Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Moto GP 07

Developer: Climax Studios
Publisher: THQ
Release Date: August 2007
Systems: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS2, Windows
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Stop and go bike racing.

0:01 A very nice stylized intro. Looks kind of rotoscoped. The colors... the colors!

0:02 Going through the control options., I notice there's a separate button for front and rear brakes. I'm afraid this is gonna be a little too realistic.

0:03 I like the quick race option. Two button clicks and you're racing. The loading screen outlines a bunch of things to try for, like a "clean lap" and a target speed. Looks like a lot to do.

0:05 It only took three turns for me to spin out and go flying off the bike. The launch looks incredibly painful. I've gotta ease up on that accelerator.

0:06 The sense of speed is pretty impressive. No matter how many opponents are on the field everything flies by incredibly smoothly. The graphics and nice and shiny.

0:07 Correct me if I'm wrong, but shouldn't someone go flying when two bikes collide at 270 km/h? Apparently not... they just kind of bounce.

0:09 Those wipeouts are brutally beautiful carnage, which is good, because I've been watching them over and over again over the past few turns. Riding the momentum on the turns is taking some getting used to.

0:10 Yowch. This time when I bump into another bike at high speeds I go end over end.

0:13 Despite an awful start, I pick it up on the second half of the final lap and end up in third place. Slamming on both shoulder triggers to brake takes some getting used to, but once I get used to the slamming the turns get much easier.

0:14 Hmm, seems the difficulty was set to "rookie." No wonder I did so well despite being so awful.

0:15 On to championship mode. I can choose from a bunch of people I've never heard of with faces I can't see behind helmets. I guess I'll pick an American. U-S-A! U-S-A!

0:16 Wouldja look at all those bike tuning options. The game thankfully explains the differences between soft and hard tires, gear ratios, suspension hardness, etc. I could get lost in here for a while. But not right now.

0:20 Four minutes in to the ten minutes of qualifying race and I'm totally alone on the track. Thankfully I can skip out and just start in the back of the pack.

0:23 So the moral of this game so far, for me at least, seems to be that on a motorcycle, no amount of braking is enough. You might think you're safely through the turn, but as soon as you accelerate you straighten out and OH MY GOD THE GRASS! In other words, brake early, brake often.

0:26 Ouch. I'm about to complete my first clean lap, but I spin out on the last turn because I let go of the brakes too early.

0:29 I finish with a large first place lead. My focus on extreme extra braking seems to be working... now that I'm not spinning out on most of the turns I'm alone for most of the race. Odd: There's an on-screen penalty counter for going off road, but it doesn't seem to be taken into account in my final position.

0:30 The course look almost photo-realistic when from above during loading screen. Wait... maybe it is a photo. Hmmmmm...

0:31 The awkward animation of the pit crews standing around look considerably less than photorealistic. Really, they should have just skipped this altogether.

0:32 Ugh... my back tire barely nicks the grass during a sharp turn and I come tumbling down. That's life in the big city.

0:33 Ouch, I get RUN OVER by another rider after another spill. Seconds later, I'm back up again, good as new. So much for realism.

0:36 The roads are a lot narrower on this second course. My previous levels of braking are insufficient, I need EVEN MORE BRAKING.

0:38 Apparently, crashing into the guy in first place is an excellent way to pass him. I get on my bike well before he does and take the lead, but I end up finishing in third. Still first in the overall championship standings, though.

0:41 I just took a turn without braking. I think this is a first. It was a shallow turn, but still. I started on the outside and worked in. I'm pretty sure this is what you're supposed to do, but extreme braking has been working just fine on rookie mode.

0:42 I don't know if there's a point to the easy-to-pull-off wheelies, but they're tons of fun. Especially when you pull back so much that your tail hits pavement and you go flying. Wheee!

0:44 I lose my focus for a lap and fall back to sixth, but refocus on a series of S curves and jump back to first. Time for a celebratory wheelie!

0:45 I try a lap in first-person view. The sense of speed here is sick. No... I mean it, I'm actually sick from all the leaning. Something about the ground getting practically vertical sets off my queasiness.

0:47 I actually get used to the first-person mode and finish in first.

0:48 I have 15 races left to complete a season. FIFTEEN! For that I will get 10 achievement points... IF I finish in first. Whoo?

0:50 I'm getting really tired of the repetitive, guitar-heavy rock background music. Thankfully I can't really hear it over the persistent engine whine.

0:51 I hit 314km/h on the straightaway. I'm so busy watching the speedometer that I don't notice the dirt coming up fast. Ooof.

0:52 Enough of this basic racing stuff... where's the other modes? Let's see, there's a career mode that lets me design my character's look and apply points to abilities like acceleration and braking. TEN POINTS TO BRAKING PLEASE! I can make bike logos and such too. Neat.

0:54 In quick race you can choose between Grand Prix and Extreme classes. EXTREME! What is this, the early '90s? I try out an Extreme race on the pro difficulty just for giggles.

0:55 Holy crap, I thought the other bikes were fast, but this extreme class bike goes from zero to face-melting in like two seconds. Oh, and my first spin out puts me back into 16th place (out of 16)

0:58 OK, I'm like five hours behind the pack now. Guess I'm not quite ready for the big time.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? While the actual racing is kind of repetitive and clinical, there's enough variety in the tracks and options to keep race fan like me busy.

This review based on a retail copy rented from GameFly.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Sonic Rush Adventure

Developer: Sonic Team, Dimps
Publisher: Sega
Release Date: Sept. 18, 2007
Systems: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Sonic Rush + Sonic Adventure + actually good.

0:01 A seagull flies overhead. Sonic and Blaze the cat are on a jet ski, while Tails has to ride a dolphin. An unintelligible voice warbles in the background. SONIC RUSH ADVENTURE the title blares.

Tails and Sonic are flying in a storm. They're looking for an energy source or something. The plane's engines go out and they're sucked into a vortex. They wind up unconscious on a beach. Cliche much?

0:03 Some girl with an Australian accent named Marine finds them. Her extreme use of Australian slang like "crikey" is kind of endearing. Would be even better with voice acting instead of text, I bet. They've washed up on "Southern Island" in the middle of the ocean. Heh.

0:04 The next day Marine launches a ship but then crashes it. Tails wants to build her a new one to repay her for her kindness, but the materials are cut off. I smell a mission coming on...

0:05 So they hop over to Whale Point and... nope, still more talking. Ugh. The materials are metals and jewels.

0:06 All right, time for some old school 2D run and jump gameplay. I get to practice my moves. Left and right walk, holding them down run. I don't recall anyone having to explain this to me back in the Genesis games.

0:07 Hitting R in mid air does a new sky dash. New to me anyway... I haven't kept up with Sonic since the early Dreamcast days.

0:08 Sonic can now do flips and tricks mid-air to charge up an invinci-dash meter.

0:09 If we find some "blue material" and "iron material" we can build a waterbike. Blue material? That's the best name they could think of?

0:10 Now Sonic is in 3D and in Marine's house. A cheesy animation brings the materials IU got from the training level together and creates a waterbike.

0:12 I draw a route for the waterbike with the stylus, but there's only one place to go to so the route seems kind of pointless. Time for a mini-game. Touch the stylus to the screen to accelerate forward and slide left and right to collect rings and hit jumps. It's surprisingly fun. The zippy soundtrack helps a lot. One problem.. the L-button dash isn't quite responsive enough.

0:16 So now we've made it to the destination island. Marine suggests we name it Marine Island. Not like Gilligan's Island, I hope.

0:18 The first real level. Took 'em long enough. I love the crazy retro-techno soundtrack. It feels a lot like the classic Sonic games -- Sonic 3 especially -- but with some new twists, like sliding on vines, and jumping through hoops doing air tricks. Lots of opportunities to get up to full speed, but not so many that you feel it's out of control.

