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Dec 08

Finally, another great success for the Wii!  While Wii titles that are genuinely all around good seemingly come far too infrequently, Wario Land: Shake It! was well worth the wait!  Immediately when you pop the game into your Wii you’ll be stepping into the time machine and will feel like you’re back in the golden days of Nintendo.  Wario Land: Shake It (from here on out WLSI) builds upon the great successes of past Nintendo titles without distorting it beyond recognition or fun by excessive use of the Wii’s features.  What I mean by this is that the controls will feel extremely intuitive.  Everything works exactly as you think it would – if you play any Wii games at all you know that this is becoming less and less common.  You hold the Wiimote sideways and use the buttons like a simple NES title.  While there is some waggle involved it isn’t to the point where it is over done.  For instance, to get the coins out of a bag of money you shake the Wiimote until the bag is empty.  A quick downward flick of the Wiimote will make Wario blast at the ground which is necessary throughout the game to solve the puzzles of each stage and find the treasures hidden within.

While the game is of course not in HD – it still will look great on an HDTV with the Nintendo component cables.  The actual artwork and graphics of the game are quite impressive!  The cartoonish style images are colorful, fun, and pretty straight forward.  The game looks and feels a lot like Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land for the original Game Boy.  Wario will use familiar moves like jumping up and smashing the ground or charging into enemies and breakable bricks.  What the game does not have are the various power up hats, which really doesn’t detract from the game experience as every power Wario does have is all you’ll need.  Each level has 3 treasures hidden within — trying to find them all is a rewarding experience alone.  You’ll need to think on your feet to solve puzzles while meanwhile trying to make it to the end of the level before time runs out.  The game features a Super Mario Land 3 (NES) map system with a boss at the end of each world.  Each level also has challenges built in such as collecting X amount of gold coins, avoid falling into water, so on and so forth – which continues to add into the reply factor.  While the game is not very hard, to actually get the full extent you will need to put time and thought into it.

Like any Nintendo game, an outstanding sound track will play you along in your journey as Wario to accumulate mass wealth and treasure.  Not only does the music really add to the game but simple sound effects are pretty good too – while they may not be the most inventive, they fit.

Overall, Wario Land: Shake It! is most definitely worth the buy for the upcoming holiday season, it is bound to please everyone who owns a Wii!

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Nov 19

Half dead, trudging through the rubble-filled vacant streets of Washington, I’m wearing vintage biker goggles, dirt stained boots, and overalls died yellow from blowing sand. I stop by the burning, rusted-brown wreck of a 1950’s era car to take a drink from a fire hydrant to regain some of my strength, when the hammering crack of gunfire gets my attention. Turning around and targeting the mohawked head of a raider, a bullet from my duck tape covered hunting rifle flies slow motion through the air until it takes his head off with a space shuttle exhaust plume of blood trailing behind it. I scavenge his corpse for ammunition and supplies and move on.

That’s a vividly described moment in gameplay, but it’s a good example of how the description of Fallout 3 as “Oblivion with guns” loses meaning once you get into the meat of what Fallout 3 is.

Developed and published by Bethesda Softworks, the folks who brought us Oblivion and Morrowind, Fallout 3 is one of those games that has some flaws, but the overall product makes it difficult for writers like me to remain objective without professing my love for the damn thing, which is usually a good sign because I’m a sceptical, bitter man who hates everything.

I was disappointed with Oblivion. Though I sunk hundreds of hours into it and remember it fondly, it was clear early on that stealth characters didn’t work very well at all, you had to become a super powerful warrior or mage and then branch out. The hundreds of caverns found around the land were all exercises in déjà vu, and having to worry about levelling up for fear that I hadn’t used the ‘right’ skills in order to get the proper bonuses for my stats was tiresome – narrowing the experience and essentially telling me what I was supposed to do in a game that banked on its open endedness.

While Bethesda took the vast experience of Morrowind and made it into a more accessible but narrower game with Oblivion, they’ve taken the first two Fallout games and their learned lessons from Oblivion to make something S.P.E.C.I.A.L. with Fallout 3.

By the end of the game’s approximately 30 minute tutorial sequence, you’ve chosen your starting stats, three of your skills that’ll start a bit higher than others, and what your guy or girl will look like – which you can change later in the game thanks to plastic surgery and a number of zombies and robots eager to cut your hair, y’know, because in the future zombies and robots have gotten around in the job market.

The sliders for changing facial features don’t seem to change too much, and it’ll take quite a bit of tweaking around to get the hang of things. This doesn’t really limit the flexibility of the creator so much as make drastic changes more difficult to create. The hairstyles are awesome though – really, I never knew there were more than 20 different kinds of moustache with awesome names like “man’s man” and “the comrade.”

As for the attributes, luck gives you more chances to do critical hits and make shots you normally wouldn’t be able to, strength makes your swings do more damage, you know the drill.

The skills are all quite useful, and have been streamlined from old Fallout games. For example, you don’t need to pump up ‘throwing’ and ‘explosives’ to throw a grenade or ‘traps’ to plant mines like you used to in Fallout 2, instead all of these are now handled by the ‘explosives’ skill in Fallout 3. Purists be damned, but the old way was far too clunky.

The whole beginning tutorial shtick is relatively short and paced quite well, but for those wishing to restart the game with a new character, it’s a shame there’s no option to simply skip the sequence during subsequent play-throughs and pick your stats right away.

After a blinding horizon-full of sunlight from exiting the underground vault you grew up in, your character is greeted by the eerie crumbling wastes of Washington, and from there on what you do is your choice: Follow the marker on your compass and start the search for your father, or do what I did and wander around for around 30 hours before finally finishing the main quest several hours later.

Unfortunately, there’s no mini-map to help you out. You have markers on your map telling you where to go for each quest, and you can even set your own. The compass on the bottom of your heads-up-display will show you which direction each of the markers are in, but things get confusing inside buildings. The compass doesn’t let you know if that point you’re zigzagging through hallways towards is on a different floor, so checking the map in the menu screen repeatedly is often the only solution aside from wandering around.

