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Contra 4

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Contra 4 CoverCasual observers must be baffled when they watch someone play through tough old-school games. They see the tense hands, the parched eyes, the tight scowl; they must wonder, why would anyone subject themselves to this? Is it a determination to succeed, or a desire to suffer?

Sometimes, even the player doesn’t know. When the deaths start piling up, frustration can obscure the distinction between a worthy challenge and a cheap wringer. For some, it doesn’t matter: if the game can be beaten, they will beat it.

I once had that unshakable tenacity, but I won’t put up with cheap traps anymore. I’m learning how to spot the dirty tricks that games use to torture players. And Contra 4 is a hell of a teacher.

Bit.Trip Runner

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bit Trip Runner CoverThe era of digital distribution has been good to many smaller developers. One needs to look no further than the Minecraft success story to see just how fruitful the budget game market can be.

Even on Nintendo's meager WiiWare service, some have found the opportunity to shine. Gaijin Games, a small studio founded by a former LucasArts employee, has found acclaim with its Bit.Trip series. With six games in the series released within two years, each Bit.Trip title is built on the same foundation of rhythm and psychedelic retro aesthetics but offers a different gameplay hook. Beat, the first title, is like the love child of Pong and a laser show. Core is more like a tricky Guitar Hero with a D-pad. Void is an avoid-and-collect using the nunchuk's control stick. Fate is a rail shooter utilizing the Wii remote's pointer. And Flux, the final chapter in the Bit.Trip saga, returns to an experience similar to the choreographed Pong performance that birthed the series in Beat.

I recently acquired Bit.Trip Runner, the fourth game released (and the third I've played, after Void and Beat). It happens to be the one that generates the most buzz in the gaming community. Runner certainly sounded appealing to me when I was introduced to it as a "rhythm-based platformer." My experience with the game, however, came somewhat short of my high hopes.

Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure

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Zack and Wiki Quest for Barbaros Treasure CoverI don't think I've been this disappointed in a video game since Assassin's Creed. Zack and Wiki started off great, but then some realizations start to sink in, and then everything falls off the track. To say I didn't have fun with Zack and Wiki would be a lie, but there are some major problemms with this game.

Before we get into the review proper, Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure was released in 2007 by Capcom. I admitted in my first hour review of the game that this was the first non-Nintendo published title I was actually interested in playing. Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 are incredible, but I was having a lot of trouble finding something that interested me on the Wii beyond those. Zack and Wiki had been nagging at me for a while and received great reviews, seemed like it was the right way to go.

I understand that my opinion probably differs quite a bit from the normal reviewer, it makes me question whether they actually played the entire game or if expectations of Wii gameplay has really changed this much over three years? But if I wasn't honest in my review, what's the point in writing?

Perfect Dark

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Perfect Dark CoverSometimes, nostalgia has the habit of biting back. Hard.  Ten years ago, Perfect Dark was released on the Nintendo 64, and along with The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, capped off a great system by pushing it way past its limits.  I gobbled this game up when it was released by throwing parties in my parent's basement and putting off getting my driver's license for another month.  GoldenEye 007 was a great first-person shooter, but we were ready for some Perfect Dark.

Ten years later, and Perfect Dark is ported to Xbox Live Arcade.  I was a bit worried: how would a pre-Halo first-person shooter play against its modern day brethren?  In my opinion, while GoldenEye was the console shooter breakout hit, Halo had set the standard for how they should actually play.  Its control scheme is still used to this day, and imagining myself strafing with the C-buttons gives me the shivers.

For only $10 though, it was a hard bargain to pass up.  Here was a game that I coughed up $59.99 + tax before I even had a job, I could easily hand over 800 Microsoft Points for a trip down memory lane.  My friend Jim also bought the game, and we decided to take the journey together, playing through the single player campaign via online co-op (imagine doing that ten years ago on the Nintendo 64!).  While we had both played the original, I was the more die-hard fan and had pored countless hours into my multiplayer character.  We started up, with him playing as the lovely Joanna and me as the blonde no-named sister.

Iron Man 2

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Iron man 2 CoverSequels. Comic franchises converted to video games. Movie tie-ins. Studios closing their doors. Needless to say, there are a lot of barriers that can narrow the odds of producing a high quality title. It would seem that Iron Man 2 was forced to hurdle all of them. As I mentioned in my recent First Hour review of Iron Man 2, its predecessor was critically panned. But did it deserve it? Or did it fall prey to the echo chamber of hate that often befalls licensed products and spin offs? The truth is, Iron Man had it’s problems. From unwieldy controls to frame rate issues, it seemed like it stumbled each time it would just get up to speed. But it had moments of fun, high intensity super hero action that carried one through to each subsequent mission. Going into a sequel, one assumes that Sega Studios San Francisco, the developer behind both titles would make an effort to improve the failings of the original while trying to maintain those things they got right the first time. The question is, did they pull it off?

After sitting in on the developer conference call for Iron Man 2, I was hopeful that things were looking good. They talked about a dedication to listening to fans, and to implementing those lessons they learned from user feedback on the first game. They talked about simplified controls, vast levels, destructible environments and deep customization. They touted a boss that is “bigger than any boss in any game ever”. And War Machine. War Machine sounded like a perfect addition to the Iron Man gaming universe. Yes, it sounded like it had really come together. And so I eagerly anticipated my review copy, thinking back to the flawed but fun experience I had with the first game.

Spore

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Spore CoverSpore was released a few months ago to much hype and anticipation. It was the game to end all simulators, featuring gameplay from the individual cell level to the entire universe. Will Wright and crew demoed the game more than two and a half years ago in what seemed to be a ready to release state. But the game would be delayed, and delayed, and delayed again, leading us to a September 2008 release. Spore was my must play game of the year, and play it I did. Was it everything it was supposed to be cracked up to be? Definitely not. Was it a disappointment in my eyes? Definitely yes. Please Greg, tell us why.

Assassin's Creed

Full Review

Assassins Creed CoverAssassin's Creed is the newest action-adventure game from Ubisoft. Since it was released about a month ago it has seen pretty good reviews and has become the fastest selling new IP since 2002 (The Getaway, seriously??). I can't argue with facts but I can't believe how many unbelievable scores this game has gotten: a 10 from Games Radar, a 9.5 from Game Informer, and 37/40 from Famitsu are just a few scores that make me go "WTF?"

For my review on just the first hour, please see my Assassin's Creed review at The First Hour.

Before I defend myself and get into why this game is both incredibly awesome and incredibly horrible at the same time, let's have a little more history. Assassin's Creed is in the same vein as the recent Prince of Persia trilogy, you can run up walls, kill bad guys with your sword, and basically just do cool acrobatics. Ubisoft made a good decision giving the Prince a break and trying something a little different. Breaking away from the Prince of Persia games, Assassin's Creed gives you a giant sandbox to play around with in three giant 12th century cities. Jerusalem, Acre, and Damascus are rendered beautifully and you can tell were created meticulously and carefully. The main character, Altair, is basically a white-clad ninja in the Holy Land, so it seems like it would be really fun to dive into his stealth-killing world. What could possibly go wrong?

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