Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Poll #14 results

Poll #14 has concluded and the results are in...

Which New Play Control! games have you gotten or are planning on getting? (40 total votes)
  • Chibi-Robo - 47% (19 votes)
  • Donkey Kong Jungle Beat - 20% (8 votes)
  • Mario Power Tennis - 12% (5 votes)
  • Metroid Prime - 57% (23 votes)
  • Metroid Prime 2: Echoes - 50% (20 votes)
  • Pikmin - 47% (19 votes)
  • Pikmin 2 - 65% (26 votes)
Note: Voters could vote for more than one, which explains why the percentages don't add up to 100.

As you can see from the above results, both of the Pikmin games and both of the Metroid Prime games are the most popular. Pikmin 2 is the most popular of them all, while the original Metroid Prime comes in second. On the opposite end of the spectrum are Jungle Beat and Mario Power Tennis, coming in second to last and last respectively. I'm willing to bet that the reason Mario Power Tennis is so low is because the game is already out and wasn't received well by critics. As for Donkey Kong Jungle Beat? I'm guessing people aren't up for the change from bongo controls to analog stick and buttons.

I voted much like the majority of voters, for both Pikmins and both Metroid Primes. I loved both Metroid Prime 3 and the New Play Control! version of Pikmin, so I'm really looking forward to both Pikmin 2 and the prequels to Corruption.

And last but not least, there's, once again, a new poll up. Other than word of mouth, gaming magazines used to be one of the top resources for game news/previews/reviews back before the days of the internet. But today, various websites and blogs provides a much faster way to get gaming news and reviews. Even so, there still are a good number of game magazines available today. My question this time around is, "Do you read gaming magazines?"

Comments or questions? Drop an email to kylehogg@gmail.com or leave a comment below...

Monday, March 30, 2009

New Play Control! Pikmin (Wii) review

New Play Control! Pikmin (Wii)
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo
Date Released: March 9, 2009 (USA)
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)

Nintendo has decided to bring a number of their GameCube hits over to the Wii with the New Play Control! series. All the NPC! games have be reworked to play with Wii controls, whether it be IR for Metroid Prime and Pikmin or gestures for Mario Power Tennis. Nintendo's choice to do this made a lot of sense in a business view, seeing as a lot of these games haven't been played by a large portion of the Wii's audience, due to the Wii's success and the GameCube's unpopularity. Alongside Mario Power Tennis, Pikmin is the first New Play Control! game to be released in North America.

In Pikmin, you play as Captain Olimar, whose ship, the S.S. Dolphin, gets hit by an asteroid as he's flying along. He makes a crash landing in a nearby, unknown planet. Parts and pieces of the space ship scatter across the land. On the planet, Olimar finds there is a deadly gas in the atmosphere, oxygen, and the life support system will fail after 30 days. Thus he has 30 days to retrieve the 30 ship parts that were lost.

But he doesn't do this alone. On the strange planet he crash lands on, Olimar finds tiny creatures which he names Pikmin. These Pikmin join him in his quest to rebuild his ship and are cute little creatures that somewhat resemble ants with a flower on their head (or leaf or bud, depending on what stage of their life they're in). The Pikmin join Olimar and willingly obey his commands. In Pikmin, there are three different kinds of Pikmin: red, yellow, and blue. The red can walk through fire unharmed, so you'll often resort to them to both carry items through fiery places and attack enemies that shoot flames. The yellow Pikmin can both carry bombs and be thrown the farthest. And blue Pikmin can breathe under water, which means you'll turn to them to get underwater objectives and get to islands.

To get Olimar's 30 ship parts in the 30 day time limit, you'll have to resort your army of Pikmin. Olimar is virtually useless in attacking and moving things, thus he can command Pikmin to do what he cannot. Be it moving/destroying obstacles, harvesting pellets, or attacking enemies, the Pikmin's strength lie in numbers. Most obstacles and items require a certain number of Pikmin to move and those that don't will take a lot longer to do the less Pikmin assigned.

The game of Pikmin can basically be split up into two objectives: getting Olimar's ship parts and growing your army of Pikmin. The Dolphin's ship parts are either found guarded by walls, some light puzzle solving (using different Pikmin colors), and various enemies or with boss creatures that you must beat to obtain the ship part. While you'll want to get all of the Dolphin's pieces, you'll also need to raise and harvest Pikmin. Getting more Pikmin is done by bringing both pellets, which can be harvested from special flowers and dropped by enemies, and the bodies of creatures and bosses back to the Pikmin's homes, named (by Olimar) Onions.

One of the major complaints of the original GameCube game was the 30 day time limit. Since Olimar has to get all of the ship's parts in these 30 days, not doing this will result in Olimar's death and you losing the game. Each of these days takes around 15 minutes from sunrise to sundown, after which you'll have to board your ship (and the Pikmin, their Onion homes). This can add a certain amount of urgency to the game and makes the game feel rushed. With levels that are designed great and enemies to be fought scattering the landscape, it'd feel a lot nicer not to have the 30 day limit and the flexibility to explore. Even so, the limit will be liked by some since it's an overall challenge to beat. And while Nintendo didn't abolish this limit completely in the New Play Control version (like they did with Pikmin 2 for the GameCube), they did make it a bit easier. Now you can rewind to any day that you've played. So say you did really good up to about Day 6, but from then on you've been doing pretty bad, rarely getting ship parts and losing a lot of Pikmin, now you can start playing back up at Day 6 to try and do better. It's a nice touch that frees up a bit of the rush and urgency.

