February 22, 2009
House of the Dead: Overkill is an lightgun shooter set firmly on the rails – but then, I’m not sure that there’s any other kind of lightgun shooter. It doesn’t do anything inventive with the genre, but that’s okay; it’s been so long since a decent lightgun game came out I’m willing to forgive the retread.
One of the most interesting parts of this game is how they dealt with the lack of substance. Most games try to tack on a super-serious story to motivate players to progress, but not House of the Dead. They decided to embrace the mindless violence and plastered the game with drive-in horror tropes. As such, the game’s dialogue and humor are firmly in the not-safe-for-children area. One character drops the F-bomb with every line.
When I was a kid, my favorite way to waste money was to visit the local video store’s clearance bin and find the cheesiest, cheapest movie and watch it until the tape imploded. Movies like Blood Feast and The Brain that Wouldn’t Die seem like obvious sources of inspiration for this campy story.
If you’ve played a lightgun shooter befor,e you know what you’re getting into. There are only three complaints I can level at this title:
- One of the zombies carries and effectively uses a riot shield. Killing him is annoying enough for me to wish they would have figured out some other way to add variety to the monsters.
- The later level bosses feel a little tedious. You’re forced to follow a pattern of two or three scenarios that loop. In the latter levels the bosses take too many shots to kill, so you end up seeing the same few scenes five or six times in a row.
- The game does not come with a lightgun cradle for the Wiimote. It really should have, but to be honest I think I had enough fun with the Nerf peripherals to be willing to forgive this flaw.
So, shooting zombies with a lightgun? Check. Campy story with a few good laughs? Check. An excuse to turn on the Wii again? Check. I like this game.
Skip it: If you want something meaningful to happen in your game you will be disappointed. Also, if you’re under 16, you shouldn’t even try to play this game.
Rent it: House of the Dead: Overkill is a solid rental for all Wii owners. You’ll want to have a lightgun cradle for the full effect.
Buy it: Zombie-haters of the world unite! I’m willing to bet this is the most fun you’ll have hunting zombies on the Wii for a while.
February 8, 2009
Beyond Good and Evil is a stealth adventure game. You play as Jade, a freelance photojournalist hired by an underground movement to expose the tyrannous nature of the ruling government.
It’s important to have realistic expectations for this game. It’s five years old, and the jaggy lines prove it. The game play can be frustrating for stealth newbies and too simple for Metal Gear vets. You can see the end coming a long ways off. Your primary partner in the game is annoying. You will be finished with it in under 15 hours. I did it in 10. The game was built for consoles, if you get it on PC you may get frustrated by the controls.
The art direction is fantastic. Hillys feels like a world that evolved. There are maybe half a dozen sentient species roaming around, each have their own cultures. The world is a collection of islands, so naturally you cruise around in hovercrafts. Jade looks like an athletic woman without crossing the line into Laura Croft territory.
The story is great. By the end I did have a (thin) emotional connection to every significant character presented to me. To be honest most of them annoyed me, some I hated (Francis!!), but I did enjoy some of them (Pey’j and Jade). At certain points the story started to tug on my heart strings.
After completing a mission a mob of citizens Hillys take to the street in protest of the Government. Each mission adds to the gaggle of protesters which is a small touch, but it really lends credence to the notion that you are changing the world.
As a freelance photographer you make extra money by cataloging the planet’s remaining animals. When broken down it’s simply a collect-fest, but as it’s presented it feels fresh to the adventure genre.
Those positive points are strong enough for me to mostly wash away the negative above. I think most of you will feel the same.
Skip it: I’m guessing you’ve been doing this for five years. You are wrong.
Rent it: If you can still find a place that rents this, go for it. The game is like $10 on Steam though, so the risk/reward ratio isn’t very favorable.
Buy it: It’s $10. We’re entering a bit of a dry spot in the calendar. The recommendation is obvious.
February 1, 2009
I love Spider-Man. I love Venom. When I was a lad the centerpiece of my comic collection was Amazing Spider-Man #300. With that in mind I am very sad to say technical issues and poor game design weigh this title down.
The first problem lies in the controls. You’re given a lock-on function to help direct Spider-Man’s unwieldy distance attacks, but it never seems to lock on to the target you want. In nearly every instance that I came upon a horde of enemies my area of effect attack was directed on one of the edge baddies, not the one in the center which would be the most effective.
As the game begins to get serious you’ll find yourself saddled with frequent escort and/or defense missions. Unfortunately your ally AI seems fairly underpowered. They try to alleviate the issue by allowing you to call upon other super-heroes to help you out, but they’re generally useless at threat assessment and thus focus their attacks on the closest enemies. You are given the option to baby sit them, but I found myself preoccupied with my own fight.
