day four

Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction

First Hour Review
Mercenaries Cover

Remember when LucasArts used to publish games like The Secret of Monkey Island, Full Throttle, and every Star Wars game under the sun? Well, in 2005, they somehow ended up publishing Pandemic Studio's Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction on the Xbox and PlayStation 2. It's kind of an odd pairing, as Mercenaries is about as far from a point-and-click adventure game as one can get, but it's one of those games I've been wishing to play for a while now. Mercenaries is a third-person shooter about mercenaries, of course. There's a war going on in North Korea, and what better way to cash in on a lot of money than to drop in and play all the sides?

Here's a pro-tip for finding games you'd like to play for really cheap: while on vacation in a small town this past weekend, I was browsing the local library's book sale and lo and behold, Mercenaries was for sale for one dollar. I also picked up Legend of Dragoon for the PlayStation for another buck. I've found quite a few deals like these over the years and usually in the most random of places. While Mercenaries doesn't go for that much more on eBay, it's a bit thrilling finding it in the wild when you least expected it.

Mercenaries received a sequel released last year to quite the memorable media campaign featuring the "Oh No You Didn't" music video. I laughed out loud quite a few times when it aired. The series has also received a bit of criticism for its realistic scenarios and mercenary involvement. South Korea even banned the first game for its depiction of a hostile theater of war in its backyard. The Venezuelan government accused the U.S. government of funding the second game, crazy stuff. But I digress, this review is about the original, and just the first hour at that. Well, let's get into the first hour of Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction.

Jet Set Radio Future

First Hour Review
Jet Set Radio Future Cover

Cel-shaded graphics, fast action gameplay, and a rocking soundtrack? Sounds like the perfect game for me, and maybe a few of you readers too. That game would be Jet Set Radio Future, a 2002 inline skating action game released just for the Xbox. With the Dreamcast done, Sega was looking to branch out and become just a third-party publisher and I suppose the original Jet Set Radio must have been popular enough to warrant a sequel. I found it a bit surprising that Sega chose the Xbox, as that pretty much threw out the Japanese audience for a game that feels very... Japanese. Microsoft must have made a deal though, as the game was eventually bundled with Sega GT 2002 and thrown in free with an Xbox.

This was definitely a big time for cel-shaded games, with The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, XIII, Dark Cloud 2, and Viewtiful Joe all released within the next year. When executed well, I believe the game's can rise far above in terms of style than any realistic looking video game. Jet Set Radio Future definitely has style, but does it actually play well? Well, let's find out; and no, I won't be splitting time with Sega GT 2002, I hate realistic racers.

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars

First Hour Review
Super Mario Rpg Cover

Shortly before they began squabbling about cartridges versus compact discs, and long before Square-Enix came crawling back for a suck at the Nintendo DS teat, Nintendo and SquareSoft got around quite nicely. One of the results of this relationship was Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, a Japanese style role-playing game set in the Super Mario Bros. universe. It's one of those games that no one would have ever thought to ask for, but was so successful, it spawned the Paper Mario series that landed on later Nintendo systems (with no help from Square) and the Mario and Luigi RPG series found on their handhelds.

The game itself was quite ambitious, even beyond the cooperation of two major developers. The cartridge had its own onboard CPU, not to be confused with the popular graphics Super FX chip, but simply a co-processor to the main CPU already in the Super Nintendo. The ability to include additional hardware on the actual game cartridge was one of the amazing design decisions that revealed the foresight the hardware team had and kept the console highly competitive through 1996 when Super Mario RPG was released.

Super Mario RPG ended up being one of the last, great Super Nintendo games, being released along with some of my other favorites including Harvest Moon and Kirby Super Star. It's the end of the classic era, in my opinion, but marks the beginning of some bold moves by Nintendo. Here's the first hour of Super Mario RPG for the Super Nintendo.

