Thursday, April 30, 2009

Patapon 2

Developer: Pyramid/Japan Studio
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: May 5, 2009
System: PSP
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Chaka-pata-pon-pata-chaka-pata-pata-chaka-pon-pon-pata-GET-OUT-OF-MY-HEAD

0:00 I somehow resisted the buzz surrounding the original, despite my love for all things rhythmic and cute. I played this sequel for roughly five seconds at CES, and it left me with a desire to play more. Will I feel the same way after an hour? Let's see.

0:01 When I bring up the Patapon icon on the PSP menu, I hear the cutest little nonsense rap from what sounds like a chorus of kids: "Pata-pata-pata ... PON! Jan-J-Jan-J-Jan-Jan!" I scroll up and down to listen to it over and over! CUTE!

0:02 Breathy didgeridoo music mixes with the same chorus of kids singing "Pata" over and over. A little black ... limbed ... eyeball ... thing carrying a HUGE axe brings it down, bringing up the title screen as he does. Now the music is vibrant with Patapons singing gibberish (and maybe some Japanese)? Reminds me of the beginning of LocoRoco a LOT!

0:04 A bunch of the tiny black eyeballs with limbs are fixing up a ship. They bravely set off on a voyage, hitting storms and rough seas and such, but they refuse to give up, according to the overly quick text. Then, after 49 days and 49 nights, a giant squid brings the ship down. "Their fate unknown, what will happen to the Patapons now?" They'll all die. The end!

0:05 Not really. Instead, I get to read the Patapon Oath. "I hereby pledge to honor and keep my promise to the Great Leader of the Patapons and help them reach Earthend." And et cetera and so on. I sign with the X button and we're off!



Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures: Fright of the Bumblebees

Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Release Date: March 24, 2009
System: PC
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web site

In a nutshell: I'm still waiting on that breakfast, Gromit!

0:00 I was a minor fan of Wallace and Gromit's claymation shorts growing up, and I've been enamored of Telltale's recent Sam & Max and Strong Bad Adventures. Here's hoping the same madcap humor comes through here.

0:01 Grey gears turn in the background as a title card slides in, suspended by a few bits of rope. On it, shadow of a huge bumblebee threatens our inventive duo. Gentle, mysterious oompah music in the Aardman style fills the background.

0:02 The options screen can give hints Never, Rarely, Sometimes or Often. A nice touch. I turn it to Never for now, because I don't want to be tempted to cheat.

0:03 I decide to skip the tutorial. I think the short demo I got at the Game Developers Conference and my experience with other Telltale adventures will get me by.

0:04 Pan up from a picture of Wallace and Gromit fishing to the interior of a house. Gromit puts down a jar of "From Bee to You" honey under a spigot. "Robot Rodent Ravage Shop," says the newspaper headline. The game's title appears amidst shadows of a bumblebee swarm at the door.

0:06 "Breakfast time, Gromit," calls Wallace from upstairs. Just like that, I'm in control of the clay pooch. By the door is a wooden sign with four red lights: Slippers, Breakfast, Newspaper, Walkies. The Breakfast light is flashing. Wallace calls from upstairs: "Drop me down!" "Let's get going ... big day today!" "Up and at 'em!"



Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Need for Speed Undercover

Developer: EA Black Box
Publisher: EA
Release Date: Nov. 18, 2008
Systems: Xbox 360 (reviewed), Wii, PS3, PS2, PSP, DS, PC, Mobile, N-Gage, iPhone/iPod Touch
ESRB Rating: E10+
Official Web site

In a nutshell: "I race this lonely road, the only one that I have ever known..."

0:00 I've managed to somehow avoid playing the Need for Speed series for the past 26 years, but I have some friends who really got into it. I'm a fan of arcade racers, so I really don't know why I waited so long...

0:01 A short downloadable update precedes a disclaimer: "Pull these moves within the safety of your house ONLY." Um, I don't think Mom will let me take the car into the house...

0:02 "You're not good ... and you're not bad," says a ghostly message on the loading screen. What the hell? Then, a cut scene: "This place has changed. These guys and their cars. No regard for anyone. It's time to put a stop to what's going on around here." Generic thumping techno plays over a moving helicopter shot over the ocean. It's a police chopper with a coastal skyline coming into view behind the credits. The choppers join in a five-car police pursuit of a red car with "ND 4 SPD" on the license plate. Subtle! The camera pans behind the car and ... oh shit, I'm driving already? I was not ready for that!

