Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rock Band Unplugged

Developer: Backbone Entertainment
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: June 9, 2009
System: PSP
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Freq-Rock-uency Band-plitude

I loved Harmonix's Frequency and Amplitude, which inspired the gameplay here, and the Rock Band games, which inspired the look and song selection, so this one should be a slam dunk for me.

0:01 Loading, logos, then a simple title screen with some rotating ... stuff in the background.

0:02 Controls explained: left and up on the d-pad for red/yellow notes, triangle and circle for the green and blue notes. Not a bad setup ... more symmetrical than the three-track setup in the earlier games.

0:03 I'll skip the training and go straight to the Tour. The game gives me the random band name "Metro Wheelie," which is so awesome I don't even change it.

0:04 Only four hometowns available to choose from? What a gyp. San Fran it is, I guess. The game generates a band with Justin, Chandra, Chuck and Frank. They look decent enough and I don't want to waste time editing them, so let's go.

0:05 "Congratulations! Your band has been offered a gig at Alice's Free Love Cafe! Welcome to the wonderful world of touring!" Man, that's a lot of exclamation points!



Tuesday, July 28, 2009

'Splosion Man

Developer: Twisted Pixel Games
Publisher: Twisted Pixel Games
Release Date: July 22, 2009
System: Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: E-10+
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Why jump when you can 'SPLODE?

0:00 You say there's a new 2-D platformer on Xbox Live Arcade? And it's from the people who made the excellent The Maw? And the main character is made of explosions? Yes, please!

0:01 The Twisted Pixel logo explodes into a scene of fat scientists running from a test subject. It's 'Splosion Man, a thin, red, man-shaped mass of small explosions, who introduces his game's logo with explosions, of course! When I choose "New Game," he jumps out of the logo and kicks a bomb through a pane of glass at a scientist. Spiffy!

0:02 Two oblong scientists are talking in a hallway when our hero interrupts them by 'Sploding through the wall. I'm in control, just like that. Hurray for not belaboring the intro!

0:03 Tapping any face button hurls me into the air with a satisfying explosion. The 'Sploding also turns any nearby scientists into big hunks of steak. Yum.

0:04 I already earned the "Get Them Out of Our Schools" Achievement for eliminating 10 scientists and "stop[ping] them from spreading their filthy lies." Heh. Subtle.

0:05 'Sploding next to green barrels sends me soaring higher than ever. I can also 'Splode in mid-air for a double and even a TRIPLE jump. This game's final score just got tripled, as far as I'm concerned.



Monday, July 27, 2009

Vacation Sports

Developer: Mere Mortals
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: March 17, 2009
System: Wii
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web site

In a nutshell: If Wii Sports Resort is sold out ... wait for them to restock it.
0:00 Since I'm reviewing Wii Sports Resort for this site, I thought it was only fair to check out what's obviously being released as "competition."

0:01 Right off, I'm jamming to the steel-drum and trumpet-heavy music on the preview screen. This is gonna be in my head all day, and I don't really mind!

0:02 A plane with some creepy-looking people flies over an island that looks REMARKABLY like the one in Wii Sports Resort. On it, people play cricket and throw an American football around. As four misshapen, ugly cartoon people get off the plane, they get leis and walk toward the palatial hotel. In Resort they skydive off the plane. Skydiving is cooler than walking. I'm just saying...

0:03 On to a title screen, where characters that are much blockier than in the intro cut scene awkwardly hurl a Frisbee around. "Hello and welcome to the resort," says a blocky woman in a yellow bikini. She's Lola, and she wants me to have "a great time during your stay with us." I have to go to Reception to check in. Wow ... all the fun of the most annoying part of a vacation!

0:05 So now I'm "Creating a family," which really sounds like a euphemism for something. I choose a watermelon for my family logo, because YUM. Then I get to pick the members of my family. There are 10 people to choose from, all kind of odd-looking, and mostly blonde. For the brother, I pick a guy with an open Hawaiian shirt and a tall buzz-cut. For the rest I just choose the "Auto" option, because really, who cares. "Well done! Your family is now checked into the hotel." That deserves a well done? Ugh.



Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition

Developer: LucasArts
Publisher: LucasArts
Release Date: July 15, 2009
System: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PC
ESRB Rating: E-10+
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Oh ... so THAT'S what's everyone's been talking about all this time...

0:00 As I discussed in my review of the new Tales of Monkey Island, I've managed to avoid this series for years; nay, decades, despite mounds of hyperbolic praise from practically every gamer I know. Thus, the expectations (and the possibility for disappointment) have been set exceptionally high. If this isn't the funniest, best-designed game ever made, it is a TOTAL FAILURE!

0:01 A pixilated pirate walks out, looks at a map, digs at an X, opens a chest, and "WOW!" it's the LucasArts logo. Cute. Then a plain, empty title screen on a blue background. Not as cute. I like the jaunty xylophone music on the menu screen.

0:02 A dark, pixilated mountain shines in the distance. "Deep in the Caribbean ... The island of Melee." The opening credits scroll by as the mountain turns into a high-definition painting. The jaunty xylophone tune is now accompanied by a gentle flute. Catchy!

