Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bad Special Edition: Grand Theft Auto IV

A day has passed since the release of Grand Theft Auto IV and I still haven't picked it up yet. The reason behind this is mainly the fact that I am very torn between the PlayStation 3 version and the X-Box 360 version - yes, there is a dark side of being a poly-gamist. After merticulously researching a number of comparison videos and descriptions, the PlayStation 3 version definitely looks better but the X-Box 360 version is getting downloadable contents in the future. The "Achievement" system on the 360 is not too big of a factor for me though I think at this point, Sony should start something similar on their console without waiting for the arrival of the ultimately misguided Home. One thing for sure, I will not be picking up the Special Edition of the game:

Rockstar may know how to make great games but their marketing team just plain sucks.

Do you not see how terrible this Special Edition package is? For additional $30, you get an art book, a soundtrack CD, a safety deposit box, and.... a Rockstar duffel bag. That's right. A duffel bag. So enticing... Not! The problem with this package is the following: It should now be mandatory to enable artwork to be viewed digitally in the game, perhaps as an unlock-able. The soundtrack should be easily accessible in the game's option screen. The safety box and the duffel bag just lack any creativity whatsoever. Ordering this from will also get you a license plate - I can't believe what Amazon included here is better than the other extras you get from this entire package. There should only be one edition of a game release and that one edition should be "special" in itself with a lot of additional contents. The current level of appreciation for video game as something more than a mere "toy" should encourage developers to include "the making of" feature on every single game so that the creative process can be properly honored... without stealing more of a gamer's hard-earned cash.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Preview: Arcana Heart

Arcana Heart (2008)
Developer: EXAMU Inc./AQI
Platform: PlayStation 2
Purchase Date: 04/27/2008

It's all about the friendship...

Don't let the super-cute, hyper-feminine presentation of Arcana Heart fool you. This game contains one of the better 2D fighting action out there. You play through the game as one of the 11 "Maidens" - teenage girls who can communicate with powerful spirits known as the Arcana.

The Maidens.

What differentiate Arcana Heart from the rest is its smart fighter customization system. After you have selected one of the Maidens, you then have to choose one of 11 Arcana to partner with. Basically, half of your special moves come from your selected Maidens and the other half from your selected Arcana. The Arcana can also provide special traits to your character. There are a total of 121 possible combinations and they are definitely fun to experiment with.

What an imaginative attack animation!

This game certainly shows that there are still a lot of unexplored potentials to the 2D fighting genre. Let's hope we will see more of them in the future alongside the eagerly awaited Street Fighter IV.


Friday, April 25, 2008

Review: SingStar '90s

Singstar '90s (2007)
Developer: SCEE London Studio
Platform: PlayStation 2
Purchase Date: 04/24/2008

If you read my American Idol Encore review, you probably know that I love to sing. This is the reason why I also own all of the games on the SingStar series. This latest edition provides 30 additional songs for you to mercilessly butcher, alone or with a bunch of friends. This sing-well-or-die gameplay mechanics is still as addicting as ever well beyond its original conception on the first Karaoke Revolution.

Why am I singing this song?

Speaking of KR, I do prefer that series more than SingStar because of one continuing problem that has yet been addressed by Sony: Here, the original artists sing along with you and they are not on a separate track that can be muted. You can increase the microphone volume but for the most part, this issue really takes some of the fun away especially if you have friends who like whispering instead of singing. The two things that still make this series worthwhile are the original music videos that accompany the songs unless you rather use the EyeToy (not compatible with the PlayStation Eye) and the ability to switch discs in-game (not possible when played on the PlayStation 3 - darn it).

The playback of a music video within a music video.

With so many songs to choose from within that era, it is unfortunate that '90s contains many lackluster track selections that include lame abominations such as Vanilla Ice's Ice Ice Baby and the hideous U Can't Touch This by MC Hammer. I wish they would include Lisa Loeb's Stay and Meredith Brooke's Bitch that can be found in the European release. 30 songs also seem to be a bit lacking than the normal 40 you get from an average KR title. Still, you would only improve your SingStar experience and lifetime by picking this one up. I just hope that they are going to allow these PlayStation 2 SingStar discs to interact with the inevitable PlayStation 3 version. Nothing of that sort is happening with the European release at the moment. I hope that will change very soon.

