day five

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

First Hour Review
Legend Of Zelda Spirit Tracks Cover

The Legend of Zelda is an old and respected series of games. The brainchild of Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto, the series contains some of the best-loved games ever.

When a series continues this long, there's always a risk: either the games stay the same and get stale, or they innovate and don't fit in the series.

December 7 ushered in the latest iteration of the green-clad hero on the DS. Spirit Tracks is a direct sequel to Phantom Hourglass, which itself was a direct sequel to Wind Waker, making this the longest string of direct sequels for the franchise.

Set about 100 years after Phantom Hourglass, it features the descendants of the previous Link and Zelda. But what we want to know, is this game any good? Is it the same as Phantom Hourglass, but with a train instead of a steamship? Is driving a train any fun? What will the first hour of the latest Zelda game be like?

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

First Hour Review
Call Of Duty Modern Warfare 2 Cover

The first Modern Warfare is the best first hour I have ever played, it was full of action, had great cinematic yet interactive story telling, and paved the way for one of the best single player experiences ever. All in all, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 had a lot to live up to, and I can confidently say it did.

Modern Warfare 2 doesn't need much of an introduction being the biggest video game release of the year. It's faced a bit of controversy though, both on the gameplay front and with PC gaming fans, but with the sales the game is seeing, it doesn't seem to be affecting its reception one bit.

While playing the game's first hour though, I was really interested to see how it would live up to its predecessor. The most impressive thing about Modern Warfare was its sound design, I was constantly amazed by the explosions, gun fire, and incessant chatter on the radio. I had never heard a game quite like it. While we kept hearing about the improved multiplayer, graphics, and insane story intended for the sequel, not much was said about where its audio was going. Well, let's see for ourselves. Here's the first hour of Modern Warfare 2.

Dragon Age Journeys

First Hour Review
Dragon Age Journeys Cover

EA and Bioware are pushing Dragon Age as the next big fantasy franchise. Even the name of the core game should give you a hint. They are practically calling the main game "Dragon Age: The First One." In addition to two novels and a tabletop RPG, EA 2D developed the flash title Dragon Age Journeys, and episodic adventure that can unlock items in Dragon Age: Origins. The first chapter is free, but gamers will have to pay for subsequent chapters. I knock out the first hour of the first chapter, "The Deep Roads."

X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse

First Hour Review
X Men Legends 2 Cover

X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse is an action RPG featuring the X-Men and Brotherhood of Mutants teaming up to fight Apocalypse. Developed by Raven Soft and published by Activision, it's (obviously) the sequel to X-Men Legends.

I have never played X-Men Legends. Why, then, am I playing the sequel? In the first game, you play as the X-Men fighting against the Brotherhood. In the second, you play as the X-Men and the Brotherhood, which seemed much more interesting to me.

How will this game capitalize on this unique license? Will an action RPG be fitting for the X-Men (and Brotherhood)? Did I make a huge mistake in playing the sequel before the first?

The Wheel of Time

First Hour Review
Wheel Of Time Cover

The Wheel of Time is a lucrative license: there are now thirteen total books featuring hundreds of characters, a deep and engrossing magic system, and dozens of locales to visit and explore. The possibilities for video games are endless: a Western-style role playing game, third person adventure, real-time strategy... or even first person shooter. Yes, a shooter, and out of all the options, only that has been developed and released. The Wheel of Time was released in 1999 on Windows.

Much has been made about the game in recent years about how underrated and under appreciated it was. That's a debate for another day, but it did have some serious holiday competition with Unreal Tournament and Quake 3. The game just didn't sell well, and unfortunately, that may well have scared off publishers or right holders from working on any more games. But one needs to consider the genre of the game and the target audience, it just doesn't seem to work. This is a book series that plods along at sometimes an excruciating pace transformed into a game that moves as fast as any other shooter I've played.

The Wheel of Time is definitely one of the more unique licensed attempts in video game history, and here's its first hour. I'll be playing the game through Wine in Ubuntu, let me know if you have any questions about getting it to run.

Star Trek: The Next Generation - A Final Unity

First Hour Review
Star Trek Final Unity Cover

I've been on a huge Star Trek kick the last few months, I'm on an epic journey of trying to watch every single Star Trek episode. Ever. I'm about 180 episodes in out of 700+ plus, yeah, let's not get into that right now. But we're celebrating licensed games this month at the First Hour, so it seems appropriate to play a Star Trek video game. I did a lot of reading on what the good Star Trek games are, and landed on this one.

Star Trek: The Next Generations - A Final Unity is a point and click adventure game from Spectrum HoloByte, released in 1995. I'm a fan of adventure games, especially old school ones like Monkey Island, so it seemed like Final Unity would be just the game for me. I remember reading in PC Gamer back in 2000 that there had been no good Star Trek games until then with the release of Star Trek: Voyager - Elite Force. This sounded a bit odd to me considering they had been making Star Trek games for almost 20 years already, so I also wanted to try one that came before Elite Force but also had some fans behind it. Final Unity also qualified for that requirement.

