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Rosethorn’s Ramblings: Site Update

Welcome back again.  As you can see, we are starting to populate the site with new content.  There are few new writers and contributors waiting in the wings with new content.  If you are interested

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Rosethorn’s Ramblings: Site Update, GaMExpo, Nerdvana Con, Life Updates

What to Watch: You Tube

Top 5 YouTube video’s of the past week (with one blast from the past). Each week, on Tuesday, I am going to post 5 videos I think are worth watching on YouTube.  I’d love to hear what you

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What to Watch: You Tube

Rosethorn’s Ramblings: Welcome Bac

Welcome back to Killer Betties! It’s been over three years since I’ve made a post, but I am back. Before I get to what I’ve been doing for three years, I want to talk first about The

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Rosethorn’s Ramblings: Welcome Back, TWD, The Bar, and Other Random Thoughts

Football Manager 2017 Review

Football Manager 2017 is a football management simulation video game for the PC developed by Sports Interactive and published by Sega. Gameplay: In terms of gameplay, it is really fun. You can create

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Football Manager 2017 Review

Volunteers Wanted

Killer Betties is going through some growing pains and we need more bodies (and pens) to keep up with it. If you have any interest in writing video game reviews, previews, interviews or editorials, p

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Volunteers Wanted

‘Alien Hominid’ Review (Xbox 360)

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by on February 28, 2007 at 2:46 pm

YetiXbox Live’s arcade system has been a flawed program since the beginning, rarely offering up anything memorable beyond the initial cult favorite hit Geometry Wars, and since then the recent arcade games to have come out have been nothing more than old arcade game ports. However, the Xbox Live arcade has a few tricks up its sleeves every once in a while, and suddenly here comes Alien Hominid, making a case for itself as the best game you can buy for your points.

In Alien Hominid you play as a little yellow alien who suddenly finds himself getting shot down by the good old US of A and it’s up to you to get your ship back. However, you won’t just be exploring America’s urban wasteland in your quest, because you’ll also find yourself heading back to the USSR and ultimately to the secretive Area 51. Can you survive? Chances are not a chance in the world!

Believe me when I saw Alien Hominid is of the old school mentality of gaming, meaning simple graphics in concept, flat textures against flat backgrounds, one hit one kill gameplay harkening back to Contra, and insanely insane (yes, that insane!) difficulty that will have you cursing up a mighty storm. But you know what else you’ll be doing? You’ll be having a blast!

Big BossThe idea of the game is easy: run left and right, shooting all enemies that oppose you and destroying all objects that impede your progress, and avoid all enemy fire. Then, at the midway and end you’ll fight a boss who’ll give you even more of a run for your money. Controls are really simple as well, where the left thumbstick will move your alien, the A-button jumps, the X-button shoots, etc. However, there are some more interesting moves, such as using the trigger to dive roll to their corresponding directions, making it so you can quickly dive out of the way or trouble or dodge roll past bullets. There are also two kind of secretive offensive moves, with one being the underground dive where you dive into the ground, peep out, and grab unsuspecting foes to bring them down for the kill, and the head chomp (a personal favorite) that you get by jumping onto any enemy and attacking them.

As you go along, though you’ll have an infinite amount of bullets in your regular raygun, you’ll run across powerups throughout the levels, that will temporarily give you a one hit shield, but the best powerups are the weapons themselves, such as the flame, frost, rapid fire, and spreadgun that you can get. Many of the powerups even have their own death kills, like the fire burning people to a crisp, the frost one freezing enemies, and the laser simply shredding the enemy into two.

Beyond hitting the levels strictly on foot, you’ll also be able to pilot a few vehicles and other oddities, such as jumping into a car or bulldozer to plow through enemies, a tank or missile launcher to fire off some massive explosions, even moving on to piloting your own ship amongst the skies and flying baddies, all the way to riding a yeti. Yes, you heard that right, a yeti! And I’ll tell you now he is the cutest little (okay, giant) instrument of death you’ve ever seen, what with all the fist punching and baddie eating. Most of the vehicles won’t last you too long, because they are destroyable and fall apart pretty quickly at that.

The levels range in creativity from urban wastelands filled with concrete and demolishing buildings to the snow drenched countryside of a Mother Russia to jumping from moving car to moving car on a freeway, knowing that one false step will mean a tumble and death. But beyond the stylistics of the levels, the enemies and bosses are where the design elements really shine, because they are all flawlessly animated, featuring some really, silky smooth animations, and are really creative and inventive. You’ve got giant punching robots, a giant pudding monster who you hurt by dousing it with water, and my favorite is probably the giant Russian robot that attacks you with a hammer and a sickle (if you don’t get it, look it up – Google is your friend).

HighwayThe game isn’t going to take you hours and hours to complete, but you aren’t going to breeze through it all in minutes either. There are 15 levels spread across 3 worlds, plus there are three difficulties for you to choose from. Beyond having fun, you’ll probably want to tackle the game to try and rise up the leaderboard rankings. Beyond the normal level games itself, you’ve also got a few minigames that you’ll unlock throughout your play of the game, and though they aren’t terribly amazing or great or anything, they are fun diversions and games for some quick fixes, with my favorite being the Missile Master one which has you guiding a Russian missile through the air as you try to avoid planes and other obstacles all so that you can blow up America. Russia blowing up America…what’s funny about that? You just gave to see the little dancing Russian followed by the PWNED winning message.

In the end, when all things are said and done, there have been plenty of Xbox Live arcade games where I’ve bought them and instantly regretted my purchase. However, Alien Hominid is not one of those games – I’m thoroughly enjoying myself with this wonderful celebration of all things old school. It is a beautiful looking game thanks to its animated charm and cute gore infused graphics, that will have you laughing more than wanting to throw up in your mouth (Hostel level gore this is not – besides, you can turn the gore off for the kiddies if you want). If you want some old school goodness, but wrapped in new and hotness, be sure to give Alien Hominid a look.

