Tag Archives: Zynga Slingo

Zynga Slingo

Okay, I admit it. I’m a Facebook game snob. I look down on most Facebook games. The few in the past that have captured my attention, like Packrat or The Sims Social, were the exceptions to Facebook games, not the rule.

The times, they are a-changing.

Facebook games are, more and more, stepping out of the Mafia Wars and Farmville mold. It’s getting to the point that if it’s a game, it CAN be on Facebook. Nothing is proving this fact more than traditional casual games, with titles like AdventureWorld or Hidden Chronicles being very popular. Zynga Slingo is another of those games.

For those not familiar with Slingo, it essentially combines Bingo (which I do play IRL) and Slots (which I do play IRL.) There’s a limited number of spins and players have to fill up a card of numbers by spinning slot reels for those numbers. There’s a variety of power-ups that will help fill the board, like one that marks everything in a line or wild jokers that will allow the marking of anything in a line (or my favorite one, anywhere on the board.) Objectives include completing a pattern, achieving certain high scores and filling a complete card.

Zynga Slingo takes all the best parts of Slingo and puts them on Facebook. It adds in help from friends and a limiting element. And all that comes together into a very addictive game. I feel like I can never get enough. I bought a full day’s worth of energy (something you can do with Slingo Cash, which you can purchase with real life money or earn by completing various offers) and thought by the time that day was over, I’d be done with my addiction and be able to move onto something else. I was wrong. If anything, I’m more addicted now.

Players start out with basic boards and a small amount of energy, and as they complete objectives, they will gain medals. These medals are essentially the leveling system. I currently have 226 and am number one on my friends list! *gloat off* To play a board, it requires energy and energy replenishes automatically, one every three and a half minutes. Energy can also be purchased in small increments or unlimited supplies for a limited time.

There’s a certain number of free balls a player gets when they purchase the board (using energy) and when those balls are gone, four extra balls that can be bought for two energy each. After that, players may have free balls they can use or they can purchase additional balls, either by spending coins, which are gained by filling up the coin bar, or by spending Slingo Cash. They can also spam all their friends and ask them to send additional balls (sorry friends!) and that’s where the social aspect comes in. Friends can help out by sending coins or balls or energy and players can return the favor.  There’s also something called Play With Friends, which is ‘coming soon’ and I can’t wait to see what that ends up being.

Zynga has separated the game into stages, with each stage having nine cards. These stages have unique and interesting artwork. The higher a player goes in stages, the more complicated the cards and patterns get, and the more energy it requires to start the game. Right now, I have six stages unlocked, with titles like Sugar Rush and Shooting Stars. I thought there were only five stages, but when I got to a certain point in the game, Shooting Stars just appeared.

I played the heck out of the Slingo games on the PC, although by the time I got to the last few, they had become tired and worn out. The developers tried to change things up by adding in an adventure element, but it ended up just annoying me. Zynga Slingo takes the Slingo format and puts it on a friendly platform. It hasn’t gotten tired yet, probably because I can only play it a limited number of times before I have to stop and wait for my energy to replenish, or choose to spend some money on it.

I need more Zynga Slingo friends. My current friends are great at sending me balls, but in this game, there’s no such thing as too many balls. So feel free to friend me for Slingo purposes.

Do you play Zynga Slingo or other Facebook casual games? What keeps you going back to a specific game day after day?

‘LOTR: Battle For Middle-earth 2’ Review (Xbox 360)

The ShireRemember those amazingly epic battles of good against evil seen in Peter Jackson’s landmark trilogy of The Lord of the Rings? Wouldn’t it be cool to command those battles yourself? Turns out…not so much. I guess there is a reason you don’t see many RTS games on a console.

THE STORY SO FAR

I’m not that high on the LOTR mythology and for the most part I can’t stand the book; to me it’s a lot of people walking around and around on a nature walk. I actually enjoyed the parts with Legolas and Aragorn, was mildly amused by the parts with the Ents, but I hated Frodo and Sam’s scenes together. Given all that rant, I still really loved the movies, and though I wasn’t heralding each one as deserving of the Oscar, I was mighty happy when Return of the King won that year cause it was the best movie of that time.

With LOTR Battle For Middle-earth 2, instead of simply taking the story you’ve read about and seen already in theaters, the developers decided to use other bits of info Tolkien had in his library, which included talk of a war that raged on in the north while our heroes from the trilogy were dealing with the one down south. It helps round out the story and keeps you engaged, but the story is mostly deadweight and not handled all too well. As missions played out, I had an idea what the general consensus of the mission was and what I needed to do, but for me having to free an Ent isn’t exactly a story point bulletin in my book.

You can choose to play as both the forces of light or dark, so you can experience the same story told through two different ways. Would you rather be the dignified elves and lead a war against evil? Or would you rather be the dingy goblins and trolls, crawling forth from the bowels of the earth to lay waste to the innocent. Either way, you can choose both, and if you enjoy the game you’ll be playing through both sides of the coin anyways.

SINGLE PLAYER: GAMEPLAY

For starters, you’ll want to go through the tutorial to have any hope whatsoever of succeeding in the game, but the problem is the information goes by too fast, so you’ll occasionally miss some vital information and will have to play around until you stumble upon what the tutorial was asking you to do in the first place.

Shore FightOnce you make it through the tutorial, then it’s time to delve into the story mode of the game by choosing either the forces of good or evil. Typically the two play exactly the same, though there are a few differences that help separate them just slightly regarding how they play. After you learn those, however, mostly the changes are cosmetic in regards to unit types.

Some levels thrust you right into the action, giving you a select number of units and telling you that you need to accomplish this certain task. Other levels, however, force you to setup a few buildings first, like your base, a few unit training areas, etc. After you meet the requirements the game asks for, then it will give you your next goals, which could be taking out all the Cave Trolls to freeing an Ent to demolishing a castle.

There is a good amount of customization in regards to how you want to approach a mission. You can use the blitzkrieg method and simply send wave after wave of units at the enemy until they are demolished, and for what it counts it works in the early missions. You can choose to separate your units into different groupings, splitting the enemy and taking them from both sides. You can choose to fortify your base, leaving a few units behind to guard incase the enemy slips behind you. In other words, the game is a real time strategy game for a reason.

Giant AttackCombat takes on the properties of a Paper, Rock, Scissors match as certain units are stronger against specific units and others are weaker against another type. Archers and fighters are your major go-to guys at the beginning, as they’ll handle about everything, but then when the enemy starts throwing at you spider riders, you better have some spear handlers because otherwise your forces are doomed. Otherwise, the whole thing seems like a crapshoot, as your forces can literally dominate one minute and then the next they are getting their butts handed to them. The AI isn’t anything to write home about either, because though they clearly see an enemy on the screen, they don’t always attack what you want them to. Beyond that, simple walls prove problems to them, because though there is clearly an opening a few have managed to walk through, the others must insist on standing there, hacking away at the stone, thinking they’d rather go through it while their brothers in arms are being slaughtered by spiders. It makes the game very frustrating.

Matters aren’t helped along by the controls either. The game does what it can with a Xbox 360 controller in mind, but button pressing combos and scroll wheels don’t always work like they are supposed to and thus lead to the death of a lot of your troops. For example, selecting all of your troops to lead an advance against one stronghold should be easy, but often times the game didn’t want to select every unit I had for one reason or another. The paint drag system doesn’t work as well as a typical rectangular drag; jumping back and forth from one battle to the next is a chore; selecting powers and heroes isn’t a speedy process either; and in general I just fully realized why we don’t see more RTS games outside the realm of the PC.

And I haven’t even mentioned the fact that the game contains lag galore – even the tutorial, probably the first thing you’ll experience about the game, is crazy with the lag; there isn’t even that much going on, but it chugs like a snail in molasses. The speed gets a little better the further along you go in your adventure, but the game is never lag free.