Prince of Persia: Warrior Within

Guest First Hour Review
Prince Of Persia Warrior Within Cover

Prince of Persia: Warrior Within is the sequel to Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, which was itself a relaunch of a popular 2D platformer from the early 1990s. The relaunch, developed by Ubisoft Montreal, eventually became a trilogy, released on PlayStation 2, XBox, GameCube, PC, and even a version for the GameBoy Advance. The series has since been relaunched again on the current generation of systems.

Sands of Time was very well received for many reasons, including beautiful art direction, spot-on controls, fluid animations, clever mechanics and a wonderful intangible quality. It had two main downfalls: the combat was repetitive and the game was short.

Warrior Within sets out to correct both of these follies, boasting a longer story and a much-improved combat engine that takes the acrobatic attacks of the first game and expands them to a move list that takes up several pages in the instruction manual.

With these improvements, the game has also "matured" in the video game sense, which as usual means blood and scantily-clad women. Oh, and heavy metal. I'm not really sure why Ubisoft felt this was necessary; I'm assuming it was based on customer feedback.

I played through Prince of Persia: The Sands of time a while back and enjoyed it very much. When it was over I wished it wasn't, and that's what sequels are for. Will Warrior Within satisfy my craving for more acrobatic platforming/adventuring featuring the Prince of Persia?

Note: If I say "the first game" I'm referring to Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, not the original Prince of Persia game.

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box

First Hour Review
Professor Layton And The Diabolical Box Cover

A year and a half ago I had the distinct pleasure of playing Professor Layton and the Curious Village, a mystery game packed with puzzles set in, well, a very curious village. The game was a hit with me and many others, and while Level-5 has doled out three Layton games already and is a few months away from the fourth, they're just getting around to releasing the second outside of Japan. We wait patiently, however, and are rewarded with Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box. Nintendo is serving as the publisher in North America, Europe, and Australia, and has done a magnificent job releasing a potentially very niche puzzler to a wider audience. Honestly, the series is filled with such ultra-politeness and quirky British voice talent it's a wonder that something like this has taken off. Professor Layton is simply a perfect storm of great puzzles and marvelous atmosphere.

Level-5 is of course also the developer of Rogue Galaxy, an RPG I recently reviewed for the PlayStation 2. I'm becoming more and more impressed by their range of games they're developing and publishing, and other companies are too, including Square Enix which trusted them with Dragon Quest IX.

The release schedule of the Professor Layton series seems very similar to that of Phoenix Wright, with the West just starting to get the series after a few of them had already been released in Japan. In some ways, this is great because we know that there are a whole slew of games coming, but I just hope it doesn't start feeling stale like Ace Attorney did. Well, here's the first hour of Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box.

Scribblenauts

Guest First Hour Review
Scribblenauts Cover

Scribblenauts is the much-hyped puzzle game from developers 5th Cell that garnered a lot of awards and attention after this year’s E3. 5th Cell are the creators of Drawn to Life, a game that managed to sell over a million copies and put them on the map. Scribblenauts is a game that promises thousands of items that interact with each other in realistic and unique ways, allowing gamers to come up with their own innovative ideas when it comes to solving a level. The first hour of this game will vary heavily for anyone playing the game, as it’s possible to spend hours just on the menu screen.

Editor's Note: Grant begged to review this game, and he gets his reward. About three months back I previewed the game, comparing it to 5th Cell's predecessor, Drawn to Life. While I was less than pleased with that game, Scribblenauts seemed to be on its way to fixing all of its (many) problems. Let's see if the first hour of Scribblenauts starts off in the right direction.