0:21 At high enough speeds, Sonic runs on top of the water. Sonic is Jesus!

0:22 An abrupt switch to 3D for a short section requiring jumping between three rails. Jarring.

0:23 First level over. I got some "green material." Thankfully there's no more talking here, it just transitions right into the next stage.

0:24 The graphics are nice and bright, but the background art makes it hard to tell which platforms are actually platforms and which are just painted on.

0:26 I feel like I'm missing half the game speeding through the multi-path, high-flying levels. This will require some more playthroughs.

0:27 Act 2 clear. Another C grade. I wish I knew what went into these ranks. I'm guessing I need to be faster.

0:28 A short cut scene introduces the first boss... giant tyranno-bot. I'm on a 2D platform, he's in the background. He reaches in to bite and I dodge and jump on his head multiple times. Then he charges along the line of my platform and I jump on his head some more.

0:29 We fall into another area. The scenery is different, but the enemy's attacks are pretty much the same.

0:31 He's finally down. He explodes in a pixelated fireball. A weak boss battle... I never really felt like I was in danger. I got a B this time! Whoo!

0:32 Ugh, more talking. We run into Tabby the Koala. He tells us to go southwest. Sonic is getting annoyed with Marine's chipperness. I'm getting annoyed with these story pieces altogether. They just slow things down, and that's not the Sonic way.

0:35 The next island is an island of machines. What will they think of next? Really, can't they think of something not horribly contrived?

0:36 Marine runs off amid Sonic and Tails talking about being careful. The writing is cute, but still slows down the action too much.

0:38 Sonic just bounced off a large drum, into the screen, and back again over and over. I'm weirded out.

0:39 Sonic has some hang glider thing that just appeared out of nowhere. Hitting up catches air. Kind of interesting.

0:40 The levels are tending a little towards the "hold right and rush forward as fast as possible" mode. It's barely interactive at some points.

0:43 Some more enemies are finally showing up in the levels. Dealing with them is a nice change of pace from just run run run.

0:45 Act 2 done. More talking... Marine was worried sick about us. About US?!?!

0:49 Just finished an... interesting boss. Basically a big floating robot with hanging globes. Hit the globes at high speed to send them sailing into the main portion. Pretty easy... but I got a C rank, so I guess I could do better.

0:50 Marine: "There's got to be some secret organization trying to stop me. They're jealous of my famous adventures and want to put a stop to them! But I won't give up! Never! You can't make me! You buncha no-good dingos." I'm imagining this in a charming Australian accent. She's a character, and a well-written one at that.

0:52 So before I can move on, it seems I have to replay the levels I've already done to get more "material." What a gyp. I know the levels have some replay value, but I'd at least like to play through the whole game once first.

0:53 Ah ha. Exploring the house I can now set boss difficulty to "normal" from "easy" I can also turn on time limits for added challenge. Nice to have these options, but why are they so hidden?

0:57 I finish the first level for the second time, this time focusing on going as fast as possible. I get a B and two green material. Nice.

0:59 Playing for speed again. When rushing through, the game feels kind of like a 2D version of SSX -- doing tricks in mid-air to gain speed-granting boost. Interesting twist.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes
Why? Brings back the old school feelings of the original Sonic trilogy better than any recent title yet.

This review based on a retail copy provided by Sega.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Buzz! The Party Quiz

Developer: Relentless Software
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: Oct. 30, 2007
Systems: PS2
ESRB Rating: E10+
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: You Don't Know Jack without the crude humor. Or much humor at all, in fact.

This review features guest commentary from my wife, Michelle.

0:01 This minute is spent opening the ridiculous shrink wrap. and plugging the specially designed controllers in. I like that the little USB hub thing has a velcro strap to secure the loose wires when done.

A Mick Jagger lookalike listens to his Hi-Fi when a bright light takes him away. The same thing happens to an afro-sporting disco dude, an Elvis impersonator, a lipstick-applying girl in a Corvette and a ridiculous looking blonde guy counting his money by the pool. What this has to do with a trivia quiz? I have no idea. Turns out the light was from a limo, and it's taking them to a red carpet gala event... Buzz! That was pointless.

"Hello, welcome to Buzz! Whatever you want to do is OK by me," says the sultry Vanna White lookalike who introduces the menu. Hubba hubba. The big red buttons on the controllers blink to get your attention. Cute, and unexpected.

0:06 We choose a standard difficulty short game to start. Both of us hit a button to choose which player slot we'll fill. Easy-peasy, and no shuffling of controllers/cords.

0:08 You get to choose a face, a costume and a buzzing sound effect through a simple interface. Michelle is laughing like an idiot over the buzz effects. I end up with an elephant roar, she choose a stadium air horn. "This is gonna get old real fast, though," she says ominously.

0:10 The host is named Buzz. How original. "Let's say hello to our trivia athletes. *applause* Enough... Let's go!" Point Picker is the first round. "A nice easy round." Rose explains things nice and slowly for the non-gamers out there. Pick a category and answer the question. Simple. First category: "The power of television."

0:11 "Oh, you don't have to buzz in to answer?" Michelle is kind of surprised. Nope, just hit the colored button corresponding to the multiple choices. So far we're both two for two -- questions about South Park and Carmen Electra. E-Z.

0:13 After round one I'm down 250 points because I didn't know Maroon 5 was from L.A. "Winner Stays On" is next. There's no discernible loading despite every single bit of text being spoken. Well done.

0:16 "Please accept this offering of derision," Buzz says as I hit the wrong button accidentally. Come on... I know that the picture of Kirsten Dunst is younger than the picture of Jamie Lee Curtis. Next up is "Fastest Finger." The animation on the host and characters is simple but effective. Very exaggerated.

0:20 "Take your time everyone. It's not like the game's a test of, um, speed or anything," Buzz says when we take too long. The humor falls a little flat, I've got to say.

0:21 Pie Fight? There's a mode called Pie Fight?!?! I almost do a spit take. "Only the fastest correct player gets to throw pies in this round." I love it!

0:23 I finally win a round! 1000 points for answering more questions and throwing more pies. Might be more interesting if there was more than one opponent to throw pies at...

0:24 In the "Mystery Challenge," we get to pick which horse of four will be fastest around a track. That's it. No trivia, no skill, no nothing. That was... pointless.

0:26 Globetrotter mode uses the interesting conceit of flying around the world and asking questions about wherever you end up. They're doing their best to spice up the act of answering general knowledge trivia. They're not doing a bad job, actually.

0:30 Put these words in the correct order to form NATO? Really? There's only one word that starts with each letter. Top Rank mode gets a little silly with this question.

0:32 Point Stealer mode would probably mean more if there with more people to steal points from. As it stands, it's just like every other mode. That's OK... I steal a lot of points from Michelle here. Mwahahaha!

0:34 Time for the final round... the Final Countdown mode. Our scores are converted to time and the first one to run out while thinking of answers loses. Let's go.

0:40 Wow... Final Countdown mode is STILL going. We have both answered practically every question right, and we alternate on who's fastest. Since the fastest answerer gets some time back we're both practically full on our meters. This could take a while.

0:43 Argh. The ever speeding clock finally catches up with me when I don 't know what a fletcher is. Michelle is the victor... I'll never live it down... I do get the "Losers Medal" though. And the "Slow Poke award." Um, whoo?

0:44 For her victory, Michelle wins a 1950's style computer that's "guaranteed not to become self aware." Then it kills Buzz. Heh. The first genuinely funny bit.

0:45 Hmmm... the PS3 seems to have died trying to reset the game. Weird.