Boss fights often conclude with quick time events. It’s been so long since I’ve seen QTEs done right I’ve nearly forgotten why they are so prevalent to begin with. With Web of Shadows you’ll find a loose association with the button’s assigned function and what Spidey does during these events. Since Treyarch was aiming to show his speed and agility you might feel there is not enough time to hit the correct button in some sequences – yet they felt conscious enough of the issue that a few of the warnings hang on screen longer than it should before accepting input.
The theme of the game’s story is Spider-Man’s struggle with morality. They chose to express that struggle by interrupting a cut-scene with a binary option. I’m not quite sure why you’d choose one over the other, it doesn’t seem to directly impact game play. The extra animation/voice work seems like money that could have been put toward polishing the various glitches.
Finally: the camera. I haven’t wrestled with a camera this much on any other game this generation. When you’re swinging along it works just fine, but God help you if the auto target selects an enemy other than the one you’re looking at. In some cases (specifically on high buildings and low ground) the camera will switch between all the way up and all the way down, with no in between. A more common way to cause the camera to spaz out is to fight on a wall near a corner and the ground. I almost enjoyed this glitch, as it gives you something more akin to the web slinger’s perspective, but if it were to happen for more than a few seconds I’m sure I’d puke.
Skip it: I cannot in good faith recommend casual Spider-Man fans grab this.
Rent it: If you still read the comics regularly and have purchased other Activision Web Head games, take a hint and try this one first.
Buy it: If you love Spider-Man and have a high tolerance to bugs, escort missions, and QTEs.
December 7, 2008
As a huge fan of 16 bit era Sonic games I come to this title with a bit of prejudice. I miss the games that were about timing, pattern recognition, and improving times. If Sonic Unleashed where one game I might be pacified, but not entirely satisfied. It’s too bad Sonic Unleashed is two games, squished together like liver pate.
For some reason Robotnik (Or are they calling him Eggman now for real?) decided the best way to dominate Mobius is to blow it apart, releasing a ‘spirit’ that has mysterious magical energy. The only living creature impacted by this ancient spirit is Sonic, who now turns into a warehog at night.
The warehog levels are platform/brawler style, ala The Bouncer, but with a slightly worse combat system. To be straight with you, these levels share characteristics with the ooze you find in the bottom of a dumpster that was recently the home of rabid raccoons who forage the sewers for human refuse in order to maintain some semblance of life. I won’t go into any details; and if you decide to purchase the game I encourage you to pay someone to unlock the level select for you. That ‘half’ of the title is more of a chore than a game, and it should be avoided if at all possible.
That’s not to say this game is without merits. The best Sonic level I’ve played in 14 years finds it’s home in this title. They’re not all perfect, but when they get a level right it feels exactly like the games of old. For the other 20-something hedgehog fan out there it might be worth your time to get that level; but you’ll probably want to wait for this game to hit the bargain bin. It shouldn’t be too long.
There’s simply too much filler to recommend this game for general consumption.
Skip it: If you never owned a Genesis you are correct to ignore this series.
Rent it: Masochists, people who want to affirm their hatred of the series, and curious fans who are want to witness a glimmer of hope.
Buy it: I may very well be the ideal demographic for this game and I’m upset that I paid full price.
October 5, 2008
Unlike last week’s review this franchise has life left in it. To be fair even if Rock Band 2 was an exact clone of the original I’d still like it. I’m a junky for the game, and all I really needed was new songs. I got that, and more.
I opted to import my RB1 discs into RB2, for some reason I had to pay $5 worth of Microsoft Space Bucks – maybe that’s a used game market tax? I’d hate to guess at what Game Stop’s giving for it now.
I paid for the import for three reasons:
- The default calibration works so much better on my set up with RB2 than my custom latency adjustment did for RB1.
- Within a few days I was already struggling to remember which game had “Gimme Shelter” on it.
- I’m very lazy and changing discs when I don’t have to is such a chore.
So one disc (and a huge chunk of my hard drive) now plays more songs than I’m likely to go through over the course of a weekend party, and there’s enough variety in those songs to keep everyone happy no matter what their musical tastes are. Unless they’re someone like me who wants Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and Tool incorporated into their plastic guitar driven fantasies. I’ll play a 20 minute song, provided it’s good. Oh well, maybe next year.