Final Fantasy VIII

First Hour Review
Final Fantasy 8 Cover

I used to call it one of my favorite games of all-time, I'm honestly not sure where it falls now since I've only played it once, and that game started 10 years ago. Final Fantasy VIII was released on September 9th, 1999, Sony's answer to the Sega Dreamcast North American release on the same day. I plowed through it in epic sessions of high school gaming, finishing it less than a month later after 60+ hours of gaming. While I'm a huge fan of the Dreamcast and will probably dig mine out over the next few days to honor its 10th anniversary also, Final Fantasy VIII just clicked with me. I'm not going to get into Final Fantasy VII versus VIII or anything, save that for some forums, I will, however, get into the first hour of Final Fantasy VIII shortly.

Well, I said I wouldn't get into FF7, but that game had a great first hour! Especially for a Japanese role-playing game that usually spends more time explaining the intricacies of the turn-based battle system than actually being, you know... fun. So it's been a while since I started a new game in Final Fantasy VIII, I remember the great opening video, and that's about it. So here's the setting: it's 1999, the sequel to one of the most popular games ever is now in your hands, and you're about to make the decision to either sign the next month away to it, or try to recover some of your cash at EB Games. So let's play the first hour of Final Fantasy VIII and make our decision.

007: Everything or Nothing

Guest First Hour Review
James Bond Everything Or Nothing Cover

James Bond: he's the original super-spy. The secret agent with style, he always gets his man... and his woman.

Unfortunately he hasn't always fared so well in video games. Except for Goldeneye, games bearing the 007 insignia have turned out less than stellar.

I recently got my hands on a copy of 007: Everything or Nothing. This EA-published game on the GameCube (it was also released on the PS2 and XBox) was the first 007 game to ditch the first-person-shooter genre that Goldeneye established in favor of a third-person action adventure. (There had been a third-person 007 game on the PlayStation, but it was received poorly and all subsequent 007 games were first-person-shooters.)

Also, this game has more stars than most Hollywood movies. Pierce Brosnan voices 007, Dame Judy Dench is M, John Cleese is Q, our villain is Willem Dafoe, the Bond girls are Heidi Klum and Shannon Elizabeth, with Mya for good measure, Richard Kiel is Jaws... and all the characters are modeled after their actors.

Will 007 get a video game worthy of his refined demeanor, or is this another impotent cash-in on the 007 franchise? Will a cast full of Hollywood stars take this game to the next level, or will these actors fail to make the transition to video game voice acting? Will 007 introduce himself as "Bond, James Bond?" Let's find out now:

Call of Duty: World at War

First Hour Review
Call Of Duty World At War Cover

Call of Duty: World at War is the fifth Call of Duty game as the series once again, goes back to World War II. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was simply one of the most amazing games I've ever played, and I awarded it the first perfect score for a first hour review ever (I don't give numerical scores anymore, but I'll let you all know if I play one better). World at War was released in 2008 on all modern consoles and the PC and uses a modified version of the Modern Warfare engine. I will be playing the Windows version.

I was a bit disappointed to hear that Activision chose to set their latest during World War II, since the technology in Modern Warfare is part of what made the game so great. I wasn't planning to play the game, but I received a free copy with my graphics card, so how could I refuse to play at least the first hour of it? Of course, the multiplayer portion of the Call of Duty series is undoubtedly one of the more popular aspects, but I will be limiting my time to the single player campaign.

Tomorrow marks the 70th anniversary of the start of World War II. Let us hope there is never another one like it.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

First Hour Review
Knights Of The Old Republic Cover

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is an action RPG released for the Xbox and Windows in 2003. Before KotOR, Star Wars games had plenty of success in the action genre, but had never ventured far beyond the standard platformer, space sim, or shooter. BioWare changed all that with Knights, and in the process kicked off their own line of very successful console-first RPGs. Many fans would call this an incredible amalgamation of LucasArts and BioWare, of Star Wars and Western RPGs. I'll save my judgement for after I save (or destroy?) the galaxy.

I played the game a bit during college when it first came out, but never got into the "series" until Jade Empire and then later Mass Effect. Since I'm experienced with their newer games, it will be very interesting to see how they evolved since Star Wars. Let's get into the first hour of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.

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