Nintendo redid the controls to fit the Wii's controller and make controlling Olimar and his army of Pikmin easier and more intuitive. It's extremely simple to command your Pikmin to attack enemies, harvest resources, separate into groups, and remain inactive with a few buttons and the Wii's IR. Pikmin on the GameCube was praised for finally "getting" real-time strategy controls on a console (albeit being a lot less complex than PC RTS's), but the Wii remote and nunchuk far outdo even those great controls.

New Play Control! Pikmin is a game with a decent challenge. The difficulty especially ramps up near the end for some hard but rewarding boss fights and puzzling. It's definitely nice to have both the improved controls and ability to restart from any previous day. The game has decent length that's definitely shortened a bit by the 30 day time limit, but overall it was a good 10 to 12 hour game. Increasing the replay value, there's also a very fun Challenge Mode to be played, which has you seeing how many Pikmin you can grow in a single day. It's pretty fun and will have you coming back for more with high scores and different levels to play.

Other than the 16:9 widescreen mode for folks with those TV's (see: not me), Nintendo didn't do much to improve the already solid GameCube graphics. Even with this, Pikmin's visuals can unfortunately stand up to a majority of the games available for the Wii. It just goes to show how Nintendo EAD was pushing the hardware at the time and how few developers today put that much effort into Wii games. There are detailed environments and crisp colors for the various creatures and items. Even so, there are some muddy textures, which are particularly visible when viewed up close. The soundtrack is soothing and very enjoyable. Mixing with this are the cute Pikmin sounds that never get old.

Overall Thoughts

Pikmin is a very fun and rewarding game, and with the new Wii remote controls, it feels all the better to control. Anyone who has never played this game should really do so, and with the New Play Control $30 price tag, the game is significantly cheaper than most Wii games. Overall, if you're itching to play Pikmin with motion controls or you've never played Pikmin at all, give this one a try. But otherwise, you may want to hold out for the longer and better Pikmin 2.

8/10

Comments or questions? Drop an email to kylehogg@gmail.com or leave a comment below...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Mario Kart Wii's online

I've recently beat four games, Deadly Creatures, House of the Dead: Overkill, MadWorld, and New Play Control! Pikmin (in that order actually). They were really great games, and I had a lot of fun with each. But now that I beat every new Wii game that I have, what was I going to play? A few nights ago, I was faced with this dilhema. Should I go back and beat my unbeaten games like Okami and Zack & Wiki? Nah, didn't really want to. Should I use Wii Fit, since I've barely used it since I got it? Nah, too lazy for that too. So I decided to pop in the ol' Mario Kart Wii and play some online.

And after playing around that night and last night, I came to remember how fun Mario Kart Wii's online is. It's by far the best online multiplayer in the Wii game. It's super fast (even with my crappy internet). I love how it's structured, with 5000 points, winning gains to points, losing does the opposite. And I much prefer the continual racing with new people joining and quitting versus the four race cup style of Mario Kart DS's online.

Some may bash Mario Kart (especially the Wii version) for it cheapness and the blue shell hate is almost a universal feeling, but I still love the random racing that isn't totally devoid of skill (not at all actually). My only problem playing last night and the night before would be the somewhat frequent disconnections; though that was most certainly because of my internet and not the game (damn you crappy small town internet provider!) Sure, it would've been nice for Nintendo to have some form of communicating and interacting with friends, but I really do love Mario Kart Wii's online mode. And there's not a doubt in my mind that a year from now I can't pop in the disc, boot up the online multiplayer, and have a just as much of a blast as I did last night.

Comments or questions? Drop an email to kylehogg@gmail.com or leave a comment below...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Impressions of Iwata's GDC '09 Keynote

Iwata’s keynote at GDC today made many a Nintendo fan happy. When it was announced a while ago that Satoru Iwata, President and CEO of Nintendo, would be speaking at GDC 2009, it was interesting but not hype worthy due to this being a “Game Developers Conference” rather than something along the lines of E3 where the big announcements are expected. But then a couple of days ago, we got word of Iwata’s keynote being rather “big,” which in turn began the hype train. I too boarded this train of hyperbole, but I expected it to be derailed once the actual keynote came around. But it sure wasn’t. Iwata’s keynote didn’t disappoint, so here’s my impressions of it... Enjoy!

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

Speaking of trains, probably the biggest game news announced was a new Legend of Zelda. This came as a complete surprise to me. For one, if any big name Nintendo franchise game was to be announced, I wouldn't have expected it to be a Zelda game. An announcement of Kirby or Pikmin 3 would’ve made more sense to me. And secondly, I would’ve expected Nintendo’s next Zelda game to be a console one, seeing as they’re last was a portable version.

Nevertheless, The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks was announced. It’s a sequel to 2007's The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, in which Link now travels around on a locomotive. Strange as it sounds, it looks very cool. The train parts look to be a lot like traveling around on you ship in Phantom Hourglass, there’s even a cannon to shoot enemies with. After seeing the trailer, I can say the game looks very awesome and like a worthy sequel to LoZ: PH, as it retains the cool bosses, inventive stylus puzzles, and beautiful cel-shaded graphics.

Wii System Menu 4.0

Another unexpected announcement was today’s Wii System Update. It’s available now so go and download it. The storage issues have finally been fixed; you can now download and play WiiWare, Virtual Console games, and Wii channels directly from an SD card. I downloaded it, tried it out, and left very satisfied. The system update adds a SD card icon to the Wii menu. Playing games directly from the SD card was very nice. There’s always going to be a brief load time before playing, but after that everything works great. The load time is super fast though. Testing it out, I found smaller games, like NES titles, to only take a second or two, while bigger WiiWare games like World of Goo, took around fifteen seconds. It’s great to finally be able to have all my WiiWare and VC games accessible.