0:03 The credits finish with a seagull's caw. "Hi! My name's Guybrush Threepwood and I want to be a pirate," says the white-shirted pirate to a guy with a white beard standing by a fire. "You look more like a flooring inspector," he replies, in part. But he sends Guybrush (aka me) off to the Scumm Bar to find pirate leaders anyway."Part One: The Three Trials."

0:04 There's quite a disconnect between the extremely detailed HD graphics and the extremely small number of animation frames. It's like watching a Pixar movie through a zoetrope.

0:05 In control now, I move a cursor around and click the first thing I see, a poster with a woman on it. "Re-elect Governor Marley. When there's only one candidate, there's only one choice." Um, true?



Thursday, July 16, 2009


Developer: Steph Thirion
Publisher: Apple
Release Date: March 9, 2009
System: iPhone/iPod Touch
Apple Rating: 4+
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Who knew pulling apart planets could be so fun?

0:00 I've heard a ton of great stuff about this little iPhone puzzler, but its appearance on Crispy's Mid-Season Videogame All-Stars sealed the deal and got my $3. I don't doubt it'll be worth it.

0:01 A small red dot sprouts a long black antenna, which bursts into a blocky "ELISS" title, Nice old-school chirping when I tap the menu buttons.

0:02 The "How To" section is a bunch of IKEA-style instructional images with short, cryptic instructions. For instance: "Objective: Supernovas" shows a finger dragging a yellow circle into a hollow, yellow flower-thing to increase a rainbow-colored counter. I think.

0:03 If I'm interpreting these images correctly, a circle (planet) has to be the right size for its flower ("squeezar"), and different-colored planets colliding is a bad thing. I can put together and pull apart planets to change their size, and use multiple fingers at once to move them about. Also, the supernovas create stardust that I can tap to regain health. I think.

0:04 This "Danger" image makes no sense to me. It shows a planet and a sun colliding? I guess I'll figure that out as I play. Headphones are recommended, so I get some out. OK, ready as I'll ever be. Here we go!

0:07 I start with Sector 1, as I must. It's almost a complete disaster, as I'm so distracted by the trippy vector graphics and interesting music that I have trouble moving the red and yellow planets apart quickly enough. Eventually I focus and start clumping colored planets together in order to keep them separate more easily. All the squeezars are huge, so all I have to do is combine and fill. Complete! I'm betting it gets harder than this...



Thursday, July 9, 2009

Puffins: Island Adventure

Developer: Other Ocean
Publisher: Majesco
Release Date: June 1, 2009
System: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web site

In a nutshell: OMG, Puffins are so cute! Don't you think Puffins are so cute? You're right they're sooooo CUTE!

0:00 Before you ask, NO, I did NOT buy this game for myself. What kind of self-respecting grown man would publically admit a love for puffins so strong that he spent good money on a DS game just to show it? Luckily, Majesco sent me a copy so I didn't have to do that.

0:01 Some quick logos and then a catchy sea shanty plays over a simple, static title screen. "Touch to Start." I do with BOUNDLESS ANTICIPATION!

0:02 On the top screen, a table showing potential grades in eight different events. On the bottom screen, a file selection. In the background, sounds of wind.

0:03 "Create Your Puffin!" With pleasure! I can choose from seven hair styles (all black), three eye colors, and eight beak colors, each more colorful than the last (if you arrange them in order of colorfulness with a sensitive-enough scale). I name my puffin Ace, as per usual.

0:05 The options screen includes "Left/Right Handed" and "View Credits." If the Story Mode is as complex as this options screen, I am SO THERE!



Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Mechants of Brooklyn

Developer: Paleo Entertainment
Publisher: Paleo Entertainment
Release Date: March 17, 2009
System: PC
ESRB Rating:
Official Web site

In a nutshell: The best first-person shooter of early 1993

0:00 I believe I played this game for five minutes or so when cruising the CES show floor in January. I wasn't terribly impressed with my short demo then, but I wasn't terribly unimpressed either.

0:01 Crazy hip-hop infused beats play from my speakers like it's the mid-'90s, and a bare-bones title screen reads DRUG WARS BETA. I can find/create servers for the new Drug Wars online game or play the Merchants of Brooklyn single-player. I choose the latter.

0:02 Selectable difficulties are Lame, Normal, Brutal and "Oh Shi..." They don't actually type out "shit," they just use the three dots. Uh ... Normal, please?

0:03 A decently long loading screen precedes swelling string music against an oddly black screen. "In 3100 AD, global warming caused the polar ice caps to completely melt." Brooklyn becomes "a watery grave of an old civilization." Humanity connected the tops of the buildings through a network of sky bridges. Law enforcement abandoned the poor people in the "lower city." Clones from Brooklyn Institute of Technology are being used as a new working class, but they made too many and they rebelled or something. I can't make out the words ... it sounds like the narrator is speaking from an underwater phone booth.