Aside from the “now how the hell do I get out of this building now that I’m done” part, wandering around is where Fallout 3 stands out. There are tons of side quests that you’ll stumble upon, and even other minor events that help add color to the world. One incident had a man with a megaphone guarding an alley full of mini-nuclear explosives, babbling on about a whole lot of nonsense on how “the worm shouldn’t take one step closer” and how a particular brand of soap was corrupting the populace. Another villager was cowering nearby and telling me to make the other guy shut up, so I used my charisma to convince him to work it out by talking. The man galloped into the alley and both men were blown up in a mini nuclear explosion. Oops.

You may have gotten bored wandering around the world in other games, but Fallout 3 manages to fill its vast wasteland with interesting events like the one I just mentioned. I’m slightly over sixty hours in as of this writing, and I’m still finding interesting things hidden in the game.

It’s obvious that Fallout is running on the Oblivion engine – Character animations are a bit awkward, at least until they ragdoll around after a death blow. Items have their weight and approximate value pop up next to them when you pick them up, and if you happen to pick them up off a table, the other items will float up an inch as if you’ve disturbed a picturesque arrangement and the game realises you want to pick stuff up and generally knock crap around the place with swings of your baseball bat and errant grenades. It’s odd, and doesn’t get in the way of fun, but it takes you out of the immersion and reminds you it’s just a game.

However, the game is an improved version of the Oblivion engine overall, despite its awkward flaws it still has. For example, the third person camera, rather than floating and fishtailing behind your character, has your hero off to the side with the targeting cursor in the middle, making it a bit more usable for combat. Though it’s still better to use first person mode, the option is there if you want it, but the game goes into third person anyways for VATS, the “ooo, wow” factor of Fallout 3.

Oh, and the textures and visuals, animations not included, look great – even if most of the game world is gray, green, or just plain dark.

Now for the combat: VATS is an unimportant acronym for what happens when you press R1, the right bumper, or whatever part of your mouse and keyboard you have set up for it.

The game pauses and you select a target and body part, and depending on your range, weapon, and weapon skill, you`ll fire off rounds accordingly, in slow motion. All the while, the camera will take a random angle, sometimes following a bullet straight into your foe`s head, and other times just panning around your character as he fires off a mini-nuke launcher. Sometimes the camera in VATS gets stuck or doesn`t show what would be the best moment to capture, but for the most part it works well, except for melee.

For some reason, you can`t target individual body parts with melee weapons or your fists. During a melee blow in VATS, your character will do a downward swing or a kick accordingly if your target is low. In standard combat, which feels decent but not great for frantic up close battles, you can whack at individual body parts anyways, so with possible character animation problems not even being there, there`s no excuse for this shortcoming of VATS.

The main benefit of using VATS is that you can make attacks you`d normally be unable to pull off in a shooter, like crippling one dude`s leg with one shot before spinning around and blowing off the head of the next guy. It`s balanced out with it running off of slowly replenishing action points.

Regular combat outside of VATS is adequate, but nothing special. It’s fine for cracking off a killing blow from distance but it gets chaotic up close.

Outside of blowing people’s heads off, the other gameplay moments are lockpicking and hacking, and this is where things start getting frustrating. While lockpicking is great, where you have to feel out where to move a bobby pin before you rotate the lock with a screwdriver, hacking is horrible. In a sea of words and random characters, one of the words is the correct password, and you get four to five tries to figure out which. Finding two brackets facing each other in the same line takes out one of the dud passwords or replenishes your amount of attempts. Sound like a guessing game? Well, it is.

The worst thing is, the whole trick behind the hacking system is broken. After picking an incorrect password, like “boots” you’ll get a message like “0/5” letting you know that none of the characters in that word are in the real password. Yet, often enough the password will have one of those letters in it, so it’s back to guessing for you. Weak.

Gaining experience for just about everything from picking locks and using your speech skill to have your way all the way to blowing off limbs will have you levelling up and gaining perks. Perks are a large part of your incentive for playing Fallout 3, right next to the lure of adventuring. Some perks will have enemies almost always dying in a violent explosion of bone fragments, blood and limbs. Others will have you dealing more damage to the opposite sex and gaining more dialogue options with them outside of combat. To keep in tune with the whole pull of adventuring, some perks can only be gained through adventuring. I convinced a spunky shopkeeper that her idea for a survival guide was horrible idea, and while she was sobbing to herself I was awarded a “dreamcrusher” perk which decreased the likelihood that people would score critical hits on me. Sweet.

The bottom line is that Fallout 3, despite its drawbacks, is an excellent addition to anyone’s library and the defining RPG of both Bethesda’s library and of this generation. It may not be for everyone, but anyone remotely interested in shooters or in RPGs should give it a shot

The verdict:

5 out of 5

A must buy/rent

Oct 25


OK I’ll admit it; I don’t play my Wii very often. To be totally honest, it’s been months. Sad, isn’t it? That there has been so little to draw my attention to Nintendo’s console in the past few months. With the advancements we’ve seen in games recently, it’s been harder and harder to stay interested in Nintendo’s distinctively ”last generation” gaming machine. But recently something has caught my attention and pulled me back in. I’m sure you’ve heard it — the internet’s collective song of praise for a little WiiWare title called ‘World Of Goo‘. You’ve heard it, right? Well I’m adding my voice to the chorus. World of Goo is incredible. The simple game mechanics combined with incredibly creative puzzles and a uniquely beautiful art direction make for a game that’s impossible not to love.

The basic premise of World of Goo is simple; your goal is to get a certain number of goo balls to an exit pipe, while using those same goo balls to build the structure that delivers the balls to the pipe. When you begin a level there will be a base structure to build off of. The standard goo ball can be attached to two nearby points to form a triangle. With enough goo balls you can build almost anything. The game has a very advanced physics engine, so these structures will react realistically to the forces of gravity. The shapes are solid, but by no means rigid. Since they are made of goo, the forms will bend and sway as gravity takes hold. If a single joint in the structure is put under too much pressure, it will eventually crumble. It becomes a literal balancing act between the architectural integrity and weight of your goo structure. All the while you must keep in mind the number of goo balls you have to work with and how many have to be delivered safely to the exit pipe in order to complete the stage.

