloadable version provided by Popcap.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Tiger Woords PGA Tour 08


Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: EA Sports
Release Date: Aug. 28, 2007
Systems: PS3 (reviewed), pretty much every other system
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: A good sit on the sofa spoiled.

0:01 Wow, this demo really starts like an advertisement, complete with the almost-shouting announcer. He even says, "But wait, that's not all," at one point.
0:02 I like the spoken introduction to the first hole. It gives some nice strategy advice in that soothing golf commentator voice that puts me to sleep on Sundays.
0:04 My first shot is ridiculously hooked. Yikes. I need to get used to the accuracy timing for these three-click shots.
0:05 Two more shots go out of bounds. I can't seem to get the timing right, which is weird, because I'm usually good at timing-based challenges.
0:06 Finally, I get a beautiful shot that dribbles right onto the edge of the green. Tigers studies the ball intently in a short, mercifully skippable cut scene. Now I'm chipping. I like how the game automatically changes clubs smoothly as you adjust your shot distance.
0:07 A beautiful putt, aided by the fact that I could see exactly where it was gonna go with a tap of the R1 button. What's the point of trying to read the greens if they just tell you where it's gonna go?
0:08 On the next hole I try using the analog stick to swing. Much better! I pull it down and push it forward and BAM! A perfect shot.
0:10 I get an eagle on the second hole after a six-over on the first hole. I'm beginning to wonder why would anyone stick to the three point swing?
0:15 I LOVE the realistic whine of a plane engine in the background. it's not annoying AT ALL. And not being able to turn it off in the demo options is a GREAT idea. Grumble.
0:16 I seem to be having some trouble figuring out the correct putting strength. "Tigerrrrr," virtual Tiger says, discouraged.
0:18 After landing in the water, the commenter says "That's just a wonderful shot, if the fairways over there!" Oooh! Burn!
0:20 Ah, no wonder the spin wasn't working. Apparently I have to rapidly tap X in midair to guide the spin. I wish the previous hint had told me that.
0:22 Commentator: "I see the ball, but unfortunately, I also see a lot of sand... Try it again, you might want to open your eyes this time." If real golf commentary was more like this, maybe I'd watch.
0:24 I found a use for the three click shot... it makes it much easier to gauge power on shots and putts that don't require a full swing. But I still have trouble with accuracy.
0:25 I really like being able to determine the ball's eventual spin in midair, but it seems a bit unrealistic. Does Tiger have "the force" from Star Wars or something?
0:29 On my fifth time through the three-hole demo, I've already achieved a one under par. I almost feel like I've mastered the game already. Is this all there is?
0:30 Apparently not... there are online challenges too. I have to sign up for EA's online network. What's the points of my PS3 network account again?
0:33 The first rookie challenge involves outdriving Tiger's 301-yard drive. I beat it on the first try with a perfect 305-yard drive. Clutch!
0:38 Trying out the second challenge, I accidentally hit a guy in the leg. He jumps up and down in pain. Heh.
0:40 The crowd cheers raucously when I hit it ten feet out of bounds. Er, thanks?
0:41 Finally give up on the backspin challenge. I needed to make it roll 32.8 feet, but the closest I can get is 30. I'm wearing out my fingers tapping here.
0:42 Wow, the next challenge requires you to bounce the ball off a sign and onto the green behind you. Nuts!
0:47 One annoyance: You have to reset your shot from scratch each time you retry a challenge. It should remember your last attempt.
0:50 Ah ha! I've been banging my head against the wall on the sign-bouncing challenge until I realize the square button changes stances and hitting styles. I've been pitching with a wedge when I should have been hitting it full on with a wood. Once I figure this the challenge goes down quickly.
0:53 A simple distance to pin challenge goes down in three shots. The challenge balance is kind of all over the place so far.
0:54 Now on to the challenges actually made by players. There are some crazy ones near the top of the points ladder. One requires you to bounce the ball in a specific place, hit the flag, and go in the hole. Another requires the ball be a "swish shot" into the hole without a bounce or roll. Who has the time to try these?
0:58 Heh, there's a challenge that requires me to hit a guy in the leg. I wish I had been doing that one before. I like the variety in the goals.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes
Why? Nice, simple, mostly realistic golfing with interesting challenges to stretch the longevity.