0:05 VERY choppy cut-scene animation as a guy is led out of a cell in chains. The graphics look super-smooth, like this was a cut scene from an early-'90s game. Anyway, the big guy (me?) is led to a battle arena, where he's bloodied by the opponent. Fade to black as I hear a chainsaw. The dude cut off my hand? Holy hell! Now I'm looking up at ceiling lights as I'm wheeled into a hospital room. A big cigar-chomping guy in a suit pushes a frail doctor out of the way and fits me with a shiny, silver bionic hand. Driving rock metal guitar comes in as I'm led through a glass sky bridge. The camera pans up to show hover-cars and futuristic buildings in the sky. My shackles are undone as I step onto the open elevator and hear gentle bells from somewhere.



Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Super Robot Taisen OG Saga: Endless Frontier

Developer: Banpresto
Publisher: Atlus
Release Date: April 28, 2009
System: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web site

In a nutshell: With a name like Super Robot Taisen OG Saga Endless Frontier, it's got to be incomprehensible and Japanese?

0:00 I know nothing about this game except for the fact that it came with a soundtrack CD in the mail a few months ago, and has since been making me feel guilty from the bookcase.

0:01 An old-fashioned sword and a futuristic robo-sword (?) clash on the top screen against a blue sky. Some entertaining pop synth plays as the title appears.

0:02 "What made the world the way it is? Some say it has existed for tens of thousands of years. Others say it was always like this. But no one knows the truth..." Apparently, our universe encountered people from another world decades ago. The war and confusion this brought ended eventually, but now, 23 years later, a place called Endless Frontier has people of different races and time periods living together. That's right, TIME PERIODS! Don't ask me, I just work here.

0:03 "Well, here we are. Let's get goin', Aschen," says a cowboy-looking feller named Haken. "Roger," is the reply from a busty girl in a futuristic green jumpsuit. Uh...

0:04 Just like that I'm in control, walking the cowboy around a gray spaceship-looking corridor from an overhead, RPG-style viewpoint.

0:05 Rocks are in my way, but I destroy them with a quick sword strike. I find a healing pill, a mind pill and a Power Drink amidst the rubble. Awesome-sauce!



Monday, July 6, 2009

New Play Control! Donkey Kong Jungle Beat

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: May 4, 2009
System: Wii
ESRB Rating: E10+
Official Web site

In a nutshell: A game designed for a bongo controller minus the bongo controller = just a game.

0:00 I loved the original GameCube game, but the bongo-beating action made it hard to play for an extended period of time. I'm worried the game won't be as fun without them, though.

0:01 For a last-generation game, the initial menus look pretty good on my new widescreen HDTV. A lot better than New Play Control! Pikmin, anyway. Also, the game lets me use a Mii to identify my save file. Let's see the GameCube version do THAT!

0:02 The game tells me to shake the Nunchuk and Remote. When I do, a spotlight appears against a leafy green curtain, which moves to reveal ... Donkey Kong! Two small, white monkeys bid him to move forward, which I do with a gentle tilt of the analog stick. The A button jumps over obstacles. Huh ... I figured I'd be shaking the controller to emulate tapping the bongos. I guess by "New Play Control" they really mean "the Old Play Control that platform games had before that wacky bongo controller."

0:03 I have to do clap DK's hands to get a monkey out of a tree, but the game doesn't tell me how to do this. In the GameCube version, you actually clapped in real life. Here, it seems you jump and hit B to do a ground-pound. Oh, the monkey tells me I can also clap by tilting the analog stick and shaking the Remote. I like how you can choose the direction of your claps ... pretty sure that wasn't an option in the original.

0:06 I rescue a few more monkeys with a few more claps, then "Beat on a Barrel Tree" to "test [my] strength." The title drops down into DK's hands!



Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Go Play: Lumberjacks

Developer: Panic Button
Publisher: Majesco
Release Date: June 9, 2009
System: Wii
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web site

In a nutshell: All the nonexistent thrill of lumbersports, captured accurately in a Wii game.

0:00 I know that these games are designed for groups of two or more tweens, and I am one 26-year-old man. Still, it's been sitting on my shelf for weeks now, so away we go.

0:01 The box art intriguingly features a scoreboard with the names Jack, Jill, Bart and Nozawa. Nozawa? Really? That ... doesn't seem to fit with the others.

0:02 The preview screen features a burly man in flannel hitting a tree and shouting "TIIIIMBERRRR!" After quite a bit of loading, the title screen comes up with the same lumberjack in the foreground. Behind him, a slight girl holding a chainsaw that's almost bigger than her. Also there's a pirate, for some reason. The calliope synth music is truly awful, as you might imagine.

0:04 Plain ol' Easy, Medium or Hard for difficulty. Since this is designed for tots, I go with Hard. "HAAAARD!" says an unseen voice, creepily.

0:05 Sawing is first up in Free Play, with the Solo Cross Cut.

0:06 Look at that, my choices for characters are Jack, Jill, Bart and Nozawa. The latter is a ninja, and the second-to-last is a pirate. What is this, Pirates vs. Ninjas Lumbersports? "Velly Good!" says the extremely stereotypical ninja as I choose him.