RATING: 3 out of 5

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wii 'R Us

Isn't it ridiculous that the Nintendo Wii is still generally out of stock? Isn't it more ridiculous that people are still getting a modest chunk of cash selling the darn thing on eBay? Some of these eBay sellers are pretty filthy too, listing the console as being bundled with "5 free games" when technically, you get only 1 sports compilation game. Well, apparently the people at Toys 'R Us have been saving up their stock to celebrate the launch of the new Mario Kart Wii...

The electronic newsletter I received today claimed that they will be selling a huge number of the console this Sunday. The great thing is that Toys 'R Us are accepting a $200 deposit for those wanting to reserve it. The other nice thing here is that they are not selling it in a bundle. I am sure the eBay bloodsuckers are already racing to the nearest Toys 'R Us. Good luck, Wii hunters!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

3 Shocks

Last night was a night of pleasurable shocks for me. First of all, I finally braved myself to pick up Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock for the X-Box 360. I bought the game + wireless guitar combo and I cannot wait to rock it out on Live. I already browsed through the additional tracks that can be purchased online and I have my eyes set on the three No Doubt songs. The reason why I waited a while was to see if they would release a patch that would allow the PlayStation 3's wireless guitar to be used with the first and second game I own on the PlayStation 2. That doesn't seem to be happening so here I am.

A simple assembly is required.

I just love that glowing green X-Box light on the guitar!

While I was out, I also picked up the new Dualshock 3 controller for the PlayStation 3. This thing is expensive at $54.99 but I miss the rumble, especially when I am playing PlayStation 2 games on the system. Sony should be ashamed for ever calling the rumble feature as something last-gen and they knew even then how desperate they sounded. Rumble is more fun than the tilt even though you do get both here. The controller is a bit heavier than the Sixaxis and feels very sturdy in my hands. I tested it by playing Super Stardust HD and God of War II and the vibration came through strong and forceful. There is really nothing extraordinary here of course. It is just that we finally get the real controller for the console.

Rumble is here and boy it's expensive.

The last thing that happened last night was a total super shocker for me. I was listening to some music on my PlayStation 3 and I accidentally hit the controller that was sitting right next to me. Suddenly, the screen changed and I saw the following images:

What happened to my screen?

I didn't start the Folding@home program, did I?

The details of the console's March 13th version 2.17 update clearly stated the availability of "a new pattern... for the visual player." I kind of remember reading it before so it I must have totally forgotten to check it out after that update. The spinning globe is hardly responding to the actual music playing in the background but it looks cool nonetheless.

Suffice to say that last night was a great night for me. It's always fun being a gamer.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Review: Karaoke Revolution Presents American Idol Encore

Karaoke Revolution Presents: American Idol Encore (2008)
Developer: Blitz Games
Platform: PlayStation 2
Purchase Date: 03/30/2008

Loner Gamer likes singing Sweet Dreams...

I must start this off with the following confession: I used to be a big American Idol fan. I hardly watch the show nowadays because of the following reasons: 1) Ryan Seacrest is getting on my last nerves. I don't watch the show live and during my TiVo Idol session, I would skip all the parts that involve Seacrest opening his big and boisterous mouth. 2) My favorite singers never win the competition. Apparently, I am always in the minority when it comes to recognizing singers with amazing potentials and talents thus I stop caring to vote for contestants on the show. When Latoya London was booted off, my passion for Idol faded as well. Still, the American Idol brand slapped onto the game disc isn't the real allure for me here. I own all of the Karaoke Revolution games that have graced the PlayStation 2 console. Just like all the previous games on the series, this latest installment is just another "booster" pack that can be added to the ever growing song list I use for my Karaoke parties.

The best way to Karaoke is to Karaoke Revolution!

