Mutant Mudds - Nintendo 3DS

I can’t help but wonder if there is a game on the WiiWare or DSiWare service that has sold literally zero copies. There almost has to be right? Especially at this point. If not zero copies then there has to be at least a few that have only sold a few dozen. It’s a shame because of those services did show promise but now have been relegated to weekly ridicule.

I really hope that 3DSware does not eventually encounter the same fate because it is off to a ridiculously strong start. In recent weeks we’ve been given Pushmo, VVVVVV, Mighty Switch Force, Zen Pinball and the one we’re here to talk about, Mutant Mudds.

I will admit I was unfamiliar with this one right up until the morning of its release. One look at a couple of screenshots however and I was immediately intrigued. Mutant Mudds is an homage to the 8 and 16-bit era (the developers actually refer to this game as being 12-bit), with pixilated graphics and classic, old school platforming action. The mechanics are simple. You can jump, shoot your gun, and use a jetpack to hover in the air for a short period. You get upgrades later on but these are basically the only actions that you have to worry about. Many of the levels also allow you to jump into the foreground and background, much like Wario Land on the Virtual Boy, a game I’m sure at least .6% of you are familiar with.

As with the best of the 2D side scrolling genre, Mutant Mudds gives you a few basic mechanics, but then crafts fantastic levels around them. Things start off slowly and for a while I was concerned the game was going to be a breeze. That concern was brutally murdered by about the second world when the hover mechanic is given room to shine. By that point you’ll be hovering through spiked walls and ceilings and timing your actions on vanishing platforms, all the while dealing with harder and harder enemies. It’s a perfect difficulty curve, introducing you to the mechanics gradually so that by the time shit gets raw, you are more than prepared for it. Though fair warning, you will still die many, many, many, many, many times before the game is done. If you even get to that point as I have heard from several people who flat out gave up at a certain point.

Personally I never found it got to that point. The game controls great so any error is due to your own mistakes and you would never be able to fault the game itself. It’s challenging sure, but nothing ever feels impossible. You keep going because you know next time you will nail it. Plus the levels are about 2 minutes long on average so having to start from the beginning never becomes a chore, at least I never found it to. I’m not the greatest at video games and I was able to do everything there is to do in this game so come on guys buck up, you can do it! Go for your goals! Reach for your dreams!

Mutant Mudds kicks off with 20 levels, spread out over five different worlds. In each level are 100 water crystals to collect, which add extra challenge as some of them are off the beaten path and require some pretty deft maneuvering. Thankfully you don’t have to collect them all in one go and if you beat a stage with 90/100, when you reload it you’ll still only have the remaining 10 left to get. Each of these stages also contains a hidden secret stage which can only be uncovered by using the power-ups you can buy with your collected water crystals. These stages are styled after Game Boy and Virtual Boy stages and are also where the game shows no mercy whatsoever. The secret stages are often shorter than the regular stages, but filled to the grim with constant threats of death. They’re very challenging but again, always feel manageable. As you can see, plenty to do before you will be ready to set Mutant Mudds down.

I also found this to be one of the best examples of 3D on the 3DS so far. Side scrollers always seem to work the best (Mighty Switch Force being another example of this) and here it’s made extra impressive by the ability to hop into different plains of field. It’s difficult to explain but trust me, you’re going to want to see this one in action.

Mutant Mudds carries a higher price tag than normal at 8.99 but I found it to be well worth it. Getting 100% in this game will take you some time and it’s just so much god damn fun. I played through this in several marathon sessions, never wanting to put it down. No lie, I debated canceling a social outing just so I could keep going. You think I’m proud of that?! But that’s the kind of grip this game will get on you man! 3DS owners have no excuse not to check this one out. 

Fortune Street - Nintendo Wii

Straight up, had I been able to play more Fortune Street prior to compiling my end of the year list, it would have had a decent shot at cracking it. It would have been near the bottom sure, but that’s still pretty high praise. Leading up to the game’s release I thought it was something akin to Mario Party and having not had a good MP fix in several years, I was intrigued and ended up kind of blind buying the game shortly after its release. I didn’t get a chance to play it until recently and what I found was a completely different beast all together.

Fortune Street is actually the first of a popular Japanese series of games to be brought to North America. It features a collection of characters and locations from the Mario and Dragon Quest universes and very much resembles Monopoly at its core.  If that concept doesn’t intrigue you at all, then you really shouldn’t bother here. If you are intrigued, then oh my friend you are in for a treat.

Whether you’re playing alone, with real human friends, or online, there are two different ways to play Fortune Street. The first is Easy Mode. This is the mode that very much mirrors the game of Monopoly. Each of the selectable boards has a different target amount and the first player to reach it is the victor. This immediately removes one of the more, let’s say problematic, elements of the Monopoly board game – the fact that it can go on for-fucking-ever. At least this way you have a goal to strive for and you know that no matter what, at some point this thing has to stop.

In Easy Mode, you maneuver the board, buying up properties. The more properties you have that are side by side, the more they are worth. You can also sink additional money into them to increase their values even further. Sound familiar? Exactly. You know how this all goes down. You also earn money by collecting four face cards that are scattered around the board and making it back to the bank. This earns you a new promotion level and the higher the level, the higher the salary. That’s about the gist of it, now play until either one player reaches the target amount, or one runs out of money.

Now if you select the standard mode, all of the above rules apply only now stocks are brought into the equation. Each board is divided into different districts where you can buy stocks and invest. This is the way to play the game. There is nothing quite as satisfying as snatching up all of the stores in a district where you own a ton of stocks, then just dumping as much capital into each one as possible until each one nets you about 5,000 if someone lands on them. It can lead to some pretty intense late game changers and makes each trip around the board tenser than the last.

Although a round of Fortune Street is definitely shorter than a real-life game of Monopoly, you should still be ready for a time sink, which may be a deal breaker for a lot of people. You can increase the text speed and cut out any character dialogue that motors things along, but you are looking at at least 90 minutes for even the shortest game. In Single player it’s less of an issue because you can save and come back anytime. But what’s insane is that there is no option to do this in multiplayer! I really see no reason not to have this. If you’ve invested 3 hours into a game and one of the players can’t continue, you’re forced to either go on without them or just bail on the game completely. The very first game we played, my Wife was falling asleep while playing but was forced to go on until the game was done. Not a great first impression. So never ever start a game unless you have thoroughly questioned everyone to make sure they don’t dare leave the room until the game is completed.

As with Mario Party proper, multiplayer is definitely the way to play this game. It’s never as fun to screw over the AI as it is your friend who is sitting there with you. I was surprised however at just how robust the single player actually is. Each match earns you stamps that you can use to buy new outfits, actions and all sorts of things for your Mii character (which is unfortunately your only character option in the single player). But it can never beat shit talking your friend or significant other when they land on your highest value spot, knocking them to fourth and you to first. And if you don’t have friends who are willing to play then no worries because there is online multiplayer as well and even though I haven’t delved too far into it, what I have seem functions perfectly fine.

Unfortunately also like Mario Party, some of the game changers happen by pure luck and aren’t nearly as fun. For example, each board had a spot where you play a game of chance. I have lost two different games to the CPU after they won thousands of dollars in the match three game. It’s kinda shitty and I almost wish that aspect of the game wasn’t there. It leads to victories that feel unearned.

Those are really the only major complaints I have about Fortune Street. It’s by no means an amazing game, it’s just great great fun. In only a little over a week of frequent play, we have crossed the 18 hour mark and that number is just going to keep getting higher. It’s almost a nightly event now. This seems like a game for a very select crowd but if you are a part of it, this will be a goddamn delight.

Need for Speed: The Run - Xbox 360

Once again I know I’m a little behind on this one, today marking about the 50th day since the release of Need for Speed The Run. But having just received this for Christmas I was not exposed to it until the other day and having now played it, I really had to say something. It doesn’t fit as an Under the Radar so I’m choosing to count it as a proper review. I doubt I’ll be saying anything that you haven’t already heard but trust me, I need to do this.

I loved last year’s Need for Speed Hot Pursuit. I believe it even found a spot on my top 10 list for 2010. As a result, I was pretty excited for The Run. It had the intriguing premise of centering on a Cannonball Run-esque race across the country so I was anticipating that concept mixed with the fun as all hell mechanics of Hot Pursuit. That is not at all the case with The Run.

The first disappointment is with the actual story for the main mode (naturally titled The Run). A cross-country race has infinite potential and The Run seems oddly determined to squander that potential in every possible way it can. You play as Jack who owes the mob a whole ton of money and so he enters the race to win and pay off his debt. Why does he owe the mob so much money? Who is this guy? What exactly is this race? Who runs it? Well the game seems to think none of that shit matters because all you get is that one basic idea. Any cut scene during the game never amounts to anything more than your friend telling you “hey better keep driving fast cuz you’re in a race”. I would at least be somewhat satisfied if I knew why Jack owed the money so I could feel like something was really at stake here and could root for the guy. But they don’t! You do get to see the motives for some of your opponents and often it’s actual solid reasoning like they need money for their family or their newborn baby. That actually makes me want my guy to lose! The storyline is botched so badly that it might as well not even be there,

The Run itself is divided into ten stages, each covering a different leg of the journey and containing a handful of events. The events usually consist of one of three goals – pass a certain number of opponents (standard come in first race), make up time (time trial mode essentially), and battling opponents, where you pass a rival and then be sure to remain ahead of them until a timer counts down. That’s really it. There’s nothing overly creative or interesting done with the premise here, it’s all your standard racing game modes. The only times where the game shows promise is when it starts to use the environment against you, such as a race through a mountain during an avalanche. These moments however are painfully few and far between, with barely a handful of them appearing across the entire length of The Run event.

The other way the game tries to switch it up is by occasionally having Jack outside of his vehicle, usually outrunning cops or the mob. These are also few and far between but I was more thankful for that in this case. These sections are nothing but extended quick time events that I assume are meant to give everything a more cinematic look and feel but it does not work. These sequences are not fun and only bring the proceedings to a grinding halt, which is especially dire in an already eerily unexciting game.

The pace of things certainly doesn’t help. First of all, the load times here are fucking horrendous. I swear Skyrim loads up its entire world faster than The Run loads a single race. And don’t even think about restarting an event once you’ve begun because it takes just as long.

Even worse is the whole checkpoint / rewind system. Throughout a race you will pass checkpoints, and if you make a mistake you can use one of your rewinds (you get a limited number each race, the amount depending on the difficulty you have chosen) to go back to your last checkpoint. Using a rewind leads to about 15 seconds of loading before you go back to that checkpoint. For a game all about driving fast and keeping a strong pace, this kills all pacing and makes races take 4 times as long as they should. Even more infuriating is when the game takes it upon itself to reset you to the last checkpoint. Usually it does this if you fail the main objective or wreck your car, but many many times it has done it to me if I simply drive off the road a little bit. I don’t mean I went the complete opposite direction or anything like that. I mean I would be taking a turn, would go up a little onto the grass, and then all of a sudden I’m being taken 1.4 miles back to the last checkpoint. It’s maddening and makes the game feel plodding and glacially paced.

I’m always hesitant to call out a racing game for rubber band AI as I’m always concerned it’s less the game’s problem and more an issue of my own skill level. Here though, I feel pretty justified in calling it out. So many times I would have a good lead on an opponent, only to suddenly watch them whiz by me and take the race because this almost always happens right at the home stretch. No lie, one race I had a 12 second lead on an opponent and only 9 seconds left on the clock before the race ended. They ended up winning. Now your infant son can tell you that math does not fucking add up but I saw it. I didn’t wipe out, was driving in a straight line, and was using nitrous the whole time. And yet, with a second on the clock, he managed to win. It took all my will power not to tear the game out of the system and eat it.

The actual Run mode only lasts a little over 2 hours, though with load times and retries you can add another hour on top of that. Once it’s done, there isn’t much reason to revisit it unless you want to tackle the Extreme difficulty mode and I would hope you don’t hate yourself enough to want to endure that. There are Challenge races where you can earn medals completing objectives within a certain time but I could only do this for so long before I lost interest in doing the same time trail scenarios over and over. There is also online multiplayer of course and while I never had any issues finding a populated match, all of them suffered some pretty intense lag once I got into them, with my opponents skipping all around the track. Naturally this did not make for the best time.

As is the standard these days, there is also a progressive leveling system in The Run. It is not restricted to just the multiplayer, as everything you do contributes to your XP. You unlock new cars, and also upgrades such as an increase in your nitrous. It does provide some extra incentive to keep going but I found by about level 13 it took so long to gain additional levels that I simply lost interest. Not to mention the cap is apparently level 30, so dedicated players will max out their level relatively quickly.

