Friday, October 29, 2010

DJ Hero 2

Developer: FreeStyleGames
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: Oct. 19, 2010
Systems: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360, Wii
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web site

In a nutshell: A smooth remix.

0:00 I liked the original enough to buy it when it went on sale for $40 recently, but not before that. I’ve been told this sequel is much better, but I find that hard to believe -- what can they possibly add?

0:01 This being a PS3 game, of course there’s a version 1.01 update to download already. At least my firmware is somehow up to date. The 6MB file downloads and installs rather quickly.

0:02 Headphones bounce on a white floor. The headphone wire flies through a white expanse, creating colorful abstract art as it does. It plugs in to the DJ Hero 2 logo. Nice, simple and quick... I’m a fan.

0:03 A remix of "Crank That Souljah Boy" plays over the menu as the game logs in to the DJ Hero 2 server. I am not a fan. The game asks if I’ve played DJ Hero before, and also if I’d like to hear about new features in the sequel. How considerate!

0:04 The tutorial starts by telling me to spin the record to rewind the music, which I already knew how to do. I thought I told you I played DJ Hero already...


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Rock Band 3

Developer: Harmonix
Publisher: EA
Release Date: Oct. 26, 2010
Systems: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, Wii
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web site

In a nutshell: The piano, man.

0:00 Been looking forward to trying this one since I received the game from Harmonix a week ago, but I held out because I didn’t have a keyboard controller. Now that they’re available in stores, I’m looking forward to expanding on the ten minutes or so I spent with the keyboard at Gamescom this summer.

0:01 The game just came out yesterday and already there’s a title update available? Whatever, it downloads and installs incredibly quickly.

0:03 Looking out a hotel window. Close ups of an amp, a guitar case, a lone uncovered light bulb. The Doors’ “Break on Through” plays with its heavy keyboard part. Quick jump cuts of the band playing close-up and guys running through alleys and across the tops of buildings to get to the impromptu rooftop concert. Well shot, but a bit confusing.

0:04 I skip the calibration and the band customization because I want to get to rocking! Play Now, Quick Play, Choose Songs and we’re ready to rock! The new menu seems quite a bit more streamlined.

0:05 “25 or 6 to 4” is right there at the top of the list, and how can I resist a song with such a tight beat and such incomprehensible lyrics. I’ll start on Medium difficulty and play the five-key normal mode rather than the 25-key pro mode, for now.


Monday, October 25, 2010

The Ball

Developer: Toltec Studios
Publisher: Toltec Studios
Release Date: Oct. 26, 2010
System: PC
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Weighted Companion Sphere

0:00 I know practically nothing about this game, but the press materials that came with this beta compared it to Portal, so my expectations are quite high.

0:02 I’m not including the time it took to download this massive game from Steam, but I am including the two minutes or so it took to “perform first time setup” when I launch the game.

0:03 A few minutes spent tinkering with the settings: increasing the resolution and learning the default controls. The title screen features a shiny metal ball on a platform, with a few glowing circular sections on its face. Flies buzz around inside a cave filled with large gears, as figures shamble in the background. Atmospheric!

0:04 I start the Campaign and get to read a bit about the premise. “Separated form your friend you find yourself trapped in a cavern.” The rest of the text introduction spoils some surprises, actually, so I’m not even going to retype it here.

0:05 “Pico Del Medio, Mexico, 1940.” Zoom on a mountain peak and a dig site against an orange sky. Then cut to a view up from down the bottom of a 50 foot shaft. “Hey, are you all right?” calls a guy from the surface. “That was quite a fall you took. Listen, the crane broke down, we have to fly in a replacement and that will take some time. Go on and explore the area. We will meet up with you later.” The voice acting is borderline atrocious.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Super Meat Boy

Developer: Team Meat
Publisher: Team Meat
Release Date: Oct. 20, 2010
Systems: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PC, Mac, Wii
ESRB Rating: Teen
Official Web site

In a nutshell: There’s meat juice EVERYWHERE!

0:00 I’ve been looking forward to this self-described “tough as nails platformer” (according to the XBLA download description) for what seems like years, ever since I played the Newgrounds-hosted original Meat Boy to death. I expect great things.