RATING: 5star
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‘Root Beer Tapper’ Review (Xbox 360)

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by on February 7, 2007 at 1:39 pm

Root Beer TapperI love playing videogames, because I’ve learned that is really all I’m good at and that I’d absolutely fail miserably trying to hold down a steady, regular job. Case in point – Root Beer Tapper. Let’s just say that if you were to visit the bar I was dealing drinks out at, don’t go in expecting to see any Tom Cruise in Cocktail moves, because instead you’d have glass mugs flying at your head and breaking at your feet. So should you leave a nice tip for the service in this game?

Root Beer Tapper is an old school Midway game back before it was kosher to call it Beer Tapper. Really, Root Beer Tapper? Has that tasty beverage ever been as popular as it seems to be made out here? Do people go in saying, “Hey barkeep…one cold sarsaparilla if you don’t mind…and make it a double!” I guess that’s all a roundabout way of saying Root Beer Tapper is of the old school persuasion where you had to use nothing more than a control stick, a button, there was no story, and gameplay was rather easy in theory, but jeez didn’t it end up frustrating and a pain before all was said and done.

In Root Beer Tapper you play as the lowly barkeep, managing your bar rows, trying to keep all the patrons happy and ultimately getting them out of your bar as quick as you can until nobody else is left in there. You’ll easily move up through the rows by flicking the left thumbstick and order your little Mario look-alike to pour a frosty cold one and then whip it down the bar by pressing the A-button twice.

While playing you’ll only want to send as many root beer down as there are patrons, because if they are already drinking they won’t put theirs down to grab another, and instead it will pass everyone by and fall off the bar and shatter, costing you a life. Your goal is to push them through the bar opening by slinging a root beer towards them that shoves them through; if you let them too close they’ll only be pushed so far back. If you fail to push them all the way through, they’ll finish their root beer at the bar and send your glass back to you; if you fail to grab the glass as it is heading your way then it will drop and lose you a life again.

Bonus LevelAs the game moves on you’ll have to deal with more and more customers, juggling passing out glasses and catching returning ones, and also running down the bars to pickup tips if one was left for you for bonus points. You’ll also have a chance to win bonus points by competing in a minigame after every so many rounds, where you’ll have so many cans of root beer out, a masked barren will shake them all up but one, and then you’ll have to follow the one that wasn’t shook up. If you can follow the mixing up of the root beer and open the one that doesn’t explode in your face then lucky you and bonus points to you.

And yeah – that’s it really. You have things like the Xbox Live Arcade leader board to show your prowess or lack thereof in the game, but there isn’t anything like graphical upgrades or anything else to speak of. For that matter, I popped in my old Xbox copy of Midway’s Arcade Treasures and Root Beer Tapper looked just like it did when it was released on that.

If you’re a fan of Root Beer Tapper you’ll buy the game, but I can’t see much of anyone else going crazy for the chance to play a however many years old game. With all these old games coming out offering nothing more than really what they gave back then, it seems like only a matter of time before we get games like Pong. Aren’t you just drooling over that possiblitiy?

Rating: 2star
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Slots At The Top – ‘Reel Deal Slots: Mystic Forest’ Heads The Pack

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by on January 19, 2007 at 2:34 pm

Over the last few years, a new type of game has appeared—the casino genre. Rising to the top of its genre, as well as the family entertainment category, according to NPD Entertainment November industry statistics, is a dark horse from Phantom EFX….Reel Deal Slots: Mystic Forest. Apparently Mystic Forest has become the favored game of thousands of players according to a list headed by the #1 game of all videogames…you guessed it, World of Warcraft. Being a slots game and named 8th for all videogames in October (according to PC Gamer) in the same list as WoW is an almost-unheard-of achievement in the gaming world.

1-mystic_forestSo, what IS Mystic Forest? According to Pit Boss Ernie739, it is a game, not a gambling site. As such, it is accorded all the bells, whistles, and earmarks of a videogame. Said Ernie739 when I asked him if real dollars were played and won, “Yeah, right, I’D like to win that kind of money.” Real money doesn’t enter into the game at all, other than the initial cost of the game of $19.99 and a modest monthly subscription fee ($7.99 per month on a yearly basis, or $9.99 per month on a monthly basis). Oh, and in Mystic Forest, the GMs are called Pit Bosses – nice casino touch there.

I played Mystic Forest for a few days – and found it much more fun that I thought it would be. Basically, the game has four divisions to it—slots, poker, card games (such as Hearts, Spades, etc.), and table games (such as Let It Ride, Keno, Bingo, etc.). In single player (or offline) mode, you just play the slots as you would any of the dozens of solitaire games available at any number of sites throughout the internet. The difference here though is that the slots are FUN. The graphics are bright, colorful, and, well, different.

2-dragonsFor one thing, many of the slot games are animated, and the animations and accompanying music and sound effects are delightful. Two of my favorite slots are Dragons and Froggies. In the Dragons slots, when you get a match according to the paylines you have picked, the pictures in the payline are animated, accompanied by the appropriate sound: one of them is a flying dragon who breathes fire onto a village…you watch the dragon flap over the village and you hear the whoosh of fire and the screams of the villagers. I know it sounds gory, but it isn’t – it’s too cartoonish to be gory. The animators and sound EFX people (in-house by the way) have done their jobs well. I am almost too squeamish to be a gamer, but this animation elicited a few chuckles out of me. Really, you have to see it to appreciate it.