While the core racing mechanics for Need for Speed The Run aren’t all that bad, everything that surrounds them completely detracts from the experience. The Run mode itself is quite short and surprisingly dull, with only a few highlights here and there holding interest until the end since lord knows the story is completely disposable. Once that’s done you aren’t left with much. A one-day rental would likely be all you need to see damn near everything the game has to offer. It’s a huge step backwards from last year’s Hot Pursuit which is really too bad. We’ll see what next year’s entry brings to the table but after this title, it’s hard to muster up any excitement.

Mario Kart 7 - Nintendo 3DS

I think I need to start this piece off with a little bit of a rant. Mario Kart 7 seems to be getting a lot of hostility for two reasons. The first is that it’s essentially just more Mario Kart, which I mean, I can kind of get behind that. If you are not in the mood for more Mario Kart, this one won’t do a thing for you. I can understand that. The one that is bothering me a little more is that, now that Nintendo has shown their hand and “revealed” that this is indeed the seventh installment in the Mario Kart franchise, people seem to be dismissing it. As though if it were just called Mario Kart 3D it would be ok, but because of the ‘7’, well fuck it who cares. I really don’t get it. The first game came out in 1992! Seven entries in just under 20 years is pretty god damn sparse. Some have even called it “the Call of Duty” of kart racers. How does that make any sense?! Call of Duty has had more entries in less than half the time! It’s weird; I really can’t wrap my head around where this is all coming from.

Anyway so yea Mario Kart 7 is pretty good.

This is actually going to be a pretty easy review to write overall because who in the hell doesn’t already know what Mario Kart is?  The same core concept hasn’t really changed since the first iteration, albeit a few tweeks here and there. So instead of rehashing everything you already know, let’s get into what is actually new here.

The biggest gameplay tweek that Nintendo has been putting out there is the introduction of paragliders and undersea propellers so you can race both in the air and under the water. The under water driving does not make much of a difference. Aside from having the propeller on the back of your kart, the mechanics are still basically the same. The paraglider fares a lot better. When you get some good air off of a jump the paraglider comes out and you can glide yourself through the next portion of the track. The flight mechanics are very reminiscent of the hanglider in Pilotwings Resort so if you played that title you will feel right at home here. It feels great and is integrated seamlessly into the game play. It’s by no means a revolutionary feature, but it’s a very fun inclusion.

Of course for Mario Kart 7 we have a new batch of tracks to race on, 16 in total. As with any Mario Kart game they can’t all be winners and I personally feel that overall, this is one of the more rudimentary course collections the series has had to date. There are definitely a few highlights such as Music Park (probably my favourite), Piranha Plant Slide, Wario Shipyard and a well-done Rainbow Road. I also liked the Wii Sports Resort stuff but did they really need two tracks that take place on Wuhu Island?  I still haven’t sank the kind of hours into this one that I have in the previous titles so it’s almost certain that I’ll start to warm up to just about everything. For example, Baby Park in Double Dash was a track I was pretty meh on at first but quickly became a multiplayer favourite. So for now I will say that none stand out as weak tracks, but there are only a handful that I find myself racing over and over again.

This one also continues the recent-ish trend of including 16 tracks from previous Mario Kart titles as well. With so many to choose from of course not everyone will be happy with the selection here, but I was quite pleased. For me it’s usually about which SNES tracks make it (yes, still my favourite Mario Kart) and the fact they included the SNES Rainbow Road makes me so god damn happy you have no idea. Not only my favourite Rainbow Road, but one of my favourite Mario Kart tracks in general and probably containing my favourite piece of Mario Kart music, this one’s inclusion here is a fucking delight. I will admit I was quite happy with the selected Wii tracks as well, since both Coconut Mall and Mushroom Gorge were a couple of my favourites in that game. They’ve also done some work on the tracks to make use of the paraglider and propeller, which of course they had to do but it’s still neat. All in all it would be very easy to call out the tracks they didn’t include, but why bother when they put in so many damn good ones?

Kart customization is once again featured here and my memory may be hazy of the past titles but it seems like it is a little deeper here than in previous titles. Please don’t verbally eviscerate me if that’s not the case though, it’s been a long time! You choose your kart, your wheels, and your glider, each one having an effect on your statistics. I mean it’s not crazy deep or anything but for a kart racing title there are a lot of different options. You also unlock new customization options for every 50 coins you collect while racing.

You start out with eight selectable characters but by the time you wrap up the 150cc cups you will have a grand total of 17. I won’t spoil any of the unlockable characters since much of the fun is seeing who you get as you go along, but I will say that for the most part, I was kind of unimpressed. I realize that may taint the fun I told you that you would have unlocking them, but perhaps you’ll feel differently. Again, it’s very easy to fall back on complaining about the characters they should have included, but I think in this case it’s just a tiny bit more justified. There are at least two characters I can think of that after unlocking them, I couldn’t help but just wonder “what why?!” I can’t imagine too many people were clamoring for some of these guys but I tend to stick with Yoshi anyway so I can look past it.

There are only a couple of new power-ups and only one is really worth discussing. The first and much more common one is the Tanooki tail which is none too impressive. You can swing it around and hit people but only if they are in very close proximity and other than that, it will prevent an item from hitting you from behind, which you can already do with damn near every other item. I can’t think of a single time where this item popped in and I thought “oh thank god! Just what I needed!” Usually I use it immediately to make room for something useful. The other new item is the elusive “7” item which I believe I’ve only received twice up until this point. This one fares better, taking every single item and putting them in a circle around you. It takes some strategy to use them effectively but it’s a welcome addition.

That about covers it for new content and as you can see it, it’s hit and miss. If those additions sound like enough for you, or if you’re just ready for a new Mario Kart, then you’ll be happy to know that the core experience is relatively the same. Naturally this also means that along with the fun, comes the brain crippling frustration.

I don’t think it’s any real secret that Mario Kart relies just as much on luck as skill, if not a little more. As crucial as it is to effectively use your items and the drifting mechanic, you often have to cross your fingers and hope to god that nothing happens to screw you over. Few things are as frustrating as finishing 1st in the first three races of a 150cc cup, then being nailed by a blue shell on the last lap of the final race, finishing in 8th and losing your gold cup status. This has now happened to be on at least three separate occasions. Oh and how about being in last place and desperately needing a quality item, only to receive a single green shell? Or my personal favourite – getting hit by a blue shell, then before you can recover you are hit by a green shell, then by an opponent using a Mushroom speed burst, then a red shell, and then a bullet. This happened in my last session before sitting down to write this review. This is all of course a Mario Kart staple so we’re all used to it but get ready to deal with more than a few urges to break the 3DS in half and then set it on fire.

In addition to a fairly robust single player mode (going for three stars in all of the CC cups will definitely take me some time) you have what I would call the real draw here – the online. I loved Mario Kart Wii’s online and what worked there is on full display here. Friend codes? Fuck off, nope. All you have to do is connect, hit Race, and within a few seconds you’re in a match. To date I have had no lag issues with any of the races I’ve done, it all runs incredibly smooth. You can also race with friends/recent opponents and there’s also the ability to start or join a community where you can set the individual rules (no blue shells)! I can get lost for a real long time in some online battle mode and I know I put dozens of hours into Mario Kart Wii’s online, so this is a title that has some legs.

For a review that opened with “there’s really not much to say” that was real fucking long. I can sum this up easily though – do you like Mario Kart? Awesome, buy Mario Kart 7. There’s just enough new stuff here to keep it interesting but the simple truth is that the core game is still really really fun. There’s lots of single player content and incredibly addicting online play, making for a very robust package. Plus I mean – what else are you going to play on your 3DS? Jaws? Well fuck you because that’s what I’m playing so watch your tone! 

Super Mario 3D Land - Nintendo 3DS

There has been a lot of negativity towards the 3DS this year. When it first came out a lot of people weren’t impressed with the games that were available. I disagreed since Pilotwings Resort and Street Fighter kept me busy and I also quite enjoyed other titles like Steel Diver and Ridge Racer. However it was hard to stay excited in the coming months as it is just a fact that not much was coming out for weeks and months at a time. I bought Ocarina of Time 3D more out of a feeling of necessity than any actual desire to own the game. I just wanted to buy something for it. The virtual console has had a pretty good kick-off but as far as proper 3DS games, it’s hard to deny there was not a whole lot going on. I’m also choosing not to go into the whole price drop insanity.

Super Mario 3D Land (for the record, I too think the 3D should be at the end of the title) is the game that’s supposed to kick things off for the 3DS. This is where many of us have been expecting for things to start to really pick-up and the handheld really begins to live up to its potential. And what a great jumping off point it is.

Super Mario 3D Land could be the most clear cut example of a Mario game giving you the most bare bones narrative possible. The game opens up, Mario is walking through a field, he finds a letter that has a picture of Bowser kidnapping Princess Peach, and away we go. The whole scene lasts maybe 20 seconds and then you’re off and running. Its even quicker here than it was in Super Mario Galaxy 2. Of course I’m completely ok with this, in fact I would be in favour of shortening it even further. The next game should open with Mario answering the phone and on the other end Bowser just says “Yup” and then we’re off. You don’t even have to give us that, just drop us at the very beginning of stage 1 right from the start and we’ll be good. Anyway, I will never criticize the lack of story in a Mario platformer and it has now taken you longer to read this than it would to watch this game’s story unfold, so let’s move on.

Super Mario 3D Land is an interesting mix of 2D style platforming taking place in a 3D environment. You are free to run around your environment but you are still almost always traversing a linear path. Occasionally you’ll get a more open area with a couple of different paths, but it’s not the focus. You are also not always simply running from left to right. Sometimes you have an overhead view, the camera goes behind you every now and then, and the perspective is always being shifted around. It’s cool and makes great use of one of the highlights here – the 3D.

For the most part I’ve been quite happy with the 3D implementation on the 3DS. Once the initial “holy shit I can almost touch it” factor wears off, it remains at the very least a cool effect. Super Mario 3D Land is easily the best use of it so far, not simply relying on it as a visual gimmick but actually making smart use of it within the actual gameplay structure. Certain rooms and puzzles are actually easier to traverse when the 3D is on. It’s difficult to explain it in writing but play the game, you’ll see exactly what I mean very quickly. There are some impressive visual tricks going on with the 3D as well. When the camera is positioned above you, there is an immense sense of depth and often you will be leaping down to platforms that appear to be miles below you. There’s the usual effect of items popping out at you but it was the depth effect that impressed me the most.

There are elements from many past Mario games in play here but the one paid the most homage is easily Super Mario Bros. 3. The biggest example is the return of the Tanooki suit but there are others as well, such as Koopa Kids, Boom Boom, mushroom houses (oh god, so happy to hear that music) the bouncy music blocks and more. It strikes a fine balance between throwback and being it’s own separate beast. It is also similar to Mario 3 in that it is fun as all hell.

Seems odd that it took me this long to mention it but yes, Super Mario 3D Land is a whole lot of fun. The level design is top notch (though what else can you really expect from the guys what brought us Super Mario Galaxy) with nearly every level presenting a new and unique challenge or obstacle that will be the theme for that stage. The controls are airtight. Running, jumping, it all feels great and you would be hard pressed to blame any deaths on poor control and not user error. Plus I mean, it’s a Mario game. If you have ever at any point in your life enjoyed a Mario platformer, there is absolutely no reason you will not enjoy this one as well. It’s a generalization I try to avoid making but it’s kind of undeniable in this case.

One thing to note is that, like me, you may think this game starts out crazy easy. I was burning through the levels and had reached World 8 within maybe a couple of hours. I was ready to storm the Internet and join the ranks of others complaining about the short length of the game and it’s painfully low difficulty. But once you beat World 8, you unlock 8 additional worlds and these ones will terrorize you. The first few aren’t bad but by World 6 or 7, your stock of 150 lives will be dented by the dozens with each passing stage.

My one gripe with these stages is that often the challenge relies on something like a short time limit that can only be increased by collecting clocks. My gripe isn’t so much with this concept as a whole but with one of the ways they use it – that son of a bitch Shadow Mario. Holy shit do I ever wish this game concluded with repeatedly pressing the A button to stomp on this guy’s throat over and over again. By the end it felt like every stage began with that fucker showing up. In case you aren’t familiar, this asshole’s whole shtick is that he relentlessly chases you throughout the whole level and hurts you if he touches you. So you’re dealing with a level that would be tricky on its own, but on top of that you’re trying to collect clocks to increase your time limit AND this jackass is chasing you everywhere. Oh and often he’s twice your size. Soooo many deaths by this cocksucker’s hands that all I want to do is brutally slaughter him. Not too much to ask.