0:01 “This is Meat Boy." He’s a square blob of meat with stubby arms and legs and a face. "This is bandage girl. (She loves meat boy and Meat Boy loves her). This is Dr. Fetus.” He’s a small fetus in a thick robot. “No one loves Dr. Fetus. And that's why Dr. Fetus hates you. But most of all, Dr. Fetus hates Meat Boy. So he beat Meat Boy up and kidnapped Bandage Girl. ...So go save her, hero." It’s all told via plain text and cute old-timey black-and-white animation. Short and sweet... just like an intro. story should be.

0:02 The hard guitar background loop on the title screen reminds me of a 16-bit game. The first level is “CH1: The Forest.” The world map Meat Boy is standing on has a grimacing face on it. It’s.. disturbing.

0:03 A short cut scene apes the opening to Street Fighter II by showing Dr. Fetus punching Bandage Girl before panning up to show the title.The first level is titled “Hello World.” Ha... programmer humor.

0:04 The first level is over in literally seconds as I wall jump up to Bandage Girl, sitting all alone on a wide ledge. As I reach her, Dr. Fetus warps in, punches her, and takes her away again. I wasted a bit of time trying to decipher the animated pictograms explaining the controls. Not that I needed them... they’re immediately familiar from the Newgrounds game. Everything looks so much better on my big HD screen, though.

0:05 Level 2 teaches me what I already know about wall jumps, and about how to run by holding the X button. I love the sticky-yet-slidey physics when Meat Boy hugs the wall just before doing his super-floaty jump away. As in N+, climbing a single wall using the wall jump is pretty easy.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Def Jam Rapstar

Developers: 4mm Games, Terminal Reality, Def Jam Interactive
Publisher: Konami
Release Date: Oct. 5, 2010
Systems: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, Wii
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Rap rap, a ribbity rap rap, a rip rop ribbity do!

0:00 I’m not a big fan of rap... pretty much the opposite in fact. I am a big fan of rhythm and music games, though, so I’m looking forward to seeing if this one handles rapping better than Rock Band 2.

0:01 Lot of logos, then a city skyline. Videos of a bunch of rappers I vaguely recognize are projected many stories high on to the sides of the buildings. I recognize very few of the songs they’re spitting, but LL Cool J and Daft Punk stand out. Maybe this won’t be so bad...

0:02 Audio calibration time. I have to turn up the volume and point the microphone at the TV. Turns out I have a 117ms delay. Good to know!

0:04 I turn up the microphone volume so I can hear myself through the TV and hop into Career mode, where I can “rise through the ranks and become a DEF JAM RAPSTAR!” Really, game? You needed to turn on the caps lock there?

0:05 Seven songs are available to start, but I have to click through with the A button to hear a preview on the menu screen. Lame. The only one I know even vaguely is Salt n Pepa’s “Push It.” I’d better leave it on Easy...


Monday, October 18, 2010

Game Dev Story

Developer: Kairosoft
Publisher: Kairosoft
Release Date: Sept. 10, 2010
System: iPhone/iPod Touch
ESRB Rating: N/A
Official Web site (Japanese)

In a nutshell: A good game about making good games.

0:00 This game came out of nowhere to become the talk of practically every game journalist I know over the weekend, so I felt I had to see what it was about. It seems primed to indulge my interest in the behind-the-scenes of game development, too, so my expectations are pretty high.

0:01 Charmingly old school synth music plays over the title screen. It looks like a pixelated monkey is swinging from the G in the brightly colored title. New Game.

0:02 The default name for my company is Sunny Studios. Boooring. I got with "! Soft," which is pronounced "Exclamation Point Soft," thank you very much!

0:04 "Hello. I'll be your secretary here at ! Soft." First up we need some employees. A few taps through Menu -> Staff -> Hire. Word of mouth is cheap, magazine and online ads less so. I'm kind of shocked that online ads cost more than magazine ads in this game. I'd like to believe that's true, but it seems unlikely.