ElvesMULTIPLAYER: GAMEPLAY
Mutiplayer plays exactly like the single player game, with up to four players being able to battle on one map and various win parameters being setup. Players can choose to eliminate the competition by destroying all their units and base, occupying several territories for points, etc. It’s not always army against army, however, as you can choose to play with just heroes as well.

Online is pretty fun, but only when you get paired up with competition equal or less to you. If you are a relative newbie and jump into a game against someone quite advanced, be prepared to be destroyed and cry as your game quickly comes crashing down around you.

GRAPHICS
The environments are pretty spectacular, as dense forests, pristine elven cities, and gushing waterfalls are all nicely rendered and really help draw you into the world of Tolkien. The larger character units also look nice, but the smaller ones, even when you push the camera in as far as you can, are almost indiscernible from one to the other; I only knew one character was Tom Bombadil because he was doing a jig and singing.

SOUND
With Hugo Weaving reprising his role of Elrond, voice acting in that regards can’t be beat; for some of the other in-game storytelling not involving Elrond, however, left a little to be desired. The orchestral music really brings you into the game, making your marches to meet the enemy seem like the most epic battle regardless of the size of your army. The sound effects, while good, become canned and repeats way too early into your game – you hear one Cave Troll take a dirt nap you’ve heard them all.

Boat BattleIN CONCLUSION
If you have a Xbox 360 and an itch for some RTS goodness then LOTR: Battle for Middle-earth 2 will have to tide you over, because…well…there aren’t any other RTS games for the system. For what it is, the game is good enough, but it could’ve been a lot better if a little more thought would’ve gone into the controls and gameplay, perhaps even dumbing it down a bit to help with the transition. But trying to take the precision of the game on the PC and moving it to a console, trying not to lose anything in the process, ultimately hurts the game. Kudos to EA for trying something new, but ultimately it doesn’t work.

Rating: 3star
Our Scoring System

‘Prey’ Review (Xbox 360)

Wallwalk BattleIf there is one genre I adore more than any other it is sci-fi. And it’s a given that I’m a hopeless romantic, so when you throw a love story in there then I’m sold. Prey brings together those two elements into an amazingly touching love story, which tugged at my heart just as much the enemies made me tug on my gun’s trigger. Die alien scum…there is a Cherokee on the warpath and his name is Tommy.

THE STORY SO FAR

Tommy is Cherokee but hates his heritage. Tommy wants nothing more than to leave the reservation and take his girlfriend Jen with him, but unlike Tommy, she appreciates and basks in her Native American heritage. After refusing to go with Tommy and leave the reservation, Tommy defends Jen’s honor at her bar when he beats the tar out of two rednecks. In a manner of seconds the bar’s electronics are malfunctioning, lights pickup a car outside, and suddenly Jen’s bar is being taken, piece by piece, as it is sucked up into a spaceship and aliens appear from portals that appeared out of thin air.

Once on board, Tommy, Jen, and his grandpa are taken on a wild ride through the belly of their abductor’s ship, until a renegade prisoner sets a bomb, causing Tommy to break free. Tommy has only one thing on his mind – saving the people he loves…specifically Jen. And from here begins one of the best love stories I’ve experienced in a game for some time now.

The storytelling in Prey is solid and is absolutely the best part of the game. By just going through the opening portion of the game, I already found myself getting attached to Tommy and his plight, and all I wanted to do was save the girl I love. It’s your typical “knight in shining armor” story, but it is the presentation that makes it work so well. Throughout the single player adventure, Tommy (unlike other FPS heroes) actually says what he is thinking. He’ll talk to himself about how screwed up something is, he’ll yell when the aliens keep his girlfriend away from him, and he’ll get vengefully angry and cuss when he gets seriously pissed off; it makes the game much more interactable and really helps pull the player into the world.

And though the love story is the heart of the matter, there are a few twists and turns to keep you guessing, but for the most part it is a really well done story about one man in love with one woman and the things he would do to save her.

SINGLE PLAYER: GAMEPLAY

The single player game is the story of Prey. The reason you’ll want to play the single player is so you can experience this wonderful story. Right from the moment you start controlling Tommy, it feels very natural and he reacts in a pinpoint precision like you’d hope. I’ve experienced a few first person shooters where aiming felt initially iffy or downright unplayable (Perfect Dark Zero went back to the store after two days because of this exact reason), but Prey has a smoothness that makes lining up shots a thing of ease.

Spirit Vs JetpacksThe controls are as such: the bumpers cycle through your weapons, the right trigger is your primary fire, the left trigger is for your secondary fire, the thumbsticks are your usual movement and camera sticks, clicking in the right trigger uses your lighter to see in the dark, A-button is jump, B-button is crouch, X-button throws your Crawler grenade, and the Y-button is for your Spirit Walk.

As for the weapons, they are very alien in nature, but are for the most part representations of the usual variety of weapons you’ll find in any number of first person shooters. Your rifle is your typical rifle, but with a secondary function that acts like a sniper rifle. Crawlers are grenades. The arm of one of your enemies doubles as a machine gun and grenade launcher. The acid gun acts like a shotgun. And the Leech Gun works differently depending on what ammo you power it with: red (rapid fire machine gun), blue (freeze spray), white (electro bolts), orange (heat ray). There are more (a wrench, a rocket launcher, and Spirit Bow) but those are the main ones you’ll be reaching for more than likely as you fight the enemy scum. You’ve also got a personal ship you can fly and shoot, but it isn’t used all that much except for one longer sequence.

Sadly, said enemy scum is one of the worst features of the game. For one thing, the enemies are not varied enough at all, as you’ll find yourself taking on the same enemies time and time again. The Hunters are the main fodder ripe for the killing, as they are numerous as they pop in from out of nowhere by using one of their portals. Besides the Hunters you’ve got actual Fodder (mutated dog like things that don’t pose any challenge), Hounds (hulking behemoths that run at you), Hunters that are partly spiders, Hunters that hover in the air and blast you with rockets, mechanical drones like those seen in The Matrix movies, possessed children (yes, you kill children in a manner of speaking), and Centurions (I think that is what the game called them) that are these giant walking creatures with machine gun cannons for arms (you get one of their arms as a weapon actually). The other main problem is the enemies are simply too stupid; the Hunters and Fodder more specifically. The others can be a thorn in your side, but there is absolutely no reason to worry about them, which leads into one of the game’s other flaws.

Talon Attacks!There is no challenge in Prey…or at least not in the shooting variety, which you would think would be the challenge in a FPS. Instead, the challenge comes from solving the environmental puzzles that have you trying to find the right portal to use, using your spirit to walk through force fields, turning off laser grids, navigating upside down rooms, and other such challenges. The reason the combat isn’t a factor is because you can’t die. Once you die, you automatically jump to a minigame with you in the spirit realm, using your bow to fight floating apparitions in order to regain your spirit meter and health meter. And while the game isn’t challenging because of this reason, it at least eliminates practically all load times, as the only ones you’ll ever experience are when you move from one level to the next. It is a neat feature, but one that I hope can be improved upon should the developers do another Prey, which I certainly hope they will.

So if the game is devoid of challenge then why play it? Because the story is that great in my opinion. Actually, not once did I play the single player game to experience what shooting match I’d get myself into next, but instead I played to see and hear the story. And though the game isn’t too long (took me a couple days with 2-3 hours of play a day) you can always come back and play on a higher difficulty to unlock that achievement.

MULTI-PLAYER: GAMEPLAY

Once you get done with the singe player (or even before it if you want) it is time to jump onto Xbox Live and frag some people. I’ve never been a big fan of multiplayer online, because it just isn’t my scene apparently, but Prey was a game whose multiplayer grabbed me and made me want to play. I actually want to climb up the ranks of their leaderboards.

Organic RoomI’ve heard many complaints about the lag, but I haven’t experienced that problem all too much out of the countless matches I’ve played; maybe only 3-5 games have suffered from lag for a considerable amount of time and forced the game to drop us all. Otherwise, I’m running everywhere, trying to find all the power weapons, and searching down all my enemies.

