Reviews of video game related television shows, movies, books, and soundtracks. Plus, reviews of downloadable content, our Half-Hour Handheld featurette, and video reviews.
Besides Super Mario World, SimCity was one of the first games I got for my Super Nintendo Entertainment System way back when. Countless hours were spent creating the most glorious cities…and then throwing total havoc their way. It was one of the first simulation games I’d ever played, and watching the seasons change, residential zones flourish, and roads fill up with traffic was extremely satisfying. Alas, I traded in my SimCity cartridge for something else (hopefully not Shaq-Fu) because I was young and stupid once. Now I’m just less stupid. Moving forward, I dabbled in later PC versions of SimCity, but never found any of them to be what I used to love. Maybe SimCity DS will be the one to warm the cockles of my heart?
Greg reviewed the DS sequel, SimCity Creator last year.
TouchMaster 2 claimed, "Starting is simple. Stopping is impossible!" In this sequel to a sequel, TouchMaster 3 takes it up a notch, purporting "Once you start, you can't stop!" Bold claims for a game that is ultimately a gathering of twenty mini-games, each of their own quality and quirks. If it wasn't obvious from the series' ridiculous title, these mini-games make heavy use of the stylus and touchscreen. In fact, that's all they use. Be prepared.
These sorts of collection games are abundant on the Nintendo DS, and a lot of their content often blurs together. Out of the 20 mini-games in TouchMaster 2, I found myself only ever returning to less than five of them. I hope there's more to enjoy in TouchMaster 3, but I'm not expecting a treasure chest of gold, to be honest. Maybe a gem or two surrounded by hand-me-down trinkets.
Also, I knew immediately that this would be a half-hour handheld review because this sort of hodgepodge game is great in chunks, torture at length. Thirty minutes is just enough to sample a good selection of mini-games and decide if it's worth pursuing any further.
What more can one say about Street Fighter? As explained in my previous review of Street Fighter: The Movie, the franchise is one of the most popular in gaming history and has permeated almost all aspects of society. It requires little backstory here, so let's head straight to the latest iteration.
Street Fighter IV released in arcade around the fall of 2008, with console ports the following February. Through hype, word of mouth, relatively balanced play, online play and catering to players of all skill levels, the game was a smash and is now a phenomonon of no other in the fighting game world, aside from the original SFII and perhaps Marvel vs Capcom 2. With new hybrid 3d celshaded graphics, dazzling ultra moves and a cast of old favorites along with new contenders, players of all different types and generations flocked to the new release. Its expansion, Super Street Fighter IV is on its way (currently slated for spring), and the franchise shows no signs of slowing.
So what exactly is so good about the game and why does it appeal to so many people? It seems like they made almost every decision and move to connect the past and the future, to leave no one behind while still progressing as a series.
Our first video review comes courtesy of Steve and one of the all time greatest arcade racing series: OutRun. Steve will be playing the 15 minute continuous cross-country run in OutRun 2006: Coast to Coast. It spans 15 very different levels with one common feature: lots and lots of powersliding. The game is beautiful, so here are two high definition videos of the run, complete with commentary about the game and series.
We were obsessed with ninjas in the '80s: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ninja Gaiden, and hundreds of campy ninja films. In 1985, we were also introduced to The Ninja, a crime thriller novel by Eric Van Lustbader, and what I believe to be the single best ninja fiction available. Lustbader wrote five more novels in the series, all centered on Nicholas Linnear, a half-Western, half-Chinese, raised in Japan ninja. I just finished the third novel, White Ninja, and couldn't help but think about the video game possibilities for the series while reading.
I originally found The Ninja while my wife and I were traveling in Ireland. It was by a fireplace in a small Bed and Breakfast in a "take a book, leave a book" box. I didn't have any books to leave, so I guess I broke the rule by taking one. Either way, it was the most interesting book in the box, and I figured I needed to do something with my East Asian Studies major. I had the 500+ page novel finished by the time we landed back in the States.
What makes Lustbader's Ninja series so great is its well written action scenes and devotion to building a believable Eastern mysticism. Unlike what Brandon Sanderson did with the Mistborn trilogy, The Ninja's world ninjutsu feels like it could be real (not ripping on Mistborn, but I suspend my belief at swallowing metals). The lines are often completely blurred between what's actually possible with martial arts, and what's simply just Japanese ninja legend or Lustbader making up (and honestly, even now, I really have no idea where the line would be drawn if you forced me to). It's believable because there is a believable world constructed around our heroes and villains.
