First Hour Reviews

  • Bionic Commando Rearmed 2

    First Hour Review
    Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 CoverLooking back, Bionic Commando Rearmed may have been a more important game than most realize. It was one of the first blockbuster hits on both the Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network digital distribution models, scoring critical praise unlike any other console downloadable before it. It also arguably opened the floodgates for the proliferation of retro-styled games and HD remakes: more and more publishers are digging up their buried treasure and giving it a spit-shine worthy of the HD era, and just as many are building new experiences from old foundations.

    It goes without saying that the company that spawned hundreds of Mega Man games would return to a good thing, so I'm a little surprised it's taken over two years for Capcom to follow up the original retro re-do. Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 is not quite the talk of the town in the same way the groundbreaking original (erm, original remake) was, but I've been looking forward to it since it was announced at last year's Captivate event. I'm rarely one to complain about getting more of the same, especially when it's as distinguished and polished as BCR was.

    Some will cry foul at "Rad" Spencer's newfound ability to jump (gasp!), but it hardly appears to be the game-changer than many feared. Capcom has even affirmed that the game can be completed without ever taking a hop. I think I'll put that claim to the test for some of this first hour.

    PS3 owners beware: Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 employs a type of DRM that requires you to start the game while connected to PlayStation Network. Inconvenient for a game that is played almost entirely offline.
  • Harvest Moon: Magical Melody

    First Hour Review

    Harvest Moon Magical Melody CoverHarvest Moon has been one of my favorite video games series, but with as many Harvest Moon titles that have been released, there are bound to be a few that just don't click with me. This has been happening more often than I would like of late with my favorite farming simulator, and I blame that on essentially the two different series Harvest Moon has become. Ignoring all the spinoffs such as Rune Factory, Frantic Farming, and Innocent Life, the series essentially split at the Back To Nature/Friends of Mineral Town point about ten years ago.

    Back to Nature for the PS1 was the first non-Nintendo Harvest Moon game and expanded on the previous console release, Harvest Moon 64. An enhanced remake/port was released for the GBA titled Friends of Mineral Town which I consider to be the quintessential Harvest Moon title. But at this point, the PS2 and GameCube were out, and the developers started going down the road of fancier 3D graphics on the conoles while basically every portable iteration has been based on the Friends of Mineral Town structure.

    So what I call the portable Harvest Moon series is built on a very solid set of gameplay elements: farming, foraging, mining, and relationships. All aspects of the game are well-tuned and are balanced decently. On the consoles, it's a completely different story: we get a mish-mash of unbalanced, poorly tuned gameplay elements planted in a boring looking 3D world. The console "series" has suffered like this since Save the Homeland on the PS2, but I mostly blame A Wonderful Life, the first Harvest Moon game I ever played that I really, truly hated.

    Magical Melody, of course, falls into the console series. Released on the GameCube in 2006 and then re-released on the Wii in 2008, Magical Melody continues the sorry Harvest Moon console tradition of not being very much fun. Whoops, did I spoil the first hour for you?

    I've actually been sitting on this first hour review for an entire year, I had it completely written except for this introduction. I'm not really sure what I was waiting for; I think through a combination of Magical Melody being an older, quite unexciting game combined with the fact that it's a sorry game from one of my favorite series made me hold off. But I really need to get it off my to-do list, so here you go, the first hour of Harvest Moon: Magical Melody for the GameCube.

  • Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening

    First Hour Review

    Devil may cry 3 CoverThe video game industry isn't as surprising as we'd like to think. Sequels rule the sales charts, and even new IPs tend to be paint jobs of proven gameplay schemes. It's easy to point the finger at developers and publishers, but let's take a look at a few of the bigger gambles that companies have taken with their properties.

    Back in 2001, the first footage for the next Legend of Zelda caused some serious uproar when, rather than an updated Ocarina of Time fantasy setting, the new game went with a wholly cel-shaded, cartoony art style. Many had been won over by the charming new Link by the game's release, but I bet that just as many swore off Nintendo for good after this "kiddie" debacle. Later in 2001, those who had recently purchased Metal Gear Solid 2 were appalled to find the game had pulled a bait-and-switch, tossing the series' longtime protagonist Solid Snake aside within the first hour of the game for a never before seen pretty boy. The ensuing explosion of discontent was megaton in proportion.

    Nintendo and Konami have had their share of death threats on message boards for these switcheroos, and now it seems Capcom's neck is on the chopping block. The long-rumored Devil May Cry 5 was finally made public at TGS 2010 as "DmC," and fans were shocked to see that it would reboot the series with a new, barely recognizable, adolescent punk version of cocky anti-hero protagonist Dante. Further, Capcom itself isn't even spearheading the development of the title, leaving Heavenly Sword developer Ninja Theory in charge. The response has been almost entirely negative.