This review based on a demo downloaded from the PlayStation Network.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Ship

Developer: Outerlight
Publisher: Valve
Release Date: July 11, 2006
Systems: PC
ESRB Rating: N/A
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: The Sims meets a first-person shooter

0:01 After hours spent downloading the game and updates to various drivers for my out-of-date computer, we're ready to go.
0:03 OK, now we're actually ready, after two minutes or so of loading. I'm in a nicely adorned room aboard an old-fashioned ship steamer ship. A pleasant British voice explains what's going on.
0:04 I'm told I have to take care of "needs" such as sleeping, eating and, er, expelling. If I wanted to worry about that stuff, I'd play real life!
0:06 I like the simple "context-sensitive" interface -- a couple clicks and you can do practically anything. Reminds me of The Sims.
0:07 "As you can see, your thirst need has gone down, but your need for a pee is increasing." I could listen to this voice talk about stuff like this all day.
0:10 The last three minutes have been spent in an over-complex discussion of the inventory screen. BOOORING!
0:13 The actual point of the game is finally explained -- find your "quarry" and kill them without getting spotted by security. Like hide and seek mixed with Mafia. Interesting.
0:14 Break the rules and you go to prison, lose your weapons, get fined, etc. Sheesh! An indiscriminate shoot-'em-up this ain't.
0:15 The type of weapon you use affects how much you get paid. A screwdriver kill is worth more than a frying pan, currently. I love it!
0:16 All set and ready for the arcade mode. After more loading, that is.
0:24 Finally done loading! "REMEMBER: It's only a game!" Er, I know the environment is engaging and all, but I don't think I'll forget.
0:27 It's pretty hard to find your way around at the start. I know my quarry is in "third-class cabins, deck C," but I have to keep consulting the map to figure out where that is. It almost makes me wish for those big yellow arrows that guide you in other games.
0:28 I'm lucky enough to find my quarry, but I forget about the witnesses and get arrested when I try to shoot her. This is going to take some getting used to.
0:30 All right, my first kill. But I'm still being hunted until the end of the round. Time to hide!
0:31 New round: I tail my new quarry, waiting for him to get to a nice, secluded spot, when suddenly I'm murdered from behind. I never saw it coming.
0:34 The single-layer AI could use some work. My quarry is completely safe in the bar, but then meanders outside for no apparent reason. Easily murdered.
0:37 I find Katherine Bolland looking out over the side, like a sitting duck. I sneak up on her and... crap! Someone spotted me. I've GOT to remember to look for witnesses!
0:38 I get out of jail and Katherine's still just where I left here, jumping around randomly near the railing. Weird...
0:42 Note to self: if another character starts sprinting at me as soon as they see me, RUN! Or, at the very least, DEFEND MYSELF!
0:45 Argh. I stumble across my quarry immediately, but I have no weapon. By the time I find one he's off in the bar, safe. Oh well... I patiently wait for him to leave and shoot him in the back. Yeah, I'm dishonorable. So what.
0:47 The game won't let me put on woman's clothing as a man. Awww. Cross-dressing disguises would have been an interesting twist.
0:48 After a death, you have to wait for a new round to start before resuming the killing. This gives you time to find new weapons and such, but it seems too slow for single-player mode.
0:50 Odd... I kill Rebecca Antonucci as she's talking to the bartender, and he doesn't blink. Oh well, I'm 1$2,000 richer because the straight razor I used is popular at the moment!
0:54 I get slashed by a razor"Well done, you stopped your murderous hunter."
0:56 I haven't yet stayed alive long enough to max out any of my needs yet. This is porbably a bad sign for my skills.
0:57 I win the game with 5 murders and 6 deaths, mainly because of that big money kill with the razor. I doubt I'd do well in online play though.

Would I play this game for more than an hour?
Yes
Why? It's an interesting twist on the old shooter, plus it doesn't really require twitch shooting skills, so I have a feeling I could be good with some practice.

This review based on a trial copy provided by my friend Mike via Steam. Thanks Mike!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Metapost: RSS feeds fixed and e-mail subscriptions added

So a big thank you to everyone who let me know that my RSS feed seems to be broken. Long story short, Pheedo, my feed provider up until recently, sucks, and has provided no help in fixing the problem. I've moved the feed over to the excellent FeedBurner, which offers a great and hopefully more stable feed tracking service. So, for all you RSS cats, please redirect your feed-reader over to:

http://feeds.feedburner.com/GamesForLunch

As an added bonus, we're now offering Games For Lunch updates through e-mail. Just use the form on the right sidebar to sign up and you'll get my quick reviews every day right in your inbox. Look for it right between the Nigerian lottery prize note and the breast enlargement offer.

Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror


Developer: Sony Bend
Publisher: SCEA
Release Date: Sept. 18, 2007
Systems: PS2 (reviewed), PSP
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Boy they sure filtered that syphon. Or, uh, syphoned that filter. Wait, what?

0:01 Since I've never played a Syphon Filter game before (I know, I'm a bad game journalist) I'll try the training mode.
0:02 Wow... they even bothered to make a backstory for the training mode. I'm supposed to be helping someone test out a new training obstacle course for new recruits. Sheesh.
0:04 There's a cut scene in the middle of training mode. Kind of odd to stop the action, considering I'm being timed.
0:05 Logan moves very deliberately. When he turns, he pivots at the hips, like a tank. When he falls he barely seems to notice he's falling until he lands. It's quite funny to watch, actually.
0:07 The hidden code to the keypad is 989. Cute. Also: "This is a functional door," ranks up there with the best lines ever spoken in a video game.
0:08 I like how it's easy to use the radio if you need help, but the helper isn't constantly chattering in your ear about how to do simple things like climb a ladder. Classy.
0:11 Combat training time. I like how the reticle resizes itself to show how accurate shots will be. Nice and subtle.
0:13 It's way too fun to jump out from behind corners and fire at people. Also surprisingly accurate.
0:15 Compared to Metal Gear Solid, the combat controls seem much more solid and robust.
0:16 A trainne, after a knife to the throat "That stings!" The weak attempt at humor seems a little out of place.
0:20 My summary of the overly long description of the rifles: Blah blah darts blah blah zoom blah blah silenced blah.
0:21 Amazing how my targets don't react at all when an electric dart hits them in the face, but once I activate it and BAM, they're down.
0:22 Aiming while zoomed in is surprisingly smooth and easy. I like the controls a lot.
0:24 Bring on the actual game! But first, some story. We're in the Kanuti mountains of Alaska. A plane flies through snow to dramatic music. A girl sits in a jeep in the plane. Some people blather on about targets and opponents. Logan is trying to be a bad-ass like Snake but it doesn't really work, mainly because the voice acting isn't nearly as good. "Tell them we'll go, but on my terms only," A robot could deliver the line better.
0:27 Jeez, they're still talking. The music continues to swell. I zoned out there for a second. Let me play, already!
0:28 Logan is shooting a gun from the van roof in the cut scene. That looks like fun! Can I do it? Please?
0:29 "Gabe, they were ready and waiting for us." "Yeah, they were waiting... but I guarantee they're not ready." OH, NO YOU DI'IN!
0:30 "Something's going on that Washington isn't telling us. I'll find out what." Ugh. So cliched. And I'm finally playing!
0:32 The sniper takes three shots at me out in open, all misses. I chose normal difficulty, not super baby easy pansy, right?
0:34 I come up on a guy hiding behind a box. I have to do a double take to make sure he's alive because he doesn't react to my presence at all. I shoot him point blank in the head before he makes the slightest move. Sigh.
0:38 These guys are uniformly awful shots. They can't touch me. I know it's the first mission, but sheesh!
0:40 So far, the combat feels a little sterile compared to more action-oriented games. I know that's not what they were going for, but the thrill was much more visceral there. Here it's just... clinical.
0:43 I really have no idea what anyone is talking about in these cut scenes. I mean I'm used to kind of tuning out the usual random game story blather, but it's amazing how little I'm absorbing here.
0:45 I "have been eliminated"? Really? I didn't even know I was close to death. Where's my health meter. Or is this one of those lame games where one bullet kills you? I play games to escape from real life, thank you.
0:50 So I find an ammo box, and I find I have to take out ammo. for each weapon separately. Can't the game just assume I want it all at once?
0:54 Whoops. Despite my superhuman ability to avoid bullets fired at very close range, I can't survive a short fall of about 20 feet.
0:56 A fall of 15 feet to the top of a nearby crate, however, is A-OK.
0:57 Boss fight time. "Red Jack" wears a kevlar suit and has a back-mounted flame thrower. He barbecues me before I have a chance to move.
0:58 Wow... on my second try, all I have to do is fire one bullet at the gas tank on his back. That was easier than most other enemies. What a seriously crappy boss.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? No.
Why? It's decent enough shooter, but it has tough competition. Stranglehold has better action and BioShock has a better story.