0:03 As I travel down the near-deserted three-lane highway, my fines rack up -- $250 for speeding, $100 for a hit-and-run, etc. I get separate points for near-misses and property destruction. Reminds me a bit of Crazy Taxi, which is definitely a good thing.

0:05 I run headlong into the back of a slow-moving truck, allowing the police to bump me into the side barrier. "Busted!" Well, that was fast. The SWAT team jumps out the choppers and is on top of me in a second. "FAIL! Weave through traffic to avoid the copes. Plow through any roadblocks to send the cops flying." Good advice!



Monday, April 27, 2009

Reel Deal Slots Adventure

Developer: Phantom EFX
Publisher: Phantom EFX
Release Date: April 5, 2009
System: PC
ESRB Rating: T

In a nutshell: Press... that... BUTTON!

0:00 I generally hate slot machines and all they represent as far as "gaming," but when I got a PR e-mail about an "Adventure" game based on the one-armed bandits, morbid curiosity forced me to find out what the hell was going on.

0:01 My pre-game research has revealed that this is currently the No. 1-selling PC casino game on Amazon. So it must be good, right?

0:07 The past seven minutes were spent installing copious amounts of data from this DVD onto my hard drive. I can't imagine the slot machine logic requires a lot of coding, so there must be a lot of flashy animations and sounds coming, huh?

0:08 "Welcome to Reel Deal Slot Adventure!" says an incredibly cheery voice. "Please fill out your VIP card to continue." In the background, sounds of chattering gamblers and ... birds? "Now that your VIP Card is ready, click on the PLAY button to start your adventure." This guy is so friendly and bubbly. I just want to stay with him forever!



Thursday, April 23, 2009

Gardening Mama

Developer: Cooking Mama Limited
Publisher: Majesco
Release Date: March 31, 2009
System: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web site

In a nutshell: All of the pretty flowers, none of the messy dirt.

0:00 I feel a liberal amount of liberal guilt for not celebrating Earth Day this week, so I'm doing a belated observance by playing this Earth-focused game ... on an electricity-guzzling system. Er...

0:01 A bright sun on a blue sky. Chirpy music as the camera pans down to an insanely happy gardener and little kids hopping in and out of the scene. Blooming flowers bop along to the music in the background. CUTE!

0:02 "Let's Get Growing!" Cut to an overhead view of a green field, with Mama's face smiling in the middle. I can choose from one of two growing stations: red tulips or yellow pansies. I ain't no pansie -- even though I'm playing a gardening game -- so I'll start with tulips.

0:03 Bulb-planting time! I choose the practice mode to figure out what's going on. First I have to open the bag o' bulbs with a few staple-removing swipes. Then I have to pick out the blemish-free bulbs that match the sample. A bit too simple for me, but the tinny "Perfect! Better than Mama!" chirping out of the speakers makes it plenty rewarding.

0:05 Next up is the always pleasant fertilizer pouring. I have to tilt the bag just long enough to fill in a white dotted line area in the soil. I pour too much at first, but quickly get into the rhythm of the thing. Requires a kind of deft touch and some decent timing. I'm digging it.



Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Excitebots: Trick Racing

Developer: Monster Games
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: April 20, 2009
System: Wii
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web site

In a nutshell: It really feels like you're driving a robotic frog!

0:00 I spent a few enjoyable hours with the original Excite Truck when the Wii was fresh and new, but I moved on to other games before finishing. A short demo of Excitebots at GDC got me fired up for more seat-of-the-pants high-flying trick racing, though.

0:01 Since the game actually comes with a Wii Wheel accessory, I guess I'll try using it. I never really liked the way it felt for Mario Kart Wii, though.

0:02 A quick message about how to properly hold the Wii Wheel, then the title screen pops up with some thrilling full-screen video from the game. Bots are flying and crashing and flipping all over the place to the strains of some high-energy guitar synth.

0:04 There's an intriguing option called "Poker Race" that's grayed out on the menu screen. The online and versus play options are also locked. Looks like I'm off to the single-player racing, then. Let's start with the training to get a refresher on how this all works (hey, it's been a while).



Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Worms (PS3)

Developer: Team 17 Software
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: March 26, 2009
Systems: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox Live Arcade
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Cute Cephalopod Carnage
0:00 I've been a moderate fan of this series on the PC side, but I've never played a console version. Here's hoping the mouse and keyboard controls translate to the DualShock.

0:01 Sirens and a helicopter sound in the background of a cluttered title screen. Cartoon bombs, dynamite and sheep bouncing around on a blue background behind the title.

0:02 The available "Game styles" include Beginner, Intermediate, Pro, "BnG" and "Full Wormage." The difference between them is mainly in the amount of time granted for each round. You can also set your own difficulty options and save it, a nice touch.