    Amidst all the noise on message boards and in video comments, I realized I hadn't spent any quality time with the old Dante myself, despite how much I enjoyed the modern Ninja Gaiden action games that are often compared to the Devil May Cry series. I borrowed a copy of the franchise's most acclaimed game, Devil May Cry 3 (which also happens to be the earliest in the series timeline) to serve as my official introduction to the outrageous half-demon. It's hard to empathize with the gamer rage that DMC fans feel at the moment, but will I change my tune after walking a mile in the old Dante's boots?

  • Emergency Heroes

    First Hour Review

    Emergency Heroes CoverI've managed to avoid shovelware pretty well over the years. I'm a knowledgeable gamer who's able to spot crap from four shelves away. But sometimes, games just land in your lap and you not only have no choice but to play it, you have to just to say you did and came out alive.

    Emergency Heroes is that game, a semi-sandbox driving game that has you putting out fires, pulling over speeders, and clearing out traffic jams to save the day - all in terrific eight year old graphics with stellar voice actors found off the street wrapped in a hilariously bad SyFy Original Movie-like storyline.

    Ubisoft released Emergency Heroes for the Wii in mid-2008, so this game has been burning up bargain bins for a while. I generally don't like Ubisoft for their DRM and other business practices, but I'm willing to make exceptions for exceptional games like this.

    It can be fun to laugh at games like this though as long as the gameplay isn't frustrating. So will Emergency Heroes be a surprise and pull off an amazing first hour? Or will it be just what we all expect? Let's dive in and find out.

  • Disney Epic Mickey

    First Hour Review

    Disney Epic Mickey CoverMickey Mouse was never a big part of my early life. I guess that's to be expected: my grandfather remembers seeing Mickey Mouse cartoons when he was young, and a kids' cartoon character can only stay relevant for so long. I've never been into the whole corruption-of-childhood-icons thing, either. It always sort of struck me as puerile and cheap, like finding a genitalia-spacecraft dogfight penciled into the margins of a social studies textbook.

    So when I first saw the Game Informer cover art for a dark take on Disney called Epic Mickey, I scoffed. I'd never imagined such a thing would exist, and I couldn't fathom it being worth a damn. I let out an unapproving sigh as I skimmed over the concept art in the magazine, featuring mechanical perversions of classic Disney characters. The designs themselves didn't bother me beyond their tired post-apocalyptic, steampunk styles, but the concept itself seemed like something a goth 7th grader might come up with after being dragged to Disney World by his family.

    As it turns out, all of that imagery was just pre-production concept, used in the magazine to create as much hype as the shock value could muster. The final product has a safer appearance, one that most would say is more "tame." I think it's just less gimmicky. Further details would catch my interest as well, including the use of forgotten Disney properties to create an off-kilter gameworld (rather than just a dark one) and the moral freedom system that's supervised by a guy who excels at that sort of thing.

    It's been a strange hype cycle, but Epic Mickey has finally arrived. For the first time, I'm actually anticipating a Mickey Mouse property. Is my newfound interest warranted, or should I have left it in the trash with that issue of Game Informer?

  • Fable II

    First Hour Review

    Fable 2 CoverI once owned an Xbox for what it was intended: to play games. Now it sits under just about every television in my house as an excellent, but dated, media center running XBMC. Games have taken up about 1% of its total processing power over its life.

    But at one point, it was the darling of my dorm room with Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2. There was another game though that caught our attention, and that was Fable. I have no idea what originally drove me towards this game, but I pre-ordered Fable from GameStop and even received some throwaway bonus DVD that I would never watch.

    Three of us in our house played Fable, and we all played different classes (warrior, mage, and archer) which made for three entirely diverse 15 hour gaming experiences. My roommate could one-shot werewolves from across the map and my other roommate’s hero looked to be about 150 years old after draining his body from excessive magic use. My warrior was scarred and muscular; I’d like to say that these avatars represented us in real life, but that would be a stretch.

    Fable 2’s release, like many games this generation, came and went for me without much notice. I’m trying to be much more selective with what I played, and while I enjoyed my first Fable experience, I wasn’t that interested in returning to Albion.

    But in time-honored First Hour tradition, with Fable 3 just released a few months ago, it is now time to play Fable 2. Here is its first hour.

  • Black

    First Hour Review

    Black CoverWhen I think back to the first time I saw Sonic the Hedgehog running on the Genesis (which I wasn't yet familiar with), I recall marveling at how much better it looked than the Mario games I had at home. I remember the time my brother tried to explain Super Mario 64 to me, and how little I understood what he was saying until I finally witnessed it in action. When I brought home a Gamecube the morning it launched, I was impressed with the speed and fluidity of the Death Star trench run that began Rogue Leader, at least when compared to its predecessor on the N64. But the first time I saw Call of Duty 2 at Toys R Us on an HDTV screen, the only thought that ran through my mind was...

    "Really? This is next-gen?"

