Monday, August 31, 2009

The Conduit

Developer: High Voltage Software
Publisher: Sega
Release Date: June 23, 2009
System: Wii
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Exploding the conspiracy that says the Wii can't do a good first-person shooter.

0:00 I liked the short hands-off demo I got of this game at GDC, and it's been sitting unopened on my shelf for far too long now. Let's do it to it! To the Condu-it, to be precise. HA!

0:01 The title screen features some generic spy-thriller music and a gentle blue background. Right off, I'm shocked that the screen doesn't fill up my widescreen display. This is the kind of game that could definitely benefit from using the entire display. What's up with that?

0:02 The game uses "Mr.Ford" as my default name, and I stick with it, even though they forgot the space after the period. Yes, I am a punctuation nerd.

0:03 Selectable difficulties are Low, Guarded, Elevated, High and Severe? Is this a game or the Homeland Security Advisory System? I'll play at Elevated, because that's our current terrorism alert level, according to DHS. I'm all about the realism!

0:04 The options menu lets me move around the location of my health, ammo, etc. on the heads-up display. It's a nice touch, but in the end I trust the designers to have them placed correctly...

0:05 The selectable controller layouts are named Ford, Washington, Adams and Jefferson. What is this, "National Treasure"?



Friday, August 28, 2009

Trials HD

Developer: RedLynx
Publisher: Microsoft
Release Date: Aug. 12, 2009
System: Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web site

In a nutshell: If real motorcycling is this hard, no wonder there are so many accidents.

0:00 After hearing this one frequently described as the second coming of the NES favorite ExciteBike, I figured $15 wasn't too much to ask.

0:01 "Monday Monday Monday. It's Monday Night Show Tiiiime," says an announcer over the introductory logos. Drum-heavy generic rock over a simple, dirty title screen.

0:02 Controls look simple enough ... gas and break on the shoulder triggers, lean forward and back with the analog stick. Let's go!

0:03 Difficulty choices are Beginner, Easy, Medium, Hard and Extreme. I start with Beginner, even though I assume it will be totally simple and boring. I start the tutorial in the only available bike, a tiny Turtle 80cc. Looks way too small for my large, muscular rider.

0:04 I hold down RT to go full-throttle right out of the gate. There are some small ramps, but it's a relatively flat course. I show off on the last straightaway with some wheelies. After the finish line, my rider crashes into some plywood and big rubber tires. Ouch. Already I'm not a fan of the diagonal camera view, which makes depth perception a bit of a problem.

0:05 The next track is full of distracting explosions to the side of my biker's path. I'm doing fine, until I lean too far forward during a jump and end up riding nearly vertically on my front wheel after the landing. I fall over into the world's gentlest crash. It's almost slow-motion.



Thursday, August 27, 2009

Batman: Arkham Asylum

Developer: RockSteady Studios
Publisher: Eidos/ Warner Bros. Interactive
Release Date: Aug. 25, 2009
Systems: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360, PC
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web site

In a nutshell: A rare gaming bright spot for the Dark Knight.

0:00 Despite the absolutely enormous amounts of hype for this one, I've been trying to tamp down my expectations -- it is a superhero game, after all, and they almost invariably suck. I even ignored the demo so I could go into the full game fresh. So ... here we go!

0:01 Right off, I like how the preview screen puts an old-fashioned TV around the tiny video of Batman kicking and punching a bunch of bad guys.

0:02 "There is not enough free space on the hard disk. At least 486 MB more free space is needed." Of course it is...

0:03 So long, NPPL Pro Paintball install data. You will not be missed terribly much.

0:04 "For optimal performance, 2286 more MB of HDD space is needed. You may continue playing, or quit now to free up space." First off, why are you just telling me this now? Second off, hell yeah I want the optimal experience!

0:05 So long, MLB 09: The Show install data. You were incredibly huge and pointless.



Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.

