First Hour Reviews

  • 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?

  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

    First Hour Review
    Lord Of The Rings Two Towers Cover

    This is the start of a marathon of Lord of the Rings gaming, in which I play the first hour of three games based on the Lord of the Rings movies. Strangely enough the three games are not one for each movie; there was in fact no game made for the Fellowship of the Ring movie. Instead, I'll be playing Lord of the Rings: The Third Age as the third game.

    The Lord of the Rings is one of the most beloved series of books ever written, and the movies based on them are some of the best-selling of all time. What I want to find out is if the IP was able to make the jump to video games with the same fidelity.

    I read these books some years back, before the movies came out, and they are some of my favorite books. Because of this, I may throw around a few terms that are unfamiliar if you have not read the books or watched the movies. If this is the case I strongly urge you to read the books.

    Electronic Arts had the video game rights to the Lord of the Rings films (Sierra had the rights to the books; I'm not really sure how that works), but since the first film came out around the time the console cycle entered the next generation, EA decided to skip Fellowship of the Ring and instead focus on releasing a game that coincided with the premier of The Two Towers. Because of this, the game starts with several scenes from The Fellowship of the Ring.

    Which stigma will this game live up to: Lord of the Rings, or movie game? Find out. Here's the first hour of The Lord of the Ring: The Two Towers for the Nintendo GameCube.

  • Wheelman

    First Hour Review
    Wheelman Cover

    Wheelman is one of those games I always thought looked interesting, but it got luke-warm reviews and slowly faded into obscurity as more popular AAA franchises consumed the markets (as well as my) interest. That is until one fateful day at Target when I saw it on the clearance shelf. Reviewers Note: Just in case you aren’t aware, Target stores generally have a clearance shelf near the electronics department. It’s usually an end-cap and that’s where they put the unpopular games out to pasture, along with poorly selling MP3 players, Barbie-themed boomboxes and other retail failures. Whenever I’m at Target, I make it a point to check that shelf. When I saw Wheelman for $14.99, I had to pick it up. Was it a mistake? Did the game hook me? Read on to find out.

    Okay, so here’s what I knew going into Wheelman. I knew it was a pet project for Vin Diesel, an action star whose movies I’ve more often enjoyed than disliked (although Babylon A.D. was a particular stinker). I had read that Vin was an avid gamer and always wanted to be involved in the production of an action game. That sounded interesting enough, but then I found out it was going to be an all-out, over-the-top, in-your-face driving game and that there might even be a movie attached. Okay, so the movie didn’t pan out, but the heavily hyphenated Game got made and was even published by TWO major players, Midway and Ubisoft. The game was developed by Tigon Studios and Midway Newcastle. So, let’s see what the first hour of Wheelman looks like.

    Editor's Note: Tigon Studios was founded by Vin Diesel and their first game was The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, a game I started to play once and I will admit, has a pretty amazing first hour.

  • Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee

    First Hour Review
    Oddworld Abes Oddysee Cover

    Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee, a puzzle-platformer developed by Oddworld Inhabitants, was released in 1997 for the PlayStation and PC. It uses pre-rendered graphics for its backgrounds and sprites, and has a large list of actions that can be taken by the player, including making the player character speak.

    I remember playing the demo of this game at Toys'R'Us, and being impressed by its graphics and gameplay features, as well as the odd feeling of it all.

    Oddworld is now available through Steam for play on the PC, and that's where I got the copy I'll be playing. Although it can be played with the keyboard, I will be using a gamepad because I find it very cumbersome to use a keyboard to play a game designed for a controller.

  • Chibi-Robo!

    First Hour Review
    Chibi Robo Cover

    Ever get tired of fighting? Can't someone make a game about something besides combat? Those were questions I was asking myself when I discovered Chibi-Robo. I remembered this Nintendo-published game vaguely from when it first came out, but looked into it with more interest as I tried to find a game about something other than violence.

    Granted, games like The Sims are about something other than fighting, but what I was looking for was a game that used familiar game elements in a non-combat setting. For example, could you earn experience points by talking to people? Explore and find something other than more enemies to fight? Surely it can be done, but it didn't seem to exist in the wild.

    That's when I found Chibi-Robo. Developed by Skip Ltd. and published by Nintendo, it seems to be an adventure game in which you play as a tiny robot and explore a house. Your mission is to make the host family happy, which you do by cleaning up trash and spills, finding lost objects, and sundry other tasks.

    But will a non-violent game be able to offer an exciting first hour experience?

  • 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.

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