The Prey multiplayer isn’t perfect, but it is certainly fun and has a lot of room to grow. When you get a real good game going on, there is constant battle, tons of laughing, and it’s just a grand time to be playing. Running up walls, jumping through portals, hiding your body in the darkest place you can find so you can let your spirit go chasing down other players – a blast!

As of now, there are only two modes of play (deathmatch and team deathmatch), and so I’d love to see a few more modes of play be included in future downloadable content or something to that nature. Also, there needs to be more maps – simply aren’t that many.

GRAPHICS

The graphics of Prey are pretty dark, so a lot of the detail will go unnoticed, but as a whole the graphics are extremely well done. The alien nature of the floating sphere means a lot of organic textures, dripping with goop, and actually moving as if the ship is breathing. There are also some techniques used throughout the game, which I have no idea how they made happen; the portals for one thing, which are flat when you walk around them, but take you into a whole other part of the world, and there is one point later on where the levels actually pop and build themselves in midair right as you approach them.

SOUND

Great voice work. The lines never feel like clichéd offerings or an actor reading from a script, but rather they sound like actual dialogue from people experiencing the game, and the emotion the characters should be feeling are reflected well based on their line readings. The music is also wonderful – very sweeping and touching for some tracks while others have a menacing quality thanks to their more reserved and silent nature.

I’M SPECIAL

Prey comes as a standard edition game and a limited collector’s edition. Since I absolutely fell in love with the game, the collector’s edition was an easy justification in my book. The game comes in a collectible metal tin about the thickness of two or three Xbox 360 game boxes stacked on each other. In one section you’ll find the game, but in the other you’ll find two pewter figurines (Tommy and the Hunter), The Art of Prey illustrated booklet (hint: don’t flip through if you don’t want spoilers), and a coupon for a free download of the soundtrack from off the web.

The figurines are nice (I got a special third for preordering), the art book is interesting to see the sketches, but the selling point to me is the soundtrack. I’ve yet to download it, but the game’s music was so spectacular and beautiful I can’t wait to grab it.

Ceiling BattleIN CONCLUSION

If I could just spout my love for the game I’d give it a five and be done with it, because it is one of those games, though flawed, I can’t help but love it. Beauty doesn’t always come from the divine and perfect being. With that said, I have to acknowledge the shortcomings and mark down for it. So even though the game is a five in my book, the critic in me must ultimately reward it lower. Still, a great FPS for the Xbox 360 that I absolutely hope you will buy…namely because I want a sequel.

Rating: 4star
Our Scoring System

‘City Life’ Review (PC)

Actual game boardMany games these days are of the Sims variety where players simulate anything and everything depending on the game system. The popularity of this type of game has been an enduring theme in PC gaming for many years. One of the first and best of these types of games was Sim City, where players built their own functioning city from scratch. For many years and through several versions this idea was expanded, but there was one factor never touched on and that was how to make Sims from different income levels interact. City Life addresses this and attempts to go where no Sim City has gone before.

City life is a simulation city builder in the old Sim City mold. Players start with only city hall and must build streets and develop housing and businesses just as was seen in many of the older games of this type. The new twist is the insertion of six separate and distinct types of citizens for your city. The six types are Blue Collar, Have-Nots, Fringe, Radical Chic, Elites and Suits. In order to succeed in this game you have to have all types of these citizens and they have to get along without causing trouble, which sounds easier then it is.

The game interface is rather easy to understand, especially if you are familiar with builder games. The tutorial is text so you have to do some reading if you are new to this type of game. The first decision upon starting the game is selecting where you want to build, what climate and so on. Once this is done it’s pretty much whatever you want to do, as the first order of business is to build City Hall and some roads and homes.

DowntownAs is common in these types of games the Sim citizens have desires, the earliest being power and waste disposal. Unlike the classic Sim City type games you won’t be building power lines nor making underground pipes. All you need to do is construct an energy plant and a few waste disposal areas nearby, so far so good. From this point on the game is different from traditional city builders. In those games you just waited for money to build up and then placed new building and such. After you have power and waste disposal, the first of your problems arise, as the people want education and shopping as well as medical care.

This may all seem straightforward at this point, but it really isn’t. The reason it isn’t is that you need different types of citizens to make certain services and businesses work, and things like schools and shopping centers are drains on your economy. To run a school or a grocery store, you need Fringe citizens; the problem is at the start, all you have are Blue Collars. So you have to figure out how to get fringe to live in your city.

This is where the strategy of the game kicks in, figuring out the way to lure them in and then getting them close to where they will be useful. Many of the businesses that make money that you desperately need to remain above water require high level citizens of the Elite and Suits professions, which are hard to lure to your city, but you have to start with Blue Collars and then Fringe.

HousingOnce you manage to get Fringe to move in to your city, new things unlock for you. New business and recreation opportunities, as well as better waste and energy management happen. Once you start having two types of citizens they begin to demand police and you will see the beginning of urban tension. Unless you build expensive buildings the citizens of different classes will attack each other, and this will escalate into riots and people will begin to leave the city in droves, which will destroy your economy as taxes are your major income source.

If you are doing things correctly Radical Chics will appear where the Fringes live and they in turn will spawn Elites eventually. Suits and Elites prove the most difficult to lure to your city. As tension between classes rise you will need police and swat teams, and these are HUGE drains on your economy. You will also have to provide firemen as fires can wipe out huge sections of the city easily.

This game has a good graphics engine that allows extreme close-ups so you can see what your city lifers are up to up close and personal. The buildings are well done but there aren’t very many different types. One of the fun things is the streets change color slightly so you will know what group of City Lifers like a particular section of the city.

As the population increases more building types are unlocked from the game menu as are things like better hotels and other improvements. If things go bad economically you can borrow money, but this is always a bad idea in the long run. It’s better to remove wasteful buildings rather then watch your available funds dry up.

The FringeThere are some quirks in this game. You can be making money hand over fist when suddenly your economy goes in the red for no reason, nor does the game tell you what is wrong. At one point I had a huge economy with Suits moving in, and suddenly they were leaving and I had no idea why, and I had no idea if this was working as designed or if it’s just a bug or bad programming.

All of this makes for a nice city builder with a twist, the social component. If you dream of building cities and like urban planning you can have some fun with this, but it isn’t really a lot different from recent entries for this type of game. There was potential here for much more, and they appear to have dumbed down the Sim City model, which I don’t think was really the way to go.

Rating: 3star
Our Scoring System

‘Metroid Prime Hunters’ Review (Nintendo DS)

One of the first heroines of gaming history has been a staple for Nintendo’s various systems for many years now. With the release of the Nintendo DS, it wasn’t so much “if” Samus Aran would make an appearance, but “when.” That time has come and now you can control the femme fatale with the touch of a stylus. But is her adventure really all that grand?

MultiplayerTHE STORY SO FAR

“A ferocious race, now extinct, has left behind relics of its once powerful warrior culture. Now bounty hunters across the galaxy race to claim these relics in hopes of harnessing their power for themselves!”

Or at least that is the story on the back of Metroid’s box. None of the Metroid games have ever been really all that heavy when it comes to story, and that case is still as prevalent today as it was back on the NES. If you were to ask me the story of Metroid Prime Hunters, it is “Samus Aran runs around, shooting enemies, an occasional bounty hunter mini-boss, finds keys, fights a big boss, then runs back to her ship with a countdown clicking down. Rinse, repeat, and backtrack again and again and again.”

Yes, there is a bit more story if you choose to spend the majority of your time in scanner mode, looking for a little square to provide you with some info, but I shouldn’t have to go out of my way to search for a story. A story should always lurk just under the surface or either be a major selling point. Players shouldn’t have to turn over rocks to get an idea of what is going on.

For the Metroid fans out there, the lack of a proper story probably doesn’t really mean anything to them, but for those other fans like me, who like the character and the “idea” of the franchise, I’m still waiting for that extra oomph.