Fucking goddamn Shadow Mario aside, it’s hard to find any real faults with this one. I mean yes I wish the World Map wasn’t just a straight line. They should have also taken the non-linear maps from Mario 3 as well but I mean I can deal. And yes the propeller suit is kind of weak and seems to only exist to serve the 3D, but again, I can deal and it doesn’t detract from the game at all. Really, I think that’s all I got. Super Mario 3D Land is a fantastic game and easily the best reason to own a 3DS. Maybe not quite worth buying the system for, but it’s a terrific first step into what I sincerely hope will be a glorious age for the 3DS.

Michael Phelps Push the Limit - Xbox 360

Michael Phelps Push the Limit came out the very same day as Hulk Hogan’s Main Event. I’m not sure if this was the turning point for the Kinect but I wouldn’t be surprised if pretty soon you could look to this day as the point where things started to go very very wrong for the Kinect. Since that day I have seen all kinds of games I had no idea existed. There’s apparently a Spongebob themed surfing game, a Nickelodeon dancing game, the Black Eyed Peas have evidently justified their own  game, and even Twister now has its own Kinect game. In one of the most baffling decisions I’ve maybe ever seen, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire is a Kinect only title, something I can’t even begin to comprehend. The Kinect is in danger more than ever of replacing the Wii in terms of copious amounts of shovelware.

Michael Phelps Push the Limit is easily one of the stranger video game concepts I’ve seen in a while and I’m sure you have already formed a pretty accurate mental idea of both the content and the quality of the title. I’m hear to tell you that it may in fact, not be quite as bad as you might think.

Push the Limit is indeed a game where you stand in your living room and pretend that you are swimming. It’s a concept that you shouldn’t be terribly surprised to hear is being done on the Kinect, but it’s a little bit of a shock that it’s a full fledged game and not just a mini-game inside of a larger collection. As a result, you would expect this title to be packed with content. This is not at all the case here.

When you get to the main menu you will have three choices: Career, Quickplay and Multiplayer. If you’re like me then you’ll get someone to do one match of Multiplayer before they are done and Quickplay is just what you will see in the Career so really Career is the only way to go here. There is no story to be had, which is a bit disappointing. At least Main Event attempted to tell a story, as terrible as it wound up being. Here there is nothing. You create your swimmer using a decent sized but uninteresting selection of items and then you begin the first season of your swim career.

Each match consists of a few steps. It opens with a long intro with an over the top narrator that you are supposed to be able to bypass simply by saying “skip” but I could only get it to work 1/20 times I tried. Seriously I tried changing the pitch, tone and speed of my voice but it only seemed to skip when it felt like it. Once you are in control you have to hype up the crowd, which just means waving your arms in the air for about 8 seconds. It’s very tedious and I don’t think a single crowd ever got hyped from my efforts. Also the insert of the crowd never shows more than maybe 10 people, which is either a sad commentary on the world of competitive swimming, or the developers’ unwillingness to create more character models. Both of these seem equally likely.

Then it’s time to perform the dive, where you crouch down and when the gun sounds, you stand up as fast as you can and hold your arms out in front of you to do the actual dive. The angle of your arms determines the success of your dive. Once you’re actually in the water, it’s time to swim! There are a handful of different strokes in the game and to its credit, the Kinect does a good job of differentiating between them all. For the swimming portions the proceedings turn into a sort of rhythm game where you have to time your motions with a meter and once you get into this rhythm it actually feels pretty good. Turning is a matter of pushing your hand forward when a meter is full and the final lap of each race has you PUSH THE LIMIT where you just swim as fast as you can until you are told to reach out and grab the edge of the pool.

The strangest feature I feel is what happens for any race that is longer than 100M. For the middle portions of the race, you no longer have to simulate the act of swimming. Instead, you hold out your hands and move your cursor over circles with lightning bolts in them while avoiding circles with X’s in them. I guess this was to add some variety, or to keep people from passing out from fake swimming fatigue, but it’s still an odd addition that is not particularly fun. So while the actual act of swimming is pretty well executed and can be fun, it is surrounded by activities that feel more like a chore.

The main problem with the game is that even though the swimming itself is fun, once you’ve done a couple of races you will have experienced it about as much as you need to. Each race after that becomes more and more tedious until you are more then ready for things to be over. The plus side there is that you won’t have to wait long as Push the Limit’s career is over very, very quickly. There are only three seasons in total, with annual games between each one that are completely optional. Each season takes no more than an hour, although I have read about people having to restart their career because their character wasn’t upgraded correctly (yes there are five different categories that you can allot points to after each race) by season three and they found things too difficult. This didn’t happen to me and the best advice I can give is to just dump points into Speed and Stamina. I only started upgrading in the other categories near the end of season 2 and I made it through the whole career with minimal effort.

As with NCIS, if you love achievement points then this is your game. If you make it through the career, you will end up with 1000 points. Even if you want to play for 20 minutes, you’ll end up with 400 or more easily.

Michael Phelps Push the Limit is not the trainwreck I expected. The swimming mechanics work pretty well and for the first couple of races it’s a good time. But tedium sets in all too fast and after no more than an hour, the whole thing feels like a chore. Rent it if you really want the achievement points but I wouldn’t seek it out as a purchase by any means.

Goldeneye Reloaded - Xbox 360

Goldeneye Reloaded is kind of a strange product. It’s basically a remake of a reboot, taking last year’s Wii game and updating it with higher resolution graphics and a few additions here and there. I never reviewed it proper but I quite enjoyed the Wii version. It captured the spirit and fun of the Nintendo 64 title (which yes, I played to death back in the day. I wouldn’t even want to know the hours I sank into that one) while remaining it’s own entity at the same time. It was nothing outstanding, but it was a good deal of fun. I never had a chance to get too deep into that game so I figured the Xbox 360 release would be the perfect chance to take an even better look at it.

How does it stack up against the Wii version, and especially against the original N64 version? I haven’t done a tease like this in a while now, I did not really miss them. In either case, click forward to read on.

If you played through Goldeneye on the Wii then you know exactly what you are in for here. The game itself is relatively untouched. It has the same levels and the same basic structure overall. I can’t even say “but now you can play it with a controller” since I personally, as well as many others I’m sure, played through the Wii game using a Classic Controller Pro. I’ll say right out of the gate that if you own the Wii game and have played a good amount of it, or if you played it and didn’t care for it, then I see no real reason for you to invest in this update. This one seems exclusively for those who do not own a Wii, or for people like myself who didn’t play a whole lot of it. So with that out of the way, let’s talk about whether it’s worth it if you fall into this latter group.

Of course if you are a Goldeneye purist then you will be mad right from the beginning as while the title and overall plot have remained in tact, virtually all of the other details have changed. Daniel Craig is of course representing Bond here instead of Mr. Brosnan. All of the characters have been changed, visually at least. They have the same names all around. The story beats are the same for the most part but there are details changed here and there. Overall none of this really bothered me as, to be honest, the plot and characters were by no means the reasons that I loved Goldeneye so much back in the day. They helped sure, but they weren’t a game changer in any way. If you can’t imagine Goldeneye without Brosnan or the original forms of the characters, then once again this one is not for you. Now that we have narrowed down the target demographic even further, let’s continue.

The campaign largely contains the same levels that you know, with a few additions here and there. The Dam, the Facility, the Outpost, they’re all here. They are just laid out differently than you remember. Sure some elements remain in tact, such as jumping down into the bathroom stall at the beginning of Facility, but for the most part what you will see here is largely different from what you may remember. The levels themselves are quite well done. Each level has its own objectives and there are more of them per stage depending on the level of difficulty you have selected (there are four total, including 007 Classic which gets rid of regenerating health and forces you to seek out health packs, which is a fun throwback). The objectives themselves are usually not terribly complicated but they do require you to go off the beaten path to hunt them down. The objective system has always been fun and provides some good incentive to replay levels. There are also Janus Emblems hidden away in each level that you can locate and shoot but they are often so tucked away that I didn’t enjoy the hunt for them. This did not provide good incentive to replay levels.

For lack of a better word, Goldeneye is a relatively simple shooter. Straight-forward if you will. Yes some of the objectives do require you to do some exploring but for the most part you will be walking a straight path and gunning down everyone and everything in your sight. The shooting itself is feels pretty good. You pull the left trigger to snap to a target so it can be very easy to take down a room full of enemies with a series of rapid headshots. It’s simple and satisfying. The problem is that the enemies tend to make it a little too simple for the most part. The AI in Goldeneye is none too impressive. Guys will often just cluster together, making it very easy to gun them all down with little effort. You can sneak up on two bad guys and perform a stealth kill on one without the other one even noticing. If you enter a room full of bad guys there’s no need to worry. Just walk right back out the door and wait them for them to walk through it in single file, taking each one down one at a time. It starts to feel like a shooting gallery eventually. I would recommend starting on the higher difficulty first as Normal is a complete breeze.

Goldeneye’s campaign also lacks variety. Say what you will about Call of Duty but throughout one of its campaigns you will do a wide variety of activities in addition to just walking around on the ground and shooting people. Goldeneye is 95% this. Occasionally you ride shotgun in a vehicle and shoot people, and there are some quick time events, but each level mostly consists of walking and shooting, nothing more. The campaign is of decent length, probably taking about 7 hours for me on Normal, but as I mentioned above there are reasons to go back and play through it. I did enjoy the campaign but a little more variety and some smarter opponents would have benefited it greatly.

Thankfully the campaign is only part of the package. New to this version of Goldeneye is MI6, which is essentially Modern Warfare’s Spec Ops mode. You select a mission and are rated based on your performance. It’s a fun addition but still contains some of the same problems, such as the weak AI. The shooting gallery analogy holds even more true for this mode.

The biggest draw for most people I’m sure though is the multiplayer. There is both online and good old classic Split Screen. All the modes you remember are here, including Golden Gun and License to Kill, athough the latter doesn’t unlock until you achieve rank 20. My biggest issue is that Classic Conflict, where you can select from a variety of Bond villains, is locked until you hit rank 35! This would already be quite a task but to make matters worse, at least as of this writing the servers are just shit. It takes forever to get into a game as most attempts result in a barrage of error messages. This game would have had trouble stacking up to Modern Warfare 3 even with functioning online so the fact it’s not working this long after the game’s launch is inexcusable. It seems fun when I do manage to connect at least, and I’ve had no issues with lag. If you have human friends then split-screen is still a blast and should probably be your mode of choice regardless.

Goldeneye Reloaded is overall a solid package. The campaign is fun if not a little mindless and MI6 mode is a good addition. The multiplayer should be what nets the game a recommendation from me but it’s not fucking working and even when it is, I can’t imagine the community will be thriving at this point. This makes Goldeneye a hard recommendation. Based on everything I’ve said, I would say get this game if you haven’t played the Wii version, are cool with changes from the original game, and don’t care too much about online multiplayer. Otherwise you can likely stick with the classic version and rest comfortably knowing that you aren’t missing too much.

NCIS - Xbox 360

I should put out there straight from the very beginning that I have not seen a single episode of NCIS from start to finish. Oh I’ve seen bits and pieces here and there that would maybe add up to a full show, but that is the extent of my NCIS experience. So why then did I spend money on the Xbox game based on the show? An even better question is why did I not just spend rental money on it, but full on retail money for it. The answer is simple – I needed my annual CSI fix.

I’ve never hid the fact that the CSI games, released almost annually, are a bizarre source of joy for me. I can never really explain why. They’re easy, short, and aside from different storylines each game is practically identical. Yet for some reason I find myself looking forward to each one, year after year. This year Ubisoft denied me my CSI. Instead they announced there would be an NCIS game. Not being familiar with the show I was disappointed but in a moment of weakness, I picked it up alongside another game when I was at the store (for the record that game was Uncharted 3, which in my opinion is the better game between these two). I figured this must be just as good.

No, no it is not just as good.

You may have to forgive my ignorance pretty frequently here as some of the things I rag on may in fact be loyal to the show, which is all well and good but it does not translate into a fun game.