Final Fantasy news

There was a surprisingly large amount of Final Fantasy news from the keynote as well. A sequel to the WiiWare launch titled, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King was announced, titled My Life as a Dark Lord. I never played the original My Life as a King, but I heard it was great. I may have to check it out sooner or later. (Plus, now I don’t have to worry about deleting and redownloading WiiWare/VC games! Thanks Nintendo!)

Final Fantasy IV: The After Years was also confirmed to be due out sometime this year. The After Years is a sequel to Final Fantasy IV, but what if you haven’t played Final Fantasy IV? Well, Square Enix has you covered. From the keynote we also learn we’ll be getting six Final Fantasy games over VC. The only two we know about are the original Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy IV. Overall, some great news for Final Fantasy and RPG fans alike.

DSiWare/Virtual Console announcements

Both Moving Memo Pad and the WarioWare DSi game were reconfirmed for North America. Moving Memo Pad is going to have YouTube-like uploading server, and WarioWare is to be titled WarioWare Snapped! Both games look great, and I can’t wait for them to come stateside.

On the Virtual Console side of things, there was a big announcement too. Virtual Console Arcade will now be available, offering games from the arcades like Mappy, Space Harrier, Ishtar, Space Invaders and more. Much like the Wii System Menu 4.0, Virtual Console Arcade games are available to download today. So if you’re a fan of any classic arcade games, be sure to check out the Wii Shop Channel.

That just about rounds it up. The keynote, the Wii Menu 4.0 and the next Zelda game in particular, left me very happy.

Comments or questions? Drop an email to kylehogg@gmail.com or leave a comment below...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Nintendo Power

Lately, I've been reading through my latest issue of Nintendo Power. Now that I think of it, I've really been enjoying my current subscription to NP. The editors have done a fantastic job with the magazines as of late, with both excellent featured preview articles and some well-written reviews to boot.

Back in the GameCube/GBA era, I found Nintendo Power to not be my thing. I don't know, the magazine wasn't really as interesting as some of the other gaming magazines at that time (my best friend's EGM was read just about every month). And a year or so ago when I heard the magazine was now being headed by the publisher Future US rather than Nintendo, I pretty much wrote off NP as something to read. But after picking up a few issues from a grocery store several monthes ago and subscribing soon after, I can say that notion has changed.

I've found each issue of the magazine that I get to be as enjoyable or even more than the last. Just looking at the current issue, we've got a Pokemon Platinum preview and interview, a first look at ExciteBots, a Rhythm Heaven hands-on, an interview with WayForward about the beautiful game A Boy and His Blob, and a well-written review of MadWorld. Not trying to advertise, but those are some pretty amazing articles (at least for me) to be all in one issue.

So what I'm trying to get at here, is even if you doubt Nintendo Power, give it a chance. Pick up an issue if you're a Nintendo fan and see if you don't like it. I did and certainly don't regret it.

Comments or questions? Drop an email to kylehogg@gmail.com or leave a comment below...

Monday, March 23, 2009

MadWorld (Wii) review

MadWorld (Wii)
Developer: Platinum Games
Publisher: Sega
Date Released: March 10, 2009 (USA)
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

The newly formed Platinum Games is filled with a lot of the people behind Clover Studios. Clover Studios, though now disbanded, was known for very "artsy" games, being behind Okami and the Viewtiful Joe series, which both incorporated style and substance to craft winning formulas. Platinum Games first title is here, MadWorld, and with it comes a very noticeable, black, white (and a whole lot of red) art style. But does it live up the the precedent of Clover Studios' past "artsy" games? Quite frankly, yes, and what results is a very enjoyable beat 'em up with some strikingly pretty graphics.

At first glance, the most noticeable thing about MadWorld is the beautiful, black and white art style. The game's locales, objects, and people are all colored with the contrasting colors of black and white, no gray whatsoever. Red also is a prominent color due to the over the top violence. Adding red to the otherwise monochromatic environments greatly improves the visuals. Besides black, white, and red, the only other color to be seen is yellow, which make up the various comic book-like onomatopoeias such as "VROOM!" (when starting up your chainsaw) or "THUD!" (when landing a jump). This adds a very comic book feel to the entire game. All in all, the art style masks the Wii's limited graphical capabilities well and ends up being a beautiful game that runs very smoothly.

What really surprised me was just how good the story in MadWorld was. For the longest time, very little was said about the game's story other than, "Jack is competing in a game show called Death Watch where you have to kill to survive." But once I played through MadWorld, I found there to be a deep and enjoyable story. It may be a little far-fetched in some areas, but I still found it good fun. Basically, terrorists have taken over Varrigan City, cutting off all communication and transportation in and out of the island, completely isolating the city from the rest of the world. The city has become home to a horrific game show titled Death Watch, where the competitors must kill to win. Jack enters the game show during the third day and quickly begins climbing the ranks, attracting a lot of attention from both sponsors and viewers. The deeper you go into the game, the more you'll find that not everything is as it seems; there are government conspiracies, and not all of the characters' motives are clear, including Jack's. On a side note, there's a lot of well done voice acting too, which is even more of a surprise seeing how this game was made in Japan.

MadWorld is, at its heart, a beat 'em up. It's over the top, comical, and just flat out entertaining. What do you expect from a game with a guy who has a chainsaw on his arm? There are many different ways to kill enemies due to the variety in weapons, melee attacks, and environmental hazards. You're encouraged to try new things, and comboing attacks and kills together is important in gaining points. Sure, chainsawing a guy in half is easy, but it doesn't do you much good points-wise. Stabbing a sign through a guy's head, shoving him face first into a barrel, and then picking him up and slamming him into a wall of spikes a few times will earn you a lot more points.