Throughout the game you’ll be introduced to many different “species” of goo, many of which have special attributes. Some can be taken apart and reassembled. Others can stick to walls or touch dangerous surfaces. Some burn, some explode, some hang limp, some float like balloons. You’ll have to use the specialty of each type of goo to get through the level and achieve your goal. Every type of goo is used in imaginative ways that only get more ingenious as the game progresses. As soon as you think you’ve got it all figured out, the game throws something at you that will force you to use a type of goo in a way you never thought of before. You’ll be using new techniques right up until the last stage.

The game has incredible style. The art direction is somewhere between Dr. Seuss and Tim Burton. Every chapter has an overarching visual theme, and every stage is unique enough that you will never feel like you’re in the same place twice. There are times where you will be amazed that you are playing a WiiWare game. It would be nice to see these graphics in HD, but in all honesty, you will not notice unless you make a point to. There are certain levels in the game that are stunningly beautiful, not just in a graphical sense, but as a genuine piece of art. The visuals are crisp, clean, and colorful, and it works perfectly with this type of game.

The music in World of Goo is just as impressive. There are a lot of different styles represented here. Some tracks remind me of epic movie scores, while others seem to take another page out of the Tim Burton library. The main theme is very reminiscent of Beatlejuice. Certain areas, the windmill stage for example, work incredibly well as a combination of music and visual art. It really is amazing. Sometimes you have to take a second to soak it all in. Like the levels themselves, there is so much variety in the music. You will never get sick of these themes.

Though this game is mostly about puzzle solving, there are bits and pieces of a story that ties the whole thing together. These little details are delivered through signs located around the stages. They consist mostly of the observations and insights of the unnamed sign painter, and they often add a touch of humor to the game. They’ve even snuck a few geeky jokes in there that are sure to get a chuckle for those in the know. They have no reservations about breaking the 4th wall either. On one occasion the sign painter even pokes fun at the fact that the game doesn’t run in HD. On another sign he mentions how life seems to be nothing more than a big physics demo. It all helps add to the charm of the world, making the game build up it’s own personality that sets it apart from the competition.

Worlf of Goo will take you between four to six hours to complete on your first attempt, but that’s not to say you couldn’t sink many more hours into the title. After you finish the main game, you can go back and try to finish the special “OCD” challenge in each level. These include collecting a certain number of goos in a given level or finishing in under a certain amount of time. These challenges will certainly have you scratching your head, and maybe even pulling out your hair on occasion. They’re extremely difficult, and will keep you busy for a very long time. At the end of the game there is also a special area unlocked where you can go and try to build the tallest possible tower of goo. You can see the top scores of other individuals around the world and try to beat their records. You use the extra goo you rescued from the entirety of the game here, which gives you more incentive to go back and try to finish every stage as efficiently as possible. It’s amazing what you can build when you have several hundred goo balls at your disposal. It is a shame though that there is almost no information given about the record holders around the world. The only thing you know about these individuals is their country of origin. This kind of takes some of the thrill out of going for the world record, knowing that no one will ever know it was you. This is most likely a result of Nintendo’s limited online functionality, so it‘s hard to hold this against the game. In the end it’s still a welcome addition.

All of this adds up to an amazing package that’s a steal at only $15. World Of Goo is not only the best WiiWare game to date, it’s one of the best Wii games period. Its simple, addictive gameplay design may be hard to describe, but by the time you finish the first stage, you‘ll realize what all the fuss was about. You owe it to yourself to play this game, even if it means hooking up your Wii for the first time in months. Just do it — you’ll be happy you did.


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Oct 20

Last week I picked up Dead Space as planned (day one of course), and just a couple hours ago I finished the last chapter. In the end the game comes close to delivering in all the ways we knew it would; the visuals and sound are above and beyond anything we’ve seen this year; but it does fall short when it comes to some of the more technical game mechanics. Though the atmosphere and presentation are unmatched in quality, it’s the underlying details that keep this game from being truly excellent. That being said, Dead Space is still a good, maybe even great, game, and it’s an experience every hardcore gamer should try, even if it’s only in the form of a rental.

By now we all know the basics. You play as Isaac Clark, an engineer sent to repair the interstellar mining vessel, the USG Ishimura. When you arrive at the desolate ship, you quickly learn the entire crew has been turned into grotesque monsters that want nothing more than to rip you to shreds, literally. It’s not long after that the repair vessel you came in on is destroyed, and you are left to survive with only a hand full of allies (from which you are quickly separated), and the former crew of the Ishimura to keep you company. Your first goal is to survive, your second is to get off the ship through any means necessary, and you’ll need to hack your way through countless monsters to accomplish your task.

But there’s a hitch with the enemies you find in the game; to do any significant damage you need to sever their arms and legs. These monsters will do anything they can to get to you, and you need to use “strategic dismemberment” to make them unable to do so. Shoot off an enemy’s head and it won’t be able to see, but it will still attack wildly. If you take off a leg, it will drag itself along the ground to get to you. Cut off both it’s arms and it will use it’s mouth, or tail, or whatever it can to kill you. It’s an interesting mechanic, and it works as expected. After a while you begin to learn what body parts each enemy can’t live without, and it makes for some interesting confrontations, giving you something to think about rather than aiming at the head and chest over and over. Sometimes it takes more than one shot to completely destroy a limb, but the enemies will always react to the shots accordingly. In fact, that’s one thing I really liked about the combat in Dead Space, the enemies don’t just absorb bullets until their hit-points finally drop like in many other shooters, they will always react to a shot. It gives a more solid feel to the weapons, and makes encounters with large groups a little more manageable.