Like always, singing here is most fun when you are actually trying to rack up points and have the game analyze your pitch and rhythm while you're belting out a song. If you are not up to snuff, the music is stopped and your game is over. To make it even more thrilling, you can have the three American Idol judges -now with Paula Abdul- criticize your performance as well. Thank goodness they haven't gotten to a 3D Ryan Seacrest yet... The funny thing is, you get to hear Paula being utterly negative here when we know that if she is really there in person, she would never say such honest things. They still haven't gotten the American Idol Contest mode right: you still jump from song to song without anything exciting punctuating your progress to the top. The only difference between this and the arcade mode seen previously in the series is the judges' comments at the end of your performances. So those who want to know how it feels to win the competition will still need to go to the actual audition and work it out from there.

These three are ready to tell you how terrible your singing really is.

The game is amusing when played alone. There are numerous things to unlock and believe it or not, it does help improve your singing if you take the time to learn the songs and keep aiming for higher difficulty settings. There are a lot of ways to customize your avatar and you can still use a USB camera to have your face mapped to your character's head (still looks spooky though). The game is definitely best played with a group of friends and you will be surprised by the amount of people who would actually want to try out the game during your next get together even if it means that they may be utterly ridiculed by Simon Cowell. By the way, don't believe the claim on the back of the case stating that you can play this version online - your local friends will have to make do.

The back of the instruction manual. Run for your lives!

American Idol Encore may be the final addition to the series on the PlayStation 2. It is disappointing that word recognition is still missing from the game and you still cannot swap discs without rebooting the game. This latest entry also has some terrible list of songs - just like the real show - second only to Karaoke Revolution Country. If you are new to the series, I do recommend getting the PlayStation 3 or the X-Box 360 version of the game just for the ability to purchase and download additional songs into the game. These are songs that appeared on the series' previous PlayStation 2 discs.

RATING: 3 out of 5

Monday, April 21, 2008

Review: À l'intérieur

À l'intérieur (2007)
Genre: Horror
Format: DVD
Directors: Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury

I have been looking forward to watching À l'intérieur (Inside) ever since its announcement though the excitement level here is much less than the long delayed US release of Frontière(s) - several more weeks folks! I do have my share of doubts about the validity of this movie's praises, having seen another lavishly over-hyped yet ultimately disappointing French horror film by the name of Haute Tension. Thankfully, this stylish, dark, and moody bloodbath delivers - pun intended.

Why would anyone make a pregnant woman suffer so severely?

The movie captures one hellish night when a very pregnant woman is entrapped in her own house, stalked by a mad woman who is obsessed with obtaining the unborn baby inside of her. To share anything else means to spoil the fun you will have with this movie. The many deaths that occur within the film are hardly creative but the details put into their messy brutality are hard to deny. Inside is very taboo when contextualized to the culture we live in and there is no way you can watch a US made movie about the same subject matter. The way the pregnant woman is unapologetically traumatized throughout this bloody tale both physically and mentally is depressing and very disturbing. I found myself ouch-ing and squealing every time she gets hurt. The movie also has an apocalyptic ending in the style of Frank Darabont's The Mist.

Beatrice Dalle's character is very wicked and truly evil.

I highly recommend À l'intérieur as a must watch. Brave yourself through this sick movie and be richly rewarded by its cleverly-paced, tension-filled experience unlike anything you have seen before. The directors are responsible for the upcoming remake of Hellraiser. If this debut effort is any indication of their upcoming work, we may have one of the best horror remakes in our near future. [Update Note: Unfortunately, Bustillo & Maury are no longer associated with the Hellraiser remake.]

RATING: 4 out of 5

Friday, April 18, 2008

Censored Statham

What greater way to start off this site [Note: Movie-related articles used to be housed on] by defending actor Jason Statham's dignity. I wonder if anyone else realize that there is something funny lurking inside the recent flash advertisement for Uwe Boll's In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale on the internet. Here's how it looks like at the end:

Off with his bald-ing head!