0:50 After a quick restart and some monkeying around in the menu, we try a ten question "Quickfire Quiz."

0:53 I am fast but get two answers wrong. Michelle is slower but always right. Slow and steady DOES win the race!

0:54 We decide to try Quizmaster mode next. "I am... the quizmaster," Michelle says in her best Scottish brogue.

0:56 I need to hit start on the PS2 controller to start? That seems... odd.

0:58 Hmm... so Quizmaster mode has one player ask questions that other players have to answer with their buzzers. That was unexpected. I ask Michelle how many elephants I'm thinking of. She says 17, but the answer is 12. I WIN! Seriously, this seems like a useful mode for throwing parties, but it doesn't really work with two people

Oh man... we try a custom game with just the pie fight. Michelle answers all three questions faster, but messes up in the timing when trying to throw the pies. I win by not answering a single question. "I can't believe I hit myself with a pie... TWICE!" Michelle mourns.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yeah.
Why? Seems a decent way to waste time with friends, but it lacks that spark of wackiness that makes a truly great party game.

This review based on a retail copy provided by Sony.

Tony Hawk's Proving Ground

Developer: Neversoft, Vicarious Visions
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: Oct. 15, 2007
Systems: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360, Wii, PS2
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Because Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 9 sounds tired.

0:01 An intro. full of skater philosophy. "A skateboard is more than four wheels and a piece of wood." "Hardcore guys skate for only one guy... themselves. They skate until it hurts, and then they skate some more." They also knock over cops, apparently. Classy.

The narrator: "How you skate is who you are. It's that simple." Tony: "Remember, each choice you make defines a part of who you are." Wait, is it all of who you are or just a part?

0:03 Skating around now. I come upon an arcade machine just sitting on the side of the road. Through it you can play classic and high score modes. But this is just a demo, so they just show you a video. Lame.

0:04 "Mike V.'s Epic Episode" starts with a video of Mike V. doing some cool stuff. He tells my character that the huge gap I'm staring at doesn't look so bad. I disagree. I miss the gap in a cut scene. "Come on man, you telling me you can't make that?" I need more speed, and Mike tells me I can get it by kicking with R1 in a steady rhythm.

0:07 Tapping R1 in rhythm isn't very hard, but kind of annoying when you have to do it OVER AND OVER. Probably no more annoying than kicking in actual skating though.

0:11 I have to remember that I jump when I let go of the ollie button not when I first hit it. The little crouch when you hold down the ollie button is gone, so it's harder to remember. Anyway, some homeless-looking guy filmed my jumps, but he has to develop the film before we can watch it. Old school. I got $100, an octoskull tatoo, and some skill points. The demo tries to sell the "HARDCORE LIFESTYLE!" I'll be living in the full version.

0:13 In the full version, you can painstakingly set up a camera to take pictures when you go by. Seems a little bit too realistic... PGR4's photo mode was easier.

0:14 When you grind, the on-screen balance display now spans the entire width of the screen with a subtle white swoosh. Much easier to see and maintain your balance. I'm a fan.

0:15 On to "Bob's Competition Episode." "Well well well, if it isn't demo boy." Eric is talking trash because I'm only good on video, not in contest. Bob (the pro) comes in and tries to defend me with some incredibly bad voice acting. Some live action video of what Bob can do here... he is good at skating, if not voice acting.

0:17 "Nail the Grab" involves jumping, clicking in the analog sticks, holding L2, moving the left stick, then letting go before you land. Simple! Seems like a pretty minor innovation from the "Nail the Trick" mode from Tony Hawk's American Wasteland.

0:21 To finger flip, you do a quarter circle while holding L2 in "nail the trick" mode. What is this, Street Fighter II?

0:23 It's actually pretty easy to do this nail the grab thing when everything's in slow-motion for Nail the Trick mode. Nice to watch, but misses the point a little, eh? The game used to be about quick reflexes, now it's about showing off in slow-mo. Meh.

0:24 A quick video shows the full game has a "Nail the Manual" mode too. Gee, I wonder what that will be like. Now the game is selling the "CAREER LIFESTYLE!" Word.

0:26 "Create-a-Skater" is back, but not in the demo. A video shows 500 different items! It's like a Skater Barbie doll.

0:28 Now the create-a-skater/create-a-skatepark modes are in a "skate lounge." Really exciting... if this was Tony Hawk 3.

0:30 On to "Jeff's Rigging Episode." Another video of him being cool. Blah blah blah.

0:32 "Rubes" tells me we should build something to impress Jeff for an online contest. "We should raid my dad's shop for tools." "As long as he's cool with it, I'm down," I reply. Remember, skater dudes, always ask permission before stealing tools.

0:34 So the new "rig a kit" mode lets you place stuff around the world to complete goals. Here they ask me to place two quarter pipes around a car and spine transfer between them. I do it and the resulting video is... the lamest thing I've ever seen. Just me jumping like I've done a million times before.

0:39 I hope the rig a kit thing in the real game are more interesting than the lame goals here. Kick and grind over a car? Yawn. I like the general idea of it, but they have to make some goals that really make it worth the effort. Otherwise it's just create-a-skatepark mode dressed up.

0:42 So that seems to be all the actual goals in the demo. I guess I'll just skate around a bit.

0:45 In slow-mo Nail the Trick mode, I look a bit like a ballerina floating in the air.

0:46 Time runs out on the demo. Why is there a time limit at all? Are they afraid I'd have too much fun just skating around this one environment and not want to buy the full game?

0:47 I do like how fast everything is. There's no loading when restarting a goal, and you can even get up from bails quickly with a tap of square.

0:49 I lied before... there are a few lines to find while skating around, but not many. Still, just wandering around and pulling off combos is as fun as ever. The level is well designed and the environments really benefit from the power of the 360.

1:00 I spend the last ten minutes just skating around doing tricks. For a THPS veteran like me , but perhaps too much there for a newbie to the series to get into it now.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes
Why? I'm a sucker for Tony Hawk, so I'll probably play this even though the new stuff isn't that interesting. Actually, maybe I'll just break out my classic Hawk games.

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

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Eye of Judgment

Developer: SCE Japan
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: Oct. 24, 2007
Systems: PS3
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: The only collectible card game that requires a $400 piece of hardware and a digital camera just to play it

0:01 Let the setup begin. I use some scissors to free the camera, stand, game mat, disc and cards from the annoying hard plastic shell. Seriously, who thought these were a good idea.

After clearing some space on the coffee table, everything is all set and plugged in. That was relatively painless.

I'm supposed to connect to the network to check for the latest version of the game, but the check doesn't work. Oops.

0:06 An impressive CG opening shows dwarves on flying... things, and lots of armored warriors and some guys on horses. Then it switches to druids playing the card game, controlling this battle from afar. These druid scenes aren't quite as action packed.

0:07 One druid plays a card and a huge armored behemoth falls into the battle from the sky. The opposing druid is calm as he casts a fireball in response, burning the behemoth. Great animation here.

0:09 The opening ends with a huge mechanized dragon attacking an agile knight. Here's hoping the real game is as exciting.

0:11 I spend a good two minutes lining up the camera so it sees the mat correctly. The image is surprisingly sharp and smooth, and the game has no trouble recognizing a card in the hazy, overcast light coming in from the window. Much better than the original EyeToy, that's for sure.

0:13 Tutorial time. I quickly skip the camera and play mat setup since I've already done that.

0:15 "The camera is a precision instrument. Rough handling may result in damage." Blah blah blah.

0:16 "Be sure to avoid spilling food or drink during play." Good advice for any game.

0:17 All right, now they're explaining how the game works. You plays creatures to gain control of squares on a 3x3 field. Control five of the nine fields and you win. Spells "augment your battle strategy." "Effective use of cards will bring you one step closer to victory." Er, one step closer? Isn't use of cards all there is to victory?