Though these encounters will happen quite often, they are not where Dead Space really shines. The atmosphere and presentation is what elevates this game above the competition. The game looks incredible. The lighting and particle effects are some of the best we’ve ever seen. Dark rooms illuminated only by a spinning alarm light and reserve power. Engine rooms glowing with hot ash, blasting through as the engines burn. Hallways left just dark enough to make you wonder what could be in the shadows. And the silent gloom of outer space that is left cold and still after the air has been evacuated. It all looks incredible. But as beautiful as this game is, Dead Space does suffer from a bit of repetitiveness when it comes to the environment. Since almost the entire game takes place on-board the Ishimura, the hallways, crew cabins, and dining areas all begin to look alike. The unique areas; engine rooms and industrial mining sections filled with massive set pieces, help to break up the monotony of hallways; but they are over fairly quickly, placing you back in the same old hallways all to soon. When you finally get a look at the sky near the end of the game, you begin to wish more of Dead Space took place in open air, rather than the single claustrophobic environment you‘ve been looking at for the past 12 hours. Though it was an obvious design decision to keep you trapped on the ship through the majority of the game, harkening back to so many classic science fiction films, it may not have been the best choice for a game that lasts many times longer.

The repetitive environments also compound one of the games biggest flaws, a lack of direction. Though you are given a brief description of a goal by an ally before setting out, you rarely actually know where you are going or for what reason. Throughout the entirety of the game, you are traveling to location A to get item B to return it to location C, but rarely do you remember just what those are until you actually get there, find the item, and get another briefing.
The game makes finding these locations and items easy though. Pressing down on the right thumb stick briefly draws a glowing blue line on the floor pointing to your goal, but it seems the designers use this more as a crutch than anything else. Without this marker you would never have any idea where you were going, and thanks to the limited variety of environments, it’s very hard to tell where you’ve actually been before. In place of clear goals and directions, the game designers chose to simply hold your hand the entire way, leading you to and through enemy encounter after enemy encounter, right up to your goal and back again. This mechanic is, at the same time, necessary but unrefined, discouraging exploration and causing players to simply follow along. You’re never lost, but at the same time you never quite know where you’re going.

That being said, the game does remain interesting as you slowly learn more about the Ishimura, it’s crew, and the events leading up to it’s current state. You will want to continue if for no other reason than to find out one more detail about the unfolding story. It’s done in an interesting enough manner that you will feel compelled to progress.

Better than any game before it, Dead Space never breaks out of itself, keeping you immersed in the roll almost completely. There is no HUD, all vital information is displayed on Isaac’s suit and the ammo indicator displays on the guns. When a character talks to you over com-link or via holographic video, it doesn’t pause the action or prevent you from doing anything you normally would. You can rotate the camera, brows your inventory, fire your gun, or traverse forward, all while being briefed. It keeps you in the action all the time. Something many other games should take note of. There are also no traditional cut scenes in Dead Space, you either watch them pan out right in front of you, or they are integrated with seamless animations going into and out of cinematic scenes without ever feeling like you’ve left Isaac’s shoulder.

This carries into enemy encounters as well. If you get attacked by and enemy and are forced to fend it off by hand, the camera may change angles slightly to show off the amazing animation, sometimes lasting for quite a while as Isaac fends off and beats the living daylights out of the unlucky foe. Or at least, that’s how you hope it happens. If Isaac is killed by these enemies, the deaths are done as seamless and cinematic as anything else, going straight from you controlling Isaac, to him being ripped apart. One of my favorite animation’s in the game is when Isaak gets killed by a small enemy that looks something like half octopus, half human head. The goal of these enemies is to rip your head off and take over your body, and when they do, it looks spectacular. After your head is disposed of, the camera pans in to show the enemy stick it’s legs into your neck, falling limp as it turns away and slowly pulling itself back up as the camera gets closer and pans around, walking out of frame with it’s new body. It looks like it could be part of a cut scene, but it can happen anytime, anywhere these enemies are present, and it really makes dieing seem like and appropriate end to Isaac’s life, how ever many times it happens.

The sound in this game, for the most part, is equally spectacular. The ambient noise and the harmless sound of the ship’s operation will freak you out more than anything else in the game. Every once in a while you will hear the sound of a pipe hitting the floor, or what you swear is the sound of a enemy moving around, without ever knowing where it came from, and without ever finding out. There is nothing scarier than not knowing what is around you, and this game will often have you walking around corners and through doorways with your gun drawn, so sure there is going to be something there, even when there is nothing. The sound of machinery kicking on; an engine roaring or a massive door creaking open; can be just as disturbing because, for a brief time, it makes you unable to detect enemies that may be around you, drowning out any sound they might be making. Even though enemies will rarely get the jump on you in these locations, it will put you on edge every time. Not knowing what’s around you is a scary feeling, and that’s often the effect the sound has in Dead Space.

Oddly enough, the times intended to be the most shocking end up falling flat. Whenever an enemy jumps out at you or even just walks up to you, there is such a barrage of string crescendos and noise, that it breaks any sort of real fear you may have been feeling. Humans are inherently programmed to jump at loud noises, and that works the first time, but after the fifth and fiftieth time you are hit with one of those crescendos, the effect is totally gone. When something jumps out at you accompanied by a loud noise, that is not real fear, it’s an instinctive reaction that quickly fades. Getting someone to jump at a moment like this is a cheap way to get a reaction, and every film maker knows it. It’s just that Dead Space does it over and over and over. In games like Resident Evil there was nothing more terrifying than absolute silence broken only by the sound of your own footsteps and gunshots. When an enemy noise did come out of this silence, even if it was just the sound of footsteps other than yours, you were scared out of your wits. Those games didn’t need a deafening crescendo to accomplish that. Dead Space never gives you that same feeling. Every encounter is filled with so much noise that it becomes ineffective very early in the game. Becoming nothing more than a minor annoyance by the time you’re through. You kill enemies until the noise stops and you move on. The outer space sections are the exception here. While in a vacuumed there is only muffled sound, and it works wonderfully. Sometimes less is more, and that’s something Dead Space could have really benefited from, both in terms of sound and enemy encounters.