    Yes, the characters were constructed of more polygons. And the textures were clearer. And of course, the higher resolution made everything easier to see. But I just couldn't help but feel a little disappointed, seeing that the the game, and others in the 360 launch library, just didn't seem to bring any worthwhile improvements to the table. In fact, it wasn't until the first time I saw Lost Planet's smoking RPG trails, gorgeous boss monsters, and swarms of flying enemies that the feeling of a new generation really sank in.

    On the other hand, many quality games are released at the end of a console's life cycle, once developers have a firmer grasp on the intricacies of the hardware. It is unfortunate that they're often overlooked for the next console's rushed launch titles, but that's reality. EA's Criterion studio, creators of the high-octane Burnout series, attempted to buck that trend with Black, a first-person shooter for the PS2 and Xbox that was marketed as a next-gen shooter for current-gen platforms.

    The game certainly looked impressive the first time I saw a friend playing it, some five years ago. Does it still pack a punch, or will Black forever be lost between generations?

  • Golden Sun: Dark Dawn

    First Hour Review

    Golden Sun: Dark Dawn CoverNine years ago, I introduced myself to an interesting little RPG from Japan for the Game Boy Advance. Little did I know, I was playing what would eventually become, arguably, my favourite RPG of all time. That game was Golden Sun, and many other gamers around the world shared my passion. The game ended, but the story was only half-over; it continued in a sequel, Golden Sun: The Lost Age, two years later. The sequel couldn’t have come any sooner; waiting that long for a continuation, for Golden Sun fans, was torture. Turns out that was nothing...

    Sometime after The Lost Age’s launch, we learned that the Takahashi brothers’ creations were merely the prologue to a supposed saga of games set in the Golden Sun universe. Fans were frothing at the mouths with anticipation, but, unbeknownst to them, would have to wait seven long years before seeing another sequel. That wait is finally over.

  • Trauma Team

    First Hour Review

    Trauma Team CoverClassifying video games into genres can be a tricky ordeal. For example, let's look at Fable. It's a role-playing game because it uses dynamic statistics as modifiers to its core mechanics, right? But one of the traditional indicators of an RPG video game is that it plays out with little regard to nuanced player input: its action is menu driven and often turn based. Fable's real-time combat, on the other hand, relies on player dexterity (as in an Action game) as much as it does the quantifications of the battle engine. So, in our propensity to create subgenres when things don't fit so neatly, we just call it an Action RPG. However, it's hard to be satisfied with this conclusion when one could replace every instance of "Fable" in this paragraph with "BioShock," "Mass Effect," or even "Star Ocean" and it would be no less true, even if all of these games feel completely different in once you get your hands on the controller.

    Okay, so there's obviously a problem when so many games in the same genre are so dissimilar. But what about when a game comes along and has no precedent to compare to? Case in point, where the hell does the Trauma Center series belong?

    Trauma Center: Under the Knife arrived on the scene in the Nintendo DS launch window, requiring players to perform lightspeed surgeries using a variety of medical instruments through the handheld's touch screen. Ignoring the dearth of surgery games (or even touch screen games) to use as precedent, Trauma Center was still very tough to define. Can we really use the catchall Simulation genre for a game where heart surgery lasts all of a minute and Space Invaders can be found in the patient's lungs? Is it part visual novel merely because operations are bookended and pervaded by character portraits and dialogue? Not content to let us try and figure it out after four games, Atlus' fifth title in the franchise, Trauma Team, complicates things further by providing six different scenarios to play through, each with its own exploration within (and sometimes a bit outside) the traditional Trauma Center structure.

    Okay, so I don't really know what to call it. A more important concern, though, is whether or not it's fun. So how did my first hour go with this...whatever it is?

     

  • Mirror's Edge

    First Hour Review

    Mirrors Edge CoverNew genres don't come around that often, but genre mash-ups have been popular lately. Mirror's Edge is a first person platformer, with a dash of shooting and a few heaps of parkour thrown in for good measure. Plenty of first person shooters have tried to integrate platforming, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter immediately jumps to mind, but that was a disaster. Mirror's Edge takes what works from a game like Assassin's Creed with its assisted climbing and fluid action and sticks it in a first person view.

    To some, this may sound great, others are undoubtedly skeptical, the rest of you have already played this two year old game and made up your own mind (nobody ever said the First Hour was timely *groan*). I've been intrigued by Mirror's Edge since its release, but the opportunity to play it never came up until Steam had it on sale for about $5 earlier this year. So I bought it and tossed it on my proverbial digital backlog, only to finally get around playing it now when my brother-in-law lent me his copy on the Xbox 360. No, I didn't play it on the Xbox, but it did encourage me to finally get around to it on the PC (odd how that works).

    So here's my first hour review of Mirror's Edge, Steve previously wrote a full review on the game with a stunning gallery of self-taken screenshots at the bottom.

Syndicate content