3-froggiesFroggies slots is adorable. That statement will pretty much guarantee that most of the guys won’t play it, unless secretly…behind closed doors. However, it will be their loss. The music for Froggies (also written in-house, as are all the tunes in Mystic Forest) is a rollicking country melody, banjo and all, and the pictures on the slots are appropriately slices of nature…swinging opossums, which, when rolled into a winning combo, stick out their tongues and go PHLOOOOOO. Or words to that effect. The deer combo will wiggle their ears, and the flower combo sparkle appealingly. When you hit the Froggies bonus round you have a whole pond full of lily pads, with a number of frogs awaiting the start signal. When it goes, so do the frogs, from one lily pad to another. The lily pads have numbers, or COLLECT, or NEW FROGGIES, on them. Wherever the frogs jump, that is what you gain. If they jump on a COLLECT pad, they go “Blahhhhh” and are taken out of the game. The best thing is, as the bonus round keeps going, the numbers increase. Unfortunately, so do the COLLECTs. However, the results can be pretty impressive. I have gained as much as 536 credits…at $0.05 per credit…you do the math. You can set the number of paylines, by the way, as well as how much you are betting on each line-up to a maximum of five cents per line.

4-tshawNow, I am not a slots player by nature. I generally find it too boring (along with Bejeweled and other games of that ilk). But these slots kept me captivated for quite a while. I counted 25 different slots games in all, but there may be more, and I tried about ten different ones. There is the type of slots where the columns roll and the idea is to get the paying pics in the middle of the line on each of the three columns. Even in Mystic Forest, that bored me, but the slots where there are animations and sound effects are so much fun I forgot I was even playing slots. AND the best thing of all in my opinion was that, once I got the hang of it, I was usually winning money…not so much with the slots themselves, although I could sometimes get a pretty good roll…but with the bonus rounds.

5-pumphead%26wifeEach slots game has a different kind of bonus game. In the Pharaoh’s Prize II, for instance, a bunch of scarabs run around, with an eerie, rattling sound. When they stop, you pick one – it reveals its prize, whether it be a number of credits, a bonus multiplier (such as 2X on the next pick), or GAME OVER. In Knight’s Odyssey, the bonus game is a mini-game within a game and is a lot of fun to play.

Okay, we are still pretty much talking single-player. I finally screwed up my courage to go to the multiplayer side. I had hesitated, because I was under the impression that I would have to pay real money to play on the multiplayer side. Wrong! It is the same deal in the multiplayer mode as the offline mode, i.e. no real money allowed, just the game money, and it is worth the trip. The graphics and sound effects here are very entertaining. The opening scene is the entrance to a majestic casino, complete with marble columns and stairs. It is a vast and sophisticated layout, with people entering the casino and the buzz of people talking and laughing. You enter the lobby, which in the game is also the lobby, i.e. you enter the lobby chat and get to talk to the Pit Bosses.

6-diamondefxWhat struck me first was the friendliness and availability of the Pit Bosses. If you ask a question, it is not a very long wait before a Pit Boss is right there to answer it. DiamondEFX was one of these affable hostesses. I barely had the question out of my mouth before it was answered. When DiamondEFX got too busy with subscriber players to answer my questions, she sicced me onto (er…made sure I had another PB to talk to). Even when I sneaked into the lobby incognito (minus my flying helmet and goggles), the Pit Bosses were there to help the players and keep the game being played the way it is supposed to be played.

The second thing that struck me in the lobby was the affability of the players themselves. There were no whiners, complainers, griefers, swearers, etc. Nearly everyone sounded like they were busy, happy, and content. It has been a long time since I have been in a public chat channel and heard that almost 100% of the time (and this was the case on numerous occasions I visited, many times as a lurker).

7-footballYou may be asking yourself, why does Raya keep referring to it as a game? It sounds like a solitaire slots game, just a tad different from the rest. This is where the big guns come in. You can actually play quests with these slots (and other games). You will level and you not only play in groups but you can join in guilds. Just like any other game that we play, including our beloved EverQuest and WoW, you level up by gaining experience. During gameplay and when you level, you gain either game dollars, VIP points (which you can use to buy things at the Casino Shop, such as frames for your icon), or experience to help you level further. You need to be a certain level (10, I think) before you can unlock some of the other games. And you can be helped in this endeavor by your guild.

I talked to ditziebunnie, a player, about guilds. She was enthusiastically recruiting for her new guild and had this to say:

“Almost everyone is in a guild…it lets you have a friends’ list of guild members that you can talk to by entering /g and only guild members can see the conversations…and then there are tourneys you enter together or solo.”

8-linda-shurmWith the exodus of players by the hundreds in recent years from games such as EverQuest, partly because of poor customer service and partly because of bugged or broken game parts and quests, success becomes a matter of the gaming company staying in touch with its customers’ desires. I talked to Linda denOuden, Casino Manager for Mystic Forest, and asked her to what she attributed the success of Reel Deal Slots: Mystic Forest.

“I think it’s because of the personal attention the company gives, not only to the games themselves but to the community as a whole,” Linda responded. “We listen to what they want and work very hard to incorporate it.

“The key I think is keeping the content fresh and interesting…”

Appearing to back this statement is an announcement that, some time this month, a new slot will be coming out…Circus, which will have new graphics, new animation, and new music.

9-playingslotsI found very little wrong with this game. I did have a bad moment when I had worked for over an hour accumulating points in one slot game to reach the required 17,000 credits to complete the quest. I logged out, used to having things automatically saved in the games I play. Imagine my distress when I found that I needed to exit the game differently in order to have my quest saved. The information for this was not very well displayed (a small sign at the right of the screen that said Info on it). I was understandably distressed. In general, I find the instructions either non-existent or buried in pages of text that often don’t yield the answer I am looking for. There is a good FAQ, however, and the Pit Bosses in the lobby are competent and forthcoming with answers to players’ questions. I still have no idea on how to move up to a table. I am told I need to have a certain title but don’t know how to get it. If I had more time to play the game, I am reasonably certain the Pit Bosses would steer me in the right direction. Best of all, though, when I ask dumb questions, there is no “shout” of NEWB!! in the chat channel.