The funnest part about the game is just how varied the combat is. You have your basic chainsaw and punches, then you've got all the weapons and objects each stage offers. Next there's all the brutal attacks and finishers you can produce with these. And then there's the different "Murders" which require certain environmental objects unique to each level, such as slamming a guy face first into a toilet or throwing a goon into a tank full off piranhas. Many beat 'em ups and other games that rely solely on combat suffer from repetition, but MadWorld succeeds in banishing this generalization by letting you have hundreds of options of killing enemies. There's also a good amount of variety in stages and enemies. You'll fight regular thugs and punks in the city levels, werewolves and zombies in the haunted levels, aliens (which explode into bluish-green blood rather than the normal red) and robots in the Area-51 inspired levels, and ninjas and samurai in the oriental levels. It's all great fun.

MadWorld also controls very nicely. A and B are used for most attacks, while gestures and waggle (replacing the button mashing of games like God of War) are saved for the more cinematic moves and finishers. Jack's chainsaw attacks work wonderfully with the game, recognizing horizontal and vertical swipes with ease. Similar is the rest of the motion controls in MadWorld; they all work great and don't feel forced. The only complaint I had was with the camera and the lock-on system. To lock onto enemies you have to hold the C button for a couple of seconds until the game locks you on, then you can let go. It's too much of a hassle to bother with in early parts of levels since you'll be killing enemies left and right, though you'll definitely want to use it when facing bosses. It would've been much nicer for you to lock on while pressing C and take it off once you let go of the button. The camera also is a bit funky in the game. The only control you have of it is pressing C and it pops back to viewing directly behind you. It would've been nice to have some manner of analog control over it, but you'll be able to make due with it most of the time.

Each stage is structured similarly. The boss at the end is only unlocked after you earn achieve a certain amount of points. But along the way, points will unlock various things such as weapons, health items, Bloodbath Challenge minigames, environmental kills, and minibosses that offer a challenging break from the usual enemy fodder. It's fun and vital to use these point-unlocked things to your advantage, since they'll usually help you garner more points faster. The Bloodbath Challenges definitely are a highlight of the game. There are eleven in all; all brutally hilarious and all very fun. In one such Challenge, titled Man Darts, you'll hit enemies with spiked bat towards a dart board, with real darts points factoring into each hit. As I mentioned before, doing good in these boosts your score and gets you to the end level boss quicker. And how about them bosses? They're some of the best fun in the game (and trust me there's a lot of that in MadWorld). The best part about the fantastic boss battles are the finishers, which definitely are the greatest kills of the game.

The audio in MadWorld really blew me away. I was pleasantly surprised by just how good the music was in MadWord. I generally don’t like rap and hip-hop, but I loved MadWorld’s soundtrack. But the high point of the sound department has to be the brilliant commentary done by Greg Proops (Whose Line Is It Anyway?) and John DiMaggio (Bender from Futurama). It's immature, very well done, and plain hilarious. I'm pretty sure the game earned several of its ESRB details solely from DiMaggio and Proops and their very enjoyable commentating. Once you factor in the sound effects and in-game voice work along with the commentary and soundtrack, it can become too much. Thankfully you can turn up and down the different aspects of the audio. So in one level if you just want to hear the excellent music, you can. Or in another if you want to hear the hilarious banter of the commentators with nothing else distracting you, you can.

Besides the regular stages, you'll have motorcycle ones and boss-centric levels (where you'll do nothing but face the boss). Both of which are very fun, but I found the regular levels to be the most enjoyable. Another gripe I had with the game was that it wasn't particularly long. Granted it was a hell of a ride, but MadWorld clocks in around five to six hours. There is some incentive to go back into Hard mode, for new weapons are unlocked to play with, and the A.I. is brutally smart and a lot more challenging than their Normal counterparts. There is a multiplayer that is fairly enjoyable, though it only has you competing with another player in the Bloodbath Challenges. This is fun and all, but I can't deny how great the game could've been if it let you tackle the stages and bosses with (or even against) a pal. Unfortunately, there's still not too much to make you want to replay stages. All there really is to do is beat your own score. With a game so centered around getting points, it's sad to see no online leaderboards.

Overall Thoughts

Playing MadWorld, I had some of the most fun on my Wii I'd had in a long time. My only gripes with the monochromatic beat 'em up would have to be that it's not the longest of games and the camera has some positioning issues. Despite these very minor gripes, MadWorld is a blast with it's over the top, comical fun and pretty black, white, and red visuals.

9/10

Comments or questions? Drop an email to kylehogg@gmail.com or leave a comment below...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The House of the Dead: Overkill (Wii) review

Here's the long overdue review. And the scores are back! Mostly due to Everyview's Zac's request, and me feeling there was something missing. Enjoy! -Kyle

The House of the Dead: Overkill (Wii)
Developer: Headstrong Games
Publisher: Sega
Date Released: February 10, 2009 (USA)
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

On-rails shooters have had a good run on the Wii with Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles, Ghost Squad, and The House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return. And this on-rails shooting fun doesn’t look to stop anytime soon with both Dead Space: Extraction and Resident Evil: Darkside Chronicles announced to be coming to Nintendo’s current console. HotD: 2 & 3 Return was (as you could probably guess) a port of both the second and third House of the Dead games. It sold pretty well and saw mostly favorable reviews. Though it was really just Sega testing the water, but now with an original game titled House of the Dead: Overkill, they’ve jumped all the way in with a cannonball and a slash.