0:18 I'm gonna have to get used to what all these things on the cards mean. I've been trained too well by Magic: The Gathering to expect cards to look like that.

0:19 "The nine fields are collectively referred to as the board." Duh. Let's speed things up here, eh tutorial?

0:20 They're explaining what "drawing a card" means. Oh... my... god...

0:22 Finally, we're past the terminology and on to explaining the actual dueling. "Each players opportunity to take actions is called a turn." NO KIDDING! Tell me more. Seriously... tell me more. Quickly.

0:23 Order of phases, for my reference: Draw, mana charge, actions, summon a creature, resolution. Pretty similar to Magic, actually... shouldn't be too hard to remember.

0:24 Now they're explaining battle. There's an attack then a counter attack, if possible. You can only summon one creature per turn. It can attack as soon as summoning if there's an enemy in the attack zone. Uh huh, uh huh.

0:26 Now the tutorial moves on to a demo duel. This should make things a bit clearer. "Greet your opponent." Thanks Mr. Rogers. "Thoroughly shuffle your deck." You start with five cards.

0:28 More notes for my reference: You can mulligan your hand once. First player doesn't draw on first turn. You can carry over mana turn to turn. No actions first turn because no creatures. Creatures gain hit points if played on matching field, lose if on opposing field.

0:30 There are five elements: Fire, water, earth, wood and biolith. Wait, Biolith? That wasn't in Captain Planet.

0:32 This sample duel is very slow, but I don't want to skip anything for fear of missing important information. I just wish the guy would talk faster.

0:36 Note: The B on the defense zones is for blindside.

0:37 We're still going through the "attack phase" that started five minutes ago! This is painfully comprehensive for a basic intro. I'll give it three more minutes then I'm just gonna start because I want to actually try the game.

0:39 Or maybe I shouldn't start yet. Apparently I can only summon creatures to fields adjacent to existing creatures. That seems important to know.

0:40 You get a mana every time a creature of yours is destroyed. So sometimes it's good to lose a creature, I guess.

0:41 The biolith creature has a "summoning lock," meaning it can only be put on biolith squares but that goes away if there are four or more creatures.

0:45 They're still explaining stuff... Screw this, I'll figure it out on my own, or come back later. And I haven't even gotten to the camera-based control cards yet!

0:46 I know playing against a human in the same room is the ideal, but I don't have one handy and I'm not ready to go online. Vs. Computer it is.

0:48 And we're off. I get my mana and I have my initial hand. Now what should I do? Well, the only card I have enough mana to play is Bewitching Elf Archress, so I play her on the bottom edge.

0:49 Computer's turn. He summons some ice thing in an opposite corner.

0:51 My turn. I use my status card to find out what the ice thing is. It only has two defense, so I play an Venoan Assassin attacking the ice thing. It dies without even managing to counterattack. Whoo!

0:53 A couple more turns in the same vein. I attack but don't kill a creature with only one hit point remaining. What happened?

0:56 Well that was stupid. I play a Hellfire Splitter and it immediately dies because I placed it on a water square. I need to learn to pay attention to that stuff...

0:57 Meanwhile, next turn, the computer places the same thing on a fire square, gaining it two health and killing my two remaining creatures. Joy.

0:59 I finally do something right. My Triceptaur Behemoth attacks and kills two opposing creatures by doing three damage to each. Saving up that mana helped.

1:00 Crap... the computer summons its own Behemoth with the mana from his dead creatures... and he put it on a fire space. Both my adjacent creatures die and I'm left with none. This is... not going well.

1:01 I realize I haven't talked about the battle animations or use of the actual system yet. They're OK, I guess, but I get the feeling that, with a little tweaking, you could play this game without the PS3. Then again, you wouldn't have the Vs. computer or online play options. And seeing the creatures attack in 3D adds a nice visual reference when learning the game.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? There's obviously a lot of complexity there, and an hour isn't enough to learn it all.

This review based on a retail copy provided by Sony.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Clive Barker's Jericho

Developer: Mercury Steam
Publisher: Codemasters
Release Date: Oct. 23, 2007
Systems: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Horror Movie: The Game

0:01 A bloody Codemasters logo followed by a jumpy film of a guy in an asylum for Mercury Steam. "The world as we know it does not exist without struggle." We're under assault from what we would call hell, but it's more ancient than Christianity. It's trying to destroy us. "We don't dare name this evil. To do so would be to admit to its presence in our world." Warrior-magicians have dedicated their lives to our protection. They are called Jericho, so there's the title. "They know all too well what the enemy is capable of." They'll torture us into madness, bury us alive, etc. "If the world exists tomorrow, now you know why. Jericho."All this time I'm looking into a pool of blood that's getting sucked into the air. Goes on a little long, lots of exposition right off. Hopefully that will be it.

Some military group that looks like across between the guys from Shadowrun and Gears of War is going into a tomb. This can't be good.

The Swiss team that did recon is a bloody mess. Some ghostly thing with long red fingers attacks. Lots of gun shots and a bloody knife goes through the girl. Suddenly, the title screen. Wha?

0:07 Browsing the menus reveals the existence of the occult warfare department ... "the most powerful and clandestine special forces unit in the U.S." Lots of backstory I don't really care about.

0:08 ".. and God created the Firstborn in his own image. An entity neither male nor female, dark nor light' a singular being that was both beautiful and terrible to behold." The Firstborn was left unfinished, banished to the Abyss, God created humans next, blah blah blah. This whole thing types out during the loading screen... make it seem shorter at least.

0:09 A soldier walks with a charred child in a desert. A fierce tornado swirls in the distance. "This isn't real." "It's as real as your soul," the freaky child says. "Help me." The soldier wakes up... it's three in the morning. He's called in to the airfield. More exposition explaining "covert occult warfare... just a fancy term for witches with guns. ... We fight their wars for them. " We're going into the desert. "Somewhere down there is the cause of all human conflict." All of it? Really? It's the city of Al-Khali. "Rapture" is trying to get their hands on it, along with some guy named Leach, who used to be on our side. God, just stop talking and let me play!

0:12 The tornado from my dream show up as the helicopter doors open. There's a quick flashback to the dream... y'know, just in case you forgot what happened three minutes ago! Apparently the tornado is not a natural phenomenon. The voice acting is pretty mediocre.

0:13 And I'm finally in control. I walk very slowly. I (character) bark out orders that I (player) don't understand. As we walk someone talks in my ear telling me about how Rapture overtook the defenses and the storm is impenetrable. Just when you think you're done with freaking exposition...

0:16 Weapons seem to work. Primary and secondary, with multiple modes on each. Par for the course. One of my team members takes down a wall somehow, but the rubble doesn't make a sound. Weird...

0:17 Oh lord, more loading. Instead of interesting apocryphal text from before, it's now just a basic description of what's going on in the game, which, so far, is not much.

0:18 "The gateway to paradise is lined with the blood of the innocents" says a wall carving. I blink for a second and suddenly my character is in a pit. I thought it was still a cut scene! To get back up I have to hit the buttons as they appear on screen. All the fun of Simon Says...

0:20 "Stinks so bad I can taste it." Now I can too. Thanks, guy. I'm navigating by flashlight in a dark cave. There's blood everywhere. I guess I should be scared but I'm more just disgusted.

0:21 "Everything is just sort of... 'dead'" You can say that again, teammate. I'm still walking around the ruined city and NOTHING IS HAPPENING.

0:22 Finally some action. We encounter some mummified, knife-armed beasts that are torn right out of Silent Hill. I tell everyone to hold fire, but someone jumps the gun. They attack and suddenly I'm firing too. Their are veins on the edge of my vision and a beating heart sound effect when I get hurt, but soon enough I'm all good. Not bad.