In spite of it’s problems, Dead Space remains one of the most interesting games of the year. If nothing else, it’s refreshing to play an original IP that’s not a first person shooter. And the areas in which the game suffers are made up for by the incredible presentation. Any gamer that likes sci-fi themes, engaging story telling, and tense, violent action should definitely give this game a try. But unless you are a diehard fan of the genre, you may want to consider renting the game first.

-Aaron Thornton

Oct 16

I’ve been playing THQ’s new title De Blob for a while now over the past few days and feel its about time to  write a fair and descriptive review of the game that perhaps is a little less biased than some of the other reviews out there.  To clarify that statement, it seemed to me that many other reviews were written by people who were somewhat close to the game – or people who really wanted this to be an amazing game.

The Story:  Essentially you’re a blob whose objective is to save the black and white city that lost all of its color to the evil INKT Corporation.  Playing as De Blob, you must make your way through the city returning color and saving the Greylings by coloring their apartments and then adding color to them, destroying INKT propoganda devices, and there are some other challengs too.  That’s really about it.

The Premises:  As stated before you’re playing as De Blob whose mission it is to return color to the black and white city.  How you do this is to attack these monster things that have colored ink in them (which you can also blend multiple colors) and just touch everything to turn it that color.  Basically the game is a big puzzle.

The Controls:  This is De Blob’s number one problem.  The controls are awful.  To jump it requires you to flick the wii mote and then you have to haphazardly guide yourself in air with the nunchuck’s analog stick all the while battling the less than perfect camera system.  De Blob has a Kirby-esque feel when he goes airborne but has far less control which can add a lot of frustration when you’re trying to scale some buildings and meeting tons of Resistance.  Not because the game is hard but simply because it seems to be a serious design flaw.

Thoughts:  Overall De Blob is moderately fun in spite of the horrid controls.  The premises is neat enough and the animations are pretty pleasing to look at.  Yes, it can be fun at times to go around acting as a giant paint bucket but this alone does not seem to justify the $49.99 USD Price tag.  Realistically the game is worth about $29.99.  I feel the game got hyped up unjustifiably and that is why so many people have written such praising reviews.  The music is quite nice to listen to and does add to the environment but if you’re anything like me – which you may or may not be – you will see it hard to justify having to flick the wiimote to jump when a simple button press would have sufficed.  Perhaps I’m being to knit picky but to me I am greatly disillusioned in just how the game feels.  Great concept, not so great execution.  Overall I’d say the game is a 7.1 and that’s pushing it.  If you’re really into this type of game pick it up, otherwise rent it or wait for a price drop.

The Breakdown
Graphics – 8.5
Controls – 5
Music – 9
Replay – 5
Concept / Story – 8

OVERALL SCORE: 7.1

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Oct 12

So first I’ll tell you how I got into the beta. For the last few months I have been playing a lot of Call of Duty 4 online with Mark Bozon. He knew me from the Wii message boards and one day I just joined his game. After a while I became part of the team. Now we play almost ever night, and I’ve joined his amazing clan. I think by now we consider each other mutual friends. I have to say, it’s been really amazing playing with him and his fellow industry insiders.
But anyway, Mark has been trying to get beta codes for his fellow clan members every time he met up with the guys from Treyarch. Me being the new guy, the low man on the list, I didn’t hold out much hope for getting one myself.
The night before last, I noticed Mark was on playing the beta, which was not yet open to the public. I sent him a message saying I was jealous, and bit later he replied, “working on more codes”. About an hour or so later, just as I was about to log-off, I got a message from a name I didn’t recognize, when I opened it up, there it was, a beta code to the (not yet public) Call of Duty: World at War multiplayer beta. Holy crap!
Apparently Mark was playing with some of the fellas from Treyarch and he mentioned that he wished he could get more of his boys in. To his surprise, the guy from Treyarch said something along the lines of, “You have a guy waiting? Here, I’ll send him a code.” Because I was the only other member of the CoD4 clan online at the time, he sent the code to me. Is that awesome or what! I later figured out that the fella that sent mr the code was Josh “JD” Olin, the Community Manager at Treyarch, who also puts up the posts on the CoD:WaW IGN blog. Very cool guy.
When I first got on, I think there were around 40 people online at the time. One of the guys I was talking to from Treyarch later said there were probably less than 100 in the beta total. Most of them either family or friends of the developers, or the developers themselves. When I finally logged of a few hours later, 11 people remained online, every person in the world that was playing the beta was in a single game of Free for All. 8 people. So yeah, I have to say I was very very lucky, and extremely grateful as well.

Now that that’s out of the way, lets get on to my thoughts on the actual game. I am going to break it down in to individual points to make it easier for us all. And just so you know, it’s not all pretty. Let’s start with…


Controls


The controls are identical to those in Call of Duty 4. I played CoD4 immediately before the beta, and I had absolutely no trouble transitioning. I just upped the sensitivity to ‘high’ and I felt completely at home.


Game Modes


The beta currently has 5 modes, Team Deathmatch, Pick Up Team Deathmatch(no teams), Free for All, Capture the Flag, and War. All the returning game modes work exactly like they did in CoD4. The two new modes, Capture the Flag and War are the most interesting.

War is similar to a linear version of Domination, mixed with a little bit of team Deathmatch. Each team tries to capture a section of the map, when a point is captured, you move onto the next, while preventing the other team from taking back the previous point. When all 5 points are captured, that team wins. But there is a twist, as your team gets kills, you pick up “momentum” indicated by (large) icons in the lower right. The more momentum you have, the faster you capture points. Also, unlike Headquarters in CoD4, the opposing team does not instantly take the meter down to zero when everyone is removed from the point, they actually have to ‘un-cap’ however much of the meter has been captured by the opposition before they can actually begin to capture the point themselves.
This mode is fun, but can be over surprisingly quickly. Grenade spam is still rampant. One thing that I dislike about this mode is that there is a TON of icons on screen, all very large. there are five icons along the top indicating who has control over each point, and another very large icon indicating your teams momentum in the bottom right corner. It’s a bit much. If you have an HDTV, better turn on the burn-in reduction.