SINGLE PLAYER: GAMEPLAY

Before we get into the gameplay, let us talk about the controls, which are a major sticking point for this game. There are two different modes of control: one using the stylus and the other using the face buttons. In this age of double analog sticks, I’ve frankly forgotten how to play first person shooters without the second control stick. Attempting to play Metroid with the face button control scheme (X-button looks up, B-button looks down, A-button looks right, and Y-button looks left) makes me question how I ever played games like Goldeneye and Turok during the N64 days.

The stylus, meanwhile, works better, but is far from perfect. I’ve never played a FPS on the computer (system won’t handle it) so I don’t know how a mouse and keyboard really feel when gaming, but I’ve been told the stylus controls have that feel. During stylus mode, the directional pad controls the direction that Samus runs, while the stylus is used to look her around. The stylus controls everything (except the fire button, which is mapped to the L-button), so you’ll be jumping by tapping on the screen, switching to your scanner vision, choosing to roll into a morph ball, equipping your missiles, and changing between your various collected weapons, all by simply touching the screen.

HeadshotThe problems with Metroid are present from the beginning and hamper the experience hours later. For one thing, the screen is fairly small, and you really do need to keep the stylus as close to the middle as possible, because if you stray too far up, for example, you’ll be touching your weapon selection section, and you’ll be accidentally equipping your missiles and secondary weapons without even knowing it (trust me, have done it way too many times during my game time). The other problem, which is perhaps only my own, is that the L-button, which you use to shoot, makes me angle my finger in a weird position, which ultimately leaves my finger constantly falling off the button, or getting tired and stressed from the positioning, which means I have to pause the game or either simply take a beating from whatever enemy is in the area with me. Metroid Prime Hunters is simply painful to play from a physical standpoint. Not to mention placing the stylus against the touch screen often made me double jump when I didn’t want to.

Combat was a trifle bit frustrating as well, as the aiming never felt pinpoint accurate because of the stylus control; I was amazed whenever the game told me I’d got a headshot. My shooting style typically consisted of letting enemies get close to me, take a beating in the process, and wail on the bad guys when they got right on top of me.

For fans of the Metroid franchise, the next section will barely register, but it has to be talked about. The setup of the Metroid gameplay MUST change for it to ever truly be a spectacular franchise. Metroid is all about “exploration,” and I use quotes because I think that is the politically correct way to say “running around like an idiot till you stumble onto where you are supposed to go.” Unlike the early installments, a map has been included, but on the DS it is too difficult to manage, so it’s back to the old standby of running around till you find the place.

But at first, Metroid Prime Hunters seems like the game the franchise should’ve always been. You don’t start the game off by losing all your good equipment, because really, you don’t have all the goodies from past games anyway, but at least it doesn’t start out the same. And as you explore the world, you’re constantly moving forward and rarely backtracking at all. But alas, it isn’t long until the game falls into its old formula, which just left me bored and tired, trying to figure out a game I could play in its place. As you are playing through the game, you’ll run across different colored doors, which can only be opened with certain weapons…that you don’t have yet. So you move on to the next level, and so on and so on, and then when I got to the last level and completed it, I thought I was done, because no other place appeared on my map, but then I learned the rest of the game was going back and forth through levels I’d already been through, just to find weapons I’d need to open other doors on other levels. Yawn.

Eat ThatThe Metroid series is also known for its “race against the clock” finales, which are quite fun when they only happen once, but not when it happens multiple times. As soon as you beat a main boss and grab an artifact, a countdown timer will sound, meaning you better hurry your butt up back to your ship. The first time was tense, if only because it was the first time it happened, but later instances of this phenomenon, though I was often close to not getting back on time, never had that same immediacy or excitement because the trick had been played out by then.

MULTIPLAYER: GAMEPLAY

In retrospect, it is pretty obvious that the single player portion of the game was not the key consideration (unlike past games) when this game was thought up. Surprisingly, considering the game is on the DS, the multiplayer is quite robust and offers a good amount of match types for various modes of play.

For starters, games are limited to a maximum player count of four, which isn’t a terribly high number, but the closeness of the arenas makes up for it as four players adequately fill the space and there is always someone else to shoot just hanging around the corner. Positioned around the arenas you’ll find various powerups that will either restore your health, ammo, improve your ability to deal damage, make your character invisible, and allow your hunter the ability to use his “Affinity Weapon.” There are four ways to play the multiplayer of Metroid Prime Hunters: 1) Single-Card play, 2) Multi-Card play, 3) Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, and 4) Bot play.

Single-Card play is the most limiting, as players without the card must use Samus as their default hunter of choice since the others are unavailable to them; however, if you want multiplayer gaming, it will still fill your need. Multi-card play and Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection are the same deal, only Multi-card requires you to be in the same vicinity while Wi-Fi Connection allows you to connect with everyone as long as they have an Internet connection. Bot play is for those moments when you are sitting alone, nobody to game with, and you want to train; load up a game, set what you want, and practice killing the enemy AI hunters with various difficulties for you to change up. When finding games, you can either choose to look up opponents from your region or based on your rank.

Once you have people to play against, you can then choose what game mode you want. There is Battle (typical frag matches where you fight everyone), Survival (last one standing is winner), Bounty (grab the flag – in this case called an Ocolith – and take it to a specific point for points), Defender (attempt to secure a designated area), Prime Hunter (a “King of the Hill” type tag match), Capture (typical capture the flag), Nodes (a territory type battle scenario). You can also choose to have teams in the modes if you so wish.

Big BlueThough the multiplayer is quite fun, it suffers from the same faults as the single player game. An annoying quirk is that you actually have to play a good deal of the single player to unlock any of the hunters or the other arenas. In order to play as one of the six other hunters (totaling the possible character choices to seven) you must first run across them in the single player story and beat them; otherwise, you can only be Samus. And though the other hunters look different appearance wise, they frankly play the same with the only changes coming from their alternate form (like the morph ball) and the appearance of their HUD.

And as I’ve already mentioned before, I found myself suffering from the same control problems, as swiveling around to find an enemy, jumping over obstacles, and attempting to land a shot still felt random rather than skillful; every match felt like a random crapshoot where you “prayed and sprayed” your weapon, hoping just to hit anything before it hits you.

GRAPHICS

Sure the graphics are jaggy, but we are talking about the DS here and not the Xbox 360. Given that fact, I’m amazingly surprised by the quality given its hardware limitations. The enemies are fairly lackluster and lack creativity, as many enemies are simply past enemies shaded a different color, and even bosses are recycled and used multiple times, but the environments for the most part look rather nice, though there are some uninspired moments there as well. Still, despite the jaggies, Metroid Prime Hunters is a good looking game for the DS.

SOUND

Nothing really outstanding in the sound department, though the music is nice to listen to for at least a little while into the adventure. The rest of the effects, mostly the blasting, is too monotonous and repeats way too many times; spend an hour with the game (if I’m being generous) and you’ll probably have heard every sound byte the game has.

CLOSING COMMENTS

Metroid Prime Hunters is a mixed bag of sorts, as it has the same feel of past games in the franchise, but yet nothing really stands out, as it seems like the same Metroid gameplay that refuses to grow up and change with the times. The multiplayer is robust for a handheld, but it suffers from the same control problems as the single player, thus hampering that experience as well. If you are looking for a first person shooter experience on the DS, Metroid Prime Hunters will fill your need, but I doubt it will satisfy you.

Rating: 3star
Our Scoring System

‘Blazing Angels’ Review (Xbox 360)

Take Them DownLook! Up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no it’s…okay, it’s just a plane. The flight genre has always been a tricky genre to nail perfectly. Frequent issues arise such as games being too sim, too arcadey, or the constant dogfighting wears out its welcome real quick and gets old fast. So why does Blazing Angels ultimately sputter instead of soar to new heights?

