Monday, September 21, 2009

Zuma's Revenge

Developer: PopCap Games
Publisher: PopCap Games
Release Date: Sept. 15, 2009
Systems: PC (reviewed), Macintosh
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Shoot colored balls at other colored balls.

0:00 I'm a huge fan of Bookworm and Peggle, but I've never actually played the first Zuma. That said, I did play Zuma knockoff Luxor for about five seconds before getting bored, so my hopes for this one are not too high. Then again, it is PopCap...

0:01 Lightning flashes over the PopCap logo, and a sea roils in the background during the initial loading. A frog on a raft with boxer short sails floats by. When the loading is done, the sky clears and an island with huge tiki torches appears in the background.

0:03 "Strange frog, why do you intrude on us?" says a hooded black figure. "This island is no holiday resort! Five fierce chiefs guard our mysteries!" "Ribbit," replies the frog. First up, the "Jungle of Mystery."

0:05 So I control the frog in the center of the screen, rotating him with the mouse. A click makes him spit a colored ball at an advancing line of similar balls spiraling around the center. Match three of the same color and they blow up. Match enough and the "ZUMA!" bar fills up and the line stops getting new balls. The mouse-based controls couldn't be more intuitive, and the interface makes it really easy to aim shots accurately. The graphics and sound effects are the usual infectious PopCap fare ... light and airy. I finish the first level in 38 seconds ... the "Ace Time" is 30. "Who are you, tasty frog?" asks the lion waiting a few levels down.



Friday, September 18, 2009

Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story

Developer: AlphaDream
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: Sept. 14, 2009
System: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Man, Bowser swallowed a lot of save points...

0:00 RPGs with Mario in them are the only ones I tend to like without reservations. The addition of reflex-based action in the battles portions is the key for me. Plus, I'm a sucker for Mario. Duh!

0:01 Peach's Castle appears above a huge reflecting pool. The title pops up in big bubble letters amidst jaunty flute music. I take a quick "Mic Test" and find my voice volume is "ample." Good to know!

0:03 In Toad Town, the Toads meander about randomly. Inside a toadstool-shaped house: "Mom, I'm home!" Mom's at the sink. "Well hi there, sweetie! Home early today, huh?" There's a picture of Princess Peach on the wall. What is this, "1984"? Big Princess is Watching!

0:04 The little Toad snuck out of class early because the teacher was boring. Mom says dinner's almost ready. Wait, dinnertime is during school hours? Man, classes run late these days!

0:05 Young Toad calls for Dad, but "YEEEEEK!" He's turned into a giant, spherical Toad, rolling through walls and such. "THE BLORBS!" says the bottom-screen headline as the top turns to a sepia-toned photograph. "Mushroom Kingdom Marred by Mystery Malady! ... It comes without warning! First, you balloon to blimp size. Then the rolling! You roll away! Oh, the horror of the blorbs!" Horror!



Thursday, September 17, 2009

Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection

Developer: Farsight Studios
Publisher: Crave Entertainment
Release Date: Sept. 22, 2009
System: Xbox 360 (reviewed), Wii, PS3, PSP
ESRB Rating: E10+
Official Web site

In a nutshell: The most pinball fun you can have without buying a table.

0:00 After my piece on the Pinball World Championships, I've joined a local league to rekindle my love for the game. A lot of people there have been talking excitedly about this one, so I was happy to get a review copy.

0:01 A cheesy, early-'90s-era 3-D model of a pinball parlor. The camera zooms through the big glass doors and pans languorously around the sparsely attended grounds. Some lovingly detailed close-up shots of the tables are paired with incredibly awful electric-guitar twanging. Hey, there's Dark Knight! I just played Dark Knight 2000 in the league! And there's Pinbot! I had the NES version of that one. Beautiful HD art.

0:02 After the intro movie, we're back to the outside of the parlor, complete with flashing neon sign. Ambient horns from the street fade away as I enter.

0:03 Four of the music tracks in the options menu are set to "off" by default. Kind of odd ... is that music so bad they don't really want it in the game?

0:05 Navigating the arcade with the analog stick. Each time I got to a machine, an overwrought announcer announces the name in a booming voice: "Medieval Madness! Gorgar!" etc. I pass by some faux classic arcade cabinets like "Comet" and "Egg Invader." and fake pinball machines like "Inferno" and "Space Colony" (at least, I think they're fake). For what amounts to a simple menu, there's a lot of attention to detail -- fake wood paneling, purple carpet, a neo restrooms sign ... I'm mildly impressed.



Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Developer: 5th Cell
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Release Date: Sept. 15, 2009
System: DS
ESRB Rating: E-10+
Official Web site

In a nutshell: A word-nerful puzzle game. Eh? Eh?

0:00 Like every other game journalist in the world, I was turned on to this create-any-noun game by the sleeper E3 demo. I've been waiting for the release day since then. Let's write some words!

0:01 Elegant strings play over the developer and publisher logos, giving way to a plain green field with our rooster-hatted protagonist on it. Tapping around the screen makes him walk around, and a quick upward swipe makes him jump. I could play around creating stuff here, but I'm just gonna jump into the game.

0:03 I choose the Challenge mode and we're off to "University" with a grey-mustached professor. "Welcome to Scribblenauts! Tap this box to continue..." The game teaches me how to move with stylus taps and how to control the camera with the d-pad and/or face buttons. I fall down a shaft and jump up a little raised platform to get to my first Starite. Well, that was easy.

0:05 Level 0-2 has me climbing a ladder and picking up a hammer to break a wooden barrier. Still super-easy, of course. When do I get to create stuff out of whole words?

0:06 Digging through dirt, then identifying a college and a professor using the magnifying glass icon. Get on with it!

0:07 Quote of the moment: "Driving or riding friendly animals works the same as walking." In the real world, I'm pretty sure that's not true.



Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Beatles: Rock Band

Developer: Harmonix Music Systems
Publisher: MTV Games
Release Date: Sept. 9, 2009
Systems: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, Wii
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web site

In a nutshell: There's something in the way it moves me.

0:00 I've played this quite a bit already, with a bunch of random strangers at E3. Shockingly, I found that a game that combined two of my favorite things -- Rock Band and the Beatles -- was lots of fun! Will it be as fun to play alone in my living room for an hour? We'll see.

0:01 As I open the disc case, three pieces of paper fall out: an ad for the digitally remastered Beatles catalog on CD; a note about how to connect the Xbox to the Internet (to buy more songs); and a code for a FREE BEATLES: ROCK BAND AVATAR SHIRT! HELL YES!

0:02 The game disc itself just repeats the cover image of the black-and-white Beatles running away from fans. I'm disappointed at the lack of a large green apple image.

0:03 This minute spent getting my Rock Band instruments out of storage. I wasn't sent a set of the new, Beatles-inspired instruments that come with the Limited Edition, but in my E3 playing they seemed remarkably similar to the regular Rock Band 2 instruments, so I don't feel too bad.

0:07 The past four minutes were spent transfixed watching the excellent animated intro for the game. I've seen it before, but this time it's in wonderfully smooth, big-screen HD rather than jerky, small Internet video on my computer monitor. A much better experience...



Tuesday, September 1, 2009

SingStar Vol. 2

Developer: SCE London Studios
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: May 20, 2008
System: PS3
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web site

In a nutshell: I love to sing-ah. About the moon-ah and the June-ah and the spring-ah.

one of those days for me. I doubt it'll be much different than the first PS3 SingStar volume I reviewed, but at least the songs will be fresher.

0:09 These first minutes were spent digging through my closet, looking for my SingStar microphones and EyeToy PS3 camera. I know this isn't the game's fault, but it's true, so I'll include it in the count.

0:10 A 55 MB update to "version 4.10" is available, apparently. The only listed upgrade is "Polish is now a language option," but on the off chance there's something else important, let's download it.

0:15 During the initial loading, the game zooms in on specific buttons on a 3-D model of the controller, describing what each one does in about 50 bazillion languages. Then a Latina and what looks like her grandmother sing along to Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now". The sing-along video cuts to young sisters in red polka dots, a blonde girl in pigtails, a teen with her grandfather, and two "rapper" types, all singing along badly but seemingly having a great time. The video eventually goes slow-mo, showing their hair flying everywhere as they gyrate. At the end, the video gets four stars from an unseen rater, and zooms out to reveal a video mosaic making the SingStar logo. Captures the feeling of the game pretty well.

0:19 Scanning the song list. There's a few decent ones, but mostly I'm surprised by the sheer number of songs I don' recognize. I guess I'm getting old ... ooh, "California Dreamin'"! Done!