Developer: Ubisoft Romania
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: March 6, 2009
Systems: PS3 (reveiwed), Xbox 360, PC
ESRB Rating: T
Offical Web site

In a nutshell: Hey, it takes a long time to install flight-sim action this good!

0:00 I'm not a big fan of Tom Clancy games, almost on general principle. I do like action-packed dogflight games, though, and this one got some good buzz when it came out, so it's definitely worth a try.

0:01 A 41 MB update is available and currently downloading. Only 98 seconds left as I type this ... not too shabby.

0:03 A quick install and we're good to go yet again. Or so I THOUGHT! In reality, I need to free up an additional 2197 MB of install space before we continue. ARGH!

0:04 So long, Linger in Shadows. I promise to re-download you if I want some weird-ass demoscene stuff.

0:06 I barely even recall installing NBA 09: The Inside, but I'll gladly reclaim the 2+ gigs of install space it's taking up.

0:07 "Please wait while Installing Game Data. Do not switch off the system." One, this is very polite of the PS3 to phrase this way. Two, I love how "Install Game Data" is capitalized. Like it's a trademark or something.



Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor

Developer: Tiger Style Games
Publisher: Apple
Release Date: Aug. 10, 2009
System: iPhone/iPod Touch
ESRB Rating: N/A

In a nutshell: The secret is that there are games this good on the iPhone!

0:00 I've lost count of the number of sources I've seen in the past week hailing this one as a groundbreaking, important, essential addition to iPhone gaming, so $3 sounds like a small price to pay to try it out.

0:01 Zoom in on a tiny spider standing in a hand-drawn forest backdrop. The title quickly gives way to the first instruction: "To walk, hold your finger on the screen." Pleasant, upbeat synth music propels me along.

0:02 Spider can stick to walls and even the underside of the forest mushrooms. A quick swipe leads to a quick, extremely satisfying jump across the expanse.

0:03 Tap Spider, then jump to create a thread. Create a polygon between threads to make a web, which can act as a platform for more jumping/web-making.

0:04 "Six months later..." The music is now light electric guitar. "Eat bugs to survive. Eating bugs gives you silk and scores points." OK ... so where are these bugs?

0:06 Oh... I thought those tiny floating green things were leaves, but it turns out they're actually the bugs I'm supposed to be eating. I make a quick triangular web with three jumps, then gobble 'em up nice and easy. I jump in a spiraling purple portal to move on, and the camera zooms out to show the entirety of the porch area I've been jumping around. Seeing it from a wide perspective after spending so much time zoomed-in close on Spider is interesting, to say the least.



Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box

Developer: Level 5
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: Aug. 24, 2009
System: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: E-10+
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Critical thinking is STILL the key to success.

0:00 I loved working through the first Layton game, even though a few of the puzzles were a bit too obtuse. Of course, the grassroots viral promotion for this sequel has only increased my interest.

0:01 A boy and a girl stand with their backs facing each other on a woodcut. The title appears over them with elegant strings and light piano backing. "New Game" is my only option, so ... I choose it!

0:02 After writing in my name, white text appears on a black background with a gentle female narrator: "There are tales of a box that brings death upon any who dare open it. Tell me, do you think those rumors could be true?" An whimsically animated cut scene in a train station, now. "Hey look, there it is," young Luke cries.

0:03 Luke and Layton give over their tickets and walk onto the platform. A woman in a yellow headscarf follows, lowering her sunglasses to see if anyone is watching her. Workers are trying to squeeze a fat lady into a train car. On the train, Layton calls the train "a cruise ship on rails." And away they roll. Layton's voice sounds a bit different than in the last game ... slightly more menacing, slightly less carefree. Is this a new voice actor?

0:04 Luke and Layton chat about the Elysian Box. "All who open it die, eh?" asks Luke. "The answer is out there, Luke ... but we just need to find it." "We will ... I know it," says Luke, cloyingly. "Prologue: The Elysian Box." Can't say the intro has hooked me as of yet.