I haven't seen this film yet but since it is from disaster master Uwe Boll, I may not be watching it any time soon. Notice how they cut off the top of Jason Statham's bald-ing head in both the ad and the DVD case. Apparently, they must think that seeing a bald head equals less sales and less interest in the movie. Do they not know that this bald-ing head is Mr. Statham's trademark? If they wanted someone who actually has hair on top of their head, wouldn't they have chosen a different actor to be the star of the film? This prompted me to do a little investigation and I found two very funny posters for the movie:

US Poster

Region Unknown: Probably wherever bald people are seen as human beings.

Great Photoshop work on the first poster, filling the empty sections of Statham's scalp with virile hair. I really don't understand the sudden fear of his baldness when it comes to promoting the film. People should sue the movie then because there is no CGI hair on his head and that he is not wearing a toupee in the actual film. I am going to end this on a positive note: There is nothing wrong with Statham's bald look. He would have used Rogaine by now if it bothers him and he looks really good the way he is. Just look at his profile photo on and how cool he is portrayed without baldness censorship in the below US movie poster:

Macho bald-ing head. It's a great movie too!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

WoW: The Quest for Alternatives Part I

Enter the portal at your own risk!

I have been playing World of Warcraft since mid-2005. That is close to 3 long years. I have spent more time on this game than any other games I have in my library. I quit in late 2006 but then returned in early 2007 to experience the Burning Crusade expansion. I quit again in mid-2007 then returned to it later the same year. I have recently cancelled my subscription again. I still have two more months on it before it ends but I have a feeling that I will not be going back to it with the same amount of frequency.

Everyone raced towards the new island after the last patch.

Don't get me wrong, WoW is a good game. The problem with it is of course the fact that it is a persistent online game, which means that it is a video game that is an anti-video game at the same time. It is a game that you have to play everyday and commit to if you want to be successful in it. A game that you can't stop playing may sound like a gamer's dream come true and for a while, that was the feeling I got from it. It is just that the end game is not getting any better for someone who just cannot see the point of doing large, lengthy, dungeon raids a million times just to get the next epic drop. I am hardly a casual gamer but WoW was supposed to be a game that is solo-friendly and more forgiving than its massively-multiplayer brethren. That statement is true when you are leveling up but when you finally reached the end, the whole facet of the game changed dramatically. I have a level 70 undead priest and what I have been doing of late is endlessly grinding gold to get my epic flying mount -5,000 in game gold is not cheap- and doing some arena battles to get the best epic gears available outside of raiding. Recently, with the patch that introduces the new Sunwell Isle area, I discovered that raiders can also get the gears that used to be exclusive to those who do battleground. The funny thing is, if you only play the battleground, you cannot exchange the honor points you receive from it with the nice epics you can get from raiding. With that, I went to the account management website and cancelled my subscription. I know what this game has become. It wants all of my time, my very soul, and it will accept nothing less. I have a lot of other games to play and WoW is hardly a complete gaming experience.

I like exploring the open areas and not get stuck in one of those unrewarding, mercilessly long instance runs.

Thus, I started looking at my gaming library. I checked for other role playing games that can be my WoW replacements because I know I will not be able to quit cold turkey. There has got to be some games somewhere in my list that contain similar concocted formula that makes WoW so addictive without being attached to a subscription fee and without being another persistent online game. I found several titles that stood out from the crowd and I plan to play these games during the time around the evening hours when I usually would jump on WoW. I will chronicle this life-changing intervention by measuring the performances of these WoW replacements via the following factors.

A snippet of lyrics from the newly announced WoW music video contest. It clearly shows you the kind of demographics this game is really tailored for.

Factor 1: Social Gratification
Seeing how some of the WoW players act online, especially the popular egotistical ones, you may conclude that a lot of them are socially awkward in real life. WoW is the only place where they can pretend to be cool. Do the alternative games attract a lot of people to play them thus creating a large community of followers? Do they even have online functionality at all? For the last 3-4 months, the only reason why I still play WoW and eventually extended its subscription is because a good friend of mine is also online. Though I have heard tales of people actually finding love on WoW, finding like-minded people in the game is like finding a needle in a haystack. I guess I'm more into finding life-long friends and trustworthy people than just hanging out with your generic guildies.