10-principalsPhantom EFX began six years ago as the dream of Aaron Schurman, an ex-USAF computer programmer with NASA’s space command division. He got together with his boyhood chum, Danny Stokes, and the two of them formed the company. They taught themselves art and programming and dogged the devs of other game companies to learn the skills they needed. Not bending to the milieu’s unwritten rules of headquartering in California, or even Las Vegas, the two set up their company’s home base in their home territory of Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Quoting from an article on a Phantom fansite:

“From the beginning, we wanted to make a unique product,” said Schurman. His idea was to combine casino games with the staple of video games: the pursuit of reaching different levels and attaining prizes for those accomplishments. So instead of playing blackjack for the sake of scoring 21, players continue to reap rewards the more successful they are. “As far as we were concerned, there was nothing out there like it. The industry didn’t think it was that important.”

Some time later, the co-owners of Genesis Digital Studios, Darin Beck and Marty VanZee, joined the partnership, and Genesis became the parent company of Phantom EFX. Beck brought an industry-respected artistic ability to the partnership, while VanZee provided production equipment and office space.

Since software developers and toy companies weren’t interested in the Phantom EFX products, Stokes and Schurman bravely decided to strike out on their own.

Again in the article from Phantom Phans:

“Phantom EFX writes all the code, designs all the graphics, produces the sound and produces all the games we sell,” said Beck. “Most software developers are not publishers and most publishers are not developers. We happen to be both.”

From a dream and a discussion at an Iowa McDonald’s, Phantom EFX took 6 years to reach the top and the financial rewards that the top provides.

The innovation, cleverness, color, and ingenuity of the slots, the friendliness of the people (Pit Bosses and players alike), and the compelling charm of the game (not to mention the reasonable price) all lead up to a nice big recommendation from me.

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‘Heavy Weapon’ Review (Xbox 360)

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by on January 17, 2007 at 3:01 pm

Big BlimpsGeneric name? Yeah. Gameplay that isn’t that advanced or complicated? Yeah again. A dull experience you shouldn’t waste your time on? Nope! Though Heavy Weapon isn’t graphically advanced and even uses an arcade setup that isn’t beyond anything you might have played back in the day when arcades were still widespread, for some reason when you put all the pieces together it makes an enjoyable and fun time, filled with gameplay that gets quite challenging as you move on forward.

Heavy Weapon basically sets up the scenario that the world is under attack by a global nation, and they are taking everything over. Of course one of the countries under attack are going to send in their most elite fighting unit. Right? Well, yes, if you consider one tank against millions of airplanes, helicopters, blimps, and rocket firing jeeps the army you’d want to send into that firefight. Of course, though that tank might not seem like much at first, get some upgrades in that baby and soon enough the enemy will indeed have to fear you.

Heavy Weapon is pure arcade goodness, where you control a tank as it moves across a straight level (the tank is always moving forward, but you can move it quickly backwards and forwards within the screen) wiping out enemies until you come to the boss. You move the tank left and right with the left thumbstick, and you aim your weapons with the right thumbstick; two thumbsticks, plus a right trigger to release a nuclear blast is the only thing you’ll need. See, not complicated in the slightest.

HelicoptersAs you advance through the levels, occasionally you’ll have white helicopters drop powerups for you, which will do anything from increase the hurting of your weapons, give you a spread shot, speed up your firing capabilities, speed up the movement of your tank, give you shields so you can take more than one shot, etc. After each level of the mission mode is complete, you’ll then get to distribute a point to other various weapons that will stay with you from beginning to end, such as setting up rotating defensive turrets, homing missiles, rockets, flak cannon, laserbeam, lightning gun, and other such weapons of devastation that fire automatically and at all times. You can even add more points to weapons you like, such as keep spending points on the homing missiles instead of spreading the love around.

So what type of enemies do you have? Well, since you are pointing upwards, the vast majority of enemies will be air based, such as jets, planes, helicopters, blimps, etc. Generally, the enemies, based on what type they are, will do one of several things: some with drop regular missiles, some shoot homing missiles, some drop nuclear bombs, some drop missiles that once exploded send beads of plasma into the sky, while other planes will shoot those plasma pellets at you and others dive bomb at you kamikaze style. You’ll also have massive rockets that shoot from the background and come crashing down from the top of the screen. The only really ground-based enemies are jeeps and tanks, which will shoot missiles or beads of plasma depending on how far into the game you are and what enemy type it is.

Besides the enemies that you’ll get bombarded with constantly through the levels, at the very end, should you survive, you’ll fight a boss battle, which are typically against these more monstrous creations, like a jumping gorilla robot, giant blimps, wrecking balls, and much more.

So what is hard about it? Though you can easily breeze through the first few levels (well, at least one for sure) without worrying or sweating too much, by a few more you’ll really be in the zone and your nerves will be fragile and your thumbs working over time. You see, when you only have the occasional missile screaming at you, there isn’t too much to worry about since you have a good sized screen to dodge it in or you could just shoot it down. However, once you get more enemies flying across the screen at once, dropping massive payloads on your left, homing missiles on your right, and a kamikaze getting ready to crush you from the top of the screen, then you’ll be trying to figure out who takes priority, where you should move, and start thinking about when to know to use your nuclear blast, and wondering what weapons you should upgrade for best results. The action is quick and there is never a moment of dullness until after that level is complete and you are gearing up for the next one.

Evil FaceBesides the single player mission mode, you can also do a survival mode to see how long you can last with only a few lives at your disposal, and you can even do a boss attack mode where you go against all the bosses one after another. Another thing great about the game is the multiplayer, where you can tackle things like survival mode with up to three other people you meet online (four players in total) where you can keep playing and respawning as long as one person is still alive on screen, or you can set it up so that once all your lives are up, you can only sit back and watch the others go at it until they die. The best thing about multiplayer is that the only thing you share are nuclear bomb attacks, so you never have to worry about someone being more powerful than you cause they hogged all the powerups; great decision choice.