Monday, August 17, 2009


Developer: zSlide
Publisher: Atari
Release Date: Oct. 2, 2007
System: PSP
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Yo yo yo what up mah homiez, this be a tight-ass mini-game collection in the HIZZZ-OOOOOOOOUSE! Word.

0:00 I'm an unapologetic fan of WarioWare-style mini-game collections, so this Atari offering of 200 of the things had me intrigued. Not intrigued enough to check it out in the last two years it's been out, but still intrigued enough to put it in my GameFly queue.

0:01 A smiling pixel man in a red shirt and a red-and-yellow ball cap greets me. There's a pyramid of odd pixel people in the background, including one that seems to be a hamburger. Logos erupt in pixilated thunder, then a menu screen shows the guy in the hat with a girl in one corner and a purple monster in another. The Episodes option lets me "Unlock the 10 episodes of PXL lifestyle," whatever that means.

0:02 I choose Normal difficulty in front of a desert that contains an orange sky, a green cactus and a black monster that reminds me of a Troggle. A desert, a cactus and ... a big black thing. Episode 1 is "Underground." A fast-paced video tells me "How to play how Hot PXL!"1. Get what to do. (Via on-screen text.) 2. Find how to do it. Use the analog stick or directional buttons. Press buttons. Or try anything else! (Um, what else is there?) 3. Finally perform! Ready?" I guess so? I don't remember WarioWare needing a video like this.

0:03 Inexplicably, the game leads off with a short video of an old white guy in hip-hop garb coming out of a bunker and blowing dust off a record. Umm...

0:04 The first game just tells me to "Shoot." At first I think the tiny blue box is a target reticle. Nope, it's a ship that shifts left and right. X shoots two shots that take out two black squares up at the top of the screen. A between-game stat box tells me I'm "still on track to perfect." Er, thanks!



Friday, August 14, 2009

Space Invaders: Infinity Gene

Developer: Taito
Publisher: Taito
Release Date: July 27, 2009
Systems: iPhone/iPod Touch (reviewed), other mobile phones
ESRB Rating: N/A
Official Web site

In a nutshell: If you showed this to a Space Invaders player 30 years ago, their head would literally explode.
0:00 After hearing our own Ryan Kuo and countless others absolutely GUSH about this for weeks, I finally decided to plunk down the $4.99. I liked Space Invaders Extreme well enough, but I'm wary of how the iPhone's touch controls will work...

0:01 An incredibly old-school black-and-white intro screen shows the points scored for dead enemies. It even has a "Credits: 1" message in the corner." After some loading, I hear waves washing over a bit-tune violin on the options screen. Eerie.

0:02 The available difficulties are Easy and Normal. I'm betting Normal is more like a normal Hard, but I'm feeling gutsy.

0:03 "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change," reads the introductory Darwin quote. "The king of games strikes back!" Eep! Wait, the king? Space Invaders hasn't been king for decades! Anyway, it starts out just like the old-school classic, with a ship that fires automatically and is slid back and forth by my thumb. This quickly transitions to Level 1-1, "Adaptive Radiation," which is much faster-paced and includes some large Invaders that throw off bright white shrapnel and explosions as they're hit. Digging it already...

0:05 When I finish the level, a big "EVOLUTION!" message comes up. I accidentally tap too fast and don't see what new feature I got. Oh well. Level 1-2 is "Genetic Diversity." It includes a few rows of never-ending Invader streams that are hard to shoot through but whose shots are easy enough to dodge. In the end, I find I got a "122 chain," but no "Nagoya Attack," whatever that is.



Thursday, August 13, 2009


Developer: Shiny
Publisher: Playmates Interactive
Release Date: May 31, 1997
System: PC (reviewed)
ESRB Rating: T

In a nutshell: OK, I'm only 12 years late to the party. What'd I miss?