If you are not a shadow priest, you are a healbot.

Factor 2: Illusion of Grandeur
WoW does a great job of making you think that you are a powerful being, until you get killed mercilessly in the middle of nowhere by a gang of grievers. Preying on players' subconsciously hidden god-complex, WoW lures new players in with its fast leveling up system and almost unreachable epic armor sets. How addicting is this process in other games? Do they make the players feel better about themselves as they level up?

I don't know... The only pain I have been suppressing is the endless grinding to get my gold to reach the 5,000+ mark.

Factor 3: Illusion of Uniqueness
Even with the unlimited number of drops you get from adventuring in WoW, you can always find your twin. This is true especially with the fact that the character creation options are so shallow. As a matter of fact, you get to feel less unique if you are a maxed out level 70 because you will be wearing the same gear set as everyone else in your particular class. You may think that you can actually experiment with the talent specialization options when only certain combinations are truly meaningful to effectively play the game. Still, that doesn't stop people from thinking that they are god's gifts to the WoW world. How will the other games fare in tricking people into thinking that their existence in the game is important and cannot be substituted? Do these other games allow the players to create unique looking characters?

What's that? You have +1722 healing? This Paladin has +2000, dude.

All of these factors will be rated with a 5 point rating scale. I will then conclude the analysis with a direct comparison whether the game in question is indeed a good WoW substitute. Will I be able to escape the wrath of this addiction or will I fail and be beckoned back to the eventual Wrath of the Lich King? Stay tuned for Part II that will pit PlayStation 3's Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom against this evil game!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

PS3 Software Update Version 2.30

I downloaded the big software update last night that provided the system with the newly redesigned PlayStation Store. The new look is definitely more user friendly and easy to navigate through. It has that X-Box 360 dashboard feel to it, which is great. Besides the needed revamped look and improved efficiency, the other important release that comes with this update is the long-awaited patch for Lair. With the free download, gamers will receive 2 new dragons to fly on and a new dual-analog control scheme. I almost picked up the game when it first came out because I love anything that remotely resembles Sega's Panzer Dragoon games. When I heard that you can only control the game exclusively via the motion of the Sixaxis, I became hesitant to pick it up. The game now interests me... The video game forums are still pretty quiet about the patch though, I was expecting the diehard defenders of this commercial disaster to be jumping up and down because of the improved control.

Clean new look.

The litte red shopping bag icon on the bottom right hand corner of an item means that you have already purchased it. A neat little feature.

When I completed the update, I purchased the "Solo" expansion pack for the great Super Stardust HD. Not sure if it's worth the $4.99, I think it should be cheaper because what you get is 4 additional single player modes that really should have been a part of the original game and additional soundtracks. All of these new gameplay additions should be self-explanatory if you look at the screen below except for my personal favorite, Bomber. In this mode, you have limited supply of bombs that can be replenished by destroying the bomb carriers that would show up at regular intervals. With 1 life, you can only use bombs to clear your way through an infinite number of meteors and enemies until you are destroyed. This is hectic, fun, and requires a nimble thumb and a strategic focus. The add-on also includes some new enemies and a super bomb. If you love the game, this is a must have but yes, the price sucks.

This screen used to be a little empty.

For more details regarding the update, you can visit the official system update website.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Review: God of War II

God of War II (2007)
Developer: SCEA Studios Santa Monica
Platform: PlayStation 2
Purchase Date: 2007

I only completed around 20% of this game when I first played it last year. I recently picked up the new Chains of Olympus for PSP and that inspired me to jump back on the game. GoWII begins where the first game ended: Kratos is now the new God of War. Just like Ares before him, Kratos' existence becomes nothing more than an infinity of bloodlust as he continues the ravages of destruction set forth by his predecessor. History repeats itself and the other Gods grew angry of Kratos' "sacrilege" but since they do not have any reliable human puppet to go after the insane god, Zeus took matters into his own hands. Athena, who has been on Kratos' side before has decided to betray him as well.