House of the Dead: Overkill does a few things noticeably different from the previous arcade games. The most noticeable is the 70’s grindhouse style. The story is pays homage to the cheesy, zombie filled pulp horror films of the 1970’s. All of this is complete with cheesy dialogue, over the top violence, a hilariously clich├ęd and awesome plot, and a very unique graphical style.

The story is both well written and hilarious. As just about everything in the game, it seems the Headstrong gang watched just about every zombie flick they could get their hands on to craft the wonderful plot that Overkill presents. You follow the journey of the mysterious Agent G and profanity spewing Detective Isaac Washington on their way to take down the evil mastermind behind the mutant invasion, Papa Caesar. The story takes them to a variety of locales from a swamp with redneck mutants to a carnival with mutant clowns and carnies.

With the excellent story comes some great characters and hilarious chemistry between Agent G and Detective Washington. There are some funny jokes than turn into “inside jokes” with their frequency of use, particularly ones involving the G in Agent G’s name and elevators. Along the way the two meet up with a stripper named Varla Guns and she adds to the great dialogue even more. All of this is voice acted intentionally cheesy and it’s really enjoyable. My only gripe is Washington’s over the top swearing. It’s funny and some people will feel it fits the game and the grindhouse feel perfectly, but I found it to be a little bit too much at times.

As far as the gameplay goes, Overkill clings to some traditional mechanics, while bringing some fresh ideas to the table as well. First and foremost, the controls work great. The IR makes getting head shots and shooting tiny objects all the easier. It’s standard shooter controls for the Wii remote: B to shoot, to reload press A or flick the cursor off the screen light gun style, and the + button for grenades. It’s all very simple, intuitive, and a breeze to play with.

Each level in the game has you killings hordes of zombies, collecting items like health and grenades, and fighting bosses at the end of each. There’s a lot of fun zombie killing with heads bursting into unrealistic explosions of blood and gore and a powerup that instigates Slow Mo-Fo Mode for some excellent slow motion thrills. In between levels you can use money you’ve earned to upgrade and buy new weapons. The end level bosses were usually the biggest disappointment of each level for me. Generally, they’d be easy and predictable. There were only one or two that were memorable and fun. One of the worst had only one attack that he did over and over. With all the great level design Headstrong put into Overkill, it would’ve been nice of them to make some bosses of that same caliber of excellence.

House of the Dead: Overkill really succeeds in all the innovations it brings too. One being the Danger Cam, which lets you shift the screen a bit both directions so as to prepare for what’s coming and set up for kills, rather than having the screen locked in a position like most on-rails games. The other unique design that Overkill uses is a combo system that makes you fire with accuracy on your mind rather than pulling the trigger every time something moves. As the combo progresses higher and higher so will the bonus points that comes with each kill until you reach the awesome Goregasm that rewards you with 1000 extra points every kill and ensures you a spot high on the high score board if you can maintain it.

Speaking of scores, House of the Dead: Overkill handles retries very well too. In the arcades a continue screen that required credits was perfect for making the machines money and making players strive to not get a game over. But when these kinds of games are ported over to consoles the challenge is diminished, as it’s just a button press and you’re off onto the same level again. In Overkill it cuts your score in half, generally taking a lot of points, and returning that urgency and desire not to lose.

On-rails shooters aren’t known for their length, but House of the Dead puts up a fair fight. The story mode will clock you in around three to four hours, then you’ve got Director’s Cut, which has more zombies, extended levels, and an upped difficulty to play through. There’s also a coop mode that works wonderfully, three multiplayer-focused minigames that provide a short burst of fun, and Dual Wield mode, which is unlocked after completing both the Director’s Cut and the original Story Mode. You’ll want to play through levels again and again to beat high scores, get any little things you missed, and just play the addictive game some more. Unfortunately there aren’t any online leaderboards to speak of, so the only high scores you’ll be beating are your own. Headstrong really missed the boat on that one, seeing as it would fit perfectly with a score driven game like this one.

And finally we come to the visual and audio presentation of the game. In a word, it’s exceptional. The entire game has a visual look of a grindhouse, B-movie flick. Filters and lines indicating scratches and dirt marks are present through the entire game and make the game’s visuals really unique. The overall graphics are also really great and some of the Wii’s best, though the game suffers from some severe frame-rate problems. While I consider myself a versatile gamer and a gamer at that, I’m not quite like the journalists and game developers, meaning I can’t tell whether a game runs at 60 or 30 frames per second. And I generally can’t tell when a game stutters or not. But even I could see just how much slowdown there was in Overkill. Just about time a zombie was shot a something new appeared there was slowdown. But in the end it doesn’t take too much away from the experience and you’ll actually forgive it, seeing just how great the rest of the game is. On the audio side, there are some wonderful 70’s style songs and overall is a stellar soundtrack to compliment the gameplay and graphics.

Overall Thoughts

With it’s combo meter, Slow Mo-Fo pickups, and all the zombie blasting fun you could ask for, Overkill is a treat and an addictive one at that. Despite the slight issues of lackluster bosses and some prevalent visual slowdown, House of the Dead: Overkill is an entertaining on-rails shooter with a great grindhouse style and an enjoyable, well-written story (that is both intentionally cheesy and intentionally fantastic).