0:05 After reading through the controls and weapon info a bit, I jump right into a Quick Game. Hopefully my memory of the PC games will sustain me. The system generates a two-tiered ice level, complete with igloos, toboggans and penguins embedded in the ice.

0:06 The AI wastes its first turn shooting shotgun shells into the ceiling. I waste mine trying to jump over a proximity mine, causing it to explode just as I approach an enemy. Seems my memory of the mines wasn't as good as I thought.



Monday, April 20, 2009

Race Pro

Developer: SimBin
Publisher: Atari
Release Date: Feb. 17, 2009
System: Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Just another racing game.

0:00 When a game has a name as incredibly generic as "Race Pro" you know it's going be a train wreck or transcendent. Either way, should be a fun hour.

0:01 A bunch of animated logos precede a plain, gray metal title screen, complete with ultra-shiny "RACE PRO" logo. The menu has some grainy stock racing footage running along a bar up top and some generic synth-pop thumping in the background. It's the NASCAR version of a rave!

0:02 The speedometer defaults to metric units. You're in America now, bub! Speak American!

0:03 The control settings include the most detailed analog sensitivity settings I've ever seen. Steering sensitivity is divided into three sectors, plus I can set up "dead zones" for the throttle and brakes. A bit much for most players, I'd imagine, but someone might appreciate it.

0:05 "In Career Mode, become a professional racing driver and earn a living by racing for different teams." OK, I will! First there's the tryout, then races, where I can earn the credits I need to buy new contracts, cars, etc. Let's start at the start with "Group A." It's a Mini Cooper race! Awesome! Like "The Italian Job"!



Friday, April 17, 2009

Zen Bound

Developer: Secret Exit
Publisher: Chillingo
Release Date: Feb. 24, 2009
System: iPod Touch/iPhone
ESRB Rating: N/A
Official Web site

In a nutshell: The most non-sexual fun you can have with a rope!

0:00 When I first asked my friends and colleagues for game recommendations for my new iPod Touch, quite a few people mentioned this one. I'm looking forward to a game that doesn't require much attention or cause much stress.

0:01 The game says it's "designed for headphones," so I spend a minute digging up some ratty old earbuds. Wow ... the trippy music really does sounds a lot better echoing directly through my skull.

0:02 "Zen Bound is a game about slowing down and letting things happen at their own pace." I could use a game like that after a stressful tax season, let me tell you. Apparently I'll be painting structures by wrapping them with rope. Er ... that's not how painting works? Is it? I've never really painted...

0:02 I start with the "Tree of Reflection" because it sounds more, um, reflective than the "Tree of Challenge."

0:04 Immediately I'm impressed with the detailed 3-D graphics. The wooden block has a nice, convincing grain to it, and the tiny iPod handles the full 3-D animation with minimal jumpiness. I'm also digging the interface -- flicking my thumb to rotate the block, tilting the iPod to change the rope direction. It only takes 12.4 of the available 25 meters of rope to get the simple block 100-percent painted with a spiraling rope pattern. The game makes a strong, unique first impression.



Thursday, April 16, 2009

NPPL Championship Paintball 2009

Developer: Sand Grain Studios
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: Nov. 18, 2008
System: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360, Wii, PS2
ESRB Rating: E-10+
Official Web site

In a nutshell: A strategic first-person shooter where the messy death is replaced with messy paint.

0:00 There's a National Professional Paintball League? And it has championships? And it's popular enough to have its own videogame? OK, I have to at least try this out...

0:01 Some grainy, quick-cutting video of what I assume are real NPPL tournaments. Annoying heavy metal music plays as helmeted, full-suited paintballers dive around inflatable barriers. "Is it a game or a battle?" says an on-screen message. I'm going to go ahead and say game...

0:02 "Pro Player Tips: Support your local paintball field," says the loading screen. How in the world is that a pro player tip? Or even a tip of any kind. "Suggestion" would be more accurate.

0:03 The next few minutes spent "Creating Game Data" on the hard drive. Out of thin air, apparently!

0:07 I can choose between 26 different pro paintballers, which I suppose would be impressive if anyone gave a flying leap about pro paintballers. I go with William Smith, because he reminds me of superstar actor/rapper Will Smith, who would be great in a paintball movie. Also, he has a perfect 20/20 rating in "Marker Handling," so there's that.



Monday, April 13, 2009

Major Minor's Majestic March

Developer: NanaOnSha
Publisher: Majesco
Release Date: March 24, 2009
System: Wii
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web site

In a nutshell: You're going too fast ... or is it too slow? Whatever it is, it's not right...