There are four different episodes in the game, each one focusing on a different case but as expected everything starts to tie together in the final episode. The stories themselves are mildly interesting at best. Granted the CSI games are never overly engaging as they tend to introduce maybe three suspects total so there is never much of a guessing game over who the culprit is. But here everything feels a lot more flat. I was never that interested in finding out how things were going to be resolved. It all follows the same basic plot structure. “Hey remember that guy you talked to way back at the start of the case who seemed completely innocent? Nope! Fucker was up to something!” You get some plot twists but nothing too mind-boggling. The stories for each episode serve as a means to get from point A to B to C but they are not particularly engaging.

Of course the characters you are siding with don’t make things better. Again maybe it’s all accurate to the show but I can’t accept a successful, long-running show would contain dialogue this terrible and characters this bland. All of the attempts at humour are painfully bad, along with any and all attempts to have the characters banter with one another. Each episode contains subplots like who gave Ziva these flowers and how does Gibbs drink so much god damn coffee?! The proper answer to both of these questions is of course oh wow who gives a shit? The characters are bizarre as well, particularly Gibbs. The game at least portrays the guy as kind of crazy. He just spends his time sneaking up on people to ask them about their progress and then usually yelling “deduction board!” Kudos to him though, he always knows the exact second you finish running a test so he can ask you how it went. He must just wait outside the door and watch until its time. Then everyone has to explain everything to him in ridiculous detail and spell it all out in a way that even Kindergartners would find unnecessary.

It especially doesn’t help that the voice acting is across the board quite terrible. I understand that practically nobody from the show lent his or her voice to this game, and it definitely shows. Every line of dialogue is flat and often laughable. You can see the subtitles and you assume that perhaps the last part will have an inflection or a shift in tone but nope, not at all. Clearly nobody was interested in bringing their A game to this project.

As for the game play, well there ain’t much of it. In the first episode you are quickly introduced to the handful of tasks you will be asked to do, then for the following episodes you will be asked to do them again and again and again. An episode typically starts off with a crime scene that needs to be investigated. This involves moving a cursor around (yes this is a point and click title) and clicking on specific objects. Then once you’ve selected it you take a picture of it. It’s not like CSI where you need to select the appropriate tool (which I realize isn’t much of a game play improvement but come on at least it’s something), you will always just take a picture of it which involves nothing more than positioning a reticule and pressing A at the right time. You will do this more times than you can count. Every now and then you will need to interact with the environment which involves holding the A button and moving the left thumbstick in the direction you’re told. These are the only two things you will be doing at the crime scene. I have to believe they could have come up with something, ANYTHING, to add some variety but nope. Eight crime scenes in total, each containing the same exact two activities over and over.

The other part of the game is to process the evidence you uncover at these crime scenes. There are more mini-games to be had here but the variety is still lacking. Most of them are matching two images, and it is never once close to being challenging. I have a shoeprint with squares on the bottom and my options for matching are shoes with circles, shoes with triangles, or shoes with squares. God damn it what do I do?! That’s the kind of wall you’ll be up against. No lie, 99% of evidence processing is picking what shit matches other shit. It actually reminds of one of those old NES Fisher Price games, and I’m not sure why NCIS would ever want me to think about those games again.

Other games include holding a cursor over a dot until a meter fills up (actually almost this exact idea was used in Arkham City, a game I never ever thought I would be comparing this one to), memorizing a pattern to replicate, and clicking on buttons that you are told to click on. They’re all boring and they all show up far too often.

The one element that initially shows some promise is the aforementioned deduction board. This is where you start to piece together the evidence and explain why certain things are connected. I say initially because it takes only the first question before you realize this will be just as much of a cakewalk as the rest of the experience. Let’s say that the two pieces of evidence you’re connecting are the gun that was used to kill the victim, and the fingerprints of someone named Michael that you pulled off of said gun. When it comes time to explain why these things are related to one another, you will receive choices like the following:

  • This gun is actually a knife
  • A dinosaur was here
  • Michael shot the victim with this gun
  • Fingerprints are pretty

Needless to say you will never have to guess what the correct solution is. Even if you did, and this holds true for all of the aforementioned mini-games, you are given multiple chances to get it wrong and if you happen to run out of chances, you are simply set back 20 seconds and have to do the game again. You are not penalized in any form whatsoever. There are no stakes here. At least the later CSI games started to rate your performance but here there is none of that. You can bomb literally every aspect of the investigation and things will play out exactly the same. The one advantage here is holy shit will you ever net yourself some achievements. Everything is based on story progression so if you’re even slightly committed (I say slightly because this game is barely 4 hours long) you will get yourself a cool 1000/1000 with no effort. It’s not Avatar The Burning Earth easy, but it’s right up there amongst the most unearned achievements I have ever received.

This is a hard recommendation for just about anyone, even if you consider yourself the single largest NCIS fan that has ever lived. If you are an achievement chaser then I would at least throw it in your rental queue but don’t under any circumstances pay money for it. This game will likely be 5 dollars in about 3 months so if you absolutely need it then just hold off. I for one will trading it in for Skyrim the very moment I post this, which means that as you read this I am no doubt enjoying Skyrim. Freaky.

Sonic Generations - Xbox 360

I’m going to put aside any sort of “oh man Sonic is finally good again” type opening paragraph because I realized right before sitting down to write that I’m pretty sure I enjoyed every single Sonic title that was released last year. Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing was one of the better kart racing titles I’ve ever played, outside of Mario Kart of course. Sonic 4 caught a lot of shit that I didn’t think it deserved, and I highly enjoyed Sonic Colors on both the Wii and DS. So as far as I’m concerned, going into Sonic Generations, Sonic was already pretty good.

The best part is that now he is even better. I can easily provide Sonic Generations with the title of being the best Sonic game since…..jesus…..Sonic & Knuckles maybe? In a really long time, let’s put it that way.

Of course the big hook is that both new, badass gangly Sonic and the pudgy adorable Sonic from the past team-up. If it sounds like fan service, then you are absolutely correct. This game is absolutely dripping with fan service, but it never comes off as a giant marketing ploy. It really does feel like a tribute to Sonic and it works as a huge celebration of the character, which is fitting since this year marks his 20th anniversary. If you have even the slightest bit of affinity for Sonic, even if it has been a while since you have been genuinely interested in him, then you are going to find a lot to enjoy here.

Each of the stages is divided into two acts, with Classic Sonic taking on Act 1, and Act 2 focusing on Gangles Sonic. Both feature a different style of game play. Classic Sonic takes on the levels in their 2D form (perhaps 2.5D would be more accurate actually) while Gangles switches between side scrolling and a behind the back view. If you played last year’s Sonic Colors then you will know exactly what to expect. Both work well and it’s always interesting to see how elements from Act 1 are translated to work in Act 2. I honestly don’t even have a preference between the two types of play – both work great and are unique enough that at no point do the stages feel repetitive.

The stages themselves are all updated versions of ones from previous Sonic titles. Most games are represented here, although each game only receives one stage so chances are damn good that you will feel an important one was missed. I personally can’t believe they didn’t update the Casino stage from Sonic 2, but DLC could very easily be on the way. The stage design here is great, with each level capturing the spirit and feel of the original level, while at the same time giving it a complete overhaul. Levels now all feature multiple paths that will definitely make you want to try a stage again to see where a different route may take you. Every time I would miss a jump that would take me somewhere completely different then where I ended up, I immediately made a mental note to come back and try that again. I found the stages in Sonic Generations consistently struck a great balance between actual platforming, and just running really fast in a straight line. Some of the later stages do tend to feel a little more frustrating (I’m thinking of Planet Wisp in particular) but there was never any moment where I was completely stuck.

One of the primary issues I read regarding Sonic 4 (also where in the hell is Episode 2 of that anyway) is that the controls didn’t feel right and that everything felt floaty and just overall off. At the time I didn’t really see it but having played a little Sonic 4 after playing Sonic Generations, I now see what people are talking about. Rest assured this one feels a lot better. Running, jumping and pulling off special moves feels completely natural and very true to the original Sonic games. I realize that opinions on this will vary from person to person but I have to say, I feel they nailed it this time around.

I mentioned that the stages themselves are all updated from courses that you’ve seen in previous titles however don’t for a second think this is where the intense nostalgia trip stops. It’s everywhere here. The music will be instantly familiar as each track is paired with an updated recording of its original music piece. I almost forgot just how much great music this series has had since I tend to remember the songs with lyrics, and not for any positive reasons. But once you get past the JPop songs with motivational lyrics, there is a rich history of classic music to choose from and just about all of it is present here. It’s a great soundtrack all around and I won’t lie, I replayed a few stages purely to hear the music again.

On top of all this, the story itself contains numerous in jokes and references, most of which actually work. The story is by no means ever the strong point in a Sonic game, but here the cut scenes are actually worthwhile and enjoyable. There are lots of cute references to the games and characters (my particular favourite is Tails admitting that Green Hill Zone doesn’t look familiar), many of which come near the end so I won’t spoil them here. I will say that Sonic Generations does take a few self-deprecating jab at the Sonic universe, something I’m sure many will appreciate.

The game itself is pretty short and you can likely see the credits within four or five hours. There is thankfully plenty to do however once you have played through each stage. There are five red coins to collect in each Act of each world, as well as ‘S’ rankings to earn in each level. There are skills you can buy and equip, and likely the biggest time sink are the challenges. I can’t say exactly how many of these there are in total but rest assured there are a lot. The tasks for each one vary. Some have you trying to beat a rival to the finish line, others will throw a ton of enemies at you, and one has you trying to keep the signpost from the end of the stage from hitting the ground while you navigate the level with it. There’s a bunch more but I won’t list them all. In addition to simply completing the challenges, each one gives you a ranking as well. If you are a completionist, or hell even if you just enjoy the game as much as I did, you are guaranteed to sink a good chunk of hours into Sonic Generations.

I have to imagine that Sonic Generations is every Sonic fan’s dream. A nod to all of the classic titles (ok I use the word ‘classic’ but I should point out that 2006’s Sonic the Hedgehog is indeed featured so take the use of that word with a slight grain of salt) that is at the same time a great game on its own, this is one that both the loyal fans, as well as the ones who had perhaps lost their faith, should absolutely play. This is going to be a tough one for Sonic Team to top so especially enjoy it because this could be as good as it ever gets!

Hulk Hogan's Main Event - Xbox 360

As we approach the one-year anniversary of the Kinect’s release, I find that I have become something of a Kinect apologist. Any time anyone bashes it or says it’s a piece of shit, I tend to leap to its defense and say that it’s actually a solid item. And I mean it. Over the past year I have had a lot of good times with that thing. Ok more accurately about a year ago at this time and then in the past couple of weeks I’ve had a lot of good times with it. There was a good long while there where just nothing was happening with that thing.

Lately things have been picking up however since in recent weeks we’ve seen Rise of Nightmares, The Gunstringer, Dance Central 2 and Kinect Sports Season 2. But we’re not here to talk about those ones right now. No we’re going to talk about one whose sheer existence may make you do a double take.

That’s right brother, it’s time for Hulk Hogan’s Main Event!

Hulk Hogan continues his quest to pay the bills with the release of this wrestling themed mini-game collection for the Kinect. I know simply reading the title alone will ensure that you go into this game with zero expectations, and that’s a good thing because none is exactly the right amount of expectation to have here. I do think there is some merit to the idea of a mini-game collection based on the various elements of wrestling, but this is not the title that should represent that concept.

Once you have fired the game up and created your wrestler (which in my case meant immediately selecting a random character generator, saving him, collecting my achievement and moving on) you are ready to begin. There are a few options such as Career mode, Quick Play and Exhibition but so many things are locked right from the get-go that you almost have no choice but to select the Career Mode. This mode tells the tale of your created wrestler and his rise through the ranks of a made up wrestling league. It is the most base level story possible and shows no effort in any form. I mean I know I shouldn’t be looking for Hulk Hogan’s Main Event to weave any sort of majestic tale, but this is really the most unengaging plot they could have ever conceived. You’re making a god damn Hulk Hogan Kinect game, why not shoot for the fences and do something completely insane?! Alas, you might as well skip every single story sequence that pops up because it’s absolutely not worth even the little amount of time it would take up.

Each match is separated out into a series of mini-games that take you from your wrestler’s entrance until the final pin. There are games for hitting your opponent with a chair and with a ladder, one focusing on grappling, a primary one on one game that has you trading blows with your opponent, and so on. When your career first begins you’ll only be doing three sequences per match – the entrance, trading blows, and the pin. By the end, each match contains just about all of the mini-games that there are. Everything feels a little like a slog in the beginning so just imagine what it is like by the end.