9/10

Comments or questions? Drop an email to kylehogg@gmail.com or leave a comment below...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Poll #13 results

Thirteenth poll is finished. The results for this one are as follows:

Which Nintendo console was your first? (51 votes)
  • NES - 47% (24 votes)
  • SNES - 11% (6 votes)
  • Nintendo 64 - 23% (12 votes)
  • Nintendo GameCube - 5% (3 votes)
  • Wii - 11% (6 votes)
  • I've never owned a Nintendo console - 0% (0 votes)
Not surprisingly, most voters started out their Nintendo console playing on the original Nintendo Entertainment System. Up next was the N64 with 23% of the votes. And coming in at a solid third was a tie between the Super NES and the Wii.

And as usual, there's a new poll up as well. Just last Monday, Nintendo released the first two games in their GameCube Wii-make series, New Play Control!, Pikmin and Mario Power Tennis. In Japan, a number more have already been released such as Metroid Prime and Donkey Kong Jungle Beat. My question to you is, "Which New Play Control! games have you gotten or are planning on getting?" (out of the announced ones of course).

Comments or questions? Drop an email to kylehogg@gmail.com or leave a comment below...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Deadly Creatures (Wii) review

Deadly Creatures (Wii)
Developer: Rainbow Studios
Publisher: THQ
Date Released: February 9, 2009 (USA)
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)

Insects, arachnids, and the creepy crawlies are things games have rarely touched upon. There's been Bug's Life-esque, cartoony kids games, and spiders and snakes have been enemies and end level bosses, but never before has gaming seen something as unique as Deadly Creatures. The Wii is definitely home to some unique games whether it be because of innovative ideas or the rethinking of certain genres and mechanics. Deadly Creatures is here, and it's another of these games that's very different from the rest.

The game is split into ten levels. Each level alternates between the two playable characters, the scorpion and the tarantula. This results in five scorpion stages and five spider stages. Each level will have multiple goals, most being get to a certain point or explore a certain location. Every time you complete a goal, the next one will pop up. This turns out to make the game progression very linear. And that adds onto the already super linear environments that you traverse. This being said, most of the levels are still a blast to play as you'll crawl along walls and upside down on ceilings. Just don't expect a lot of branching paths throughout these stages.

Deadly Creatures definitely isn't a super lengthy tale. A normal play through will last anywhere from six to eight hours (maybe ten at tops). There's three difficulties, but not a lot of incentive to go back and replay parts of the game. There are collectible grubs and crickets, though they do nothing much except satisfy that completionist's urge to get every last thing. Though some artwork galleries and excellent interviews with Hopper and Thornton are in the extras menu and definitely should be checked out.

The story in Deadly Creatures revolves around two human characters, Wade and George Struggs, both brilliantly voiced by Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Hopper respectively. The storyline is one of betrayal, and a buried chest of Civil War gold. It's interesting and plays out well, though it is fairly minimal, and it would've been nice to see more. As far as the scorpion and tarantula go, there's very little story if any. But what is cool is how the story of Struggs and Wade is viewed. Since you play as the scorpion and the tarantula, you'll view the story from a lower, different perspective and it's a very unique take on storytelling. It should also be noted that interaction between the two groups (creepy crawlies and humans) is pretty limited. It would've been great for more of this too, since there are a few human-bug interactions, and they're all really great and show a lot of potential for even greater things.

Deadly Creatures is an action-adventure game that clings to traditional mechanics of combat and a bit of exploration but throws in some completely new design choices. Most of the game you'll go through levels with a few puzzles and obstacles along the way, but most of your time is spent in combat. You'll continually unlock new moves and combos until the end. This results in what could be some pretty diverse fighting if it weren't for several moves of each creature being a lot more powerful than the rest, and in the end you'll tend to lean on said moves which makes the game feel a lot more repetitive than it should be.

The game's controls mix button presses with gestures for good effect. Most of it works well, you'll tend to button mash a bit and use motion controls occasionally for stronger blows. I did have some problems with the motion controls though. The game did well in recognizing the difference between horizontal and vertical gestures, it just didn't do it in a timely manner. It would usually take a second or two for the motion to register. Which is a shame as all of the other controls work great.

You take control of both a scorpion and a tarantula within the game. Both creatures have their differences. The scorpion is more of a tank and a fighter. It's not nearly as fast as the spider and doesn't have the agility to dodge and jump out the way like the tarantula does. The scorpion levels tend to have a lot more combat than the others. The greatest part of being a scorpion is the cinematic quick time events of finishing off enemies. They're brutal, in no way realistic, and very awesome. Seeing a scorpion shove it's stinger into a rat's skull or flip over an insect and stab it though it's appendix are some of the best memories you'll come away from this game having.

Contrary to the scorpion, the tarantula is much more of a stealthy character. He's a lot more agile as he can jump, dodge, and attack from afar. Overall I found the spider to be much more enjoyable to play due to it being a lot more versatile. The tarantula has melee combat moves like the scorpion, but the more effective moves include shooting webs and the ability to pounce on unsuspecting enemies from a distance. I found these levels to be a lot more fun. Plus early into the game you gain the ability to shoot webs and pull yourself long distances (like Spider-Man) that make those levels even more fun.

Throughout the game you'll constantly be fighting enemies. The enemy lineup is fairly varied and you'll fight all different sorts of insects, arachnids, lizards, and rats. All have different fighting styles with some being able to fly or charge. They're all a great deal of fun to fight, but the real fun comes in with the boss fights. These encounters are fantastically done, specifically the last two (though I won't ruin anything) which occur in Chapters 9 and 10 (the last tarantula and scorpion levels respectively). It's just a shame that they didn't make more of these encounters, as you'll only fight four or so bosses throughout the game. Making a boss at the end of each chapter would've been great. That said, you'll still have a lot of fun fighting rattle snakes and giant lizards throughout the boss battle encounters.