THE STORY SO FAR

Blazing Angels is set during World War II. I don’t want to turn this review into an essay on the war, so there is no point for me to dictate and rehash everything you should already know from your days in school. Suffice to say, you’ll dogfight during some of the war’s most known battles, and yes, you’ll get to pilot a plane during Pearl Harbor and see if Ubisoft can do it better than Michael Bay did.

Besides experiencing the story of World War II, you’ll be playing through the story of the Blazing Angels. As the upstart pilot named, well, you aren’t ever given a name to my knowledge, but you start out learning the ropes from a good ol’ country boy who manages to sound like a clichéd Southern caricature even more so than Gomer Pyle in The Andy Griffith Show. After learning to fly, you’ll soon be taking to the skies with wingmen on your side; the wingmen include Tom, Frank and Joe. No characterization ever happens during the game, so your wingmen will be flat, cardboard characters from beginning to end, and they don’t even have their own story arc to participate in; each level is a set piece during the war and serves as nothing more than a backdrop to do more dogfighting and killing, because there isn’t a single story arch (beginning, middle, or end) throughout the game.

SINGLE PLAYER: GAMEPLAY

Dogfighting is the name of the game when it comes to Blazing Angels. Besides one or two reconnaissance missions, every mission has you piloting whatever plane they give you and trying to takedown all the Germans and Japanese that you can. The process will change up a bit every so often, when instead of killing everything you see or bombing a specific target you’ll be asked to protect a priority place marker or fleet of bombers in the always annoying escort missions. I don’t know why developers can’t get it into their head that nobody wants to do escort missions. When I lose a level I want it to be because I was bested in combat, not because a random plane got shot down that I had nothing to do with. And as for those reconnaissance missions – annoying! One recon mission in particular that infuriated me a great deal was one that required me to fly through a desert sandstorm to find German bases. So how does one go about finding German bases in a sandstorm? Why you listen to their radio chatter and head straight as long as the signal is clear or adjust your position when the conversation starts to get filled with static. It sounds simple, but it isn’t, as you really have to pinpoint the exact location, and the matters get even worse when you have to listen to the same Germans chatting over and over about the same thing while they continue to do so in the most insulting German accents I’ve ever heard.

As for the dogfighting, the right trigger is your main weapon, the B-button selects the closest threat, the A-button selects the next objective target, the left bumper retracts your landing gears, the left and right thumbsticks fly the plane, the left trigger is used to follow the enemy or objective that is currently selected, and you use the directional pad to use your wingmen.

DogfightThe dogfighing of Blazing Angels is very arcadey, which is a good thing considering the last WWII dogfighting game I played (Heroes of the Pacific) was too sim for my taste, and yet this one is too arcadey for me as well. I haven’t enjoyed a dogfighting game since Crimson Skies on the Xbox, and so I guess I’ll have to wait for a sequel to that franchise before I ever find a flight system that completely works for me. I did like the fact that shooting rockets, bombing objectives, and torpedoing ships was extremely easy to do in Blazing Angels, but everything else to me was give or take.

For starters, your wingmen have “special abilities” depending on if they are in your squad or not for a given mission, and these abilities range from Tom being able to taunt an enemy to follow him instead of you (can’t recall ever using him), Frank going crazy with the guns and taking on multiple enemies at a time, and Joe fixing your plane by giving you directions on what to do (a timed button press minigame). The repair ability was quite nice during a lot of the game, as I could dive down into a gunfight, rise up through the clouds with my engines on fire, and then do a simple button press pattern to completely heal myself. The problem, however, comes from the fact that it makes a lot of missions way too easy, because there is typically no tension as to whether or not you’ll survive an encounter or not. In other words, congrats to Ubisoft for adding the feature, but ultimately a thumbs down for terrible execution.

To succeed in this game the left trigger must be your friend, as it is the only real way to follow your enemies. However, the left trigger isn’t the easiest concept to grasp, as it took me a good handful of missions to finally “get” the mechanic and learn to use it properly, but I still failed on occasion when I wasn’t able to accurately judge a distance and smacked nose first into the ground. Also, for some strange reason, the left trigger will occasionally lose focus, as the camera will quickly go screwy and then disengage from its target; I could never figure out why this was so.

ChasingAs I’ve already touched on, the game on the default setting is pretty easy, as the heal ability will automatically heal you from any damage as long as you are successful at the button presses (really easy so you should never fail). The only thing that makes the game hard are the objectives, which are unfairly out of your control so as to give the game a challenge. The only times I failed were when an uncontrollable element (such as protecting a given amount of bombers) were out of my control and I simply had to hope everything worked out for the best. Another example is one level where you have to do a preemptive attack on a ground squadron, stationed at a base, but I could never figure out what I needed to take out to be the most successful. I tried attacking the planes before they flew, I tried the planes as they were taking off, I tried taking out the base structures, and I even tried taking out the gun placements. I eventually found the right combo, but it took over 30 trial and error tries.

And while the game does have some frustrating choke points that are more tiring than exhilarating, there are a few that will keep you engaged while you attempt to perfect them. One level has you flying through this narrow canyon, shooting planes and dodging rock formations on a time limit, and though I crashed a bunch trying to swoop around the place, I was still thrilled and exited by the time I finally came out the other side with my plane completely intact.

MULTIPLAYER: GAMEPLAY

There are three different ways to play the multiplayer portion of Blazing Angels. You’ve got Solo mode (every player plays for themselves and tries to take everyone else out), Co-op mode (all the players have a common goal they are trying to accomplish against the AI), and Squadron (teams of up to eight players compete against each other).

Get That BridgeSolo game modes include: Dogfight (classic deathmatch), Aces High (basically a tag mode), and Seek and Destroy (kinda a last man standing King of the Hill match). Co-op game modes include: Dogfight (kill as many planes in a given time limit), Onslaught (a battle against endless waves of enemies), Bombing Run (all planes attack an AI controlled base), Kamikaze (protect a base against kamikaze planes), and Historical Battle (play 12 of the Campaign modes together). Squadron game modes include: Dogfight (team vs. team deathmatch), Capture the Base (basically territories), Bombing Run (same as Co-op but against each other), and Kamikaze (like Co-op but against each other).

I didn’t really enjoy the multiplayer all that much of Blazing Angels. Sure, if you like the single player gameplay you’ll equally enjoy this (maybe even more), but as I was left unimpressed with the overall gameplay, I didn’t care much about playing it against other real people. If I had to pick the Solo modes and Squadron modes are the best of the three, as Co-op felt like the normal game but without any competition whatsoever. In some games pure co-op works fine, but with a game like this you want to have some sense of accomplishment and competition when it’s all over.

GRAPHICS

Given it’s a 360 game, I had hopes that it would look like a 360 games, but sadly only 50% (at best!) looks like a game for a next-gen system. The planes look nice, as does the lighting, and though there are some truly spectacular moments where tons and tons of planes are on the screen, darting through the clouds and chasing after each other, other moments are uninspired messes with bland textures, unclean environments, jaggies, and other such monstrosities that shouldn’t be in a game like this.

SOUND

Sound thankfully fairs better than the graphics on at least two of the three fronts, as the score is well done and cues up during the proper moments during the gameplay, though it sometimes is too overbearing and drowns out the sound (which actually isn’t a negative now that I think about it), and the effects of your plane’s bullets ripping planes to shreds is equally nice.

SquadronAs I’ve made it known before, voice work usually doesn’t register to high for me, as I won’t dismiss a game because of it even if it isn’t all that great, but Blazing Angels’ voice work in insulting. I’m Southern and I’ve never heard anyone say anything remotely close to a phrase like “he’s on me like a tick on a dog.” Besides these idiotic lines, the voice is more stupid bumpkin than Southern boy; if you come down to the South nobody sounds like this, because the South only sounds like this in Hollywood since they could care less about authenticity. It isn’t just the South that gets trashed in the voice work portion of the game, as both the Germans and Japanese voices are equally offensive to their respective cultures; to get a good idea of what I’m talking about think of Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s or for the non-cinema fans Krusty the Klown in The Simpsons when he does his “oh, me so sorry” Asian impression with squinty eyes and bucktooth rounding it all off.