0:00 I've wanted to pick this critically acclaimed PC game for years, and the recent nomination for the Crispy Adventurers Club seems like the perfect excuse.

0:01 A pure ebony, muscular body with a pyramidal head runs in from off-screen and leaps on top of the MDK logo, sprawling across the top. Weeeeeeird.

0:02 I perform a "settings test" in the option menu and am amazed to see my computer rendering smooth animated 3-D curves. MY computer! The last time I saw 3-D this smooth on my computer was ... never, actually. I should play late-'90s games more often. Anyhoo, New Game.

0:03 "!!!Newsflash!!! A huge City Minecrawler is headed straight for the coastal town of Laguna Beach, USA." I'd ask what a "City Minecrawler" is, but that'd just be silly.

0:04 The game seems to have crashed when I got an instant message. I don't know whether to blame the game or AOL. Either way, I didn't lose much.

0:05 Back in action. Just like that I'm falling through the air. On-screen instructions say "avoid the radar." I'm guessing that's the green laser thing that's sending the missiles with long yellow tails from the ship below me?



Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a Dark Lord

Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: July 20, 2009
System: Wii
ESRB Rating: E-10+
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Cuteness is not an excuse for starting out slow and boring.

0:00 I tend to like tower defense games, and I've heard a lot of praise for this one, so away we go!

0:01 You hold the Remote horizontally. That surprises me. I figured they'd use the pointer for more accurate placement. The title appears on a starry background with cutesy, standard Square music. Reminds me of the Final Fantasy VII Chocobo Racing music. My options are "New Game" and "Purchase Add-On Content." Er, I'm pretty sure I want the former... On to the Tutorial Stage!

0:02 "In a world free of miasma ... the monsters of the land, finding themselves in a dire state, holed themselves up inside their Darklord's massive Tower. Craydall, the Darklord, was kind and handsome, but then he offered his life to protect the castle from the do-gooders. He's sealed inside a crystal and his daughter Mira was crowned on her 16th birthday.

0:03 Mira is introduced with over-the-top spotlights and drum rolls: "The Messenger from the Inferno! The Great Cursed Sorceress! The Devious Demon of Death. Or perhaps ... The Diabolical Hideous Princess of Doom." Heh. Someone did a good job on the translation.

0:04 Mira wears a hideous half-black, half-pink bustier/dress combo. "Cower in fear, adventurers! From this day forward, I am the new ruler of darkness." Sorry, if you want people to cower, you need a better outfit...

0:05 "Chapter 1: The War Begins." The tower is a small thing with a huge metallic heart atop. "Tonberries! Teach me how to do all this stuff!" says Mira. The little green robed guys rush in to do just that. So CUTE!



Tuesday, August 11, 2009

WTF: Work Time Fun

Developer: SCEJ
Publisher: D3 Publisher
Release Date: Oct. 16, 2006
System: PSP
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: What if they made a game that tried its best NOT to be fun...?
0:00 Comparisons to the WarioWare series had me seeking this one out, but just as a rental. Doesn't sound deep enough to warrant a purchase, based on what I've read.

0:01 There's a large, yawning cat behind the standard screen telling me not to remove the memory card. I press X and a low, distorted announcer's voice screams "WORK TIME FUN!" The screaming guy in the background reminds me of Dr. Tran.

0:02 The default character name is "WTF Jr." I wonder how many people actually choose that name. Also, there's a "?" option for gender. That's ... inclusive, I guess. The game also asks for my blood type. I don't even know!

0:03 An old-fashioned LED message board on a silver background. "You've got mail," says the voice. It's from "WTF Net." They're here to provide support for my e-mail. Um, good to know?

0:04 To the Placement Office we go. A blue-faced demon in a robe carries a beer. "Hey! Did you eat lunch? All right, now get to work," he says. In the background, sounds of whips and screaming. Holy f***, this game is messed-UP!

0:05 Traffic Counter is the first game. "Count the people who appear from left and right. You'll lose if you count anything other than a person." Thrilling...