Considering I've reviewed just about every other aspect of the Mass Effect series, I thought it would be appropriate to write a review on the game's first downloadable content: Bring Down the Sky. While the second DLC, Pinnacle Station, was more of an experiment in arena action, Bring Down the Sky was more familiar to the style of gameplay the full game offered. It was released just a few months after the release of the game in March 2008, seemingly indicating that there would be plenty more content available in the coming months and years. However, there would be just the two downloads available over the next two years, and the worst part? I really enjoyed Bring Down the Sky and would have happily paid for more like it.
With BioWare's latest RPG, Dragon Age, released and pimping downloadable content from almost the start of the game, it seems very likely that Mass Effect 2 will employ a similar strategy. In a recent interview with the Mass Effect project lead, Casey Hudson, he indicated that after the game's release (and hopefully a lengthy vacation), the developers would immediately move on to downloadable content. This is an exciting prospect and as long as I get my money's worth on the initial purchase, I have no problem paying for more content. Hudson also mentioned that when it came to DLC for the original Mass Effect, the game was simply not developed with it in mind, and that both Bring Down the Sky and Pinnacle Station were larger efforts than should have been necessary.
With a bit of history out of the way, let's get into my review of Bring Down the Sky for Mass Effect.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was a huge hit, and Modern Warfare 2 was a huger hit. Activision expected that, and decided this wasn't a chance they could pass up. At the same time MW2 was released, the original Modern Warfare was remade for the Wii, and Modern Warfare: Mobilized was set loose on the DS.
This handheld FPS mimics the control scheme of Metroid Prime Hunters, using the stylus to aim and the buttons to move and shoot. This worked out pretty well for the DS entry in the Metroid series.
Modern Warfare and its sequel both have amazing, hi-definition graphics. But how does a studio go about shoehorning that into a system that hosts mostly 2D games? Will the controls work? Will Modern Warfare be the least bit exciting on a handheld?
A word about Half-Hour Handhelds. We review games based on their first hour and whether it's worth it to continue playing. However, handhelds games are generally designed to be played in short bursts. They usually have shorter levels, less overall content (leading to a shorter game length), and less lengthy exposition. Because of this, an hour would be a really long time to play a handheld game for a first impression. It would likely delve into a larger percentage of the overall game and it would not be consistent with how handheld games are usually played. Plus it would be uncomfortable. All that being said, I think half-an-hour is a generous amount of time to allow for a first impression. If I've played a DS game for half an hour and it's not fun yet, there's no way I'm going to give it another 30 minutes.
For those out of the know, Sins of a Solar Empire ("Sins" for short) is a space-based real-time 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) game. Imagine Civilization except in real-time and with giant spaceships blowing each other out of the sky, and you've more or less got it. It was developed by Ironclad, a Canadian developer known for producing expansions to Homeworld. It didn't get much recognition because of the little-known dev, but it turned out to be a great game with an epic scale and astoundingly deep gameplay.
The game is one thing, but the soundtrack is another. The Collector's Edition of Sins of a Solar Empire comes with a soundtrack CD (among other things). The disc features 23 tracks by Paul Schuegraf, a Canadian musician known for, well, the score of Sins of a Solar Empire.
With BioWare's new epic, Dragon Age: Origins, only about a week away from release, it was about high time to finish the prequel novel I had sitting on my coffee table, Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne. BioWare is doing some massive world-building for the series and The Stolen Throne is about a major political event that happened about thirty years before the events of the first game. It follows three heroes: Maric, Loghain, and Rowan, and their tireless quest to overthrow the usurper that has stolen the throne from the rightful family. And as the book opens with the death of Maric's mother, the Rebel Queen Moira, the role of rightful king falls right onto Maric's soldiers.
The Stolen Throne spans a few years of time from the death of the Rebel Queen to its climax. It spends its pages not only trying to establish a few corners of Ferelden, but also to characterize the young heroes. We watch them all grow up, especially Maric, who starts out as a foolish prince and ends as a man who would make for a fine king. And since our heroic trio seem to be in that hormone-raging age of the late teen years, there's no lack of love triangles (or even quadrangles?). This is by no means a romance novel though, but more of A Game of the Thrones-lite.
Here's my review of Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne, the prequel novel to the video game Dragon Age: Origins.