0:23 We're splitting up? NEVER split up! Haven't you ever watched Scooby Doo? "Back here in one hour," I say. Oh I am never seeing them again. I seem to run a lot faster when my gun is out.

0:25 Witty remarks upon killing enemies, so far, from my teammates: "Stay that way." "Go to hell." "It's dead... for now." "BANG! Motherfucker!" "Stay dead!" Oh, this isn't going to get old at all.

0:26 The corpses of the mummy things disintegrate into this floating black cloud after a few seconds. This is the first really creepy thing I've seen.

0:27 The child from my dream is teleporting around, leading us. "I think it wants us to follow." Duh! Like I have a choice on this linear path?

0:29 I've seen this one Silent Hill reject enemy over and over. Some variety would be nice.

0:30 One of my teammates drains some blood from her hand to open a "blood sigil." "This is serious magic!" she says. OK then.

0:31 Line of the moment, from the loading screen: "The lost city of Al-Khali is caught within a box of extremely virulent evil." Not virulent evil! That's the worst kind of evil! *snigger*

0:33 So far, I'd say the game has been about 5 percent action, 5 percent loading, 90 percent explaining the backstory of this world. Not a good ratio.

0:34 We come across a woman named Muriel, who thinks we're "one of them." Rawlings tells stories of their wild time in Prague to make her believe him and they embrace. Apparently if we don't stop this evil, "everyone in the world is lost." Well gee, that sounds... serious. No time to reflect... we have to go help Alpha team.

0:35 Heh, the first genuinely witty line. Me: "I thought you were a priest." Rawlings: "I am a priest." Me: "Then what about Prague?" Rawlings: "I'm also human."

0:38 A new enemy! Just like the old enemy, but now he's on fire. Wait, does that count?

0:40 Finally some more action. And an actual new enemy... an ogre like one from Resident Evil: Nemesis with exploding yellow pustules. They're very slow and not all that threatening. These guys just keep streaming in. My team is extremely adept at taking them out... I feel like I'm basically watching. What's worse, if one of my team dies, anyone else can just revive them during a lull. How's that for tension?

0:42 "This isn't human blood, sir. At least, not all of it is." Um, good?

0:44 Another big firefight. At least four of my teammates died somewhere in there, but now they're all good as new. So far, the much-ballyhooed "squad-based combat" has mostly been a bunch of people firing at the same things. Now that Alpha team is safe, Muriel, who we left behind, radios for help. Of course.

0:47 I can't help but feel this is all kind of pointless. If someone dies, even me, they're just revived post-haste. I suppose if everyone dies it could be bad but that doesn't seem like a huge threat. Every battle is just an endless stream of enemies that appear out of thin air for no apparent reason. Meh.

0:50 Muriel is a dead, bloody mess. Of course. Cole is going to cause a "temporal displacement" to get old data from a computer, so we have to defend her. Kind of cool.

0:51 I take it back, I can die, and do while everyone else is busy, apparently. I have to restart from the last checkpoint. Which is...right before I found Muriel's body. How convenient.

0:54 Apparently the strategy to win this fight is to hang back and let my teammates get slaughtered while firing off a few shots of my own. Cole manages to get the old data. Leach lets off a karma bomb or something to open a dimensional rift here. "Spellcraft like that takes vision... foresight man." If you say so.

0:57 Delgado: "I think I've been fighting for the wrong side." Where did that come from?

0:58 Something I just noticed. I seem to have unlimited ammo and, through my teammates, health. No items, no management, no nothing. Just an occasional reload. Sheesh.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? No.
Why? My tolerance for basic, repetitive first-person combat and mystical gobbledygook is depressingly low.

This review based on a retail copy provided by Codemasters (I think)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction

Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: Oct. 23, 2007
Systems: PS3
ESRB Rating: E10+
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Fun run and gun 'gain.

0:01 This minute spent upgrading my system software from version 1.93 to 1.94 to play the freakin' game.

0:02 This minute as well.

System restarting... oh man, I'm almost ready to play! Glee!

0:04 The game title flies in over a starry field. Whoa. My hard drive is too full? Really? That was fast. Time to delete some old demos. I'll stop the timer here, since this isn't the game's fault.

0:05 Now that I have the hard drive space, the game will take "95 to 100 seconds" to install stuff. Remember when you could just pop a game in and play it immediately? Those were the days, eh?

0:06 And away we go. On the initial menu screen, Ratchet's working on a hoverbike with Clank assisting. An FMV cut scene has them struggling to get the bike up and working. Everything looks very glossy and smooth, especially compared to the PS2 games. Captain Quark phones in and asks for help whimperingly. R&C go to help but the hoverbike falls towards the ground as soon as they take off. They crash after some flashy aerobatics. Ratcher: "Well, looks like we're going on foot."

0:09 And we're playing. "If you're looking to take on a murderous robot armada, the help desk will be happy to assist." Heh. Same smooth controls, nice double jump and easy wrench attack as the old games, but now with a few more polygons to the proceedings.

0:11 When you destroy a robot, the fish-like thing living in its head flops around on the ground looking bug-eyed and weird. Creepy.

0:14 Shooting things is as easy as ever with the game's helpful auto-aim. The meteor pad seems like a gratuitous way to get to a new location -- you jump on it and fly uncontrollably through the air to a new section. Still, fun to watch.

0:16 Some nice old school side-scrolling and jumping here as Ratchet slides on a mag-rail. Simple but effective, with no annoying loading transitions either. In fact, I have yet to see noticeable loading. Nice.

0:18 I'm loving the controls for targeted aiming. Hold down L1 and you can move with the left stick and look with the right, first-person style. It's easy to aim even with no middle-of-the-screen reticule ... it's not so much about precision, but smoothness.

0:19 Well that was annoying. I walk forward onto what looks like a solid bridge, but it turns out there was a gap hidden by the ground in front of me. Stupid camera. At least death doesn't matter too much -- I restart at exactly the same place.

0:21 Man, they must really want to kill me... buildings are collapsing all over the place. No one seems to react to all this collateral damage.

0:23 These fusion grenades are so freakin' sweet. One shot and I blow up all the enemies in the vicinity easily. And they just got upgraded to level two through use. Wheeheehee.

0:24 The collapsing bridge I've been running across finally gives way and now I'm falling through air traffic Fifth Element style. Using the Sixaxis to tilt through the air feels a little loose, but I'm falling slowly enough that it doesn't matter much.

0:25 I use Clank's helicopter to land safely. Why didn't I just do that earlier, huh?

0:27 Big action sequence here. I'm grinding on some train tracks, dodging trains and lasers and jumping over missile-created pits. The gameplay is pretty simple -- just jump and dodge -- but the presentation and pacing is spot on. Very exciting.

0:28 Emperor Percival Tachyon comes out to view the last Lombax in the universe (Ratchet). "Your names Percival? Hehe," Ratchet laughs, as do I. The emperor screams about how he's actually an EMPEROR! Ratchet flings Clank into the mothership and escapes that way himself. Awesome.

0:30 The cryosleep puts Ratchet to sleep, while Clank quips, "It is fortunate that cryosleep does not work on robots." Then BAM! Extendo-glove to the face. I laughed.

0:31 Clank dreams of floating through a weird city "His past is inside," says a passing flying robot. What, no electric sheep?

0:32 My maximum health has already increased from 10 to 12. At this pace I'm expecting the difficulty to ramp up quite quickly.

0:34 The designers have a real knack for character design. The bug-like creatures that populate this planet are a joy to watch wriggling around, especially when their eyes bug out upon being hit or spotting Ratchet. Reminds me of Earthworm Jim, but in 3D.