The graphics are also pretty good considering the core simplicity behind it all, but when you see all the carnage happening on the screen at once, it is really quite amazing to the eye (and the nuclear blast is gorgeous in a cartoony way) and the sound works well with all the bombs, explosions, and enemies going on. The game also seems to run perfectly smooth from beginning to end with no slowdown, which is amazing when you see what all can be happening on the screen all at once. If you have Xbox Live, I’d highly recommend playing Heavy Tank. It is quick and easy to pickup, but has a challenge once you start peeling the layers back – exactly like a good arcade should be like.

Rating: 4star
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‘Ms. Pac-Man’ Review (Xbox 360)

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by on January 12, 2007 at 2:28 pm

Is she the cutest videogame vixen to ever grace the screen? Nah, and if it weren’t for a few in-game cutscenes she just as well could be Pac-Man himself in drag. However, Ms. Pac-Man still remains one of the most popular lead female characters of all-time, and in fact many people enjoy her version of the game over her husband sibling. You go girlfriend and eat those pellets!

In Ms. Pac-Man, you’ll find yourself controlling the titular character as she must navigate through various top-down mazes, where she must run around, chomping down on all of the pellets that she can, and once every one of them is eaten, she’ll be able to move along to the next maze and repeat the process all over again. After so many levels are completed, the player gets to see a little bonus cutscene detailing the love story of Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man. Is it much of a story? Nah, but it is fairly cute for the primitive time in which the arcade machine lived.

Ms Pac-ManSo what is too hard about running around a maze collecting pellets? Well, not much, except for a handful of ghosts who are persistent in their determination to take you down. The ghosts of the game are just as vicious in their pursuit as they used to be in the arcade, as you really have to act on the fly to avoid them, doing such tactics as luring them over to one place of the screen so you can hopefully sweep across though another passage and reach the pellets you are missing. However, your skillful passage running isn’t all that you have at your disposal, because scattered around are also some super pellets that, when eaten, makes Ms. Pac-Man invulnerable for a short time from the ghosts and actually gives her the power to eat them, temporarily sending them off the board for a short time. A great player will know when to go for what pellets, use what passages, and know how to properly use the super pellets to maximize their offensive strategy so they can really take it to the ghosts and plan quick attacks to other pellets on the other side of the board.

The game controls easily with you being able to use either the left thumbstick or the directional pad to control the direction in which Ms. Pac-Man moves. Beyond that, there isn’t any other controls, because there are no powerups you need to activate by pressing a button, no jump button, or anything else for that matter that would make you need to use anything but something for direction.

The graphics faithfully recreate the look of the old arcade system, which basically means that it doesn’t look like much of nothing (my nephew’s plug and play Leap Frog systems look better than this game does now on your 360). Though the game screen itself is shrunk to fill only part of your screen, the Ms. Pac-Man drawings and graphics that adorn the outside give that look of the old arcade cabinet as well. The sound effects are okay with their constant chomping noises and death sounds, but there isn’t much sound work beyond that.

Look, it is Ms. Pac-Man for crying out loud! You either loved the game back in the day when it originally came out when you plunked quarter after quarter into the machine or you don’t. Nothing has been updated for the release on the Xbox 360 and if anything it feels more like a temporary placeholder to fill a spot that Microsoft simply didn’t have anything else to go there. I mean, 360 owners can already download Pac-Man. Do we really need Ms. Pac-Man? The leaderboards are nice and will let you strive to get the top score of all time, but unless you are a fan, you probably won’t care much about this game at all.

Rating: 2star
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‘Assault Heroes’ Review (Xbox 360)

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by on January 10, 2007 at 3:50 pm

Run Car RunAre you telling me someone has actually gone out and made an Xbox Live Arcade game that actually has a story? And has cutscenes? Are you kidding me? Am I getting Punk’d? Candid Camera? The Jamie Kennedy Xperiment? Nope, Assault Heroes is simply one of the best Xbox Live Arcade games yet.

In Assault Heroes, you play as one of the surviving members of an elite special military unit, and you are tasked with destroying some secret lab that has been conducting classified weapons research. Will you succeed at your mission or fall to the wayside like your other comrades? Though that is really all there is to the story, you do get some cutscenes, though nothing speak related, as instead they are usually little mini ones meant to lead you into the next zone or introduce a boss. Still, these cutscenes showing you zipping along in your car or boat look really nice and as if they were an officially purchased product as if you went into a store and plunked down the money instead of buying it online through a Microsoft service.

On The WaterActually, the whole game has that spit and shine, with the graphics looking very nice in what amounts to a topdown sidescroller like the ones that used to be predominant in arcades and console systems of old; unlike some games where after the nostalgia kick wears off there isn’t really any reason to hang around, Assault Heroes constantly has you coming back. What really stands out is the attention to detail when it comes to the vehicles and enemies, such as the flame that spouts from your car or the destructive lasers heading your way, and the environment itself. For example, when you hit a tree, it doesn’t simply flash and then disappear, but rather you actually see the animation of the tree falling down onto the field. Now, something like that might seem insignificant when you’re worrying about three other tanks trying to take you down, but when you realize someone would go out of their way to program a tiny tree falling over, you know they are closely paying attention to their product and trying to make it the best it is without skipping over any of the corners.

The thing that is really fun about the game is that you can do co-op and go through the game with a buddy, which means you’ll be able to not only laugh together when one of you die, but you can also yell at the screen in frustration after the giant mechanical crab just killed you both. The game also boats a leaderboard, which will have the hardcore and score oriented gamers striving to perfect their runs and climb to the top of the boards.

Another thing nice about the game is the difficulty. There are three different difficulties for you to choose from, but beyond that you can make it even harder (and more rewarding since you’ll get more points) by purposely leaving your vehicle, because every kill you get outside your vehicle while on foot is more than if you had killed them in your vehicle. You see, you start out in a vehicle (though you can go on foot anytime) and once it has been destroyed you are instantly thrown out and must continue on foot. Now, that doesn’t mean you instantly die and lose a life, because if you can hold your own for a few seconds, another vehicle will appear, which you can then jump into.