I can say that for the most part, the Kinect functionality in Hulk Hogan’s Main Event does seem to work and the device captures your movements accurately a lot of the time. The problem with this is that the game really isn’t asking you to do that much at any point. You see for any main game, no matter the primary goal, a little Hulk Hogan appears in the bottom right corner and tells you exactly what you need to do. Many games consist of standing still until Hogan tells you to duck or raise your arms up in the air. Only a handful of games at best require you to be in a state of constant motion. This naturally leads to a very boring experience overall.

Let me start by highlighting what I feel is the biggest offender – the wrestler entrance. At first you just stand there and watch your wrestler walk towards the ring, until you are asked to strike a pose for the crowd. Then you continue to watch until you are asked to do this again. Rinse and repeat. For the first few matches it only happens a few times but eventually they introduce a new mechanic where you have to dodge items being thrown from the crowd. Hogan again tells you exactly what to do to dodge them so there is no challenge to be had. Eventually an entrance consists of about 7 minutes of posing and dodging items. It goes on for fucking ever and is not even the slightest bit engaging at any point. If you have been waiting for a game where you stand there and do nothing until a cartoon wrestler tells you to make a very slight movement, then your time has finally come.

There are a lot of games featured here that fall victim to the same idea of performing the same monotonous task for far too long. The ladder mini game has you standing there until you need to block, after which you can smash your opponent in the face with the ladder, which I do have to admit is pretty satisfying at first. There’s another game where you have thrown your opponent into the ropes and need to attack him as he bounces back. Needless to say, you stand there until Hogan tells you exactly what to do (i.e. Stretch out your arm or foot), you perform that move, and then you do it a dozen more times before the mini game finally decides to end. I won’t go through each game one at a time but I think I’ve made my point. Many of the games feature nothing but standing and performing a move every now and then.

The flipside are the games that require you to be doing movements continuously, such as dodging, punching and kicking. At first I had some fun with these as landing a successful punch is met with a very satisfying smacking sound that at first led me to believe that I may just be in for a decent time after all. It didn’t long for it to dawn on me that these types of mini-games would be bad in their own right. This is where the Kinect starts to venture towards being completely unresponsive. Many times I would throw a punch and my character would dodge, or most often just continue to stand there. Performing calculated punches didn’t work, and mindless flailing didn’t help either. So what is one to do? It’s frustrating and actually makes me long for the games where I just stand around as at least those games have far less room for error since I’m technically not doing anything.

For a game with Hulk Hogan in the actual title, the man himself does not have much of a presence here. He voices a few motivational quotes that are played throughout the match, but that’s it. He doesn’t do his voice overs in the story sequences, there’s no unlockable content featuring videos of him, nothing like that. The rest is just unintentionally funny quotes attributed to him during the load screens, and his goofy smile wearing cartoon avatar that you see in the actual matches.

While I can’t give Hulk Hogan’s Main Event credit for being my absolute worst Kinect experience (an honour that still rightfully belongs to Deca Sports Freedom), it’s likely in the bottom 5. When it works right it’s boring, and when it doesn’t it’s frustrating beyond belief. The whole thing is over quite quickly and if you like yourself some achievements then rest assured you’ll get plenty of those real quick. I had several hundred in the first half hour of play. Gamefly it if you need to but under no circumstances should you exchange money for this product.

Now take your vitamins!

Spider-Man Edge of Time - Xbox 360

I loved the Spider-Man 2 game. I remember renting it with very little expectation and then playing it to the point where I had done literally everything there was to do in that game. Even after playing it to completion and returning the rental copy, I toyed with the idea of going to a store and purchasing it. That’s how god damn good it was. Alas I didn’t end up purchasing it until actually just a couple of years ago, but it was just as good as I remembered it being. I now see that I already discussed my affinity for Spider-Man 2 in my review of Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions last year, but it’s too late, those words are already typed, there is nothing I can do about it now.

Since Spider-Man 2 I have yet to be as impressed with any of the subsequent Spider-Man games. Spider-Man 3was a solid title, as was Web of Shadows. But other titles such as Friend or Foe and Shattered Dimensions did not impress, particularly Friend or Foe. I found Shattered Dimensions scaled things down too much and when it was announced that the new Spider-Man title, Edge of Time, would contain only 2 Spider-Man variants as opposed toShattered Dimension’s 4, I became concerned I would have the exact same issue again.

Sure enough, I did indeed have this issue, only on a much larger scale this time around.

Spider-Man: Edge of Time’s central hook is that you alternate between modern day Spider-Man, and Spider-Man 2099. The two can communicate with each other through time and must work together to take on a bad guy who is actually voiced by a very unenthusiastic Val Kilmer. The idea is that one Spider-Man can affect the universe of the other one by the actions they are performing in their own time period. It’s a decent enough idea, but it is not implemented well.

Right from its introduction you can tell that the time manipulating aspects are almost more of a bullet point feature to list than an actual gameplay mechanic. The very first time you make use of this is when a giant robot is attacking Spider-Man 2099. As modern day Spider-Man your task is to destroy the facility that will eventually be responsible for creating this robot. Once you destroy it, the robot in the future does disappear but then turns into a bunch of smaller robots. So then I guess I didn’t actually destroy the facility after all? This is about the extent of time alteration you will see – very slight tweeks to events, but nothing earth shattering by any means. Most of the times when it happens are scripted anyway, so the core concept of being able to alter timelines is more of a narrative feature than a gameplay one.

Spider-Man Edge of Time is primarily a beat-em-up, a strange path for Spider-Man games to take but it is one these games have traveled before. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that the combat was never the best part of a Spider-Man. It’s always solid but it’s not something you would want to be the main focal point. This is another reason I was disappointed in Edge of Time. One of the last things I want to do in the role of Spider-Man is spend most of my time on the ground beating up hoards of identical looking enemies, but that is about all that you do throughout the entirety of Edge of Time.

The combat is decent, but a little on the button mashey side of things. You can hammer on the attack button mindlessly and you’ll get through I would say about 80% of the fights without much of a problem. That remaining 20% is really just the boss battles. There is an upgrade system where you can unlock additional moves, but I rarely found that I needed to use them to win. As with previous games you can shoot webbing and use your webs to zip up close to enemies and attack them and it all works well enough but doesn’t make the combat any more engaging. Again the strength of these games has never been their combat so why each subsequent Spider-Man title seems to focus on it more and more is simply beyond me.

Even more befuddling is why the sense of scale keeps getting smaller and smaller with each passing year. Edge of Time is the biggest offender by far as the entire game takes place within the same building. That’s right, from the very beginning until the very end you are confined to the exact same area. It would help if at least different sections of the building took on a different visual style, but they never do. It’s nothing but metallic corridors and the occasional open laboratory area. I’m sure you can guess that this means there is never much of a reason for Spider-Man to do any actual swinging.  I could probably count on one hand the number of times I actually did it, and I bet most of them were only because I could, not because I actually needed to. Why would you ever make a Spider-Man game that takes place entirely indoors?! Every new area is just as bland as the previous ones so there’s never anything to get excited about. It’s the same repetitive combat in the same repetitive areas from start to finish.

Speaking of repetitive, this game is guilty of this consistently, not just in the combat and visuals but in the tasks you’re performing. I lost count of the number of times I had to trick a guided missle into hitting and opening a locked door, but I do know that it damn sure wasn’t fun the first time so you can imagine how not fun it is once you’ve cracked double digits. On top of that, some individual sections go on and on and on. The one that immediately leaps to mind is the fight against Black Cat. First you follow her around a large room because she has a key that you need to progress forward. Once you catch up to her, you fight her. Then after her health bar is drained, you follow her around until you once again catch her and another fight ensues. Then you win and do the exact same shit a third time. It feels like nothing but padding in an already short game and it adds to the feeling of the entire experience being a mindless chore the whole way through.

There is one thing that kept me interested in the game and can be pointed to as the primary reason I saw this game through until the credits. Shockingly enough, it was the story. Usually the story is secondary in these games, nothing too memorable but serving as a decent narrative to drive everything forward. Here it was the one thing I was interested in and I was not expecting that. The plot takes a few unexpected twists and I was always curious to see how things would play out. I mean you know they can’t go too drastic with anything, but Edge of Time nevertheless tells an engaging tale.

I’m sure you won’t be surprised when I say I simply can’t recommend this game to anyone but the most diehard of diehard Spider-Man fans. Edge of Time is a Spider-Man game where all you do is run through restricted spaces and punch guys with no sense of freedom whatsoever. If you were to tell me that this game started out life as a non Spider-Man related title, I wouldn’t even bat an eye. It’s all over in about 5 hours and there are challenges and unlockables to keep you going but I was more than done with Edge of Time when the credits finished rolling. We already know the same team is working on next years Amazing Spider-Man so holy shit fingers crossed that this was just a quick cash grab before the main event next year.

Chip N' Dale Rescue Rangers - NES

Chip N’ Dale Rescue Rangers is a game I do remember renting as a kid, but I honestly couldn’t remember what I thought of it. I recently picked it up at a pawnshop for 5 dollars and fired it up just the other day to see how it holds up.

I never watched much of Rescue Rangers the cartoon back when it was on. I watched a whole hell of a lot of Duck Tales, but with Rescue Rangers I probably only saw 2 or 3 episodes in their entirety. I damn well know that theme song though and of course that’s the music that opens this game. It has been caught in my head ever since.

The game is a 1 or 2 player sidescrolling platform title. If you are just the 1 player, you get your pick of either Chip or Dale although aside from aesthetic differences, I don’t see any change in performance between the two characters. You run from left to right, then often back from right to left, through a series of linear levels (no branching paths to be found here). You attack by picking up boxes and other items scattered throughout the level and hucking them into enemies. Think Super Mario Bros. 2 style, or if you’re fan like I was, just think of M.C. Kids. In fact, go with the latter, because how often do you get to sit and think about M.C. Kids? It controls well and it feels great. Picking up and throwing the boxes is seamless and you would never be able to blame a fuck-up on poor controls. It’s simple gameplay, but implemented very well.

The graphics are damn impressive. Because Chip and Dale are well, chipmunks, all of the levels take place in environments that are gigantic in relation to their size. So when you’re running around inside, you will use ceiling fans as platforms, or telephone wires for the exterior levels. Each stage is visually unique and I don’t know what it is but I’ve always been a sucker for these games that take place in larger than life environments. Remember Harley’s Humungous Adventure for the Super Nintendo? Of course you don’t but I was willing to look past a lot of that game’s flaws purely because the core concept of running around in everyday environments in a shrunken form was inexplicably amazing to me as a child, and even somewhat now. Christ I keep getting distracted, ok moving on.

Something a little unique about the 2-player feature in Rescue Rangers is that both players get to play at the same time. There is no turn taking here. For an NES sidescroller, this was not too common and is always a welcome feature. My one recommendation is to make sure you play with someone who is a solid Rescue Rangers player, which I understand can be a hard quality to screen people for. My playing partner died 3 times in the first level and once that happened, they couldn’t come back and play until all my lives were lost. I’m not bragging, and this actually makes me sound like kind of a dick, but they then had to sit there and watch while I played through the remainder of the game, straight through until the very end. Granted it’s not a very long game, taking just under a half hour to finish up, but still. This is just something to keep in mind the next somebody asks if you’re up for a round of Rescue Rangers. Make sure to respond “fine but your fucking ass better be able to keep up because I don’t need that spectator shit!” It will be an appropriately awkward and terrifying way for you to kick off your playing session together.

It’s not hard to see how Rescue Rangers earned its reputation as an NES classic. It has impressive graphics, fun gameplay and solid tunes to back it up. Plus you have 2-player coop, kind of an NES rarity. Unlike its rare and elusive sequel, this game is actually pretty common and you should be able to grab yourself a copy for around five to ten dollars. I would definitely say it is worth the pick-up.

Shaq-Fu - Sega Genesis

Holy shit this thing really is terrible isn’t it? I mean wow. Sure I’d been hearing about how awful Shaq Fu is for a good 15 years now, but even that didn’t quite prepare me for this. I thought it would maybe at least be funny bad, and it is in some ways. But not in nearly enough ways. Mostly this is just terrible and I can now confirm that it has more than earned its status as one of the worst games ever made.