CLOSING COMMENTS

You could do a lot worse than Blazing Angels and you could also do a lot better than Blazing Angels too. Blazing Angels is average…nothing more and nothing less. Gameplay isn’t exciting for the most part, but yet it isn’t a chore as a whole either. If you look back, everything really is right on the borderline of both the good and the bad, as it will do a few things well, but fail yet at the same time. We all know what average gets around here.

Rating: 3star
Our Scoring System

‘The Da Vinci Code’ Review (Xbox)

ChurchIf you want the pinnacle of movie tie-in games then look no further than The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay. If you want a game that represents everything that is wrong with quick movie cash-ins then look no further than The Da Vinci Code. Since Da Vinci Code fans all love puzzles, here is an anagram to properly describe this game: A SMUG CHESS KIT.

THE STORY SO FAR

If you don’t know the story of The Da Vinci Code by now then I’m surprised you’re reading this, because you shouldn’t be able to see this since you have no eyes! Yes, I’m imaging the Bringers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But seriously, as much controversy as this story has caused in the time since the novel’s release, it would’ve taken a considerable effort to either not feel inclined enough to go read the book yourself, not catch the insane amount of television specials covering the ideas proposed, or pony up the money to see the movie.

But if, for some unimaginable reason you don’t know the story, here is a quick blurb. You play as Robert Langon, a symbologist, who is called to The Louvre to investigate a murder that happened there, because his name is written at the crime scene next to the dead body. While there Robert meets Sophie Neveu, a young, French officer, who has past ties with the deceased. On the run from the cops, evil albino monks, and the Christian religion as a whole, Robert and Sophie must follow the clues that have been left for them if they want any hope at all in finding out why they are being pursued and finding what long lost secret is out there for them to discover.

PuzzleThe story of The Da Vinci Code is solid and intriguing…if you haven’t read the novel. For someone who has never had any prior experience to the story, the game does a good job of getting you the gist of it (though they change a few story points to make the game…well…more a game) while including a little more history regarding symbols should that be your thing. As someone who has read the book (thank you jury duty) and both seen the movie, I’m a bit tired of the story by now. I mean, it’s still a good story, but there usually comes a point when everything loses its impact. As the story unfolded there was no intrigue or suspense as I came closer and closer to discovering the mystery. Imagine if you met someone and they told you the same story each time you met them; you’d be interested the first time around, but as you wait for the payoff or the punch line, there is everything else to wade through.

The game presents its story through cutscene after cutscene and voiceovers that occur when you run across interactable pieces of the environment that are used to solve the puzzles, though you’ll really not care since they are all presented in a rather uninteresting manner. The cutscenes are animated in such a way as to give high school performances an Oscar winning luster and the voiceovers sounds just like you’d expect them to sound – someone reading a history book out loud.

GAMEPLAY

Since there is no multiplayer (and for a game of this type, what really could they’ve done anyways) gameplay is strictly limited to the single player variety. Though commercials and screenshots alone would have you believe this is some action game combined with stealth elements, you couldn’t be farther away from the truth. The Da Vinci Code is an old school adventure game, but without all the pointing and clicking. The game actually controls a lot like Syberia did for the Xbox in many regards.

You’ll use the left thumbstick to control your character and the right to control the camera. The A-button performs an action (such as examining something), the X-button is used to attack, the left trigger is to go in stealth mode (ie crouch), the right trigger runs, and the black button calls up your inventory. The controls aren’t advanced at all, but the game is so simple in concept you wouldn’t expect them to be. And though they aren’t advanced, they will from time to time come off that way because some actions shouldn’t be as hard to activate or to perform as they are presented here.

As you run about the open environments, you’ll look for things you can either pickup or investigate (you’ll know thanks to a big button that appears saying “press me”). Items you pickup will go into your inventory, and from here they can be used, combined, or examined. When you find an area you can investigate, your camera will zoom in as if you are looking through your character’s eyes; here you’ll swing a camera around looking for anything that will highlight so you can interact with it.

The LouvreWith objects in your inventory, you’ll use these to solve the various puzzles. For the most part, puzzles are easy, really easy. Rarely will there come a time when you see something and have absolutely no idea what to do. Hmm…I see dogs blocking my way and there are some bowls, maybe I need food. I have food, but now how to call them over. Ah, there is a bell. It really doesn’t get any easier than this. The only puzzles I actually had to cheat on were the puzzles where letters were represented as symbols and you had to replace the symbols with the proper letter. The reasons these were hard because you have so many letter choices and everything is blank, so it is just a lot of trial and error, which I can’t stand. Trial and error for a purpose (Splinter Cell) I can handle, but trial and error because you don’t know how to do it any better, well, I’ll pass. And though the game has a hint system, rarely does it do any good, because it will maybe give you three vague hints, and then just keep recycling, never helping you more and more till you figure it out. “Look at your notes” – really, thanks hint system, I never would’ve thought that, oh wait, yes I did, it was the first thing I did!

Beyond puzzles you have these ridiculous QTE events (I love you Shenmue, but blast you for your influence reaching to games like this) that you’ll have to perform for every day tasks like cutting bolts, lifting something, or pushing something. Ugh! Now, if there was a button to make my character flip this game the bird, then maybe I’d press those buttons faster, but as is, there is no hurry to them unlike in Resident Evil 4 or Shenmue where if you weren’t quick you were done for.

And finally we come to the combat portion of the game. This so called “combat” (yes, I’m using finger quotes as I’m typing) happens whenever you aren’t sneaky enough, which is itself a joke since you can pass right next to someone, pass right to the side of their peripherals, or walk right in front of them through vague shadows that don’t obscure you a bit and they still won’t see you. Even if you are caught, it doesn’t matter much, because as long as you have a one on one scenario you can always win. Combat involves pressing the attack button until the enemy grapples with you (you can occasionally get the upper hand in a grapple), but typically you’ll have to perform a button press scenario to turn the tides. Once the tides are turned, you can choose to push (worthless) your enemy, throw (equally worthless) them, or attack (ding ding we have a winner). To attack you once again do a string of button presses to make your character perform a canned fight scenario; do this about two or three times and every enemy will go down. Fighting is always a chore and a bore, but it gets even worse when there are more than one enemy, because you can be about ready to perform your attack when the other person will hit you and screw up your process. If your partner is on the screen at the same time, they’ll try to help, but often they would grab the person I was dealing with just fine, which meant I couldn’t quickly perform the required attacks to easily do away with them and move on.

The Old HouseGRAPHICS

Everything is rather “meh” in this game: characters generally look so-so to below average, environments are rather barren of objects, and everything seems rather dull. I’m trying to think of something, anything, that really made me go “oooh” but I’m drawing nothing but blanks.

SOUND

The music: bad. The voicework: pretty bad, and some of the line readings are lacking so much energy you’ll want to fall asleep or skip the cutscene altogether. The sound effects: are you kidding me? Say you find an object you can swing as a club and you hit it against the wall, you’d expect a sound wouldn’t you? Well, you don’t get one. Pick a can off the ground and throw it, you’d expect a sound right? I think you maybe, maybe get something that sounds like paper crackling, but it is definitely not a can being bounced on the ground.