Capture the Flag is the standard affair, with each team trying to grab the flag from the opposing camp, and return it to their own. If both your flag, and the enemies is returned to your base, you score. It is a welcome edition.
But there are some problems with this mode. It is often hard to tell what is going on. It’s difficult to tell when your flag is safe, or where it is even located. You get clear “defend” and “capture” icons, but nothing showing where your flag is located if an enemy has captured it. On top of this, there is little indication, and no voice over when your flag is captured or when it has been returned to your home base. Worst of all, there is absolutely no indication when the opposing team has scored. Sometimes you just look down and see the score has changed without knowing when or how. It’s very frustrating.


Maps


There are currently only 3 maps open in the beta. A small beach-side village, one that looks like some sort of Japanese style temple, and a war-torn train yard. For me, the maps are one of the biggest disappointments. They seem very typical WWII. And by that I mean BROWN. They are muddy, gritty, dark, and confusing. I am not exaggerating when I say that every single part of the train yard map is brown. The Japanese temple level does have some spurts of color; some green grass and pink cherry blossoms, but not enough to set it apart. This level also has a lot of statues and human sized pillars that you will constantly be seeing out or the corner of your eye as enemies, which can be very annoying. The beach side village map area is a night-time level, which makes it extremely hard to distinguish figures walking in the shadows. These maps don’t seem to be as well thought out as those in the previous game, which really shows when playing some of the team based game modes. In CoD4, there were always designated defensive, offensive, cover points, and areas that encouraged you to push forward during team games. That is not as well done here. At least, not in the three maps we have in the beta.
Think back to the variety of maps in CoD4, are there any that weren’t instantly recognizable and easily distinguished? Every one has it’s own feel and unique color pallet. Something WaW is strongly lacking. This becomes a bigger issue when you consider the…


Character Designs


The character designs are good, but not practically implemented in multiplyer. You just can’t see the muddy brown and green enemies in the muddy brown and green(and dark) environments. If an enemy is crouched down next to some debris or in a corner, he can be easily overlooked, even if you are looking right at him.
What do you do if you’re out of ammo and you see an enemy coming towards you? Ask Dr.Grant, he knows the trick.
One of the biggest problems I have found while playing team based games in WaW is that it is very hard to distinguish friend from foe. There are, I think, 4 different groups, American, Russian, Japanese, and German forces, and they all are wearing either muddy brown, or muddy green uniforms. In CoD4 the different groups were instantly recognizable. Not so here. A friend of mine has mentioned that he has a hard time telling characters apart in CoD4 playing on his SDTV. For him, playing WaW would be next to impossible.


Weaponry


The guns in CoD: WaW are surprisingly less archaic feeling than you might expect. There are a lot more single shot guns in this game, but that is to be expected, and I actually don’t mind it at all. That is, unless there is some idiot with a modded controller running around. One thing I do prefer over CoD4 is the new “aperture sight” which replaces the red dot. It gives a better field of view, very thin crosshairs, and a tiny black dot in the middle. I LOVE it. I don’t know if anything like this actually existed in the 1940s, but it is something that the game really needed.

Unlocking upgrades is now implemented slightly different. Every gun has it’s own set. If I remember correctly, some weapons unlock certain items in their first slot that others do in their second. Some have items unique to that particular gun. For example, the Thompson sub-machine gun has a barrel clip that gives you many times the amount of bullets in a single clip. Very useful if you don’t like to reload, or if you just want to run around gangster style with your Tommy gun. Some of the rifles have a bayonet attachment that greatly extends your melee attack, which can come in very handy in close quarters.

One thing that I am disappointed with is the pistols. They just don’t feel right. They shoot fine and all, but it doesn’t look right when you fire, like you’re holding it too close to your face, and there is almost no animation when you bring it up. You’re just instantly looking down the sights. The reload animations don’t seem on par with those from CoD4 either. The same can be said for all the weapons. Although it could just be the different style of weaponry. They’re good, better than most games, but in CoD4 is just felt so authentic. Sometimes that feeling is not present with the guns in WaW.

The weapons don’t seem to look as good as they did in 4 either. This might be because it is a different era of weaponry, but it just seems they are all a little too gritty. Doesn’t anyone know to keep their firearm clean? Along those same lines, the players hands don’t seem to be rendered quite as well either, they look a little artificial. And again, they could have turned the grit-o-meter down a few notches on that one. The guns don’t seem to move totally naturally when moving or reloading either.
All the weapons sound excellent, as do the sounds that come from their interaction with human bodies and with the environment. Unfortunately hey removed the super-satisfying ‘ping’ sound effect when you get a headshot. That will be greatly missed.


Grenades


There are now more grenade options as well. You can choose from either a frag grenade, an anti-tank grenade, or a Molotov cocktail as your primary grenade. The first 2 work as you’d expect them to. The frag having a little larger blast radius. The anti-tank doing more damage. Both blowing off arms and legs with extreme satisfaction. The Molotov cocktail on the other hand, is extremely weak. You will rarely get a kill with it, unless an enemy is already severely damaged, or you literally break the bottle on them. It is very frustrating when it goes off at their feet and barely hurts them. it causes no splash damage, and an enemy is only damaged from the explosion, not the flames. They could literally be laying in flames, without being hurt. It takes a couple seconds to actually pull it out and light it, you can then hold it as long as you want, which I do like, but it also takes longer to throw it that a normal grenade for some reason, making it even harder to hit a moving target, further reducing your chance at a kill. In my opinion, standard grenades should do a ton of damage at close range, while a Molotov cocktail should do less damage over a much wider radius. Instead they do less damage over less area, and are harder to manage, making them almost useless when compared to the other grenades. I have to admit though, when you do get that rare kill with a Molotov cocktail, it is pretty awesome.