0:36 Odd... there's no computer voice telling me to wall jump up the conveniently placed walls. Luckily I'm a genius and figure it out myself.

0:39 A big monster that I saw float by earlier suddenly reappears. No hidden weak point or anything... just keep firing and dodging his charges till he's dead. I get a "Leviathan soul" and some weapon-upgrading Raritanium for my trouble.

0:42 The world-building on display here is awe-inspiring. As the camera pans over the spaceport you could swear it was a real bustling futuristic metropolis.

0:44 Robotic voice goes on about [Emperor] Tachyon Appreciation Day. Cute, but it feels like they're trying too hard for the comic relief.

0:45 A parrot wants to kill us and sell our kidneys. That is all.

0:46 Actually that's not all. His smuggler owner will give us a ride out if we start the Gelatinium pipes flowing again. Hooray for missions!

0:48 I really like the Groovitron -- a floating disco ball/weapon that makes all nearby enemies dance. I like it way more than I should, in fact.

0:49 Neat. The Gelatinator the smuggler gave me shoots green cubes of bounciness. Could lead to some interesting puzzles, I hope.

0:53 I still can't get enough of those bug eyed aliens. Killing them over and over is a little repetitive, but they're so much fun to watch and the controls are such a joy that I'll get over it.

0:55 Well that was fast.. I'm already done with the Gelatanium plant. Nothing really interesting done with the Gelatinator yet... maybe later? "Emperor Tachyon will be most displeased." Then why doesn't he do something about it, computer voice.

0:58 Flying off to another city, and it's cut scene time. The smuggler tells me that the Lombaxes destroyed every member of the emperor's race except for him. No wonder he's got it in for me. The smuggler drops us off to evade capture, the jerk. More SixAxis dodging, this time with missiles. Takes some getting used to, but I'm actually getting the hang of it.

1:00 Loving my new predator launcher. Lock on and KILL!

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? While it doesn't really add anything new to the series, it doesn't lose the great design that has made it infinitely playable.

This review based on a retail copy provided by Sony.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Simpsons Game

Developer: EA Redwood Shores
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: Nov. 1, 2007
Systems: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, Wii, PS2
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: D'oh!

0:01 The demo opens with the predictable theme music and the title coming up through the clouds, just like in the show. Interesting gratuitous shine on the title there...

0:02 Looks like only Bart and Homer are playable in the demo. Because really, who cares about the girl characters? The control explanation screen is littered with stuff, as usual, but it doesn't seem too hard to get used to.

0:03 Kent Brockman is is chasing the Simpsons, who are chasing "an out of control donut mascot statue" -- Lard Lad from that Halloween episode. Fans are probably nodding in approval, non-fans are wondering what the heck I'm talking about. As it should be. Homer says hit to Lenny and Carl while the donut guy brings evil Krustys to life. Some high quality cel animation here.

0:04 Homer, "I wish I had my clown poison." The first of many quips I'm sure.

0:05 The Krustys actually dodge Bart's slingshot attacks pretty effectively by leaping to the side. I was not expecting that.

0:08 There's a lot of stuff going on here if you're observant. I ran into Kang (the alien), I transformed into Bartman to climb a wall and I spied the Frying Dutchman restaurant. A Simpson fanboy's dream.

0:09 So just walking up to and attacking Lard Lad seems ineffective. Time to try a different tact.Meanwhile, Homer scream while running away, "Hey I called no lasers!"

0:15 After wandering around for a while I've seen lots of inside references and heard lots of good lines, but still haven't figured out a way to hurt Lard Lad. Grumble.

0:17 One thing that would be a nice addition -- a map. It would help you find your partner when they wander away at the very least.

0:18 Finally, I get a little Lard Lad help from narrator Brockman. "The Simpsons have got to get into that giant boy's pants." Sure enough, his backside has a big target on it. D'oh.

0:20 One other thing that's annoying... Bart can't pick up certain collectible items, like bottle caps. Why not? Forcing me to switch just to pick something up is not a winning design choice.

0:23 All right! I finally open up the ass and hit Y to tear out some important machinery (after four tries... on the first three hitting Y seemed to do nothing.) Comic Book Guy pops up to tell me I've collected a cliche... "Obvious Weakness." Humorous self awareness, thy name is Simpsons.

0:24 While I'm paused here, this would be a good time to point out the game's amazing aesthetic. It really does look like a Simpsons episode, any way you slice it. Everything is rendered in bright solid colors and moves with life. Lard Lad is especially impressively animated. Bravo.

0:27 A second hatch (just as obvious as the first) appears higher up LL's back. This one requires using the environment to get up higher. Not too hard... there are plenty of things to climb. Quality level design here.

0:30 The camera gets stuck behind a girder here for quite a while. Actually, the camera is the one thing that needs some major work. Otherwise the controls are pretty competent.

0:32 Thankfully, Lard Lad stays frozen for quite a while, allowing you to get to high ground and get in the hatch in the back of the head. Level over! "Eat first, lard crotch," Homer says in a cut scene. Apparently Kang and Kodos were behind everything? That was less than clear in the gameplay. Apparently I missed two more cliches, seven more bottle caps and ten Krusty lunchboxes. Those with no lives will have plenty to keep them occupied.

0:33 Re: the writing, I'm not including many quotes because if I did there would be nothing but quotes in this review. If you've never watched the show it won't be quite as funny, but seriously, why haven't you watched the show?

0:34 A short video shows parodies of Medal of Honor, World of Warcraft, Katamari Damacy, Football, Street Fighter, and Donkey Kong. Plus probably more I missed. Krusty lists features including 16 parody-packed episodes, the ability to interact with 170 characters, and playable Maggie. Finally!

0:35 Not much more to do except play the level again to find more hidden stuff. Seems fun to do but boring to read about, so I'll cut it off for now.

Would I buy this game based on the demo? Yes
Why? The actual gameplay is pretty basic (if well executed) but the Simpsons references and witty parody make it a winner.

This review based on a demo downloaded from Xbox Live.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Donkey Kong: Barrel Blast

Developer: Paon
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: Oct. 8, 2007
Systems: Wii
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Bongo racing... without the bongos.

0:01 That's a lot of monkeys on that title screen. They look like they're jumping out of the screen. Look out! Monkeys! Also: their barrel rockets strapped to their midsections look ridiculous.

0:02 "Cranky's flight school" teaches you how to play. Love the old school Cranky Kong music from Donkey Kong Country.

0:03 It takes about a dozen alternating shakes of the remote and Nunchuk to get up to max speed. Thankfully you can stop the shaking once you are accelerated. I like the bongo sounds coming from the remote.

0:05 Dodging is as easy as a shake in the direction you want to go, and it's more responsive than I would have thought. The in-controller sound effects really help. One question, though. Why can't I use my GameCube bongo controller?

0:07 Jumping involves throwing both the Nunchuk and the remote upwards at the same time. It's pretty easy, but it's also easy to pull off accidentally when trying to accelerate. Grumble.

0:11 More tutorialing. The A button punches, the control stick activates a dash (if you have enough bananas) and the B button uses collected items. Yep... all those set pieces are sure in place.

0:13 Tutorial race. It's pretty easy putting everything together on the sparsely populated test course. I like the cannon barrel that automatically fires your forward along a quicker path. Makes the game feel a bit like Sonic.

0:14 Grand Prix time! The option for up to four players against the computer is a nice touch. Good god, there are a lot of hidden characters. Only six out of 16 total available to start.