I remember both this game and the Michael Jordon game coming out around the same time. The Jordan game I actually own, and have owned since around the time it came out (what can I say, the price dropped real fuckin’ fast). That game is about as ridiculous as Shaq Fu but it seems to embrace its silliness a little more. In that one you play Michael Jordon and the goal is to save your fellow teammates from an evil scientist. You throw basketballs at zombies and other creatures, and some of these basketballs have special magic powers. Sounds pretty great right? Well it’s not really, but it’s not nearly as bad as many seem to think. It’s a decent enough side-scroller that I think catches a lot of shit simply because it happens to star a magic wielding Michael Jordon. But I mean the dude also played basketball against a bunch of fucking cartoons in space so you really shouldn’t be surprised by what the man is capable of.

Shaq Fu has some of that same craziness going on, but it just doesn’t work. Once you get past the insanity of the central concept, which is Shaq being sent to another dimension to rescue some kid (a task he comes to grips with eerily quickly), all you have left is a shitty fighting game. Granted your opponents provide a little extra touch of crazy since you fight cat people, mummies and monsters. From what I can see there is never any back-story given regarding any of these characters. They just throw them at you and you know well, time to fight a prince now I guess.

That’s one of my biggest gripes is that the core concept of this game simply isn’t taken far enough. These guys were given a game to make called Shaq Fu. It’s a 2D fighting game starring Shaquille O’Neal. How do you not just go balls out insane with that idea? It’s like they started to go that route with some of the other characters but then were roped in and told not to get too ridiculous. I almost guarantee that at some point over the course of the game’s production, there was a meeting centered on how they needed to reign things in and try and keep it realistic. It’s fucking Kazaam fighting wizards and mummies! You can’t make that serious if you are the single most talented writer on the planet. In that scenario you just have to embrace the sheer insanity of the situation, and alas this is something that they did not do enough of in the final product.

That’s one of my biggest gripes. My actual biggest gripe is that the game itself is a huge piece of garbage. It doesn’t look good, it doesn’t sound good and it especially doesn’t play good (or well, that didn’t go with the rhythm though). The controls are atrocious. Everything feels slow and delayed and the jumping mechanics can’t even be put into words. Thankfully I was able to progress through the story mode by just hammering on one button so the entire experience was over mercifully fast. In a nutshell, think of all the qualities you find important in a solid fighting title? This has none of them.

There is a Versus mode where you can fight another player but good luck. My wife played one round of one match and was completely done with the game forever. I imagine this will be a very common reaction.

Shaq Fu isn’t even an example of a game being so bad it’s good. Once you get that first laugh out of the game’s concept, the laughter quickly stops. As funny as it should be to watch Shaq duke it out with other worldly creatures, you are left so frustrated by the game’s terrible controls and awful fight mechanics that you can’t even bask in the crazy. This game has more than earned its reputation and I’m not even happy to have it in my collection, even as a novelty item.

The Gunslinger - Xbox 360

Yes one could make the argument that The Gunstringer was released over a month ago now and this review may not serve much purpose. One could also make the argument that you need to shut your goddamn mouth. The point is, I’m still going to type up this review of The Gunstringer.

This game, along with the also recently released Kinect title Rise of Nightmares, was being heralded as the long-awaited debut of games for the hardcore on Kinect. While I can’t say this is the hardcore title that people have been waiting for, I can safely say that The Gunstringer is definitely one of the top reasons to own a Kinect so far.

I’m a pretty intense fan of Twisted Pixel. They are one of a handful of developers who I support whole-heartedly and will play any game they have their name attached to. So far Twisted Pixel has not yet let me down. I even highly enjoyed Comic Jumper, which many people seem to consider their one mis-fire. The streak remains alive because hey, surprise surprise, I highly enjoyed Gunstringer as well.

In The Gunstringer you play the titular Gunstringer who is a dead cowboy marionette on a quest for vengeance against a large-breasted robot woman, a half-man / half-alligator monstrosity, a wavy arm inflatable tube man, and more. It’s the kind of premise where you hear about it, nod your head and decide that goddamn it yes; I have to play that game.

There’s a great story floating around about how the basic premise of this game was created on the spot when the team was just looking around a restaurant and including items they saw into the plot, Usual Suspects style. If this is the result of them pulling a Kinect game concept out of their ass, I can’t even imagine the quality of a product they spent time and effort developing.

The idea of controlling a gun-wielding marionette translates pretty effortlessly to the Kinect platform. Your left hand works as though you were operating the puppet itself, holding out your hand as though there was a string tied to each finger. This is used to move the puppet around the screen, as well as to jump by flicking your arm up in the air. The right hand controls your gun, as you move your crosshair around the screen to paint up to 6 targets, then flick your hand up to fire at these targets. It’s simple but both movement and shooting work well and feel quite natural after just a few seconds of play. I’ve talked to a couple of people who had issues with the actual firing mechanic but I have not once had an issue. I recommend actually making a gun with your hand, no lie that shit really works well. Really this is about the highest compliment I can pay this, or any Kinect game really – it really works.

Although painting and shooting targets comprises the majority of the game play, certain stages do switch things up a little. Some put more of an emphasis on the platforming elements, which I admit are not my favourite as the jumping mechanics are the least interesting part of the whole experience. Fairing better are the sections where you whip out a second gun and for a while you control a reticule with each of your hands. Here the game takes on an old-school feel as the enemies have Galaga-esque patterns that you need to figure out so that you know exactly where to place your reticule. It was a tad disorienting at first to all of a sudden have control over a second weapon, but once I got the hang of it these actually became some of my favourite sequences. There’s also some hand to hand combat scattered here, which involves punching the air wildly. Really though it’s the shooting mechanics where the fun primarily lies, and there is thankfully a whole bunch of that.

Of course this being a Twisted Pixel game, the presentation is a huge highlight. With the Gunstringer himself being a puppet, the entire game is actually a puppet show, complete with a live action audience. This audience takes full part in the proceedings, laughing, cheering and reacting to everything happening in front of them. On top of that, you have the crew of the show setting up obstacles as you see human hands reach into the set to roll boulders towards you or knock obstacles your way. It’s clear everyone is having a blast and it translates over to the player as well.

The Gunstringer is not a particularly long game, clocking in at around 4 or 5 hours. It’s also not a very difficult game as health and checkpoints are provided in generous amounts. With even a little commitment, you could get through this game over the course of a couple play sessions, unless you’re me and your arms feel like they are going to fall off after just a couple of stages. Thankfully there is some replay value here as there are tons and tons of unlockables to get from the store, as well as different medals to earn in each stage. From what I’ve seen of the unlockables, there are worth the effort to obtain.

I should also touch on the other things that are included in The Gunstringer package. Of course once upon a time this was meant to be an XBLA title and the announcement that it would instead be a full retail product was naturally meant with doubt. Although I do think the game itself would have been worth the asking price, we get some other content that only helps to sweeten the deal.

First up is a code for a free copy of Fruit Ninja Kinect, normally 800 Microsoft Points. I’ll admit I haven’t spent a whole lot of time with this one but it seems fun in short bursts. Good to have if you have a few free minutes and need to destroy some fruit. The concept works well with Kinect and although I don’t think I could get behind it for 800 points, as a free add-on to this package it’s a fun little diversion.

More impressive is the free DLC that is included. I don’t want to say too much about it if you don’t already know what it is, but as someone who has recently been spending a good chunk of time playing old Sega CD and 3DO games, I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised about what I got here. It’s short and can be finished in about 40 minutes, which is the perfect length. Trust me you wouldn’t want this going on for much longer after that.

Overall The Gunstringer is a great package that provides incentive to keep that Kinect hooked up. You get a fun central game and a couple of nice additions in the form of Fruit Ninja and DLC. Twisted Pixel’s track record remains in tact!

Dead Island - Xbox 360

Remember that Dead Island trailer earlier this year? That one that totally made you cry even though you put on a brave face and said that it absolutely didn’t and yet we all know the truth? That trailer (which for the record, I do share the opinion that it is one of the greatest video game trailers ever produced) grabbed attention for that game on a pretty magnificent level which both worked in its favour and against it. Although it gained notoriety for a game that, at least to the best of my knowledge, was not being discussed by many people, it now had some pretty crazy expectations to live up to. Just how much would the final product resemble the tone set in that trailer?

Having now played literally dozens of hour’s worth of Dead Island, I can say that it only matches in tone very slightly. Thankfully however, it turned out to be a pretty solid game regardless.

Everyone keeps trying to set-up Dead Island as “its _____ meets ____”, and I will now attempt to do the exact same thing. One I’ve seen a few times is Left 4 Dead mixed with Fallout, plus a dash of Borderlands and just a sprinkle of Dead Rising for good measure. It’s a lot of ingredients but it’s pretty accurate. You got an open world, quest system, loot (Borderlands and Fallout) and you got yourself plenty of zombies, 4-player coop and the ability to create weapons (Left 4 Dead and Dead Rising). Thankfully all of these elements come together well and prove that there may still be life (I actually didn’t notice this terrible pun until editing this review so I plead total ignorance on this) left in the zombie sub-genre, which at this point I think is its own full-fledged genre.  

At the start of the game you can choose between four characters that each have a surprisingly in-depth back-story. Each one has their own weapon specialty (guns, blunt objects, etc) but I can’t say for sure how different each character feels from one another as I chose to go with the blunt weapon specialist, aka Sam B the one hit wonder rap star. As this character I was still able to handle other weapons efficiently so my assumption is that the main difference between the characters is how the skill trees are laid out. Also his rap song? It has been caught in my head consistently since I first started playing the game.

I will admit that for the first two or three hours, Dead Island was not doing a whole lot to impress me. Although I was pleasantly surprised at just how great the resort environment looked, the game itself was leaving a lot to be desired. A lot of this was indeed my fault, as I didn’t yet have a grasp on the weapon system so I spent a lot of my time running around, trying to find a new weapon after breaking my current one. Some of it however was not at all my fault, such as the quest that could not be completed or the quest that flat out vanished from my quest log. Thankfully these latter issues seem to have been resolved with a patch that was mercifully released a short time after the game came out.

Eventually though everything started to click. I got a much better sense of the repair system for the weapons so that I wasn’t spending all of my time hunting for new ones. I also got a much better feel for the combat, digging more in depth into the ideas of breaking the zombies’ limbs instead of just mindlessly bashing away at them until they were dead. Turns out the combat is a hell of a lot of fun, which thankfully helps the fact that about 80% of the missions you will be given are nothing more than heading to a location, grabbing an item, and then bringing it back to the quest giver. Every now and then Dead Island will mix things up, but usually that just means a mission where you have to kill all of the zombies in a designated location. Of course there is also the dreaded escort mission, which thank the gods does not that show up that often but when it does, holy shit.

There is no better time than now to tell the story that almost led to me smashing Dead Island into a wall and then crying for three days. I was at 80% progress in the main storyline. Now you have to keep in mind that Dead Islandis a very long game if you are simply sticking with the primary story missions. I however, was doing damn near everything there is to do in the game. I was doing basically any side quest I was given, hunting down collectables; I was overall being very thorough. Then at this point I was given an escort mission, one that for the record goes on for way, WAY, too long.

So a good 20 minutes into this mission, we’re being attacked by a Thug (a large zombie who is a great deal stronger than the regular ones) who ends up pushing my AI companion into this tall basket. After defeating the enemy, my companion remained stuck inside this basket. There was literally nothing I could do about it. Nothing I did could get him out. So I just re-loaded my last checkpoint and was ready to do that chunk of the mission a second time. Only problem? Motherfucker was still stuck in the basket when I re-loaded. This shit auto-saves so it wasn’t like I had a back-up file saved at an earlier spot that I could go back to. I was fucked. I sat there staring at the TV completely stunned for a good 5 minutes, really not sure of what to do. By this point I had played for a minimum of 30 hours, and with only a small stretch of game left before the end, I was stuck. I wasn’t sure whether to scream or cry, but I knew one thing – I would never be playing Dead Island again.

There is a happy ending however. You see by leaving the area by fast traveling somewhere else, then running allllll the way back to my dumb fucking AI partner, he somehow managed to get himself out of the basket. When I rounded the corner and saw him standing in the middle of the path sans-basket, it was easily one of the greatest moments of relief I have ever felt in a video game. Still though, you should not have to put up with insane shit like that in a finished product. That’s another way that Dead Island is like Fallout – you often have to put up with some ridiculous bugs and glitches to enjoy the actual game. That was by far the most extreme example of a glitch that I encountered but it’s too bad it may be the primary memory I walk away from this game with.