0:05 Shortly, three candidates for the job appear: Ann Deroid, Gilly Bates and Biggs Porkins. Cute. They all have numerical rankings in Program, Scenario, Graphics and Sound, as well as various power levels, contract fees and salaries. What do I do? What do I need? How do I choose? Whine whine whine.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Kirby's Epic Yarn

Developers: HAL, Good-Feel
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: Oct. 14, 2010
System: Wii
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web site

In a nutshell: They somehow made Kirby even cuter? Madness!

0:00 I’ve been a Kirby fan since the original Game Boy Dream Land up through the excellent Kirby Super Star on the SNES. I’m intrigued by the super-cute, stringy art style I’ve seen in this one, but I’m not convinced it will spice up what is essentially pretty simple, kid-focused gameplay.

0:01 After a good 15 seconds creating a save file, the title screen appears with Yarn Kirby plopping down as a trapezoidal weight, then reforming into his normal pink puffy self. Very light piano music in the background. One Player.

0:02 “Welcome to Dream Land, a kingdom famous for peace and quiet. It’s the perfect little land, if you like that sort of thing.” An evil sorcerer is turning people in to yarn. Kirby runs in to him and sucks up the red tomato he’s holding before he can introduce himself. A white sock on the sorcerer's belt sucks Kirby up and transforms him into a hollow, yarn version of himself. Quote of the moment: “This grass feels funny... it feels like pants.”

0:03 Kirby saves a yarn boy being chased by a yarn monster by transforming into a yarn car and driving away. Man, I am really going to be tired of the word “yarn” by the end of this hour.

0:05 The yarn boy has run off, leaving me all alone to traipse around outside of Patch Castle. My feet turn in to springs when I jump, and tapping the jump button again in midair turns me in to a gently floating parachute. Tapping the 1 button sends out a starry yarn whip with a snap. The animation is absolutely wonderful. So full of life.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I

Developers: Sonic Team, Dimps
Publisher: Sega
Release Date: Oct. 12, 2010
Systems: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360, Wii, iPhone/iPod Touch
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Still Sonic after all these years...

0:00 The only 3D Sonic game I enjoyed even a little bit was the extremely underrated Sonic 3D Blast, so I'm more than happy the series is finally returning to its 2D roots after 15 years.

0:01 The music on the preview screen is annoyingly repetitive, and not even in a catchy, old-school way.

0:02 Oh man they reprised the old school "Seeegaaaaaa" introductory chant. I half expect the classic Sonic title theme to follow, but instead it's the same annoying preview screen music. Bleh.

0:03 We dive right into Splash Hill Zone, Act 1: "The Adventure Begins." I'll catch ya when I'm done.

0:06 Yup, that's some old-school Sonic all right, right down to the loops and the springboards and the constant tension between running as fast as possible and searching the massive levels for hidden paths and items. The biggest difference, right off, is the mid-air homing attack that lets me zoom right to nearby enemies. I'm used to it from the 3D games, but it just feels odd here. Even if there's nothing to home in on, I can use it to change directions in mid-air, which is probably the closest Sonic will ever get to a double jump. I’ll take it.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies

Developers: Level-5, Square Enix
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: July 11, 2010
System: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: E10+

In a nutshell: Not all fallen angels are bad guys

0:00 I've never actually touched a Dragon Quest game, save for a brief, frustrating stint with the original Dragon Warrior on the NES. An hour probably won't be nearly enough to get a true feel for this epic game, but will it be enough to make me want to play more?

0:01 In an anime cut scene, a boy runs into a cavern, towards a fire-breathing dragon . A woman casts a spell. Slimes bounce on a rocky plain. Pan over a town where a boy plays with a dog. A party talks in a tavern. A woman dances. They clink glasses. A blue spirit rises up. A castle in the clouds. An eagle flies over a field. Zoom up to the starry sky and show the title! Yup, it's a Japanese RPG opening, all right. The animation reminds me of Dragon Ball Z, which is understandable, since it's by the same animator.

0:03 The character creator makes it remarkably easy to make a character that looks exactly like Super Saiyan Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z, which I do. My newly created character gets a halo and angel wings and he flies off. Then... loading? In a DS game?