0:19 Wow. It's initially very hard to follow what's going on, with all the characters and detritus littering the course. I get fifth because I just can't adjust to the on-screen stimulus fast enough. Very annoying: the slightest hit means you have to shake the controllers violently to get up to speed again. This really puts a strain on the elbows, especially if you're doing badly. Also annoying: When dashing you can break through most barrels, but the effect ends abruptly, meaning a barrel you aim for when dashing will end up being a wall when you slow down, with barely any chance to get out of the way. Sigh.

0:24 I finish second... six seconds behind first and twenty seconds ahead of third. As you might imagine, this means most of the race is spent totally alone, just hovering along at max speed. My left elbow really hurts from all the acceleration-drumming.

Whoo! A first place run, capped by a transcendent chain of dash-extending barrels at the end (fun! I knew it was in there somewhere). I've taken to using my dashes to accelerate quickly after hitting obstacles, not because it's necessarily a good strategy, but more because it means less drumming for my beleaguered left elbow. Ow....

0:33 Grrr... since I got 2nd overall for the three courses I have to play them again. Ugh.

0:36 Now that I know the course, I take first easily. Once you get ahead of the pack it's pretty easy to stay there. Another annoyance: The "style barrels" let you perform scripted tricks by waggling the remote in a certain direction, but the time window presented for these tricks is so short as to make them nearly impossible to pull off. Testing, people.

0:40 A note to anyone expecting a real racing game out of this -- this is not a racing game. There are no actual turns... you're just pulled along a linear course, dodging left right and, occasionally, jumping up. It's more a banana collection and barrel avoidance game. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing, just something to keep in mind.

0:46 First place again, easily, on course three. The learning curve here is pretty shallow... I feel like I'm a master already. I unlock Lanky Kong and the Sapphire Cup.

0:47 On to Candy's challenges, where Candy has set up some specific tasks. By the way, Candy is STACKED now. Jeez. The first challenge is to smash 15 barrels. I'm done in 20 seconds. Yawn.

0:51 Challenge No. 2 involves "Not finishing in last" each lap. This is a challenge? I'd say that's just barely decent racing. I've seen similar modes in a lot of racing games, but this has got to be the lamest idea for extended value I've ever seen.

0:54 Challenge No. 3 asks you to hit 4 opponents with "backwards barrel" items. Only there's no easy way to slow down and let them get the opponents in range. Urgh.

0:55 Collect 200 bananas? I do it in a little more than a lap. NEXT!

0:56 Knock down six rivals. Done in 18 seconds.

0:58 Another tough one. I have to hit a lot of barrels in dash combos. It's only hard because there's nothing to hit, really. Urgh.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Maybe if I had some friends over.
Why? The concept is OK on paper, but the annoying control scheme and straightforward "racing" gets in the way of some interesting level design.

This review based on a retail copy provided by Nintendo.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Crash of the Titans

Developer: Radical Entertainment
Publisher: Sierra Entertainment
Release Date: Oct. 2, 2007
Systems: Xbox 360 (reviewed), Wii, PS2, PSP
ESRB Rating: E10+
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Crash is back, but is he better than ever? Or at least better than recently?

0:01 A loading screen with white paws marching across. This is before the company logos even. I hope this isn't another load-fest like Wrath of Cortex.

0:02 It's shadow puppet theater for the intro. Neo Cortex created Crash to work for him, but Crash bonks him with a shovel and escapes. So Cortex creates some more monsters with his monster-creator ray. And then even more. He sets them on destroying stuff. Including Crash, who just stands there smiling. Nice stylized animation and no need for clunky voice acting or scrolling text. Bravo.

0:03 "Episode one, a new hop." Should that be episode four? Anyway, the puppets have gone away in favor of fully spoken in-game cut scenes. There's some red guy who talks like Mr. T. There's gas jokes and and talk of butter recycling for some reason. As for Crash, he talks like a cross between the Warner Bros. Tasmanian Devil and a baby. Anyway, Cortex comes by in a blimp and freezes the red guy in a block of ice and takes Crash's sister (I think it's his sister) and his magical floating mojo mask. "I'm off to do bad things. Ta ta." he cries. They seem to be going for cute and self-referential, but it comes off as just bad. Bring back the puppets!

0:06 All right, walking around and such. Interesting blurring effect when Crash moves. Makes him look like a pre-rendered sprite more than a polygon model. I kind of like it. First thing I do is go in a red door where I hear bathroom sounds. That was pointless.

0:07 There are glowing blue orbs everywhere. What happened to the fruit from the old games? I really like the jumping controls. The double jump is perfectly natural and jamming A lets him helicopter float down gently. Great animation too -- Crash looks like a hand-drawn cartoon.

0:09 "Use X to smash stuff" with a punch. Are you kidding me? Crash's spin was one of the best attacks in gaming. Why replace it with a generic, lunging punch that makes Crash look like a mental patient? BTW, the blue stuff is "mojo," but I still have no idea why I'm collecting it.

0:10 I stumble upon some rat scientist enemies talking about bandicoots. Apparently we're immune to mojo control, meaning we can't be controlled by Cortex. You think he'd have known that when he created me. I like the Jerry Lewis-style voices.

0:11 So jumping on the enemies just stuns them... I have to use this crappy punch attack to take them out. You have no idea how depressing this is to me. These games used to be classic run-and-jump platformers... now it feels more like a bad Streets of Rage knock-off. What's more, all the enemies take multiple hits, slowing down the pace considerably.

0:13 You can string together attack for combos if you're quick. When did Crash become Devil May Cry?

0:16 Bouncing on some magic mushrooms now. Jumping is a real joy, which is key in a platformer.

0:17 I know it's the first level, but the world seems kind of sparse and ill-designed. You fight a few enemies, then run down a short corridor with some breakable mojo plants, then more enemies. It's all very repetitive and not very interesting. I remember the original Crash games being case studies in good level design. Sigh.

0:19 So I got some yellow thing that makes me super speedy. Crash is Sonic now?

0:20 I get my first achievement for collecting 1,000 mojo. Still not sure why this is important yet. Also, the fruit is actually around, but now it gives health instead of lives. What a gyp.

0:22 I come across the captured mojo mask. He's guarded by even more of these scientist guys that are everywhere. Easy stuff.

0:23 So now I can use the right trigger to block medium strength attacks. I have no idea yet why I'd ever need this, as just jamming the attack button has taken everyone out easily.

0:25 Boss time. But first a hint. "Stun an enemy and press B to jack." Er, what's this game rated again?

0:26 Oh, so it's not really a boss, more like a big hulking vehicle. A few simple attacks and then I can "jack" him and ride on his back. So this is Grand Theft Auto now?

0:28 So riding the big guy is fun and all but he can't jump and his more powerful attacks seem wasted on these piss-ant little scientist guys that are swarming all over me. I could have handled these on my own, thanks.

0:30 This is the saddest excuse for level design I've ever seen. You just wander from one big wide area with enemies to another along paths with occasional things to bust for "mojo." Add in the fact that I've seen just two distinct enemies in a half hour and you've got one incredibly dull game.

0:32 Level over. I'm a "minion master" for destroying all the enemies, and "combo king" for hitting the X button 15 times in rapid succession. The "mojo" earned me a "Norris Roundhouse," whatever that is. Got some collectibles and concept art too. Meh.

0:34 Taking a gander at my stats in between levels, I see I will be able to increase Crash's spin time and slide time. So this is Tony Hawk now?

0:35 So that yellow thing from earlier was a "free jack," that lets me stun an enemy with one blow. Because it wasn't easy enough before, I guess. I use to it mount some big red guy with fangs. He's pretty freaking slow. I guess the designers though running and jumping as Crash was too fun, so they should mix it up with less fun mounts.