Along the way, as you make your way through the zones, you’ll run across weapon upgrades that will improve your machine gun, flamethrower, and flak cannon. You can use each weapon whenever you want, but some are more ideal for certain enemies and situations. You’ve also got grenades you can lob into the air as well at your disposal. If you are on-foot, however, you are mostly stuck with your little machine gun that doesn’t do much of all (talk about challenging).

Big PlaneWhat stands out the most, besides the attention to detail in the graphics and the overall fun of it all, are the large bosses that typically prove to be the hardest enemies of the bunch. For example, one boss looks to be a sub with its periscope engaged, but after some damage you see it isn’t a sub at all, but rather this floating gun turret, and then after you do more damage you learn it is actually a giant mechanical crab, which managed to kill me quite a few times with its stabbing claw attack.

Overall, Assault Heroes is one of the best games yet on Xbox Live Arcade, and the points it costs definitely feels like a great deal and not one you should be regretting later after the dust has settled. Now, if only Microsoft could continue to pump out quality original titles like this, then the Live Arcade system wouldn’t be the broken system that it currently is.

Rating: 4star
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‘Metal Slug Anthology’ Review (Wii)

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by on January 5, 2007 at 2:45 pm

Big MechNostalgia collections as of late haven’t struck me as all that great. I’ve purchased a few retro collections, a Sonic, and a Street Fighter at least, and after playing for only a few hours, my temporary fix is finished and I don’t bother ever picking it up again. I guess when it comes to games I’m living too much in the present now and memories are best left as that – memories of things in the past. However, along comes Metal Slug Anthology, and though it ultimately suffers from some of the same trappings, it manages to reach beyond to a new level as well.

THE STORY SO FAR
If you were to play the game without ever having once looked at the manual, you’d have absolutely no clue what the story of the game is, because frankly there isn’t one. Since the Metal Slug series has always been an arcade staple, frequenters of those establishments rarely needed or wanted a story since if all the time you have to play is condensed to a handful of minutes or a pocket full of change, you really didn’t have time to invest in the story. Since the anthology remains true to the arcade games, nothing has been done to address the situation, other than provide a few paragraphs of text in the manual to give you a little bit of backstory to what “should” be happening while you are playing the game. However, if you don’t bother reading the manual, the story will be nothing more than running across a level, shooting everything in your path, and not bothering to ask questions until…well…never.

GAMEPLAY
As one of several different heroes that you can choose from, you’ll run from left to right, up and down, blowing everything up that stands in your way and dodging every last bullet and knife slice (just to name a few ways in which you can die) as it goes back to the old Contra days of gameplay, where one hit means death. Run, shoot, dodge, fight smaller enemies, fight large end of level bosses, and do it all by yourself or with a second player buddy. There really isn’t too much else beyond that as that is the central gameplay at the forefront of Metal Slug Anthology.

As you move through the levels, you’ll run across POWs, who upon being freed, will grant you either items to make your points total go up, bombs to add to your inventory, or powerups to improve your weapons. The weapon powerups are the most beneficial out of the three, because though you have unlimited ammo for your default pistol, it works terribly against the larger enemies like the tanks, helicopters, and the massive end of level bosses. Powerups range from heavy machine guns to rockets to lasers and more. Another thing that makes up the Metal Slug series are the vehicles you can enter, such as gun blasting tanks, submarines, miniature airplanes, and even camels with guns on their humps.

SquidsThe big thing about the game is a two-fold one: 1) seven games in one package, and 2) the unique control schemes that the Wii offers up. First up, you’ve got seven games with Metal Slug 5 being offered for the first time, so if you are a Metal Slug fan, then this is your first chance to own this game on a system. Having seven games in one package is a great deal, but that deal is only as good as the gameplay will take you; things remain so much alike between each game in the series, I could show you a handful of screens and only the die-hards would be able to sit here and go, “Oh yeah, that is the third level from number four.” Once again, if you like what you are paying for you’ll love the game, but if not nothing changes from one to the other, so if you don’t like game one you won’t like any of the following ones either.

The control scheme differentiates Metal Slug Anthology from other Metal Slug releases in the past, as there are a total of about seven control schemes alone. You can use an old Gamecube controller if you want, or you can use just the Wii remote or a combination of both the Wii remote and the nunchuk. Each control scheme had a fault, but kudos for them at least trying something new, such as tilting the Wii remote left and right to make the characters move that way. Ultimately, you’ll choose whatever works best for you, which for me was the Nunchuk Control Stick style, with the only fault being sometimes the character didn’t want to look the way I told them to or would crouch because I pushed slightly down instead of straight left or right.

The game is customizable to a fault, allowing you to simply breeze through the game with unlimited continues or set limits as if you only had so much money in your pocket at an actual arcade. I’d highly recommend choosing one of the limit choices (preferably medium or hard difficulty) because the game simply isn’t any fun for the older players out there as not being able to die takes all the excitement and fun out of the game.

Upon completion of any given game and based on the difficulty you chose, you’ll get tokens which you can use to unlock various fan goodies such as artwork, music, interviews, etc. It is a nice touch for the hardcore fans out there, but otherwise it is a minor plus for those who beat the game and winning the tokens was just an afterthought.

BoatGRAPHICS
Though the graphics suck when compared to games today, it is important to remember that the game wasn’t trying to update the look, but rather remain faithful to it, and that it does marvelously. Simple 2D sprites on flat backgrounds has never looked so good, and the only reason the game succeeds so well is because of the impeccable animations, which are perhaps the best animation of an old school 2D game I’ve ever seen; everything from a squid dissolving into nothingness to a enemy soldier spraying blood to the destruction of a building and the billowing smoke are all highly detailed and beautiful to watch in action (still screenshots really do not do the graphics justice).