The prelude to an epic tale of madness and revenge.

The game starts off with what can easily be declared the most exciting, climactic first stage in gaming history. As Rome nears its total destruction, Kratos enters the fray of battle only to be chased down by a gigantic gold status throughout the whole level. This of course is a double-edged sword. The rush is like nothing you have experience before but you may be discouraged by the game's more labored, slow-paced design right after this encounter. That was what made me stop playing before. Still, if you persist through the more mundane second act, you will be rewarded by an utterly gripping later half of the game. Unlike the first GoW, this one is filled with a lot more boss battles that will ensure to shock and entertain with their brutal over-the-top cinematic finishers worthy of the hydra boss death scene from original.

You get to know more about the Titans this time around.

GoWII, at its core, is an adventure game with heavy combat elements. The fighting mechanics are beautifully implemented with great combos you can chain attacks with. Kratos gains new weapons throughout the game but as varied as they are, not all of them are more effective than your default chained-swords that have both speed and distance advantages. As you collect red orbs in the game, you can freely choose the weapon or magic you want to level up. There are obvious filler combat moments in the game that really impact its overall polish: You will find yourself stuck in a room with a large amount of the previous tough enemies thrown at you in waves. They need to understand that unique, tough encounters = awesome and forced mix-and-match battles = frustration. The environmental puzzle elements are definitely the main highlights of the game. Though they are not difficult to figure out, they are epic in their scopes and usually involve the manipulations or destructions of large portions of the landscapes.

The in-game camera always showcases the best possible view.

Graphically, this is one of the best on the PlayStation 2, complete with a widescreen presentation and progressive scan to boot. Even a year old now, it still looks quite next-gen even with some low-res textures that pop up every now and then. The art design is magnificent, just wait until you see the game's interpretation of the Three Sisters of Fate. The grandiose soundtracks serve their purpose with rousing tempos that never let up between some of the more serene moments. Except for one less-than-a-second instance (I couldn't believe it when it happened), there is no loading time in the game and with the large environments that always surround your character, this is definitely an impressive feat. The game lasts around 13-14 hours and it encourages repeat play by allowing you to retart the adventure with all of your leveled-up weapons and magical abilities. You also get unlock-able costumes but since some of the game cut-scenes use FMVs of the in-game models, there are jarring transitions when your character suddenly wears something different in front of you. This is why it is important for games to stop using FMVs all together though I suspect the reason why they are being utilized here is to help hide some of the loading time.

One of the coolest moments in gaming.

I love this game and the developer really did listen to the complaints about the previous game by adding a slightly longer adventure and a lot more brilliant boss encounters. The filler moments I mentioned earlier do have an impact on the consistency of the game since they are, in all honesty, not that fun. The game also has a terrible cliff-hanger of an ending and cannot be viewed as a full product. The trick about making episodic games is to allow each to feel like a complete game on its own as evident in the Kingdom Hearts, Xenosaga, and Jak & Daxter series. Thus, I have to say with a heavy heart that the game is a bit short from being a masterpiece but it is a definite must play for every mature gamer out there.

RATING: 4 out of 5

Thursday, April 10, 2008

That Crazy Hedgehog: A Sonic Unleashed Analysis

We all know that our beloved Sonic the Hedgehog has gone totally rabid on us, though many are still not willing to accept that very fact. All the attempts to bring Sonic back onto the consoles after Sonic & Knuckles ended in shameful failures. Our only solaces are the great Sonic Advance series on the Game Boy Advance and Sonic Rush on the Nintendo DS.

Recently, Sega announced that our fallen hero will make a comeback later this year in the form of Sonic Unleashed for all the current consoles. When I read the title, I couldn't help but laughed it off. Yes, Sega have been putting Sonic on a leash for a long time and apparently they are aware of that stupidity themselves. Then came the trailer...