The best thing Deadly Creatures has going for it is the great atmosphere. This is due to some great level design and artwork, an exceptional audio side, and some great graphics. The soundtrack and audio in Deadly Creatures definitely deserves some praise. There's not much music so to speak, more of an ambiance that really fits the levels. Complimenting that are some realistic sound effects from the bugs and mammals alike. I found nothing to complain about on the sound side of things, it's perfect and does a great job of immersing you in the game.

The game also sports fairly good visuals. And being zoomed in at a bug's level, it does hold up with textures. All of the different bugs are animated perfectly and move much like the real things. The lifelike crawl of the tarantula is sure to send arachnophobics running in fright. The greatest part of the game though is being at such a tiny level. Crawling on walls and ceilings is great and fighting on them is even better. You'll be exchanging blows with an insect only to have it lose footing and fall sideways to what is actually the ground breaking the illusion of gravity. It's also great to see everything from bike tire to a doll house at a scorpion's view. You'll find yourself crawling inside a large structure only to get out of it, look around, and see that it was actually a worn out, holy shoe.

While on the presentation side of things, the game certainly is nice, there are some bugs and parts that feel unpolished that bring down the game a bit. Frequent load times pop up in the middle of levels and the game can stutter in the framerate area from time to time. I even had a couple of load times happen in the middle of fighting enemies that really breaks up the action and are annoying. Another issue I had was with all the different surfaces. Sure, it was great to crawl upon all different sides and angles, but sometimes enemies wouldn't fare so well and get stuck in the environments. Though the biggest complaint I have with the game is the clunky camera. It works decent most of the time, but occasionally it'll freak out disorienting you while trying to center on something. It also had the tendency to catch on walls and stay there while you get farther and farther away until at last it jumps back to you. The game definitely could use some polish, and it does feel like a couple more weeks or even a month of ironing out the bugs (the technical kind) would've done this game well.

Overall Thoughts

As I said earlier, Deadly Creatures has it's bugs and unpolished areas, but as you climb upside down and along walls, pounce on unsuspecting enemies as the spider, and pull off brutal finishers with the scorpion, most of this nitpicking is forgotten. The game's great atmosphere is reason alone to experience this unique game. Despite it not being the longest of games, I'd recommend a buy to anyone who can stand the game and it's arachnaphobia inducing graphics.

7/10

Comments or questions? Drop an email to kylehogg@gmail.com or leave a comment below...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

N+ (DS) review

N+ (DS)
Also for: PSP, Xbox 360 via XBLA
Developer: SilverBirch Studios
Publisher: Atari
Date Released: August 26, 2008 (USA)
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)

N started as a flash game many years ago that soon gained a cult following. It was a great platformer that used a bare, minimalist visual style and a deep physics engine to its advantage. A console version, available for download as an Xbox Live Arcade game, was released early 2008 titled N+ and was positively received by reviewers and critics alike. Later into the year, portable versions of N+ were released. Now, I've put many hours into the hundreds of levels and beaten the game entirely. Does the DS version live up the the great legacy of N, or does it fall short to its untimely death?

The premise of N+ is simple. You are a ninja. You must get to the door at the end of each level by running, jumping, and dodging enemies and obstacles. You must not die or have time run out. Collect gold along the way to boost your time limit. It's that simple. And it's exactly this that made both N and N+ for the Xbox so appealing. Like many games, it's simple but very addictive. The game definitely hearken back to the simple sidescrolling platforms of days past. Not having a unnecessary story that stretches out for long parts of the game or tons of gimmicks to make it "fresh" really work to N+'s advantage.

N+'s main single-player mode is split into a number of episodes, each containing five levels. The total number of episodes is around 45, which results in more than 200 levels on the cartridge. Each level has one overall goal, get to the door at the end. It's what happens between that makes each vary from the last. Some rooms are filled with enemies to dodge. Others are completely void of bad guys that really test your reflexes with tough, bomb-dodging platforming. While others consist of hitting certain switches that open doors to other switches that add an almost puzzle aspects to some portions of the game. In the hundreds of levels, variety is present and very much welcome.

Other than the basic single-player modes, there's multiplayer, both cooperative and competitive, and level creation options. It's the level creator that is really interesting. It may not be of LittleBigPlanet caliber, but I still had some great fun making great levels, (including a slightly challenging "World 1-1" stage). All the options are there, and it's entirely possible to make every level already in the game. With those kinds of tools, you can make some truly great levels. And while it may have all the tools and options to make any kind of level you want, it's entirely accessible and I grasped the concept a mere five minutes after starting up the mode. Though it would've been nice to have some sort of level editor tutorial mode. Even better there's a great online sharing community to share and download custom made stages.

The game will last you a reasonable time. There are hundreds of levels to tackle and other modes like the level creator and multiplayer. Plus some of the later levels are astonishingly difficult that'll have you playing a single stage over and over for even a half an hour at a time. You'll get a lot of bang for your buck with N+ as it's definitely not a short-lived game.

N+'s gameplay is still very much like the beloved N. The ninja controls precisely, making quick, reflex-heavy platforming possible. The great physics engine is intact as well. Though if you have played the original N, you'll notice your ninja controls a bit heavier and your jumps don't have the distance they used to (though they are still pretty big). It's still a blast to play N+ as the platforming is really good. It's precise, quick, and responsive.

The whole catch in N+ is there's no lives, no health meter, and you have infinite retries on levels. It may seem easy with all these restrictions gone, but really it's anything but. One hit from anything, an enemy, bombs, or falling too far will result in your death. It's this that makes the game so difficult. Some of the later levels are almost brutal in just how much they test your reflexes. But the rewarding feeling that comes from completion of these punishing stages is second to none.