OVERALL

Let me make this as perfectly clear as I can: read a book! Seriously, if you want to experience the story of The Da Vinci Code, read the book. If you hate to read, settle for the movie, though you are missing out since books are always better than their movie screen counterpart, especially in this case (amazing considering the pedigree behind it) as it loses a lot of the joy that comes from discovering the clues. And never, ever, under any circumstances, play the game. It is a terrible adventure game. A terrible movie tie-in game. And a plain old terrible game…period. Remember that anagram I started the review off with…

A SMUG CHESS KIT = THIS GAME SUCKS

Rating: 1star
Our Scoring System

‘New Super Mario Bros.’ Review (DS)

Giant MarioI go way back with Mario. Super Mario Bros. was the first game I ever played and I owned all the 2D iterations that came after. I remember going to see The Wizard starring Fred Savage in theaters, watching them compete in the Mario that I didn’t even know was out yet, and I just had to have my parents rush me to the store so that they could buy it for me (thankfully I didn’t have the same compulsion to go out and buy the Power Glove). Yep, I’ve had that kind of love affair with Mario, though it waned with later 3D versions (yes, though the Nintendo 64 installment is a great game, I still prefer all the past 2D versions, and I’ve yet to feel compelled enough to get Sunshine). So with New Super Mario Bros. the franchise is going back to its roots, but is that a good thing. In one word – yes.

THE STORY SO FAR

Since New Super Mario Bros. is a return to the franchise’s roots, it features the same old school story you’ve come to expect to be attached to any 2D side scrolling Mario. After going for a walk together, Mario (or Luigi…more on that later) leaves Princess Peach’s side when he sees her castle get struck by lightning. While Mario isn’t looking, Bowser Jr. sneaks up behind the Princess, kidnaps her, and it’s off to the races for Mario. The manual gives a tiny story note, saying something along the lines of Bowser Jr. once thinking Peach was his mom, so I’m going to assume that is part of the kidnapping though it isn’t expressed anywhere during the game.

SINGLE PLAYER: GAMEPLAY

It is Mario for crying out loud! Do I really need to describe the gameplay? Okay, okay, for the uninitiated you play as Mario (or Luigi) as you run from left to right across side scrolling stages, collecting coins, powerups, jumping on enemies, and leaping from platform to platform until you reach that magical slide down the castle flag poll to signify you are at the end of a stage. Once a stage is complete, you move on and on until you’ve fought a few bosses, made your way through several worlds, and then ultimately end up at the end where you’ll square off against the final boss and save Princess Peach. Tada! Super Mario Bros. gameplay in a nutshell.

Though Mario initially only started out with a jumping ability, New Super Mario Bros. incorporates many elements from past games in the franchise, including a few of his moves. Mario can run left and right, jump, dash, duck, stomp, hit blocks, double jump, ground pound (jump in air, press down, and watch Mario as he attacks with his butt), slide down hills, wall jump, enter pipes, swim, grab and throw items, slide on walls, hang on ropes, swing on ropes, and climb on fences. Wow, Mario has come a long way.

JawsA few powerups have remained consistent throughout the franchise’s history, though every installment typically has its own new ones to complement the old. In New Super Mario Bros. those new powerups include the Mega Mushroom (turns Mario into a giant, which allows him to stomp from one end of the stage to the next for a limited amount of time), the Mini Mushroom (turns Mario into a tiny little guy to fit into those hard to reach places), and the Blue Koopa Shell (turns Mario into a Koopa, which allows him to duck into his shell and hit enemies). Though the new powerups are cool and some are needed (you can only access worlds four and seven by being Mini Mario), you frankly don’t run across them all that much. The majority of your time will be spent grabbing normal Super Mushrooms and Fire Flowers during your time with the game.

As with any platformer, worlds range in style from one to the next, with Mario starting on a traditional, no frills world, but he’ll soon find himself in the desert, an island paradise, the woods, winter wonderlands, a mountainous region, and finally the dangerous wastelands of the game’s final world. Each world contains its own graphical styles, sounds, enemies, and obstacles, so it never feels as if you are playing the same stages over and over and thus redundancy never enters into the picture.

For the most part, New Super Mario Bros. isn’t too challenging, though that doesn’t mean you won’t die trying to accomplish a task within the game. Also, like past games, it can be beat rather quickly if all you want to do is start and go to the end as quick as possible, taking shortcuts from level to level in the process. However, the game is one of those where you get more from it as you put more into it, so you can extend your gameplay by going to each world (even the two kinda hidden ones that you’ll have to figure out how to open), playing each stage, unlocking every path, and gathering the three Star Coins that are scattered about each of the game’s levels.

The thing I love about the game is how it incorporates so many elements from the past games and they all fluidly merge into one. For example, during a few of the swimming levels, you’ll run across these purple eels, which any good Mario fan can recall being in the Nintendo 64 game. Though it is only a little touch, I enjoyed the nostalgia it brought out in me.

Okay, remember when I included Luigi’s name, well you can play as Luigi by holding down the left and right buttons while selecting a game. I’ve always enjoyed Luigi, and he seems to make the game funnier just by his line readings alone. The gameplay or story don’t change at all, it is simply a matter of taste and who you want to play as.

Hot RocksBesides the single player game, you’ve also got minigames that you can play, which are broken down into four different categories: Action, Puzzle, Table, and Variety. I enjoy the Table games the most, as these involve cards and matching games, poker games, and a puzzle-esque matching game where you try to remove all the cards from the field instead of only matching pairs. The stylus is used well during this portion of the game (unlike the single player game where it is barely used) as you roll snowballs, drag bombs, click cards, fling slingshots, draw trampolines, and there is one that uses the microphone where you blow into it to make Yoshi rise on some balloons. Though mostly simple diversions to waste a few moments or a tech demo to showoff the various abilities of the touch screen, they are still rather nice and there are some I enjoy playing more than others.

MULTIPLAYER: GAMEPLAY

The multiplayer is actually fairly limited, as it is only one on one battles on specific courses where players go from left to right and attack each other to steal their stars. It is a nice diversion, but it could’ve been a whole lot more if you ask me. Having a feature where players actually race through the levels of the single player game or play co-op could’ve been really fun, but sadly those aren’t included here.

GRAPHICS

Though the graphics are flat against the screen, they all retain a roundness to give them the look of being in the realm of 3D, and it all works perfectly as it makes the game both old school in feel without looking old school graphically. Featuring a few special effects as well that add to the overall package, and nicely detailed worlds that range in style, everything is nice and crisp and get no complaints from me.

SOUND

There isn’t an orchestra score here, but the MIDI keyboard sounds perfect for the Mario Bros. and you’ll run across all the old tunes you can recall by heart and hum in your sleep. Voice work is typical clichéd Italian stereotype, but that is a part of Mario, and the line readings are pretty funny for the first few times you hear them. The sound effects are also nice as they really breathe life into the characters.

CLOSING COMMENTS:

MushroomsThough the minigames and multiplayer are included more as an afterthought than anything else, it was still nice of Nintendo to include them anyways. Though you can breeze through the game rather quickly, to fully complete the game (meaning playing every world, stage, and collecting all the Star Coins) will net you a good amount of time. So what keeps it from barely reaching that pinnacle five star rating? Well, challenge actually. When I compare it to the past 2D games in the franchise, it doesn’t stand as tall as them and is probably the worst of the bunch (though that doesn’t mean it is a bad game…just that those others are so great), mainly due to the lack of challenge for the most part (the abundance of extra lives means you’ll never feel bad for experimenting with one of your lives and thus removes the tension of the game). Still, it is a really fun game, and one that I hope you’ll pickup for the DS.

Rating: 4star
Our Scoring System

‘Rockstar Presents Table Tennis’ Review (Xbox 360)

Apparently, in another life, I was born a sailor, because with Rockstar Presents Table Tennis I find myself swearing up a storm like one. Literally, it is one of those cases where after I say something, I have to think aloud if that choice word or phrase has always been in my repertoire. Besides that choice nugget, I’m “this close” to seeing how aerodynamic the 360’s controller really is.

Back SpinTHE STORY SO FAR

Ummm…you play table tennis. Seriously, that is the closest you’ll come to a story, because you don’t even play table tennis in a career mode.

SINGLE PLAYER: GAMEPLAY

If you find yourself stuck with the single player portion only (or even if you simply don’t feel like playing online all the time) the majority of your time will be spent in the tournament mode, practicing against the computer in preparation of your next online match, or doing a quick game to waste a bit of time.