I also had some navigation issues with Dead Island, primarily with the path that is meant to guide you to your next objective. Jesus this thing is unstable. There were so many times where the path it was telling me to follow was physically impossible to traverse. I’d love to cut through the side of this mountain quest path but I can’t fucking do that! Other times it can’t seem to make up its god damn mind about which way it actually wants you to go. Several times I would hit an intersection and the path would tell me to go one way, only to change its mind once I did and tell me to go back to the intersection and walk down the other path. It would then keep switching back and forth depending on which way I went. There will frequently be times when you’re better off to tell that thing to fuck off and simply find your own way there.

My other issue with the navigation, and I’ll admit right up front that this one may actually be user error, is the fast traveling. Since some of these environments are quite large, and often missions require you to go back to places you’ve visited previously, it’s nice to have fast travel as an option. However when you go to do it, you are given the names of the places you can go but it does not indicate where they are on the map. One mission in particular I remember trying to save time by fast traveling, only to waste far more time trying to piece together the name of the area I wanted to fast travel to. If I did miss something here then by all means let me know because I would love love love to have a better handle on the whole fast traveling thing.

Jesus this is turning into a surprisingly negative review but there’s one more thing I need to touch on, which is the environments themselves. I already mentioned how impressed I was with the resort area that opens the game. It’s expansive, detailed, and there’s a great contrast between the sunny, tropical settings and the blood and chaos going on within it. It’s a very strong opening to the game, the problem is that none of the subsequent environments can live up to the standard it sets at the beginning. Not only are they far more drab, but seem to become more and more enclosed as well. To start the game off with this large expansive area, only to confine you more and more to interior locations such as sewers and laboratories, is not the best route as it just added to my desire for the game to be over since I was less and less interested in what was going on.

Complaints aside, I still quite enjoyed Dead Island primarily for its combat. There’s an analog setting that takes some getting used to but allows you to have a lot more precision with your attacks so that you can actually aim for specific areas of a zombie’s body. Once you get this down pat, it’s really the only way to go. Throw in a large variety of weapons, and I was still enjoying the combat right up until the very end.

I was also quite fond of the overall atmosphere of Dead Island, even if doesn’t live up to the promises delivered in that initial trailer. There is very little humour to be found here. Everything is quite bleak and hopeless and you will encounter some characters that have been through some raw shit. It’s definitely one of the more realistic portrayals of a zombie apocalypse, as realistic as you can make such a thing at least.

Fun combat, solid atmosphere and an addicting level and upgrade system helps elevate Dead Island above some of its other issues. There’s a lot of content here, which is almost to its fault, but anyone who isn’t tired of dismembering the undead will find a lot here to like.

Driver San Francisco - Xbox 360

You know I don’t really have much affinity for the Driver franchise. Even back when it was considered good I don’t have fond recollections. I mostly remember a training mission in the first game that prevented us from making progress for about an hour. The rest of that memory is just full of blind rage and long periods of nothing but black. Beyond that first game, I have played the subsequent titles but only for a small amount of time each, and haven’t walked away impressed from a single one.

Now the franchise is back with Driver: San Francisco and when it was first announced I couldn’t drum up even the slightest bit of excitement for it. Then more and more information started to come out and what consistently surprised me was how batshit fucking insane this game sounded.

And hey guess what? Driver: San Francisco is completely out of its mind fucking crazy. And hey guess what else? It works completely in its favour.

You once again play as John Tanner who starts the game watching as longtime villain Charles Jericho is hauled off to prison. Of course shit gets bad real quick and the ensuing chaos ends with John Tanner in a coma. Your more traditional action game would likely then put you in control of his partner or perhaps tell a story in flashback.Driver: San Francisco isn’t having any of that shit. Instead you spend the majority of the game inside John’s head while he is in the coma. Not crazy enough? You also have the ability to “shift”, which means you can any at time, fly out of the car you are currently driving, and hover around above the city until you find a new car that you would like to jump into. Then once you select it, you essentially possess the driver and take over, Quantum Leap style. It sounds strange, but it is implemented incredibly well.

What impressed me immediately was how seamless the shift process is. The procedure of floating out of the car, maneuvering around the city map and shifting into a new car is quick and lag free. The only time it starts to take a little longer is later in the game when you can zoom out further above the city as it takes a few seconds to zoom back in, but it doesn’t take too long that it becomes a pain. Since shifting is the crux of the experience, it’s a relief that it’s a quick and easy process with basically zero lag.

The creators also found a number of interesting ways to incorporate this mechanic into the missions. One of the more prominent, and I feel one of the best, examples is how they switch up the car chase formula. The ability to jump into any other car on the road gives you a lot more freedom in how to go about taking down your target. Instead of chasing behind him in a faster car, why not jump into a bus that’s in the oncoming lane and smash into him headfirst? They perhaps do fall back on this concept a little too often but it honestly never stopped being fun for me.

The majority of the missions are your standard driving mission fare (for the record, at no point in the entire game are you ever on foot) such as car chases, checkpoint races, time trials, stunt missions, etc. But the shift formula always brings something new and unique to the standard structure. For example, several of the race missions require you to come in both first and second place, meaning you need to switch back and forth between two cars and ensure they both finish in the top two spots. It’s fresh, original and keeps things fun. My only real complaint is that some of the later races go on for far, far too long. Once they start to have 30 checkpoints, you will be determined not to fail because if you’re like me, you won’t be eager to start the 6 minute long race over again from the beginning.

In addition to the shift mechanic, the concept of being in a coma is used effectively as well. Of course this plot allows the developers a great deal of creative freedom, and they thankfully exercise that freedom thoroughly. I don’t want to give too much away since a lot of it happens in the later stages of the game but I will say the following – fans of Bad Boys II are going to be psyched by one of the late game developments.

The story that surrounds all this madness is appropriately silly although still pretty standard fare. If anything I became more interested in some of the side-stories as you find yourself possessing the same characters throughout the game and seeing how their story has progressed since the last time you saw them.

I do think the controls may be a divisive point for people. The cars seem to be designed to always react like you’re in a car chase from the 1970’s. That translates to lots and lots of fishtailing during just about any turn that you make. I managed to get the hang of things eventually but I’ll admit this proved to be frustrating for the first couple of chapters.

If you’re a completionist then there is a ton to do in the single player story. Dozens and dozens of side missions and collectables are available so you could spend a good long while seeing and completing everything. If you only plan on playing through the bare minimum amount of content that you need to complete the story, it is a surprisingly brief experience, taking a bit under six hours for me to clear through it. The base mechanics are such a blast though that I definitely plan to go back and clean up at least a few more achievements.

Those same mechanics hold up equally well when applied to multiplayer. A lot of the modes are what you see in the single player but it takes everything to a whole new level of enjoyment when you are participating in these events against actual human beings. As satisfying as it can be to take down an AI opponent through a head-on collision, it’s doubly satisfying to take down someone who can then yell a slew of expletives at you. As is the norm with multiplayer these days, matches earn you XP which will in turn gain you levels. It’s addictive, fun and so far has a solid community, which left me able to hop into games very quickly. Hopefully people stick with this one, although Gears of War 3 coming out today does not bode well unfortunately.

Driver: San Francisco ranks amongst the year’s most pleasant surprises. It takes a lot of potentially risky paths but ends up a unique and fun experience that stays engaging throughout. If you are looking for a driving game that doesn’t give a shit how silly it is, this is your boy right here.

Resistance 3 - Playstation 3

I didn’t actually know this until the release of this game but it appears a lot of people really hated Resistance 2. Tons and tons of people seem to share the sentiment that this one has to be better than the second one. I’m not sure where all the hate came from or if perhaps it was always there, but it makes me feel I should say up front that I quite enjoyed the second game. Whether that means you have to take my opinion of this third game with a grain of salt, I’m not sure, but you have at the very least been warned.

Resistance 3 impressed me almost immediately with the revelation that the big Chimera war the humans are fighting, yea we lost that. Not only have we lost, we got fucking walloped. I believe they throw out there that 90% of the population is just gone. That’s a hell of a way to start the game. Resistance 3 had my interest straight away.

For such a large-scale concept however, the game is surprisingly intimate.  You take the role of Joseph Capelli and follow him on his journey to get to New York and do some plot stuff. You don’t roll with a bunch of army dudes, it’s just you. You’re accompanied on a handful of missions but most of the time your companion is an old man who never fires a gun. I felt this level of intimacy both helped and hindered the overall experience. On the positive side you really do grow attached to Joseph as you primarily only spend time with his character. You care about him, you care about the mission, and you genuinely care whether or not he gets to see his wife and son again. On the flipside, this feels like such a small piece of the overall story. The world is done, we’re fucked, it’s over. There’s a whole lot to be done with that and we only get a small part of it told here. You do see hints of the bigger picture in the various letters and audio logs hidden throughout the game so if you do some searching it’s definitely worth the time to hunt them down. And of course this franchise is not wrapping up I assume any time soon, so I’m sure we’ll get to see more of this universe. However for this game specifically, I think the world post-human defeat could have used some flashing out.

The Resistance 3 campaign is a bit of a slow burn. You kick things off in the underground town where Joseph, his family and a number of others are just barely surviving, You meet the characters and even just by looking around you get a great sense of just how bad things have gotten. Naturally shit goes real bad before too long and while the first few chapters consist of some relatively standard firefights (and some well done sequences where you are actively trying to avoid confrontation), before too long you’ll be fighting creatures 10 times, or often several hundred times, your size.

The main element of Resistance 2 that has stuck with me is the boss fights. The specifics are hazy, but I definitely remember numerous large-scale boss fights throughout the campaign. That is sadly lacking here. There is a sequence on a boat where you are fleeing from a Goliath (not surprisingly, a huge son of a bitch) that is pretty incredible to actually watch take place, but this one doesn’t technically count as a boss fight since you don’t, in fact, fight it. The sequence will play out the same way every time. Either way, I would still point to this as the most memorable chapter of the campaign, which is a shame that is it so early on.

There is something of a twist just past the mid-point in the game where you find yourself fighting a very different kind of enemy. This seems to be the point in the campaign where you are either completely on board, or the game has lost you entirely. I myself quite enjoyed it. It was a turning point I honestly didn’t see coming and switched up the game in some interesting ways. I’m not going to reveal what I’m talking about, but you’ll know exactly what I’m referring to as soon as it occurs.

I know I’ve done a lot of bitching and it sounds like I am really down on this game. Despite my issues, I did have a lot of fun playing it and I can point to one primary reason why – the weapons. Resistance 3 offers a wide selection of weapons, each one unique and fun to use. You want to freeze your enemy and then shatter them? Done. Or perhaps you would prefer to use the Mutator to make the enemies sport massive growths and start vomiting everywhere? No worries that is covered here as well. The weapons themselves are already crazy but each one also comes with a secondary fire mode that is even more insane.

Each of the weapons is also upgradeable, but the only way to get these upgrades is to actually use the weapon you are looking to level up. This, for me at least, provided incentive to actually switch up the weapon I was using instead of going with my usual FPS patterns of sticking with one or two primary guns. This keeps the experience fresh as you are always seeking out new and creative ways to take the Chimera down.

The campaign is your average campaign length, clocking in around 7-8 hours if you play on normal difficulty. There is technically a new game plus mode since your weapon upgrades carry through with you for another play through, which does provide more motivation than usual for me to tackle the hardest difficulty but I generally feel that experiencing the campaign the one time was probably enough. I may do some additional trophy hunting (all of which are single player focused, not a multi player trophy to be found) but for the most part, I saw the ending, and I am now ok.

You do get some solid multi-player to back it all up though. I’m not going to say it revolutionizes multi-player by any means. There’s deathmatch, team deathmatch, the capture the flag style match, objective based matches, everything you would expect to be here is indeed here. You also get COD style level progression, which despite being the norm these days, is still as addictive as ever.

Although the multi-player may be familiar, when you take those weapons and unleash them against other human players, it’s just as fun, if not more fun, than using them against the AI. I’m not the biggest multiplayer guy, but I have already played a good deal of matches and I can see myself sticking with it for a little while longer. More accurately, about 4 more days and then GOW3 comes out.

Resistance 3 is a very solid title. The campaign is a fast-paced affair that perhaps could have used some bigger, more memorable moments, and a bit more of an indication of what is going outside the world of Joseph Capelli. However weapons that are immensely fun to use and a late game change-up keeps things interesting. You back that up with some fun multi-player and this game is a pretty easy recommendation.