0:37 So I'm finally taking some damage from other big red things... mindless jamming on the attack button no longer works flawlessly. One thing, though: Whenever I beat another, I can jack it and get full health. If a game's rated E10+ it shouldn't be easy enough for five-year-olds...

0:39 A cute little fox hops around in a cut scene. He gets captured by a bigger fox hiding in the plants. A boss? Nope, just another guy that goes down in six hits and can be jacked. At least he put up some cursory defense by shooting at me. I actually took damage! Shocking!

0:41 Speaking of shooting stuff, now that I jacked him I can attack far off targets in "sniper mode." So what, the game's Metal Gear Solid now? Seriously, what's with trying to be every game ever made? Being Crash wasn't good enough for you, Sierra?

0:45 I found a mini-game. I have to jack a snipe and destroy bombs before time runs out. I fail due to crappy aiming controls "Oh Noes!" says the game. I lolled.

0:47 Complete the second time around. My reward is something that gets me "mojo magic" achievement, whatever that means. Don't explain that or anything, game.

0:50 Some old school platforming action starts episode 3. A narrow platform and moving block that can push Crash off. One problem: Crash can squeeze between the blocks. Sigh. Such potential.

0:52 Despite all my grousing, I really do love the animation. Crash's goofy grin is winning, and the way he moves within the bright primary colored environments is just downright pleasing.

0:54 There are only so many times you can jack the same big monster and attack the same lame-o enemies before thinking, "Why the hell am I bothering?"

0:57 Floating down from platform to platform, collecting floating mojo, I almost feel something approaching the joy I felt in earlier Crash games. Almost.

1:00 Just for shits and giggles, I try out the co-op mode (and get 20 Achievements points for my trouble). The leapfrog mode, which changes characters every time you jump, seems annoying, but the piggyback mode lets both characters run around and beat things up together. This has some promise -- even bad game can be fun with a friend.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Believe it or not, I might.
Why? Despite being derivative, repetitive, scattered and slow, I'm desperate for a decent platformer to hold me over until Mario Galaxy comes next month. I just don't know if I'm this desperate.

This review based on a retail copy provided by Sierra.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Glory Days 2

Developer: Odenis
Publisher: Eidos
Release Date: 8/6/2007
Systems: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Two parts action, one part tactical.

0:01 Tiny pixelated troops scoot by on the bottom screen to some dramatic, snare-heavy battlefield music. The title comes up with some Advance Wars-style art on the top screen.

0:02 The story is told through slowly scrolling text. "Dear Mom and Dad, During this morning's roll call we raised our fists and shouted our battle cries one last time before heading off to battle." The writing is pretty maudlin. Our hero prays because, "I myself want to be at peace with god in case something happens." Gag.

I have to rescue 20 civilians from a battle zone, loading up to eight at a time. The civilians I rescue increase the power of my army. How does that work? Are they conscripted or something?

0:05 Controls are shown via a confusing diagram. It seems that the touch screen is used for movement and the buttons/control pad are used for shooting and loading up troops and civilians.

0:07 In actual practice the controls and concept are pretty slick. The touch screen guides the chopper almost effortlessly while the top screen actually shows where it is on the scrolling 2D battlefield (my base on the right, the enemy's on the left). The bottom screen also show my advancing front line, which I can aid by gunning and bombing the opposing forces. Nice concept.

0:10 I keep accidentally crashing into the enemy tanks when I try to stop and bomb them, leading to a quick loss (three crashes and you're gone). I guess the controls do require a little practice, at least. Also, firing bullets at ground infantry is insanely hard. Whenever you angle down to attack you end up darting forward at full speed. I guess that's realistic, but it's also TOUGH!

0:13 Some oddities: the civilians are indestructible, wandering around among enemy troops with nary a scratch. My bullets don't seem to faze them either. Also, the opposing infantry just ignore my chopper, even when I land to pick up civilians (the tanks aren't so nice). Also, save some cursory anti aircraft-fire early, I am practically invincible in the air so far.

0:15 OK, victory. I'm starting to get the hang of the mechanics. The ground war seems almost incidental at this point -- I barely have any control over my troops. Also, I finally figured out that returning to base recharges the chopper's health and refills the bombs. The stats show that our army sucks without me: they produced 20 fewer units than the enemy, but together we destroyed 19 more than they did, mostly thanks to my bombs. Oh yeah. Who da man.

0:16 More scrolling text. We were attacked! "Every day this war becomes more terrible. If war can be avoided, it should be at all costs." Wow, that's... not deep exactly. Common knowledge, maybe?

0:18 This time around the chopper is replaced with a plane. It has a turbo boost and a loop the loop function. Sounds fun.

0:21 The plane is significantly harder to control than my good ol' chopper -- changing direction and speed is an immense challenge. Again, this is realistic but not exactly serving the gamep lay. Also, right-handed players (like me) might have trouble lifting up the stylus and hitting the X button to boost. Even landing is a chore. I want my chopper back!

0:23 Finally, some enemy air power. The dogfight with the opposing helicopter is over too quickly, though -- he goes down in a few loops. Shows some promise for heavier mid-air action down the road, though.

0:27 No wonder I'm doing so badly -- the enemy chopper came back and is taking down my barracks just as quickly as I take down his. Also, apparently the problem with the landing was that I was trying to do it. If I stop touching the touch screen it lands itself. Duh!

0:30 Oddly enough, kamikaze attacking within an inch of my plane's life seems to be an effective strategy. I'm mowing down tanks then heading back to recharge. Whee!

0:34 Victory! Apparently focusing on the bunkers was a losing strategy, since the enemy infantry just replenishes them. Blowing up the tanks, however, lets my units move through and overwhelm. The interface does a good job of showing the flow of the battle, once you figure out how to read the simplified radar.

0:35 "Watching the sunset seems to make all the violence disappear." A true poet-warrior.

0:36 Oh boy, now things are getting complicated. I can pick up soldiers and drop them off downfield or deploy them from my base through a menu. Nice to have more direct control of the troops, I guess, but are pilots usually in charge of deploying troops in battle? Oh well, at least I'm in the helicopter again.

0:40 Despite all the fancy new stuff, victory still comes mainly thanks to the "bomb the enemy tanks" strategy. Once the tide has turned decisively, I deploy 27 infantry at once just for fun. Lookit 'em go!

0:41 Oddly, I can't just drop bombs on the enemy base. Even though I've cleared the enemy units out, I have to wait for my slow-ass troops to get there and take over.

0:42 "I'd give everything just to be able to hug you both right now." Awww. Also, um, apparently he's writing to his fiance who's carrying his child and should deliver this letter to his parents if he dies. What? "Do what you have to to make sure he has my surname, a name which you will be proud of from now on." WHAT?

0:50 The last battle started with a lot of good old fashioned dogfighting. Still pretty easy to fly in full speed, guns blazing and take down the enemy choppers. Once we controlled the skies it was only a matter of time. Also, now I can call in air strikes with the L button. I like how the game is slowly introducing more and more complexity. It would be easy to get overwhelmed if this was all just available from the start.

0:51 So apparently John was killed? Am I supposed to be John? I've gotta say, it's hard to feel emotional resonance in a game with small, pixelated characters and planes that immediately reappear when they crash (up to three times per battle). Anyway, now it's 25 years later. They're teaching the new pilots how to brush. "If we do end up landing in enemy territory, at least we'll have nice teeth." Heh. The writing finally shows some spark.

0:58 Damn, those new helicopters are tough. Supposedly I can take them on with my new anti-aircraft missiles, but I can't figure out how to use them consistently. Their definitely a learning curve to these plane controls.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? While the controls aren't perfect and the action can be a tad hard to follow, I like the concept and the attempt to meld action and strategy. I'd like to see what else they do with it, at the very least.

This review based on a retail copy rented from GameFly