This review based on a retail copy provided by Sony.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Harvest Moon: Boy & Girl


Developer: Marvelous Interactive
Publisher: Natsume, Inc.
Release Date: July 31, 2007
Systems: PSP
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: A farm RPG. FaRmPG?

0:01 The menu screen gives the simple choice of "Boy" and "Girl." No "Options," no "Start," no nothing. Boy it is since, er, I'm a boy.
0:02 "Welcome to Mineral Town. I'm Mayor Thomas." Cute, rounded graphics. Reminds me of Super Mario RPG. Old school!
0:04 I named the farm "Farmville" and the dog "Barksy." Also, apparently, I was born on "Summer 17th."
0:05 My grandpa's farm has been neglected, the mayor tells me. Apparently I spent a vacation here when young because my absentee father was busy with work. Sepia-toned flashback GO!
0:06 A cute little vignette shows a young me riding cows, falling off cows, riding horses, being attacked by chickens and playing with my dog. Good times... good times.
0:07 A girl comes along in my flashback and is unnaturally interested in me and my tales of the city. We go to a cliff and sing a tuneless song together. This is fascinating and all, but gameplay, please?
0:08 "Oh, you're going. That makes me feel lonely," says the girl. Way to bluntly describe your feelings, there, girl.
0:09 I have three years to get this farm back up and running to earn the respect of the town. If I can't, I'll be kicked out. Harsh!
0:10 Finally I'm in control. I promptly go to sleep so I can save and not have to sit through the intro yet again.
0:12 Odd... the game tells me there are four different TV channels, but all of them seem to give the weather. "Clear blue skies from the morning." Also, that's a very big TV for a simple farmer.
0:13 I find a chest full of tools. I love the way my cute little guy takes such a mighty swing of his scythe. Fearsome!
0:14 The post officer tells me of suspicious man in village. Then a weird guy in yellow comes to loiter on the farm. Er, OK.
0:15 Barksy gives a playful bark when I attack him with a scythe. Oh, Barksy.
0:17 I have no idea what my direct goal is, so I just run around picking up stones and cutting grass. It's more fun in Zelda.
0:18 The description of a big rock: "Can't break with a hammer that has not been leveled up." Hooray for double negatives!
0:26 Ah hah! I stumble across the library, which has many books explaining the world of the game. Time for a reading break.
0:31 What I learned in the past five minutes: I can harvest bamboo in Spring; there are yellow moon drop flowers in the mountains in the Spring and "Magic Reds" in the Fall, I can raise fish in the fish pond (duh!); the hot springs in the mountains can be used to boil eggs; there's metal ore in the caves. What I didn't learn: How to PLANT STUFF!
0:33 "Nobody can do well right from the start. Running a farm is very difficult," says the mayor. Tell me about it. No, seriously, I have no idea how to run a farm, please tell me about it.
0:34 The supermarket is closed on Tuesday. THE SUPERMARKET. So much for buying seeds.
0:35 I walk into the hospital and the nurse notices I have a cut. She gives me a bandage. It's as big as my head! I carry it around like a prize, then put it away because, apparently, "there's no way to use it now." Er, what about that cut?
0:38 There's a usable confessional booth in the church. I have nothing to confess, and the pastor says he envies me. This game just got ten more awesomeness points.
0:40 I stumble on a poignant conversation between two kids deciding what to do with their life. I'm really liking the slow, reflective tone so far.
0:41 The supermarket may be closed, but bar is open. Figures.
0:42 A full meal costs all the money I have. Yikes. I buy some cheap cookies and vow to make some money QUICK!
0:46 I come across a boy who fell down. Lucky I have a bandage. "Boys aren't supposed to cry like that," says the boy's passing sister. WHO ASKED YOU! *sniff*
0:48 It took a whole virtual day to explore the town. I spend the night clearing grass and chopping wood. At 10:30 I collapse from exhaustion. I end up losing a whole day recovering. Whoops!
0:54 Mountain-exploring time. I find some bamboo and a blue flower. If I sell them, maybe I'll survive despite still having no seeds or crops.
0:58 End of day #2. I should probably stop here for the time being, but I'm determined not to give up until I've planted at least one crop.
0:59 Oh great, it's raining on day #3. Wait, I'm a farmer, so that's actually good. If only I had some crops to water.
1:01 The market owner is berated by his wife for selling on credit. Hooray for public humiliation!
1:02 Finally, fruit and veggie seeds! I buy potatoes and turnips. They'll be delivered later? Whaaaa? Also, why can't I buy on credit?
1:04 By the time I finish te longish walk back home, the seeds are there. I plant them and... now what?