In N, you had a full view of the entire room. You saw every obstacle, every enemy, and could plan a safe route to the doorway at the end. What the DS does is even better in my opinion. The top screen shows a view of the entire room, much like the original just fitted onto a small screen. While the bottom screen shows a zoomed in version of your ninja. This results in some skillful use of both. Using the up close screen to make your jumps precise and dodge enemies by mere pixel-distances, all the while using the top screen as guide in progressing the level as a whole. It's a great take on N that really couldn't be done on anything but the DS.

N+'s presentation is much like the original: basic. Menus are bland and the graphics use a very minimal approach. Though it may be simple and not pushing the hardware, it's still very nice to look at. You also have the options of switching between the new updated graphics with more detailed sprites and animations (appropriately titled Plus Mode) and the old, primitive graphics of the original N (deemed Pure Mode). While the graphics may be simple but bearable, the music is horrid. There are some flat-out bad tunes in there. I'd recommend just turning off the music, which is thankfully an option since the sound effects are great. The effects of beeping robots and the clinking of obtaining gold are very pleasant on the ears.

Overall Thoughts

N+ is the perfect portable game. You can pick it up and play it for five minutes alone, beating one episode, and then put it down. Or you can play hours on end trying to beat every last stage. It may not be anything particularly new, but it succeeds with some great platforming fun. Bare presentation complaints aside, N+ is a great DS game and a fantastic platformer.

8/10

Comments or questions? Drop an email to kylehogg@gmail.com or leave a comment below...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Classic Controller PRO


Nintendo recently unveiled it's latest hardware creation, the Classic Controller PRO, which currently is only going to see a release in Japan. But I'm guessing we'll see a confirmation of whether or not it's coming to North America and Europe sooner or later. As you can see from above, the most prominent change is the two grips for both hands, similar to most controllers nowadays. Another variation from the original is the ZL and ZR button now behind L and R instead of to the right and left of them respectively. It should also be noted that the cord connecting to the Wii remote now comes from the top rather than the bottom.

Personally I dislike the new design. Not that I like the classic controller that much anyways. It was nice to play SNES games, but I didn't really like the design for anything else. I don't like how both analog sticks are near the bottom rather than the superior (at least in my eyes) design of the GameCube and Xbox 360 with the left analog stick directly across from the face buttons. As for the new design, making it more like the Dualshock, which is one of the most uncomfortable designs in my opinion is not a good thing. Plus, they didn't care to implement any other features, most prominent making it wireless and adding rumble. Both would be great and make it worth the increased price tag.

My dream Classic Controller would be one that was wireless (maybe just having to attach some little thing to the Wii remote), had rumble, and could be used in GameCube games (I mean, all the buttons are there, just rearranged a bit). So overall, I definitely don't think the Classic Controller PRO is a step in the right direction. Making it more like the Dualshock, not implementing rumble, and not making it wireless: I'd say that's more a step in the wrong direction.

Comments or questions? Drop an email to kylehogg@gmail.com or leave a comment below...

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Gaming Forcast - March 2009

Another month, another Gaming Forecast article. The month of March once again is home to many releases of both Wii and DS games.

Gaming Forecast March 2009
  • Major League Baseball 2K9 (Wii, Mar. 3rd)
  • Sonic & The Black Knight (Wii, Mar. 3rd)
  • We Ski and Snowboard (Wii, Mar. 3rd)
  • Major League Baseball 2K9 Fantasy All-Stars (DS, Mar. 3rd)
  • Peggle: Dual Shot (DS, Mar. 3rd)
  • New Play Control! Mario Power Tennis (Wii, Mar. 9th)
  • New Play Control! Pikmin (Wii, Mar. 9th)
  • MadWorld (Wii, Mar. 10th)
  • MySims Party (Wii and DS, Mar. 10th)
  • Avalon Code (DS, Mar. 10th)
  • Marble Saga: Kororinpa (Wii, Mar. 17th)
  • Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 (Wii, Mar. 17th)
  • Rune Factory: Frontier (Wii, Mar. 17th)
  • Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (DS, Mar. 17th)
  • Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure (DS, Mar. 17th)
  • Suikoden Tierkreis (DS, Mar. 17th)
  • TrackMania DS (DS, Mar. 17th)
  • Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume (DS, Mar. 17th)
  • Pokemon Platinum (DS, Mar. 22nd)
  • Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time (Wii and DS, Mar. 24th)
  • Guitar Hero: Metallica (Wii, Mar. 29th)
Whew... That was a lot of games. They may not all turn out extraordinary, but I'm certain there's quality to be found in my listed releases.

The biggest one this month for me is MadWorld. I am very stoked it and cannot wait to get my hands on a copy of this brutal, over the top game. Another Wii game that interests me is the New Play Control! version of Pikmin. I never got to play the original, but have heard great things about it, so I'll definitely be laying down some money for that. As far as other Wii games go, I won't be buying any other. Though both Sonic's latest game and Marble Saga: Kororinpa look interesting, but I doubt I'll pick them up seeing as my wallet's hurting as it is.

As I said last month, I don't own a DS, but if I did I'd have to spend even more of my money. This being because Peggle, GTA: Chinatown Wars, and Henry Hatsworth all look very good.

March was another great month for both Nintendo platforms with many quality releases. What will you be picking up? Or is there nothing that interests you?

Comments or questions? See any games I missed? Drop an email to kylehogg@gmail.com or leave a comment below...