I was pretty unimpressed with the very early demo of this game at I saw E3 2008, but more impressed with a recent showing at GDC. Erin's review has disheartened me yet again, but I still have to give the creator of PaRappa the Rapper and UmJammer Lammy the benefit of the doubt until I actually play the final version.

0:01 The camera pans through two lines of animals playing an interesting, constantly bending marching tune. They're led by a tall orange guy with a long face. The low-res 3-D models evoke the strong art style of the 2-D cutouts of the PaRappa games.

0:02 "Turn up the Wii Remote volume settings in the HOME Menu first or you won't be able to hear GGGG!" Good advice! Er, what's GGGG?

"The Marching Family Story" book opens to reveal "The Legend of the Magic Baton: In the not so distant past, the people of March Town were well known for their party spirit. They especially loved marching parades." Imagine that! Major Minor was a cat who wanted to lead a marching band as a drum major. His friend Tom suggested using his Great Great Grandma Gladiola's (GGGG!) baton. But it's a family heirloom with supposedly magical powers. Minor is convinced, and waves the magic baton around. Tom magically gets a snare drum! The spirit of GGGG speaks, urging him to carry on the family tradition of great drum majoring. So Minor and Tom begin their quest "to be the greatest marching band ever." Wow, tough competition there...

0:06 How to hold the Wii Remote: "Don't even think about holding it sideways." Stand up straight and wave it "snappily." Wave it sloppily and no one will want to follow you. Don't wave it too hard, though. Needs a lot of explanation! "Truly, the best Drum Majors have poise and grace." Truly!



Thursday, April 9, 2009

Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe

Developer: Midway
Publisher: Midway
Release Date: Nov. 16, 2008
Systems: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web site

In a nutshell: What happens when bad comics meet bad fighting games?

0:00 I was never a big Mortal Kombat fan ... I was more a Street Fighter man growing up. I also think the idea behind this game is ludicrous ... so ludicrous that I just HAVE to try it out.

0:01 A minute gone for the inevitable downloadable update. This also gives me time to get my crappy Hori fighting stick out of the closet.

0:02 No over-the-top intro video? Just a title screen with some vague lightning and/or fire in the background? Midway ... you disappoint me.

0:03 At least the menu screen has Batman and Scorpion, standing dramatically in their 3-D glory on some rooftops. The background noise barely counts as music ... "atonal rhythmic drumming" might be a better description.

0:04 My fighting stick only has six buttons, meaning at least two of the eight control buttons are going to have to be jettisoned. I decide to forgo the "3D movement" and "grab" functions. I hate that I have to waste one button on "block." Real men just hold "back" on the joystick!

0:05 The "Kombat CPU" difficulty goes from Very Easy to Very Hard, with Easy, Medium and Hard in between. I leave it at Medium. I know I should be playing another human, but there's no one around (as usual) and I'm embarrassed to show my awful MK skills online.



Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Bionic Commando: Rearmed

Developer: GRIN
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: Aug. 14, 2008
Systems: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360, PC
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web site

In a nutshell: I miss the jump button.

0:00 I never really played the original Bionic Commando. I remember I had a neighbor friend who liked it, but I always insisted we play Super Mario Bros. instead when I was over. And the rest is history.

0:01 "Let me tell you about the man I met when I was still young..." says some white text on a grey background. They found a secret military document, describing the defunct Project Albatross. A power-mad Admiral decided to carry it off himself. So "Super Joe" went in to stop him, but all contact was lost. So now someone else is sent in to find Super Joe. "This is where our story begins." I love the remixed chiptune music.

0:02 Let's start with "basic tutorial." My grappling-hook arm can shoot straight ahead, straight up or diagonally. I can use it to climb up to platforms. Seems straightforward enough.

0:05 I can also use my arm to pull blocks and swing from ceilings, Spider-Man-style. "Now you are in a swing, and will continue to swing for all eternity without having to push another button." All eternity? Really? What if the sun explodes? Will I still be swinging?

0:07 Having some trouble timing my grapples in mid-air, but I eventually get it. I'm a little annoyed at the lack of a jump button. What kind of self-respecting platform game doesn't have a jump button? Super Mario Bros. had a jump button, that's for sure!



Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Shaun White Snowboarding

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: Nov. 16, 2008
Systems: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, Wii, DS, PSP, PS2, PC
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Snowboarding ... with Shaun White!

0:00 All these years later, I'm still looking for a snowboarding game I'll like as much or more than the original SSX. Here's hoping the Flying Tomato is up to the challenge.