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? The game has drawn me in to its charming little world, and it's a relaxing change of pace. Plus I have a perverse need to see my seeds grow.

This review based on a retail version rented from GameFly.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Heavenly Sword


Developer: Ninja Theory
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Release Date: Sept. 12, 2007
Systems: PS3
ESRB Rating:
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Goddess of War is too easy. Streetess of Rage?

0:01 This minute spent "Installing Game Data."
0:02 This minute as well.
0:03 And some of this one.
0:04 Menu screen, finally. I like having the subtitles option right there, but no other options?
0:05 The game starts with "THE FINAL BATTLE." My character was supposed to be a male savior for her people, but instead turned out to be a girl. "People said I was a porent of doom. Maybe they were right." Gripping.
0:06 And we're right into battle, with the simple instructions "Press square or triangle to attack." I do this nonstop and dispatch enemies with brutal efficiency, until the game tells me to hit O to chop a guy in half, lengthwise. So far I have not touched the control stick.
0:07 That whole minute of actual gameplay was apparently too much -- time for another cut scene. "My clan believed this sword was made in heaven for a deity... the clan's duty is to protect this sacred weapon." Thanks, Captain Exposition!
0:08 So my character is already dead, as punishment for picking up the cursed sword a few days ago. But wait, now she's alive again, in heaven or something. Her hair has a mind of its own, bopping and swaying all over. "Why have you taken me now? Please, send me back, let me go, without me they will perish," my character says to an unseen deity. Some extremely lifelike animation and good voice acting here, but the mouth is a little out of sync with the audio.
0:10 Suddenly, another menu screen. There's the options! I choose a chapter and a giant sword rises from the ground. Um, kick ass?
0:11 And we jump to five days ago. King Bohan wants the sword as a symbol over my clan. He's the same guy who was leading my enemies in the final battle. "We are great warriors, but we cannot run forever," my character says. Er, don't warriors usually fight instead of running?
0:12 Back into a tutorial-tastic battle. The game feels the need to stop and explain that the X button climbs the ladder. I think the large, vibrating "X" on the screen was enough of a hint, thanks.
0:15 "Mashing buttons will help you recover more quickly." Do you really want to advertise that button mashing is a major focus of the game like that?
0:17 I like the auto-blocking when you're not attacking. One less thing to worry about as you mash those buttons.
0:18 Oh goodie, more cut scenes.. Apparently my character is worried that her dad is mad at her for being cursed and killing her mother in childbirth. Hmmm, ya think? Then.. more battle.
0:20 You'd think having fellow clansmen fighting by my side would get in the way. Lucky for me, my fellow fighters are apparently ghosts, since my blades go right through them. "How much longer can we run, Shen?" "One battle at a time, men, one battle at a time."
0:21 "I am no curse! ... ENOUGH!" Overwrought melodrama, thy name is Heavenly Sword. Nice presentation though. It really is one beautiful looking game.
0:22 "NIGHT ATTACK," the chapter title reads. Kai, the archer, is a sadistic little thing, with some sort of laser guided super bow, apparently.
0:25 OK, this arrow-shooting mode sucks. I can't move the aiming reticle fast enough, and I miss when it looks like I should hit. You can guide shots in mid-air using the SixAxis motion controls, but it's very hard to do effectively. Oh well, at least I have unlimited ammo.
0:28 Target practice mode mercifully ends. I managed to hit four attackers and miss 20. It might just be that I suck, but I really feel it's just the controls. I have to fight the remaining soldiers now.
0:31 The ease with which Nariko (my character) is dispatching the 20 remaining soldiers makes me wonder why I bothered with the arrow shooting at all.
0:32 Nariko and Kai hug like awkward lovers after the battle. "You may collect your men and offer them a dignified burial" Nariko scream to no one in particular.
0:33 Now Nariko is supposed to protect the sword! We're already up to "four days ago." This game's gonna be over quick, it seems.
0:34 Oh fuck, now they have catapults. I'm supposed to protect the fort while they retreat.
0:37 Another fucking shooting mini-game. It's a good thing they put bright red weak points on these catapults. I can control these a lot better I turn off the motion controls in the options and suddenly the mid-air control is a lot easier. It's almost... dare I say it... fun?
0:39 "The plan is working," Master Shen screams. What plan? The plan to attack the bright orange weak points on the catapults with cannonballs? Yay! What great planning! You're a brilliant tactician, there, Shen.
0:45 The catapults are taken out, now I have to shoot at the advancing army. There are so many of them, I take out at least a dozen no matter where I aim. It's like shooting fish in a barrel, here. Then more catapults come, but instead of taking them out like before, I run away in a cut scene. Wha?
0:50 So now I'm running for my life. I finish one third of the "escape" without lifting my weapons... it's pretty easy just to run by the enemies, auto-blocking any attacks. Then I run into a gate and finally have to dispatch some enemies to open it. Easy enough.
0:52 Then the final third of the "escape" is completed, again without attacking. Thanks to auto-block it's EZ.
0:53 I pick up the cursed sword I'm supposed to be defending. "To save my father's life I betray his whole reason for living. I know it's death I'm holding now. Did I ever have a choice?" The cut scene production team has really outdone itself. Excellent writing and delivery.
0:54 Now that I have the sword, combat is faster but still the same litany of button mashing.
0:55 Despite the hundreds of enemies in the background, the forces are nice enough to attack in groups of three to ten at a time.
0:56 The introduction of battle stances changes things up a little bit. The range stance sends the sword in a wide circle but the enemies barely seem to notice. Meh.
0:57 "Kill the scabby wench!" What? Is this a pirate game now?
0:59 The power stance predictably does slow and powerful attacks. You have to be in the right stance to block various attacks. Still the same button-mashing game though.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? No.
Why? Uninspired button mashing is uninspired button mashing, no matter how pretty the environments are cut scenes are.