In tournament mode, you’ll pick one of several characters, and then take that character through the rounds of virtual tournaments. From the get-go you can choose one of three tournaments with an unselectable fourth that will only open once you complete the others before it. As you compete in the matches, after one is done you move to the next, and then the next and then on and on until you’ve completely finished that tournament. After you complete a tournament, keep on moving through the difficulties until you beat every tournament the game offers, and then grab another character and repeat the same process over again.

Exhibition mode is the same as tournament, only you’re done as soon as one match is over, but you can still select what character you want to play as, who you want to go up against, and you even get to pick their clothes. Oooh! Aaah!

The other main focus of these offline modes is to unlock hidden bonus characters by either completing tournaments within a given amount of time or winning a select number of games over your computer opponents (win 50 matches against the computer and you will have unlocked every character in the game). Besides bonus characters, you’ll also be trying to unlock extra levels and outfits by winning matches under certain conditions, like winning with a soft shot, coming back from a deficit, don’t let the computer score, etc. I’ll come out and say this now: the extra levels and outfits are a joke. The outfits are a joke because they are really only different colors of current existing ones and the new levels are hilarious in the fact that they are all still only a table with a few very basic backdrops that you’ll hardly notice. Seriously, a level is basic only a table, and everything else is worthless.

Now don’t go thinking these games against the CPU are a cakewalk, because they are as frustratingly difficult as games against a human component. And when I mean frustratingly difficult, I mean “get so mad you punch a pillow, scream at the game, stomp on the floor, and swear that you’ll never play this piece of junk again” frustrating.

JesperThe controls of Table Tennis are the easiest thing about the game, but that isn’t saying much as they present problems. The left thumbstick moves your character and tells the character the position you want them to angle the shot. The A-button is for topspin, the B-button is for a right sidespin, the X-button is for a left sidespin, and the Y-button is for a backspin. The only other shot options are combining two nearby buttons for a combo shot, using the left bumper in conjunction with another button for a soft shot, or using the right bumper in conjunction with another button for a focus shot.

My issues with the controls come from the fact that you can’t map every button to your absolute specifications. For example, the soft shot can be a major shot in a player’s routine, but when I hold the controller, my natural hold places my left index finger on the left trigger instead of bumper, which means I have to do this awkward movement to click the bumper in. I tried to change to a control scheme that best suited my fingers, but there wasn’t any option that performed well, as either the soft shot or focus shot suffered from not being in the right position. Rockstar should’ve allowed players to map every button on the controller.

After you get by the controls, then you’ll start to notice the gamplay issues. When I first started playing the game, I was having a blast and thought the game was flawless if a bit skimpy in the single player department, but there is a reason why people don’t review games based on a few minutes of play. The longer I played the game the more and more I noticed how random everything was. In a sports game, gameplay should never come down to random luck, as it should always be about competition and who was the better player and not who got lucky. I’m playing table tennis…not scratching a lottery ticket from the local gas station.

The randomness comes from the fact that you can have two scenarios with the exact same setup and you’ll still often get different results given that fact. I’m not kidding either, as I’m talking about literally having the same scenario more than once and nothing will ever be the same. One time, during these same scenarios, you can swing at the ball and you’ll connect with a solid shot to the other side of the table, the next you’ll completely miss the ball as it speeds by you, the next you’ll pop it up into the air where the opponent will then slam it in your face, and then the next time your character won’t even lunge for the ball. Nothing fundamentally changes, but for one stupid reason or another the conclusion is always different, and that fact makes the game a crapshoot rather than an actual duel of players. If I’m going to fail at something, I’d rather know it was because I sucked or the other player was better than me rather than the fact that the computer chose that moment to screw me over. You do not want the computer messing with you when a 200+ rally is on the line.

Lunging For BallAnd that randomness goes to even more gameplay quirks. When you get lucky enough and manage to return a slam, you’ll either get a shot that hits the net, completely misses the table, bounces high so the opponent can return another smash, or return the ball in such a way you ace them; you’ll never know what result you’ll get. As you play the game, you’re supposed to get focus by charging up shots, but the ratio between the amount of focus you earn and the time you’ve spent charging don’t seem to be connected, as I’ve charged plenty of shots and barely get any focus for my troubles, but the CPU can seem to build up that meter as quick as they want. Also, the computer controlled AI can move as fast as it wants, which means that it can return shots that they shouldn’t be able to get to since you can’t get to them (laws should apply to both sides of the table) and the computer has “rubber band” AI, which means that, for instance, if you are playing a match of two games, if you whoop the computer during the first game there is a good chance they’ll whoop you just the same during the second game; your technique and shots could be the exact same, but once again the randomness will let the computer score where it shouldn’t.

And finally, the controller really starts to vibrate once you’ve pushed the control stick too far, and that means the ball will go off the table, but you never know “when” or “how” it will happen. Once again…random. Like all previous scenarios, you can do the exact same move, apply the exact same pressure, and have the exact same scenarios happen and things will still always be different.

MULTIPLAYER: GAMEPLAY

All the randomness of the single player gameplay applies to the multiplayer gameplay, except for the fact that there is no cheap super fast opponents or “rubber band” AI to complain about.

Once you get online, you can choose to compete in normal non-ranked matches, ranked matches, or tournaments. Since you’ll be playing online to either get rid of the cheap AI or test your worth against other humans, ranked matches and tournaments will probably be your destinations of choice. After Live loads, you can choose to either search for a game (there is no way to pick your opponent or join a game based on skill level, as it is all…random!) or create your own based on your specifications and then wait around for an opponent to show up. I say create your own game, because that way you can tailor the game to how you want it, and besides, it only takes a few seconds or up to a minute for another player to join.

When you get a solid connection, which will be the majority of the time, gameplay is fast and smooth. When you get a bad connection, you’ll run across ghosting, which is the term I’ve christened the event when a player will be on one side of the tennis table and the ball will come from the other; the game is registering the player as moving, though it isn’t showing that to the other player. I also ran across one game that was extremely slow, and there was nothing but ghosting the entire time.

Getting Ready For ShotAs you win and lose, the game keeps track of your record, and gives you a TrueSkill ranking (up to 50) that determines how good of a player you are. Do you want to know how TrueSkill is determined? I’ll give you a hint. It starts with an “r” and ends with “andom.” Yes, even your TrueSkill ranking will be based on a random process. If someone has over a 100 wins and only a few losses, then yes, I could see them having a high ranking, but someone who has seven wins and one loss should not have a forty something rating. Why? Because when I had seven wins and no losses, I had only a TrueSkill ranking of 20. There is no consistency at all in this game.

GRAPHICS

I don’t expect a graphical wonder from a table tennis game, so in that respect the game doesn’t disappoint. The characters are nicely modeled and I love the way that their shirts will sweat under their arms and around their collar the longer you play a match and the more they move. As for the environments, they are a table in a wide-open room, and so they are nothing special.

SOUND

Imagine the quiet still of a room echoing the constant hits of a plastic ball against a paddle. Now imagine that occasionally you’ll get a crowd reaction that ranges from mild interest to a light chant. Apparently, nobody goes to table tennis matches, as it has been extremely quiet for the majority of the time I’ve spent playing. Sound is sorely lacking, but I guess Rockstar is trying to be accurate to the source material.

CLOSING COMMENTS

LucWhen I first started playing the game, it felt like the ultimate in Zen gaming, where you cease playing a game and get so involved you feel at one, and a lot of this stemmed from the fact that I seemed to play worse when my mind was in a negative place and I was in an overall bad mood. But then I realized that wasn’t the case at all, and instead Rockstar Presents Table Tennis just suffered from an overall weak presentation and gameplay that was so severely random even winning wasn’t fun. Many people have said this is an evolution of Pong, but that would entail the game actually taking that gameplay and improving upon it, but Rockstar Presents Table Tennis took a wrong turn at Albuquerque and headed in the opposite direction. Give me Pong any day of the week, because then at least I know my paddle will control like I want it.

Rating: 2star
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