The only complaint I have with the graphics (or at least I’m chalking it up here in this department) is that there is some major slowdown, especially in Metal Slug 2, where the game shugs along at a relatively slower pace.

SOUND
Though good, the sound work is far from great or perfection. The background music is tolerable while the sound of you getting killed or your path of destruction sound good, but repeat way too often and doesn’t offer enough variety from the beginning of the game to the end; it does get the job done satisfactorily though if that is all you are looking for.

IN CONCLUSION
If you are a hardcore Metal Slug fan then the game is probably an unquestionable purchase. For everyone else out there wondering about a purchase, as long as you know what you are getting it is a perfectly fine game, but it isn’t anything new and something we haven’t seen before. If you want a quick nostalgia trip then pickup the game, but otherwise, perhaps a rental would be best since each game in the series can be beaten rather quickly (about forty something minutes for each).

Rating: 3star
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‘Big Bumpin’ Review (Xbox/Xbox 360)

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by on November 28, 2006 at 10:48 am

Big Bumpin BoxIn-game advertising has come a long way, because though it used to be just simple billboards placed in a game or a licensed song from a band on a specific label, things are turning to the more extreme now, so that we’re seeing advertising coming first with the videogame following second. With Burger King’s new line of games, exactly that is happening, but does that necessarily mean there is no fun to be had?

I like Burger King food – I don’t have to be sold on it. When I make a trip it is always two singles and a strawberry shake with nothing varying unless I want a chicken nugget to go for the next day. So when I heard about the Burger King games, I bought what I needed (a Value meal) and bought the game for a cheap $3.99. Up second was Big Bumpin’ a…well…I guess a bumper car collection of mini-games.

Controls are extremely simple for the game and almost non-existent: the left thumbstick moves your bumper car and the A-button boosts you for a bump. I’d usually rally against such simple controls making up an entire game, but for $3.99 the game is quite fun for what it is.

GoalieAs a single player game, the bulk of your time will be spent playing in five tournaments, with only the first one being open at the beginning, with each successive one only opening up once you’ve finished in first in each tournament. Tournaments are made up of several different match types, including Last Man Standing (be the last car standing while doing enough damage to the other cars to destroy them or knock them out of play by hitting into pits or off the playing field), Own The Puck (touch a puck to turn it your color, netting you points for every second it is your color, while you try to keep it away or turn it back if someone changes the color), Bumpin’ Hockey (typical ice hockey, but with two bumper cars on each team and obstacles in the way like the bumpers in a pinball game), Shockball (think a game of hot potato, but only with exploding bumper cars – don’t be “it” or near “it” when the timer goes off), and Power Surge (reach power points to charge your car and get to the generator to net you points – every enemy dealt hit makes you lose a bit of a charge). Overall, surprising each mode was pretty fun.

The game also has a nice amount of levels for being such a cheap game, and a few of them even have environmental hazards (specifically the Last Man Standing levels), such as circular buzzsaws, fire jets that will set you on fire, ice patches that make you lose traction, and pits that mean instant death should you fall in them.

The games are also filled with powerups, such as powerups that repair your car or temporarily increases its speed, Protector (shield), Super Magnet (automatically attracts the puck towards you), Leech (reduces speed of car you touch), and Repulse (keeps enemies away from you). The powerups aren’t too much to look at, but they can change the course of a game in a matter of seconds.

The game does have an interesting (to say the least) small roster of characters, featuring everyone’s most scary Burger King mascot, Whopper Jr. (guy in a burger costume), Brooke Burke, and the Subservient Chicken just to name a few. You can also create your own character for use, or as I like to call it, “Tweak an already existing one.” Basically, there will be about five character types, which you can insignificantly change and name, but it is one of the most lacking create-a-character modes I’ve ever seen in a game. The bumper cars also aren’t much, because though there are some you can unlock, the only thing that really changes is the color; the cars don’t even have any stats that vary from one to the next.

LightningThe game also has Xbox Live multiplayer, which should be a good thing, but I’ve got to plead the fifth and issue a “No Comment” on this particular nugget. You see, each time I tried to connect to Xbox Live to give the game a play to test it out, not once could I connect. Most times I couldn’t even get a match to show on my screen (especially any Ranked matches). I hope this problem to be remedied, because I could see people having a pleasant time with Big Bumpin’.

The environments are nice and have a lot of lighting effects, but the camera is so pulled back from the action that you can barely make out your character and will often times get two nearby ones confused for each other. Sound work is like that of the other Burger King titles, with everything being pretty adequate, but nothing outstanding by any stretch of the imagination. Though the graphics and sound aren’t so hot, what matters is that the gameplay is actually pretty fun, and if you find yourself standing in line at a Burger King and someone asks you if you want a Value meal, ask if they have Big Bumpin’ and if so get that meal and buy the game – it will be money you shouldn’t regret later as long as you are looking for a temporarily quick fix.

Rating: 3star
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‘Small Arms’ Review (Xbox 360 – Live Arcade)

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by on November 22, 2006 at 2:27 pm

What happens when you take the arcade fighting of a Super Smash Brothers, but replace the cute Nintendo characters with equally cute instruments of death that shoot with sniper rifles and machine guns rather than hit you over the head with a mallet. You get the enjoyable Xbox Live Arcade romp called Small Arms.

Small Arms is the definition of quick, easy to play, and fast paced action that makes all good arcade games enjoyable. By taking the side scrolling 2D fighting action of Super Smash Brothers and replacing it with gunplay based combat built around a full 360 range of shooting thanks to the right thumbstick (imagine the free roam shooting of Geometry Wars), Small Arms manages to merge them together into a nice little package that has a good, solid core.