In terms of sound, the grenades sound very muted for some reason. They sound like they are in the distance, even when they are close by. There is also no longer a distinct ‘grenade landing close by‘ sound. Without it I seem to overlook the grenade indicator much more often. This might be a problem for some players.

With your special grenade you can choose from either smoke, Tabun gas, or a signal flare. Smoke works just as it did in CoD4. Tabun gas replaces the stun grenade, but are actually more effective towards and enemy (or you). It gives off a small cloud of gas that completely disorients a player, warping their vision, hindering their movement, and making it almost impossible to do anything. It lasts a few seconds, so anyone that runs into it will feel the effect. The down side is that you can also feel those effects. You can no longer throw one through a doorway and run in after it. There was one occasion where I threw one into a 5×10 room where I knew an enemy was located, when I ran in it was so disorienting I literally could not find the enemy, I couldn’t even tell which way I was looking. I ended up getting shot from behind. These are used better at a distance, throwing them in a hallway or doorway to slow an enemy down, while you take up point at a safe distance.
The signal flare is meant to replace the flash grenade, but works somewhat differently. Instead of an effect on a players screen, it is done with real time lighting. So if you’re standing close and look right at it, the overwhelming bloom totally hinders your vision. Like the gas bomb, this effects anyone, enemies or friends. The only problem is, it is only effective if you are looking right at it, and very close. Take a few steps to the side, or run through it and you should still be able to see enough to take care of an enemy. More realistic, but I don’t see this being very useful in most situations. Still a cool idea though. If you want you can always use them as an actual signal as well, though that alone doesn’t make them more useful than other grenades.


Tanks


As some of you already know there are vehicles in this game. More specifically, there are tanks. The railroad level has 2. They are very fun to use, but can be annoying if your the one being shot at. They will get you easy kills, but not a lot of them. This makes it so they do not dominate the battle field, which is a good thing. Each time you fire the cannon, you have to wait several seconds for it to cool down, and you have to be relatively accurate with the gun to get a kill. Some also have a turret you can operate, but this fully exposes your character. Skilled players will be able to get more kills on foot, so they aren’t always the best option. Though most people will opt to get in one if the option is there. Blowing both an enemies legs off is to awesome to resist getting into one of these beasts. If you run an opponent over, there is a very satisfying crunch as well. Tanks take a lot of damage and can not be jacked. Bazookas work well for taking them out, but it takes several shots. You may not get a lot of kills in a tank, but they do make it easy to get several kills without dieing, a good thing if you’re trying to get…


Artillery Strikes/Attack Dogs


One of the coolest additions to this game. Instead of an air strike, you now gen an artillery strike. Essentially the same idea, but much more effective. Shells will rain death on your enemies. It last longer than an air strike, and will always hit it’s target if placed correctly, no more bouncing off buildings like the air strikes from CoD4. You can actually see the shells being fired from the distance and come lobbing over and exploding. It’s an amazing effect. You can’t help but look to the skies when it’s happening. Not always the safest thing to do in the middle of a war zone. The kill cams are even cooler, it looks like something out of Pearl Harbor(the movie). One small problem is that the icon for the strike only appears as the guns are firing, about 10 seconds or so before they actually hit. It’s easy to get confused; you may not know if a strike is friendly, and you may find yourself trying to run through an enemy strike thinking it’s one of your teammates, or waiting for a strike to subside, not knowing if it’s one of your own.

Attack Dogs are much more effective than the helicopters from CoD4. On average you get 6-8 kills, and they really make the game hell for your opponents. Two chomps from a dog will kill an enemy, and they are fast enough to make them difficult to kill. They’ll jump through windows, over fences, run up ramps to sniper’s nests, I’ve even had one jump from one platform to another in order to rip my face off. They will sometimes attack 2 or 3 at a time, in that case, you will be dead soon. Just having dogs on the field will have you constantly spinning around trying to make sure they don’t get the jump on you from behind, literally. The dogs will stay on the battle field until they are all killed (you get +2 points for killing a dog), which can be a long time. Like the artillery strikes, this can sometimes be a problem if you have dogs waiting, because you can’t call them in until all the others are gone. And same as the artillery strikes, sometimes it’s hard to tell whether or not a dog is friendly. Every army has a different breed of dog, but until you figure out what those are, you better not try to pat a dog on the head if you see him running around the battle field.

One issue that does arise here, is that these are now almost too efficient. If you get an artillery strike early in a match, and that turns into dogs, you will almost certainly get enough kills to get another artillery strike, leading to more dogs. It just keeps going. That means the first 5 kills in a match are of huge importance. This seems like a problem in Free for All in particular. There were times where I was losing by a substantial amount, only to have my attack dogs come and totally turn the tide and finish the match with me on top. Great for me, but very bad for the rest of the group, considering I did very little to get most of those kills. It is not unusual to have a pack of dogs waiting while there are still some of your dogs on the field from earlier, it happens that quickly.


Perks


All the old favorites return, but there are some welcome editions. Flak Jacket will reduce grenade damage. Gas mask, Shades, and Fireproof will shield you from the effects of gas, flares, and firebombs respectively. There is now a perk that causes the fuse to reset on a thrown back grenade called Toss Back. This one will help your arms stay attached much longer. one of the coolest new perks is called Second Chance, which lets you pick up allies that are dieing in Last Stand, and return them with full health. The last perk you unlock in the game is the Flamethrower. I haven’t been able to try this out yet obviously (the beta is capped at level 11 for now), but from what I’ve heard from those who have, it’s very deadly at close range, but you need to expose yourself pretty openly to use it effectively. So it’s not going to completely dominate the battle field. The x3 Frag has been changed to x2. This should help to keep down the grenade spamming, which was a major problem in CoD4, especially in modes like headquarters. There is also a perk called bouncing Betty x2 which I assume gives you 2 jumping mines. This one will certainly send those limbs flying. I’m excited to try these new perks out, but I’ll have to wait til they up the level cap, or until the game is released next month.