I will admit to this: For a very brief period of time I actually believed it! I said to myself, "Wow! Sonic is really back!" But as soon as those words escaped my quivering lips, I was reminded of the terrible Nights: Journey of Dreams disaster. I quickly gathered myself and watched the trailer several more times. I then noticed that the angles just look strange... The camera seems titled to the left or to the right for the most part, different from the properly aligned flat view of a platformer. So if this is any indication of actual gameplay in the final product, the game will focus more on moving ahead with lightning fast speed and focus less on platforming elements, which is not bad but hardly classic Sonic. And what is this obsession with 2D movement transitioning into 3D? Sonic Team just don't get it, do they?

I also know that Sega have used this particular technique before... This satanic trick of providing their gamers a false sense of joy by showing only the elements that the gamers enjoy the most about a particular game. Remember that they promoted Nights: JoD by showing mainly the flight sections of the game and they hid the nasty real structure of that messy piece of crap. So even though we see Sonic in all his glory in this trailer, who knows what terrible surprises are really lurking in the corners... Long, forced, cheesy, boring cinematic cut-scenes that cannot be skipped? A big overworld to navigate through before one can get to these wonderful stages shown in the trailer?

The official press release doesn't help with the hesitation either. Here are some of the more troubling statements:

"Latest Installment to Extend Sonic's Signature Style... but with a Twist!" - And this is the header that they used for the statement. Okay, who else thinks that chasing after enemies to complete a stage in Nights: JoD was a complete joke? Sega, stick to the basic formula if you want us to love Sonic again.

" the sun sets, a new adventure awakens." Yes, notice their usage of the word "adventure". By now, we all should know what that means.

"By completing a wide variety of action-packed stages, spanning the seven broken continents of the world, gamers will need to unleash Sonic's amazing abilities to save the world, and himself!" I agree with Sonic needing to be saved bit, but this whole statement smells fishy. It is almost as if Sega is trying to secretly warn us that there is a separation between the action stages and a hub stage. Scary.

"Players will have the opportunity to engage in ways never before done with the Sonic franchise, so in addition to running at high speeds, which will be highlighted in four new speed mechanics, combat fighting now becomes possible." - Combat fighting? Are you kidding me? Sonic slams into his enemies to destroy them, now what, we are getting Sonic the Fighters 2? Engage in ways never before possible? Sounds like trouble to me. No mentions of real platforming elements? Sonic is about speed and platforming, period!

The mother of all doubts though comes from this statement: "Currently in development by Sonic Team..." 'Nuff said.

All I can say is this: Sega have a good track record of destroying their franchises, burying them deeper and deeper into the ground. The only exception to the rule is the Virtua Fighter series and if you look into that closely, VF follows the same formula from the original through number 5. Sonic Unleashed better be mind-shatteringly awesome, or Sonic will sink into an unfathomable new low. Oh wait, I think he's already there. Do it right, Sega.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Review: Ikaruga

Ikaruga (2008)
Developer: Treasure Video Games
Platform: X-Box 360
Purchase Date: 04/09/2008


It is finally here... A re-release of the grandest order. Ikaruga has arrived on X-Box Live and it is easily THE must have arcade download for the system. For those who are interested to read more praises I have written about this game, go to my Top 10 Greatest Games of All Time page.

High philosophy. Great graphics. Stirring soundtracks.

Ikaruga is a shooter where you control a ship that can switch polarities between white and black. You absorb enemy shots of your current polarity and you cause double damage to the enemies with the opposite polarity. This concept is then explored to its max throughout the game with clever enemy patterns and deviously brilliant bosses. It takes a while to enable your brain to constantly switch focus between the dual polarity mechanics but as the saying goes, if there is a will, there is a way.

Your eyes will bleed and so will your heart!