Deus Ex Human Revolution - Xbox 360

Please don’t take away my gamer cred card for this (though I’m not sure why you would want it, I made it myself out of construction paper and glitter glue) but I have never played the Deus Ex games. Oh I own them both. They’re right there, I can actually see them in the Steam window next to this document. I could very easily click out of this and fire them up, and yet I don’t seem to be doing that. Human Revolution is my first exposure to the series and if the previous 2 are even parallel with this level of quality (which apparently the second one most definitely is not) you can sign me up because I am completely on board with this franchise now.

In Human Revolution you play as Adam Jensen, a security office who sounds like Christian Bale Batman and who works for Sarif Industries. Sarif Industries is behind augmentations, which are implants that allow people to enhance themselves and essentially gain superhero like abilities. There are people who support this whole-heartedly, and another group that is adamantly opposed to the idea of augments, feeling that it goes against our humanity. Within the opening section of the game Adam is injured during an attack on the company and in true Robocop fashion, is loaded up with augments in order to save his life. This is the real jumping off point for the game.

Keeping in mind that I was not at all familiar with the franchise, I went in expecting a full-on FPS with an open-world to run around in. Needless to say that ended up not being the case, although should you wish to turn this into an FPS the option is there.  This is the route I went initially, gunning down everybody in my path during the first mission. It didn’t pan out terribly well for me. I died frequently and also discovered what I felt was the weakest aspect of Human Revolution – the shooting itself.

If you’re using the cover system it’s not too bad. You can hide behind objects and the view will zoom out to a third person perspective. From here you can pop out of cover and take guys down fairly easily. My issue is when you try to take someone out either with blind fire or in close combat. No matter how well you think you’re aiming, 90 percent of the time it seems you never connect with your target. On many occasions I would fire directly at the enemy, only to have every shot fired go completely wild. And ammo can be relatively sparse in this game, so when I waste 10 bullets trying to hit a guy who is 4 feet away and yet is apparently made of pure energy and can’t be taken down, it’s an actual problem.

Primarily as a result of this, I chose to stick with stealth for the majority of the game. Thankfully aside from boss fights, it is entirely possible to make it through the entire game without having to engage an enemy. There’s even achievements for doing it, which I will never ever ever ever get. Although it seems occasionally you have no choice but to sneak through the large room full of patrolling guards, there is almost always another way around it. Whether this involves climbing through air ducts or hacking through a back door, usually a quick exploration run around the area will reveal several alternate routes.

To get the other negative out of the way now, whether you go the sneaky route or the murder everything in your path route, the AI can be troublesome in either scenario. For every moment where you snap a guy’s neck 2 feet away from his oblivious partner, there’s another where an enemy will spot you from across the room while you’re hiding behind a box. They’re also a bunch of quitters. Many times an enemy would spot me so I would simply run back around the corner of the hallway. He stands there, yells “I’m gonna get you” a few times, and then eventually decides, “I guess we lost him” and goes back to his regular patrol route. I suppose it’s better than the alternative of being spotted and killed, but it takes some of the magic away when you’re dealing with enemies who can’t come to the conclusion that maybe they should turn the corner where they saw you run to. You can also often fall back on the classic routine of shooting guys one by one as they individually come to investigate the sounds of their partners being killed. Granted maybe when you crank this up to the hardest difficulty they become real motherfuckers, I can’t say. But this was my experience.

The aforementioned augments act as your skill tree here, allowing you to implement standard upgrades such as increasing your inventory or reducing the amount of damage you take. You can also obtain abilities such as resistance to electricity, no damage when jumping from any height, jumping super high, smashing through damaged walls, etc. Many of these determine the route you will play through the game. For example if you’re trying to get to a certain area and you find a hallway where the floor is covered with electric wires, you aren’t getting through there without the electricity immunity. However you might be able to journey down a different path where the ability to jump high will launch you over a fence to reach this same area. This was one of my favourite aspects of Deus Ex – the options you have in terms of path finding. There are often several ways to accomplish the same goal and it makes a second playthrough almost inevitable.

My actual favourite part is the story itself, along with the characters and the world they inhabit. If you’re like me you’ll spend a lot of time trying to do every side quest and digesting every email, newspaper and log you can find to get as much information as you can. You really will miss a lot if you stick to the main story. It pays to take your time, talk to everyone and listen to the conversations being had around you. It’s such a well realized universe that it would be a damn shame to simply stick with the main story path, which for the record will still net you around 20 hours of game play time.

I may have some issues with the AI and the shooting, but these quibbles (first use of the word quibbles on this site!) pale in comparison to the enjoyment I got out of the Deus Ex experience as a whole. Exploring the environment, interacting with the characters and discovering the different ways to accomplish tasks was addicting and immensely satisfying. Having not played the original I can’t say whether this is the return to form that so many people were looking for, but if you’re at all curious about this franchise, or if you’re just starved for a quality game after the Summer drought, this is the way to go.

Gargoyle's Quest - 3DS Virtual Console

I don’t know about you but so far I have to say that I’m pretty impressed with the first couple of months of the 3DS Virtual Console. Yes I could very easily launch into complaints about titles like Baseball, Tennis or Pac-Man, or about how they really should be releasing more than one game a week since we haven’t even seen the likes of a Game Gear game yet. But honestly that stuff doesn’t bother me too much, at least not yet. I only had a limited collection of Game Boy games as a child and as an adult with disposable income, I haven’t really put focus into getting more of them. The Game Boy is sadly one of a few systems that I have regretfully ignored.

So for me personally, I have enjoyed the selection so far as it has allowed me to revisit the GB games I remember fondly (Super Mario Land, Kirby’s Dream Land, Donkey Kong), while at the same time has provided me the chance to play games I always wanted to play but for some reason never did (Link’s Awakening DX, Game & Watch Gallery) or ones I had honestly never even heard of until now (Avenging Spirit).

All of this is essentially a really long-winded way of saying hey look Gargoyle’s Quest!

I’ve always been aware of Gargoyle’s Quest, as well as its NES and SNES sequels. I have never taken the time to actually play through them but if you put an icon for it right next to a Game and Watch game I’m already downloading, well then I really don’t have any excuses do I?

Gargoyle’s Quest is part RPG and part sidescrolling platformer, but it is all parts awesome. You play as Firebrand, who is the gargoyle partaking on the titular quest. The quest itself has you saving the realm, which primarily involves collecting a bunch of magic candles and then using them on big dudes who are always sitting on thrones. At least it’s something that doesn’t happen in many other video game quests, but story-wise there is not a whole lot going on here.

The game is divided up pretty evenly between the sidescrolling and overheard RPG sequences. Between the two, the RPG elements are definitely the weaker segments. You have an overworld map that for the most part you travel through in a linear fashion, occasionally stopping into a town to talk with someone who will tell where to go and what to do next. You can buy items, or at least you can continually buy the same item, and there are at least one or two hidden power-ups that you can find, although they aren’t really that well hidden.

The best part of these segments is that the overworld map does contain the occasional random battle, which puts you into the sidescrolling view to have a quick fight with a handful of enemies. The problem is that there are only a handful of enemies featured in these encounters throughout the entirety of the game. None of them are particularly challenging and, from what I can tell, there is no way to simply leave the battle once it has started. So these encounters start to feel tedious pretty early on in the experience.

I by no means disliked the RPG aspect of the game, I just found it weak when compared to the sidescrolling levels, which for me is where the game lived up to its legacy.

What at first felt like simple (still fun mind you) “walk to the right and shoot everything in sight” style gameplay quickly revealed itself to have a surprising amount of depth. The levels are rarely linear, offering several different paths you can take to reach your end goal. You acquire new weapons throughout the game and the later levels require you to switch back and forth between them in order to progress through the stage. Ok so it may not sound like a lot of depth, but put it next to Super Mario Land or Kirby’s Dream Land and there is a lot of shit going on here by comparison.

One thing I knew going in, and that proved to be quite accurate, is that the game is pretty difficult. It’s not Super Ghouls N’ Ghosts levels of insanity, but it will definitely provide you with a challenge. In the beginning you only have two notches in your health bar, and although by the end you make your up to five, some enemies can wipe two or three of them out with a single blow. What was surprising is that the last boss himself is eerily easy compared to the rest of the game. Once you get the pattern down, it’s smooth sailing until the end. Plus if you ever find yourself stuck at any point, the 3DS’s handy restore point feature will come in extra handy, so there’s really no reason why you won’t be able to see the game through until the end.

I enjoyed the hell out of Gargoyle’s Quest. The RPG parts are a little underwhelming but the sidescrolling levels make up for it, offering a good deal of variety and a hearty challenge. It’s not a very long title, with my time just over 3 hours, but it’s 3.99 so really, no excuse. NO EXCUSE!    

Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters - Xbox 360

Note: I wrote 80% of this review back when the game first came out. It seemed wasteful to not at least post it so I quickly finished it up and decided to throw it up. I’ve also since seen the Green Lantern movie and can also now safely say that yes, the video game adaption is indeed better than the actual film. Also re-reading this now I think this is the single strangest review I’ve ever written, at least the first few paragraphs. What the hell was going on with me that day?

Here’s a situation you don’t come across too often, if at all. The video game adaptation of Green Lantern is actually getting better reviews than the film itself. Granted neither are getting glowing reviews by any means, but I can’t remember the last time this happened. Oh wait, X-Men Origins Wolverine. Ok so you do come across this but still not that often!

Having not seen the film I can’t speak of its quality. However having played the game, I am fully capable of speaking of its quality. If I were to speak of that quality, my speaking may mention that its quality is surprisingly decent.

‘Surprisingly decent’ may not be the most glowing review but come on, this is the Green Lantern video game. Did you expect my summary to be anything other than “crap poop”? No you definitely did not. However I think we can both agree that we look forward to the day where I can summarize a game by saying that.

I can’t say Green Lantern ranks highly amongst the list of my favourite superheroes. He’s near the bottom of the list of superheroes I have even basic knowledge of. Prior to the game I knew the following: he’s green, his ring can do practically anything, lanterns, and space. Following the game I can confirm all of the above, along with the following: Manhunters are bad and perhaps serve as some sort of space police, nobody should trust this Sinestro fucker, and turns out physical lanterns aren’t a big part of the Green Lantern universe.

My point is, those of you are going into this game as pre-determined Green Lantern enthusiasts will definitely get the most out of this game. It doesn’t take the time to present you with character back stories to bring you up to speed. You are given a pretty bare bones introduction, with the game informing you “here’s Green Lantern, these robots are bad, make Green Lantern beat up these robots” and you are sent on your way.

If you don’t know a thing about Green Lantern, then what you are getting here is an adequate, God of War style beat-em-up. The formula is so set in stone at this point that I barely need to explain the mechanics to you. There’s a button for light attacks, another for heavy attacks, you use the right analog stick to dodge, there’s no surprises here.

What does put the game at least a notch above other GOW inspired games is solid implementation of the aforementioned ring. By the end of the game you will be able to conjure a Gatling gun, a mech suit, a giant baseball bat, a large mallet, and of course a fighter jet that you then throw at enemies. It’s quite easy to switch to any of these moves by assigning them to a face button and then holding the right or left trigger and pressing the appropriate button. Even better is that in both the combat and the puzzle solving, the majority of them actually serve their own unique purpose and aren’t simply there for show. Enemy ship shooting at you from a distance? Bust out your baseball bat and knock that shit back at him. Man that fucker sure is on a glider isn’t he? Maybe shoot down that shit with this laser thing. It’s welcome to apply actual tactics to the fights occasionally, helping this from become a simple button masher, although there is also plenty of that.

Every few stages you take a break from the beat-em-up style action and take part in some person flying stages. It’s good these are there in that it breaks up some of the potential repetition of the other stages, but these were by no means my favourite parts of the game. You hold down a button and hold a reticule over things until they are dead. Simple as that. Occasionally you can turn into a fighter jet, but it doesn’t change much. These stages are also very short, a couple only taking maybe 4 or 5 minutes to burn through.

The entire game is actually a relatively brief experience. I beat the game on the hardest difficulty level (with minimal trouble I should add) in about 6 hours. Throw in a couple more hours of grinding to get the remaining achievements and I had a full 1000/1000 in not much more than eight hours time. As exciting as it always is to unlock every achievement in a game, now that it has been done I doubt I would ever return to this one now. So replay value is quite small.

Green Lantern is way better than I ever could have expected. The flying stages are merely passable but the core fighting is surprisingly fun and quite varied. It’s too bad the experience is such a quick one, making it hard to recommend this one until it’s found its way into the bargain bins. Although since now the game is about 2 months old, that should be happening literally any day now.