Monday, August 10, 2009

Overlord II

Developer: Triumph Studios
Publisher: Codemasters
Release Date: June 23, 2009
Systems: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Dennis the Menace meets Lord of the Rings.

0:00 I liked the first Overlord game just enough to never play it again after the first hour. Will this one hold up better?

0:01 A quick update download, a longish loading screen and a bunch of logos. The title appears in a flash of electricity as a bunch of little goblin-ish henchman dance to string-heavy sword-and-sorcery music. What sounds like a goblin chorus joins in with some chanting as I reach the menu. Cute.

0:03 Lots more loading before the new game starts. "Once upon a time there was an ending. And we minions searched high and low for a new Overlord. We were like fleas without a dog, maggots without a carcass, pimples without a face. And on Midwinter's eve, in the town of Nordberg, we found a beginning." Impressively decent writing...

0:04 My character is a tiny, misshapen, humanish thing completely ensconced in a thick winter coat. I'm brandishing a club and getting pelted with snowballs thrown by off-screen attackers. After them!

0:05 I knock down my child attackers' snowman defenses with my club and chase them down a snowy lane. The animation is kind of choppy -- I blame the overly detailed world. Everything is rendered with harsh edges and deep textures. A lot of random bits of speech from the kids are overlapping.

0:06 I use my lightning magic (I have lightning magic?!) to light some convenient rockets and destroy a house. Why? Because I'm eeeeevil, that's why.



Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Bit.Trip Core

Developer: Gaijin Games
Publisher: Aksys Games
Release Date: July 6, 2009
System: Wii
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web site

In a nutshell: If Atari games kept getting harder and harder for three decades...

0:00 Even though I never managed to get through the third stage in the punishing Bit.Trip Beat, the techno rhythms and old-school aesthetic stuck with me. I'm looking forward to another blistering, musical challenge here.

0:01 Even the menu is kind of challenging to figure out... I have to hit up, then time my button-press as a yellow dot is crossing the "Discovery" options.

0:02 A little black figure with a white screen for a face looks up at three much taller, similar-looking guys. They're in a red room with no doors or windows. The taller guys warp and bend to the insistent synth in the background; then everything goes dark but their faces. Mommy!

0:03 Starts out simple enough. Little pixilated dots come in from the sides, on a path to hit one of four lines emanating from the center of the screen. I have to choose a beam with the d-pad, then hit the 2 button with perfect timing to collect them. Already there are some tough patterns, with balls flying in at different speeds but hitting the beam at the same time. Switching between beams quickly is a workout for my thumb, and I'm an experienced gamer!

0:06 OK, now dots are stopping and changing directions before they hit a beam. Other dots are moving in undulating sine waves before reaching the beams, and still others bounce around in a circle after hitting their first beam. Well, that got hard fast! I'm keeping up pretty well ... even got a streak to go into Hyper mode, which adds a backbeat and more color.



Monday, August 3, 2009

Fat Princess

Developer: Titan Studios
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: July 30, 2009
System: PS3
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Castle Crashers + StarCraft + CAKE!

0:00 Most of my knowledge of this game comes from the feminist controversy surrounding its concept. And since controversial = good, I'm looking forward to it!

0:01 A light medieval melody plays as tiny, cute, cel-shaded characters run around a castle, picking up cake and such. In the corner, a fat princess sits munching on a sign that says "Start." Yum!

0:02 The options menu is called "Twiddly Knobs." From that I can tell that this is gonna be my kind of game. I "Get Fabulous" by randomizing my character's look a few times. He ends up with pale white skin and a spiky black beard and hair.

0:03 There are 18 pages of "how to play" text with simple picture tutorials. I'm guessing the actual game has a better tutorial, so I'll save this for later.

0:04 I'm definitely not ready to "Play with Others," so I guess I'll just "Play With [Myself]." Wait ... that didn't sound right...