Here are the reasons why you have to get the game even if you already own the great import Dreamcast version or the mediocre U.S. GameCube effort. Firstly, you do not have to rotate your screen anymore to see the game in its full resolution. The option is there to flip the screen so that you can minimize the side borders but as we all know, that is only practical if you are using a computer screen that you can rotate appropriately. On the default vertical setting, the game has never looked better. Secondly, unlike the castrated GameCube version where all the moody, philosophical text were removed from the game, this one has them fully translated, further heightening the spiritual, adult atmosphere of the game. Thirdly, the 2-player option can be enjoyed online. I have never played this game with another person and as exciting as this feature may be, I soon discovered that Ikaruga is meant to be played as a single player experience unless you and the other player has a specific plan on how to tackle each stage of the game - this is the only shooter that mandates such commitments between two people playing cooperatively. Make sure to find a player with the connection status of no less than 2 bars to ensure zero lag and unfair deaths. Last but not least, you can upload your replay and download others'. What is the next best thing to playing Ikaruga? Watching a great player plays the game!

It is easier than it looks... Open your mind.

There are a couple of things missing that could have been included to make this release beyond perfection. The dreamy start up screen where you see the main character, Shinra, walking in a haze didn't make the cut. Also, they could have included a translated copy of the Dreamcast's instruction manual and the bonus story content so that new players can get into the meat of the story. Even though the text in-game is rich enough for the ponderous mind, many will be scratching their heads trying to figure out what is really going on. Thank goodness there is GameFaqs to help with that but it is a missed opportunity to gain more diehard fanatics who understand the true meaning behind the pilots' climactic action and its effect. Though some enemy patterns were changed in this version, it should encourage veterans to try and master through them as they were obviously intentional.

There is a method to the madness.

Treasure is the one of the most talented developers in the industry and the game's creator, Hiroshi Iuchi, is a master of the shooter genre. Perhaps we can see Radiant Silvergun, the game's spiritual prequel, making it to X-Box Live for that would be a wonderful blessing. There is supposed to be another sequel coming out if all the old rumors are still true and the X-Box Live would be the perfect platform for it. Get this game or get out of gaming!

RATING: 5 out of 5

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Review: Aquatopia

Aquatopia (2007)
Developer: London Studio & Playlogic
Platform: PlayStation 3
Purchase Date: 11/14/2007

I have to admit that I am a sucker for aquarium "games". In real life, I have two small tanks filled with my pet gold fish and I plan to start a salt water tank in the foreseeable future. The best in the genre so far has to be "Seaman" for the Dreamcast, a weird experiment of pet-care aesthetics combined with a little dash of Star Trek... Well, technically, you really can't call Aquatopia a game... Even on the PlayStation Store, it is listed as "interactive art". It's more in line with the Serene Aquarium products on the PC but a tiny bit more innovative.

It looks epic on the XMB...

Running at 720p, the graphics in the game are pleasant. Nothing spectacular, just pleasant... Which is very disappointing the fact that it claims to use the Havok engine and it is specifically developed for the PlayStation 3. There are 3D grasses and fish inside the aquarium with everything else being flat, static 2D. Some of the fish look a bit blocky, a sign of the developer's laziness. Surely the PlayStation 3 can push more polygons into the game? Overall though, it is the best looking digital aquarium I have seen to date and it has fish that move more naturally than its competitions.

Looks nice doesn't it? It looks better in motion.

The game is controlled with the PlayStation Eye camera. When there are movements in front of the camera, the image of what's captured on the lens is superimposed on top of the aquarium. From here, you can move your hands to the top portion of the aquarium to simulate feeding, where the fish would gather around that area eating the dropped food, or just mess around inside to spook your fish.

Nothing else to do other than watching the fish...

That's pretty much it. In a way, the limited features found here justifies the $1.99 price tag. Still, Sony could have given us a bit more. The fish selection is limited. There are no background customizations or view options. These are small essentials that could have been included with the software. It would have been cool to be able to play music on the PS3 while this thing is running. Better yet, wouldn't it be nice to have it as a screensaver? I have a feeling that we will see more add-ons for Aquatopia in the future. To be honest, I rather pay $39.99 for the complete experience than having to pay for bits and pieces of it at a time. Recommended to other aquarium fanatics like me but others should stay clear of it until it gets more interactive.

RATING: 3 out of 5