This review based on a retail copy provided by Sony.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Donkey Kong: Jungle Climber


Developer: Paon Corporation
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: Sept. 10, 2007
Systems: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Climbing DS

0:01 "Welcome to Sun Sun Beach on beautiful Sun Sun Island." Cutenes.... overpowering.... cant'... take it!
0:02 Impressive 3D animation in the cut scenes. I love the bright primary colors and Donkey Kong Country throwback music.
0:03 The overall goal seem to be a giant banana on top of a mountain. Sure... why not?
0:05 Interesting: You can use the d-pad or the R and L buttons to move DK. Nice of them to offer two options.
0:06 The tutorial mini-games are actually fun, and use the extended playfield of the dual screens very well. I especially like juggling with the R and L buttons. Simple and fun.
0:09 Holy crap DK can fly if he collects 100 gems. That is all.
0:12 Cranky Kong, on banana coins: "Collect a bunch (heh heh) for something special." Oh Cranky. You ham.
0:14 The bonus games are the highlight so far. The latest one asks me to collect as many falling bananas as I can in a barrel at the bottom of the screen.
0:16 Man, there's a lot to collect in this game. DK coins, banana coins, bananas, gems, the letters K-O-N-G. Sheesh!
0:18 It only took 18 minutes and more than two levels before I saw my first enemy. Talk about a slow build up.
0:20 The grab-and-release controls take some getting used to. I keep wanting to play it like a Mario game, but I have to be much more deliberate about my movements if I want to reach the next outhanging peg.
0:22 The levels are super-basic so far. Can't wait to try more complex stuff.
0:23 One little touch from an enemy results in a death. Not only that, but DK wails like he's being mauled by a tiger. Come on DK. Take it like a man!
0:25 Donkey Kong can't swim... he just sinks to the bottom of the ocean. Funny... I know I've seen him swim in other games. Is this a new Donkey Kong or something?
0:35 The levels are getting more interesting now. Boulders that roll when DK unbalances them, and a telescoping Diddy Kong attack help keep things fresh.
0:40 Finding everything so far has been pretty easy. I hope they learn to hide things better in the later levels.
0:43 The game makes DK automatically jump when he goes off a ledge. This is pretty annoying... sometimes you just want to fall.
0:45 You haven't lived until you've seen 470+ bananas flying from a barrel at super speed.
0:46 "Those no good thugs. I'm sure they're up to no good, as usual." Now that's inspired writing.
0:49 The first boss is a giant, flying banana. How freudian.
0:50 The banana ship is flown by half-peeled banana-person name Xananab from the planet Plantaen. Kill me now.
0:56 Yay! Those tutorial mini-games from earlier are available for replay (complete with extra levels) in the Challenge mode. Screw the normal game, this is where it's at.

Would I play this game for more than an hour?
Yes.
Why? An interesting concept, if hard to grasp initially. I hope the level design continues to improve.

This review based on a retail copy provided by Nintendo.