The Tour Mode is a bit more fleshed out, and thanks to the plethora of tracks (including DLC) it’s rare that you’re forced to play a song you don’t like to advance. I really liked that my DLC and unlocked content wasn’t walled off of the main game.
The battle of the bands challenges were interesting as well. They consist of a predetermined set-list that your band must play, the higher your score the higher you rank in the global leader boards. I was surprised to learn playing guitar on medium nets you a score in the top 10%.
Skip it: if you’re above playing with fisher price instruments for entertainment.
Rent it: If you’ve pledged fidelity to Guitar Hero you should totally give this game a chance when you get your World Tour set up.
Buy it: If you loved the first game you’ll go crazy over the second. This title is worth your time.
September 28, 2008
Here we are at the fourth Lego something game, and nothing has changed.
For me the charm of the franchise is wearing thin, and some of the tropes that were merely tolerable previously have become downright annoying. I’m looking at you, vehicle levels. I’d also like to call out levels that have off-screen entrances/exits in multiplayer. This series has been going long enough for the developers to know better.
The character selection doesn’t feel as rich as previous titles, but Batman has always been about Batman and Robin on the hero side, with a diverse cast of villains. The game tries to deliver, but it just feels short in terms of cast.
The only thing I can say that’s positive here is my wife still loves it. Your non-gaming family member might too; but I don’t think there’s enough here to hold your attention.
I really wish there was something substantive to say about this game, but it’s like Diet Coke. It’s nothing you’ll worry about your kids consuming, it doesn’t satisfy your cravings, it’s a pale imitation of something greater, and it’s probably bad for your health to consume in high doses.
Skip it: If you played any other title in the series and/or you will likely play alone.
Rent it: Fans of Batman will probably find something charming here; and if this is your first Lego game a rental is a solid option.
Buy it: It’s still good fodder for a family game night.
July 6, 2008
This game is nearly identical to Guitar Hero 3 in terms of gameplay and graphics. Apart from the Aerosmith skinned band and the Aerosmith branded plastic guitar this could have easily been DLC. So go back and read my Guitar Hero 3 review for the broad strokes.
There’s not a lot of positive things to say about this game, so let’s get those tidbits out of the way first: They managed to interview Aerosmith, you get to watch short blurbs after each level. They managed to avoid most of Aerosmith’s career post “Get A Grip.” That’s about it.
On with the bad. Imagine my surprise when I started the game and was presented with a choice of two songs; and neither was Aerosmith.
Then there’s the question, “Why Aerosmith?” Joe Perry’s a great guitarist, in the same vein as Keith Richards. In other words Aerosmith’s got great rhythm, but the leads can be a bit ho-hum. That’s not a bad thing by itself but it’s not the type of thing I think of when I hear “Guitar Hero.”
I considered myself a fan of the band, but I didn’t enjoy enough of the songs on here enough to warrant the $60 purchase.
Skip it: There’s no reason a casual Guitar Hero fan would need this.
Rent it: If you’re a big fan of plastic guitar games, you can rent this for some variety. You’ll probably be done with it within a single play through.
Buy it: You’d have to be a pretty big fan of Aerosmith to justify this purchase. You must have gone to at least 5 concerts. At least.
June 15, 2008
This week I’m taking a look at Lego Indiana Jones. I played it on the Xbox 360, but I imagine the PS3 and Wii versions are nearly identical. This is the newest entry in the Lego+something else franchise, and it doesn’t stray far from the formula. Many of you will be able to stop reading now, for the rest: Details!
This game has problems pacing its rewards. For example you can unlock nearly every character that had a line of dialog in any of the first three movies. Each character is assigned traits (small, female, thuggish, etc) that let you access various areas that you would not get to otherwise. However once you get into Temple of Doom (the second act of the game) you don’t get any perks from additional characters, other than being able to say “I’m playing as slave child #325! He’s my favorite from the movie!”
Another example: early on in act two I unlocked something that gave me four million Lego caps, the game’s currency. Suddenly I wasn’t working for any small goals like buying characters or cheats that I’ve unlocked. The game became looking for hidden items and puzzles.
This is a shame, because this game has a lot of great unlockables, including hidden levels and characters that aren’t from the Indiana Jones universe. The developers really need you to want to find that content because a normal play through lasts about six hours.
The game’s method of telling the stores is very fun and light hearted. It’s kid safe, but still appealing for adults.
Skip it: If you didn’t like Lego Starwars for game design reasons this one won’t wow you either.
Rent it: If you’re not an Indiana Jones game and you plan to play alone, this title’s a decent rental. I wouldn’t pay extra for the 5 day option.