The single player based gameplay has you picking one of the warriors, who range from the female ninjas, mercenary cats, mutated chickens, dinosaurs, sniper rifle wielding hitman pigs, and others. Though there are only eight characters selectable from the beginning, you’ll be able to unlock an additional four. When all breaks down, there isn’t really any differences between the characters beyond what weapon they start out with, so unless you have a particular weapon you’d like to have from the beginning of a match, you’ll go with whatever character you think is the coolest.

The levels on which the combat takes place are pretty interesting, ranging from the stationary where nothing much happens, though they look rather nice (an Arabian market for example) to the more split level arenas like one that appears to be on the moon, which has tubes you can slide downwards and elevators you can ride to the top level. However, the most frantic and best designed levels are the constantly moving ones, such as the battles on top of a train or a level that takes place inside the junk caught up in a tornado (one of the most imaginative level designs I’ve seen in an arcade game recently).

During the single player game, you’ll either go head-to-head against another AI computer character or either have to split your plan of action against two or more, until (counting you) there are four combatants on the screen. You win the level and advance if you eliminate all the enemies’ lives before yours run out and fail if yours run out first. Early on the game is fairly easy, but can get pretty challenging once you have more players on screen at one time. The single player minded gamer also has a survival mode, where they’ll go head to head against one computer opponent at a time, and the game ends when they lose all their lives.

As for the multiplayer, you can go into simple player matches, where you and three people can battle each other over and over if you want, and with this mode you can choose how long battles go, win requirements, etc. Xbox Live has also got Ranked matches, which are very quick games that you can breeze into, pick a character, and quickly get to battling and then back out (in case there is a player you don’t like, you don’t have to worry about going up against them for long). It is also amazing that, here is this little arcade game that could, and it has a better lag free online experience than some of the top end (I paid $60 bucks for this game) software you can buy for the 360 now. I’ve played a good many games already, and not once have I experienced lag with all the action happening on the screen. I’m also in and out of matches in usually under a minute, so there is never time when you are waiting around wondering when someone else will show up to play.

Gameplay is very basic, but in a good way. The left thumbstick moves your character, the right thumbstick aims their weapon, the right trigger shoots your main weapon, the left trigger shoots your secondary weapon, X-button picks up weapons and does a melee attack, the A-button jumps (or double jumps) and the Y-button can be held down for a dash attack to get you to new heights. The mechanics are very easy, with ammo depleting as you use it (refill that weapon by finding battery powerups) and health can be replenished by running over meat, fish, and other food objects. However, the best thing about the powerups that drop are all the different weapons.

Weapons in Small Arms each have two different functions: a primary and secondary. For example, hitting the right trigger with the katana attached will have them swing it like an ordinary sword, while a left trigger press will cause you to throw your sword as a spinning boomerang blade of death. The double machine guns are also nice, as they act like normal guns at first, but the secondary attack is this very cool John Woo shot where you character will point one to their left and right side and just spray them. The weapons are varied, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately a good player will know what weapon works best for them, certain levels, and against other players’ tactics.

Small Arms is a blast to play, it just remains to be seen how long a lasting effect it will have on Xbox Live and in the player’s mind. With only 12 characters (8 to begin with) and a handful of stages, things could become old quickly, but playing online with others should enhance and lengthen the experience, as it is smooth, fluid, and an enjoyable blast. The characters look nicely cartoonish, but it is obvious Small Arms fails to push the 360 to any limits graphically. Thankfully, graphics won’t be much of an issue, as you won’t have time to stop and smell the flowers, because you’ll be too busy jumping to avoid the red beam of a sniper rifle. The sound work is pretty good, however, with all the explosions and character noises, so it will at least sound good even though it might not be the prettiest.

Rating: 3star
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‘Contra’ Review (Xbox 360)

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by on November 14, 2006 at 11:34 am

One hit – one kill. Love it or hate it Contra was built around this gameplay mechanic, and though it extended the game’s extremely short completion time by forcing players to play through the first few levels multiple times before ever truly understanding the pattern of the game, it was still fun and a challenge. However, with Contra’s release on Xbox Live, even the famous Konami code can’t save this once great game.

Contra follows the exploits of Lance and Bill (whoa, how very generic those names seem now) as they battle people and blow things up. Okay, so that isn’t the “exact” storyline, but really, there is no story. You run around, dodge bullets, kill people, blow stuff up, and then you move on to the next level.

Though technically a side scroller, it does deviate from the norm by also including levels where you move upwards, and even then some tunnel levels that react in a sort of 3D-esque vibe, by having your characters and enemies go into and out of the background and foreground, but still it is all flat and 2D.

I once had good times with Contra, though I was always more familiar with the NES version, which was not only longer, but looked a whole (and I mean a WHOLE) lot better. Contra for Xbox Live is simply dreadful to look at, as everything is poorly done, and it is hard to believe that this used to be cutting edge (or even called fun for that matter). Problems with Contra are immediate from the get-go, as the once tight eight directional gun firing is sloppy in its execution. No longer can you quickly point in a direction and have those bullets immediately go that way, because while you try to go diagonally, there is a slowness as your character arches their bullets in that direction, meaning that your bullets won’t go the moment you need them, opening you up for all kinds of trouble (namely those one hit one kill bullets).

Contra was also well known for its co-op, and sadly even Konami can’t get that right for the Xbox Live release. Yes, sometimes it works fairly well, but there are extreme bugs in the game that will force gamers to quit constantly and will show different action on screen to two people at the same time.

I know, I know, “Wow, this is a really short review!” Well, for a game this lazily ported over, which offers none of the joy it may have once had, there isn’t much to say beyond Contra for Xbox Live is a waste of money, and you’re better off going out and buying a used NES and Contra cartridge instead. And with one of the Achievements being beat the game in 12 minutes (how is that for short) I’d rather spend the money on something like a vanilla Frosty from Wendy’s instead. You’ll be able to finish it off in less time, and you’ll probably feel more satisfied after downing it.

Rating: 1star
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