Well, I think that pretty much covers everything. Overall I think this game is better than expected, and better than most other online games of this sort, but it can’t touch what Infinity Ward has done with Call of Duty 4 in terms of overall quality and presentation. But I can tell from the multiplayer that the single player will certainly deliver. If anyone has any questions, post them in the comment section and I will try the best I can to answer them.

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Sep 28

When reviewing a Star Wars game, it is very difficult to review being completely unbiased. By that I mean – depending on how true a game is to the Star Wars franchise it is easy to inflate the rating, or conversely – if the game is a bit too far fetched for the Star Wars universe it is almost without a second of after thought that it is fed to the sharks and put completely out of mind. That being said, my initial reaction to playing Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (on Xbox 360) was inflate – I have to say the story is very genuine and doesn’t feel like a poorly manufactured tale was woven together just trying to make bank on the Star Wars cash cow. However, even at only 30 minutes into the game I began to see some pretty unfortunate flaws. Right away you’ll notice how easy the game is (I beat the game on Sith Warrior difficulty) – the automatic deflecting of laser bolts feels a little cheap though admittedly I really don’t see many other ways to correct that on the 360. You’ll also notice that your light saber will make quick work of any droid slicing them in half like butter – however, when dealing with actual life forms your light saber functions more like a light baseball bat and you really just are beating the hell out of your enemies until they eventually die, perhaps out of boredom. The cut scene boss battles leave you feeling a bit cheated as with the simple push of a button you are delivering the ‘coup de grace’ to your enemy that you had to senselessly bash your way through entire drones of light saber immune bastards just to get there. SWTFU is however an awesome display of power for the 360, the game is rendered amazingly in full 1080P HD, I cannot even imagine sacrificing the resolution to play it on the Wii (I will try to play this on Wii though to be fair) – what the game does absolutely right is tell a great story that fits in with the current 6 films in between episode 3 and 4 and also explains how some Jedi managed to escape the dreaded clone attacks. For what it’s worth the Force Unleashed is pretty decent game. It won’t be in my list for game of the year 2008 but certainly will not get too dusty in the collection. I definitely recommend renting it for everyone, and for the die hard Star Wars; fans dive into your pockets and fork over the money – it looks like Georgie Boy didn’t get his hands into this one to ruin it.  When you get to the end you get to make a decision on dark side or light side – either choice effects the outcome of the story.  (Check youtube for spoilers for the opposite of your decision unless you want to play through again, which unless you’re a achievement point junky you probably will not do)

Rating Scale 1 being bad 10 being perfect.

Graphics: (8.5)
Story: (8.5)
Game Play: (7)
Music/Sound: (8.5)
Replay Factor: (6)
Overall Rating: (7.5)

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Sep 12

Box Art for Original SNES game

The year was 1996 – the summer Olympics were to be held  in Atlanta, Ga – and a then 10 year old Ryan Kenward was about to discover one of the most amazing games of his life up to that point.  Being a proud SNES owner in a time where my friends were getting their PlayStations complete with 32-bit graphical eye candy, I was starting to think that perhaps the SNES ship had begun to sink.  Much to my excitement I remember seeing an article in a Nintendo Power Magazine about a little game called Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars – not knowing what the hell RPG meant I was excited as hell nonetheless.  I never owned this game, but I spent my allowance renting it several times.  Needless to say, it was a breath of relief that my SNES had not yet met it’s untimely demise and that perhaps I had another year or two until all of my friends had their PlayStations and I would be laughing when I had the “Nintendo Dolphin” — later known as N64.

Simply put, Super Mario RPG was quite a feat at the time of its release.  Now years later available in the Wii’s virtual console library I can say it is no less satisfying to play now than it was over 12 years ago.  The game starts out like all Mario games preceding it, Princess Peach has once again been kidnapped by Bowser (If I knew about restraining orders at 10 years old I may have suggested she get one) – like always, our hero Mario sets out to rescue her battling with Bowser on chandeliers held up by chomps.  After a quick battle with Bowser, Mario jumps up to reach the Princess.  His victory is short lived as a badass sword crashed into Bowser’s castle launching all three in different directions.  Mario just happens to wind up at his home (lucky shot) – and from there sets out on his initial adventure of saving our damsel in distress.  Mario is joined by a puffy humanoid with a frog complex named Mallow in the mushroom kingdom.  Their adventure leads them all over the three dimensional world through a roadway of bandits, a sewer full of baddies, a forest with some pissed off caterpillars, a sunken ship and much more!  Mario assembles a chain gang of cronies consisting of some familar faces (Princess Peach and Bowser join his forces) – along with Mallow and Geno (a guardian of the star road)  Mario and company must recover the star pieces to reassemble the Star Road (as seen in Super Mario World [SNES]) so people’s wishes can come true again and also defeat the big sword suck in Bower’s keep named Smithy.
Graphically and in my opinion, Super Mario RPG is one of the strongest shows of the SNES’ capabilities.  It integrated animated turn style combat systems, a plethora of interesting levels, and unique characters all rendered in impressive 3D for that time in video gaming.

Like all Mario games, catchy tunes are omnipresent throughout the entire game.  A quick youtube search for Super Mario RPG turns up tons of song parodies to the game’s main theme.  One of the many reasons the SNES was better than the Sega Genesis was the sound capability – it is clearly demonstrated in Super Mario RPG.

There are several hours of game play involved, and even after you beat the game it is still fun to pop into it occasionally and look for hidden chests or just fight some bad guys just for fun.  Super Mario RPG is game that has excellent replay value; the entire journey through is equally as fun the second and third time.

All in all – the 800 wii points ($8.00) is most definitely worth it to play this classic game.  Whether it is the first time playing, or a nostalgic return to a great game – Super Mario RPG will not disappoint!

Graphics: 9
Sound: 9.5
Fun Level: 9.5

Overall Rating: 9.5

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