Buy it: This game is a great way to have fun with the non-gamers in your life. Everyone knows the story and the charm of building blocks acting it out is widely appealing. Gamers who are fans of the movie will probably get their money’s worth, especially after a price drop.
June 8, 2008
This is old news for those of you who follow my Twitter feed, but Boom Blox is a puzzle game built around the notion of setting up and knocking down blocks. A game this simple could only be on the Wii.
The game has a variety of modes. The one I had the most fun with involves throwing balls at structures in an attempt to knock down point or gem blocks. The mechanics are easy to understand, but achieving the gold tier goal often presents a challenge. That leads me to this game’s greatest strength…
The bronze and silver tier goals are often very easy to get on your first or second try, but you may spend an hour working for the gold. They have found a formula that’s easy to pick up and can be difficult to master.
On to the bad points.
The most predictable mode is essentially a Jenga clone. You have to remove blocks without letting the cutesy cow characters fall off the top. I found I needed to turn down my Wii-mote’s sensitivity to manage the controls in this mode, as every twitch of my hand threw the block I was holding wildly about the screen. I found myself longing for the tactile feedback of the wooden blocks, but none of the levels were too difficult to figure out with basic logic.
The game doesn’t feel very satisfying upon completion. I felt like I got half the levels I paid for, which I want you to take note of that for a few moments.
The game’s levels have virtually no replay value after you get the gold medal. They do include a clumsy level creator, but apart from making Rube Goldberg machines I don’t think you’ll have much fun playing your own levels.
I think EA realized what they had very early, and decided to cut the game in two. A lot of the levels feel like filler; especially the crummy shooting galleries! It wouldn’t surprise me if EA tries to turn this into a franchise by releasing one more stellar game and then begin to squeeze out annual turds.
Buy it: It’s the best puzzle game on the Wii. If you’ve been waiting for something to innovate in the genre you have found your game.
Rent it: A five day rental is all most gamers will need to get through this game.
Skip it: Most of this game isn’t very difficult. If you’re a puzzle fiend you probably won’t get enough of a challenge from this game to satisfy you.
May 11, 2008
As a child Mario Kart was one of my favorite SNES games, but I never looked at it on any of the other platforms. 16 years later Nintendo releases a yet another sequel to their premiere racing franchise.
When I first started the game I was alarmed by how little the series seemed to have changed over the years. I picked my favorite character from the Super Nintendo game (Yoshi), chose a car (a new feature to me, but fairly unremarkable) and selected automatic transmission. I blew through the 50cc mode in about two hours with no difficulty what so ever.
I decided to try again using the manual transmission and I found the innovation I craved. Pressing the break and the gas at the same time causes your character to hop, if you hop while turning you drift. If you drift for a certain length of time you get a short burst of speed. To me this is a new mechanic, but when researching what I’ve missed since ye days of olde I discovered that drifting has been around for a while too.
So what’s been added? One new character, Stunts, motorcycles, and motion controls. And the motion controls suck.
That’s not entirely fair. The motion controls don’t suck, especially if you’re going for a very casual experience. You can toss your Wii-mote into the included steering wheel and look/feel like a tool, and if that does it for you, great. Enjoy. If you’re reading this site you’ll probably opt for something with an analog stick. I found the nunchuck+Wii-mote configuration made drifting the easiest, and it also allowed stunts.
Stunts are fairly straight forward. Whenever your kart is in the air you can wiggle the wii-mote to make your character perform a trick which gives you a short boost of speed up landing.
The bikes aren’t that exciting to me either. You can do wheelies which increase your acceleration for a few moments, but they didn’t really change the mechanics of the game much.
You’ll notice that the game gives better power-ups to the players furthest behind. When you’re up front you’ll get banana peels which are almost completely useless, but when you’re in back you can be turned in to a bullet, which puts you in autopilot long enough to get in front of half the other racers.
If that weren’t enough, the AI seems to adjust itself to your skill. This is a problem in a lot of racing games and they don’t attempt to disguise it in this one. If I’ve earned a 10 second lead I don’t want a swarm of blue turtle shells to fall on me until I’m in 5th or 6th place.
Buy it: This is probably the best racing game the Wii will ever see. The game is as family friendly as they come. If you don’t mind paying for a game you’ve already played or you’re new to Mario Kart you’ll enjoy it.
Rent it: If you’ve tested the Mario Kart waters before you might want to make sure there’s enough here to hold your attention before paying $60 for it.
Skip it: If you have no interest in kart racing. The mechanics of this game aren’t enough to carry it if you don’t already love Nintendo.