Keep in mind that this game was made in 1995 for DOS while looking at the screenshots and reading my descriptions. I was suitably impressed, and believe you will be too. I played the game using DOSBox. Here's the first hour of Star Trek: The Next Generation - A Final Unity.

Dragon Ball Z: Budokai

First Hour Review
Dragon Ball Z Budokai Cover

Everyone should have heard of Dragon Ball Z, the famous anime based on the manga by Akira Toriyama. It's the second part of the series (preceded by Dragon Ball), and the most famous. It follows the adult life of Goku as he grows more powerful and gets in fights with aliens.

Dragon Ball Z has such loyal fans that any game with the Dragon Ball Z moniker automatically sells well, no matter how bad. This is what licensed games are all about: making money on the strength of the brand instead of the strength of the game.

Then along came Dragon Ball Z: Budokai (which basically means "tournament") for the Playstation 2. It sold exceptionally well, even for DBZ, so Atari decided to update the graphics and release it on the Nintendo GameCube, where it went on to sell over a million copies and become Player's Choice.

The GameCube version is the preferred release, as the developer Dimps took the opportunity to implement cel-shading, making the game look more like the anime than the Playstation 2 version. I will be playing the GameCube version.

What I want to know is this: is this game worthy of its Player's Choice status, or did DBZ just have a million fans ready to pay for anything with Goku on the front? Will this game be fun for those without prior knowledge of the story, or will you have to be a devoted fan to get anything out of it?

Beetle Adventure Racing!

First Hour Review
Beetle Adventure Racing Cover

Talk about an adventure in licensing, Beetle Adventure Racing was released a few months after Volkswagen's New Beetle car was launched and featured a garage of cars filled with just variations on the Beetle. I'm not sure if there's ever been a racing game quite like this, sure Gran Turismo is overflowing with licensed vehicles and there are even games like Corvette Evolution GT or Ford Racing, but none of them take one single car and create an entire game out of it. But this isn't your typical licensed racing game, it's San Francisco Rush starring German family cars. The levels include Inferno Isle, Wicked Woods, and Coventry Cove; sounds more like Diddy Kong Racing now, and yes, there's a four player battle mode.

Beetle Adventure Racing was released in 1999 on the Nintendo 64. I really enjoyed the game the couple of times I played it, as a few years later I was vacationing at Mackinac Island and my friend and I stopped into a local video game rental shop. As I mentioned in my Mercenaries review, there is no better place to pick up great games for great prices than at obscure little stores out in the middle or nowhere. Beetle Adventure Racing and Blast Corps were sitting on the shelves going for a few dollars apiece, easy decision for me. My friend picked up NBA Hangtime if you're curious. While our hunt for cheap copies of Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger never panned out, we still snagged some fun games.

So let's continue our month of licensed games with quite the odd one, here's the first hour of Beetle Adventure Racing.

The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age

First Hour Review
Lord Of The Rings Third Age Cover

And so we've come the the last game in the Lord of the Rings marathon. The good thing about this marathon is that it was much shorter than a Lord of the Rings movie marathon. Actually, beating all three games would probably take less time than watching the extended versions of the movies. Snarkiness aside, it would be a good idea to read the first two before venturing into this one.

After Return of the King was released, there was still enough hype about the Lord of the Rings movies to warrant releasing another game. Since the two previous games had already covered all the battles from the movies (and then some), EA decided to tap into a previously neglected genre: they released an RPG.

The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age is almost a JRPG, except it wasn't developed in Japan. Because of this, it has a little more Western influence on the storytelling and some of the gameplay.

The story was created just for the game and has you controlling new characters, mainly Berethor, a man of Gondor, who is searching for Boromir.

Will Lord of the Rings make a good RPG? Perhaps the bigger question is, will EA make a good RPG? Hmmm....

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

First Hour Review
Lord Of The Rings Return Of The King Cover

The second game in my marathon is The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. To simplify, I will assume you have already read my Two Towers review, so if you haven't you may want to do that first.

Return of the King (RotK) is the follow-up to The Two Towers. This game was released in conjunction with the movie, so it follows it much more closely. The levels are taken only from the final movie (which doesn't always correspond to the final book).

In order to one-up the previous game, RotK raises the number of playable characters from three to five right off the bat, with several unlockable characters as well. It also adds interaction within the environment, two-player co-op, and a bunch of tweaks such as graphical enhancements.

Will these changes be enough to help Return of the King surpass The Two Towers? Will its First Hour be as well paced as its predecessor? Or will neither of these things happen?

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