0:04 "Hello? Is anybody there? If you're there, say something. Show yourself. Thus do the voices of mortals plead, ever hopeful of our existence. For how long have we watched over their realm?" Here we go with the heavy-handed religious allegory...

0:05 Pan over a idyllic little farm village, rendered in blocky, heavily-outlined 3D. Neighbors wave to each other, a horse whinnies, a man fishes in a gentle stream. Two angels watch. One of them is my Vegeta. The other, Aquila, one is impressed with how I've watched over the village, Angel Falls.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Sid Meier's Pirates! (Wii)

Developer: Firaxis
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: Oct. 5, 2010
System: Wii (reviewed), PC
ESRB Rating: E-10+
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Ay diddle dee dee, a pirate’s life for Wii.

0:00 I put a decent amount of time into the updated PC version of this one already, so my main interest today is how this classic title transfers over to the Wii’s control scheme.

0:01 Nice short trumpet fanfare on the preview screen. Also, the game is saving already? I haven’t done anything yet...

0:03 “It began with a celebration. Indebted for many years to Marquis Montelban a families honor would soon be restored.” But the Marquis and his men come in to seize their property and sell them in to bondage. The boy runs off, refusing to be a slave. Ten years later, he continues his quest for revenge. The familiar opening looks a little grainy and rough on my HDTV.

0:05 I like the default name Incognito so much I decide to keep it. I choose the middle difficulty, Adventurer, because it features more dangerous sea battles and more treacherous villains. I decide to choose gunnery as my skill, since I always had problems aiming in the sea battles of the PC version. Let’s start in the default year of 1660.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Wii Party

Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: Oct. 3, 2010
System: Wii
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Everything's better with Mii-pets?

0:00 I'm a bigger fan than most of the Mario Party series, and I've been led to understand this is the spiritual successor to that, with customizable Miis in place of Mario characters. So I'm pretty excited.

0:01 As usual when I play party games for lunch, I am playing today in the sub-optimal single-player mode. I feel like I've played enough of these party games to know which mini-games will be fun with a group, even if that group isn't here right now...

0:03 A bunch of highly animated Miis float by in translucent bubbles on the title screen. Also, an airliner, a die and a dog float by, for some reason. The music here will be familiar to anyone who's played Wii Sports, Wii Fit, etc.

0:04 The host looks like a cross between the host from Buzz, Kyle's brother Ike from South park, who's dressed like a more flamboyant Professor Layton and talks like Beaker from the Muppets. REFERENCES! Oh, he's “Party Phil!"

0:05 Party Phil introduces the three main game types: Party Games, Pair Games and House Party games, the last of which “use your living room as part of the fun." I smell a lawsuit over a broken coffee table...


Monday, October 4, 2010

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

Developer: Ninja Theory
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Release Date: Oct. 5, 2010
Systems: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Boy meets girl, boy and girl escapes from slave ship, girl controls boy through telepathic headband, boy dies if girls dies...

0:00 I've been excited about this one ever since I heard the creators talk about crafting the story at the Develop conference. Early buzz from some journalist pals didn't hurt either.

0:01 An extremely basic title screen features some scrolling barcodes in the background. I press start and it zooms out to show a woman staring at that screen, her face reflected on the blank left side. Her eyes dart back and forth realistically. I like how she flicks the screen to change between options screens too.

0:04 I start a New Journey on Normal difficulty and wait through a decently long loading screen. Chapter 1: The Escape. "Welcome to slave ship 90 en route to Pyramid," says a computerized voice. The camera focuses on a muscle-bound, tribal-tattooed guy trapped inside a large metal egg. He doesn't look happy about it, either. He watches as the girl from the Title Screen breaks out of her own egg and taps some nearby computer screens, triggering large explosions on the other end of the hallway. The guy in the egg screams for help, but only receives a jarring explosion that knocks his egg to the ground and lets him carefully climb out.

0:05 In control, I run towards the open end of the grate-floored hallway. A guy fires at me, then an egg explodes off wall and takes him out. Convenient!