0:01 This minute spent downloading and installing the obligatory Xbox Live update.

0:02 Jump directly to the title screen, with a simple red text against a white background. "Need help? Visit www.shaunwhitegame/com/help." What if I don't have Internet access? Huh, game? What should I do then?

0:03 "Man, me and the mountain, there's no way to describe it," says what I assume is White as we pan over the mountain. "It's like I'm the slayer and the mountain is my dragon." Um, I think that counts as a way to describe it, right there. "What's the first bit of advice you'd give a new player?" asks some snowboarding commentator. "You need to look good, you know what I mean." No, I do not know what you mean, Shaun. "Like, freaky, sexy good." Oh, OK, now I know what you mean.



Thursday, April 2, 2009

Rune Factory: Frontier

Developer: Neverland Co.
Publisher: Marvelous Entertainment
Release Date: March 17, 2009
System: Wii
ESRB Rating: E10+
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Charming farming.

0:00 The back-of-the-box description of this game seems a little too close to my experience with the terminally boring Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness for my comfort, but they sent it to me so I'll give it a fair shake.

0:01 Anime intro: A bird flies through some abstract colored grass environments as peppy Japanese jazz plays. A guy with a hoe stands in a field full of yellow flowers. A girl releases a yellow butterfly to the sky. Another girl studies an orb, which becomes wind-blown streamers. A rainbow, a girl in a red robe and a big hat in front of said rainbow, a giant demon against the void of space. The bird flies across water to an island, the boy runs through the fields, sprouting yellow flowers near him as he does. He jumps to the embrace of all the smiling faces of the other characters. If the game is anywhere near this exciting I'll eat my hat.

0:04 The "Memories" screen reveals 31 more movies to unlock. Crazy, jumpy anime fans rejoice!

0:05 "I had lost everything; my memory, a place to live. When I was on the verge of collapse, I met her. She provided me with food, a home, and ... new memories." Not necessarily in that order. I suppose. Anyway, she left so now I'm going off to search for her.



Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Developer: Avalanche Software
Publisher: Disney Interactive
Release Date: Nov. 28, 2008
Systems: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS2, Wii, PS2, DS, PC
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Baby's first action game

0:00 I vaguely remember someone on Twitter saying this game was actually better than its movie-based origins would suggest. I've never even seen the movie, so I'm just looking for a decent family-friendly action game.

0:01 "The WHEELBAR allows you to move along pipes, ledges and ceilings," says a helpful if somewhat confusing loading-screen message. Cut to a title screen with a panting Bolt sitting on a TV screen, then a montage of action ... Bolt uses laser eyes, sonic barks and super-resilience to take out a bunch of bad guys.

0:02 A can of strawberry soda sits on a sofa. "OK, this has gone on long enough," says an off-screen voice. "I'm going to unleash fury on the count of five and I'm starting at 3 ... 4 ... 5!" The microwave dings and a hamster leaps onto the couch with a ball full of popcorn. He's sitting down to a DVD marathon of "Bolt," the TV show. "Most noble magic box, may you run glitch-free and with fortitude. Let the awesomeness ... COMMENCE!" Man, this guy's really getting into the role of the hamster.

0:04 "22:36 hours, somewhere off the coast of Italy," in the driving rain of a thunderstorm. I'm a little girl in tight black spy gear. Not that I, er, noticed the tightness or anything. She has quite a nice running gait and an awkward double jump that doesn't make much sense in the context. Is she a super-powered warrior or just a regular girl ... who happens to have a double jump?



Lunch for Lunch: Turkey and Swiss Sandwich

Developer: Kyle Orland
Publisher: Giant Eagle Supermarkets
Release Date: Apr. 1, 2009
System: Toaster Oven, Refrigerator
ESRB Rating: N/A

In a nutshell: Thin mints make everything better ... even burnt challah.

0:00 I know I usually only review lunches I haven't eaten before on this column, but I'm making an exception today because I pretty much eat the same boring lunch every damn day.

0:01 I get up and get my bread out of the refrigerator ... a nice loaf of challah. Usually I prefer a simple, cheap honey whole wheat, but my wife felt like buying challah last week, apparently. If it's in the fridge, I'll eat it; that's my motto.

0:02 This minute spent slicing some nice, thick challah slices.

0:04 Two slices of turkey and one slice of Swiss, as is standard for these things. On to the bread and into the toaster oven, la dee da.

0:05 There were only three slices of turkey left in the package, with a single slice left lonely in the bag. This cannot stand. Into my mouth it goes. Om nom nom.