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Ultimate NES Remix — 3Q2015

Ultimate NES Remix-02Ultimate retro package

by Lyndsey Hicks

by Lyndsey Hicks

It’s one thing to trade off of nostalgia. And we all know Nintendo does that often and well. What we don’t often get to see is Nintendo using its history to change the way its games are played. Until now. That’s where Ultimate NES Remix comes in. The question is, do you want to play these remixed games again and at what price?
Remix takes a few of your favorites NES titles and adds different conditions to them in an attempt to spice things up a bit. In Super Mario Bros., for instance, you have to reach the goal in a certain amount of time or defeat a certain number of enemies within a time limit. That’s the mundane stuff in the beginning. Later edicts get harder the further down a game’s list you go so as to provide more of a challenge. Whether or not you enjoy these challenges depends sharply on whether or not you enjoy playing games you probably already have played and want to see something different within them.
Score-2-5While the challenges may be different, there isn’t much else different about the games. The music and graphics from the 8-bit era remain intact and about the only thing that’s changed is the slick modern packaging of the Ultimate Remix itself and the addition of leaderboards and championship mode. So, don’t come into this expecting depth or some magical upgrade to modern day standards of graphics.
If you enjoy the days of yesteryear and can and will pay $30 for a compilation challenge package, by all means shell out for Ultimate NES Remix. The challenges are amusing for the most part, and there are a few extras that make playing through the multitude of games offered (16 in all) a real treat. But take it with a large grain of salt and look at it for what it is: A chance to drag the original NES games out that you loved as a kid, more than likely, to get a piece of your now-adult wallet. Ultimately, this could have been a lot more.

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Katamari Forever — 3Q2015

Photos courtesy of Gamespot.com

Photos courtesy of Gamespot.com

Retread re-roll

by Lyndsey Hicks

by Lyndsey Hicks

The situation may have changed slightly, but the premise is still the same in Katamari Forever, the fifth game in the quirky series. Whether or not you’re into the “if it’s not broke then don’t fix it” method of gaming will determine if you can stand another trip to the cosmos with a katamari.
Just in case you haven’t played a game in the series, let’s get a refresher. Katamari titles involve rolling up a sticky ball with everyday objects to increase the ball’s size. The larger the ball, the more pleased someone is — usually the King of All Cosmos. That’s because the king is an idiot and routinely destroys something related to his job of protecting the cosmos. His lack of common sense and coordination usually means the Prince of All Cosmos — that’d be you, the player — has to create new stars and reconstruct the cosmos. This premise has worked for the past four games, and it’s really no different storywise except for the addition of the cousins to help in appearance only (added in We Love Katamari) and the fact that the king has been replaced temporarily by the Robot King of All Cosmos. Absurdity thy name is Katamari.
Nothing has really changed, mechanics-wise, either. There are a few Katamari Forever-09additions to the repertoire of the Prince, such as the Prince Hop and the King Shock, but otherwise you’re still rolling along to pick up items to make your katamari grow. The series isn’t known for its growth and this is a major reason why. While it’s easy to control the Prince and maneuver the Katamari, there still should be some innovation at this point, five games in.
Score-2-5The soundtrack also suffers from stagnation. Katamari Damacy, the first game in the series, was known for having a great soundtrack. As a matter of fact, we’ve lauded the soundtrack relentlessly throughout our lifespan at GI. But try as we might, we’re still trying to understand why there isn’t as much creativity used in the musical portion of a game that conjures so many different creative thoughts. The music of the first game inspired so much, yet by the time of Forever, it seems that well has grown dry. It’s still a good soundtrack, but I was expecting more from this.
Overall, if you still love picking up a controller to save the cosmos and create katamari, you’ll probably be working to stop the Robot King of All Cosmos. Otherwise, you’re not really missing anything you haven’t already seen. Keep rolling by this one if you want a fresh experience.

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LittleBigPlanet — 3Q2015

LittleBigPlanet-09

Photos courtesy of Gamespot.com

A class in master crafting

by Lyndsey Hicks

by Lyndsey Hicks

There are always games that come with a certain amount of hype. These are the titles that everyone raves about but wind up on your never-ending pile of shame. You’ll probably buy it but never actually get around to playing it or playing it long enough to see what all the fuss is about. LittleBigPlanet is one of those such games.
Quirky is the first adjective I’d use to describe the platforming game featuring Sackboy, an anthropomorphic creature that’s featured front and center at the heart of the game. Sackboy can be Sackgirl as well, and that’s part of the charm of the game. It can be whatever you want it to be and do just about anything you want it to do, in the name of getting from point A to point B.

Score-5The quirkiness comes in the fact that the environment in which it does so is all about Play-Share-Create. The levels of LittleBigPlanet are meant to be user-created and shared for online play among the LBP community, so the depth of the game is immediately obvious and worth the price of admission alone.
Controlling Sackboy/girl is simple, yet not without its problems. It’s much like playing any platformer of the past 20 years and the control scheme is simple and intuitive in letting you figure out what to do and how to apply it later. Where it falters is the jumping mechanics. While obvious and simple, the jumping does feel slightly off and floaty, which is a problem in a game that relies on that mechanic to carry it. It’s annoying to have to re-do sections of a level solely because of a missed jump, and that detracts from the core experience.
While the mechanics could use tweaking, not much else needs work. LittleBigPlanet-04The soundtrack is fantastic and fits the game perfectly. It’s a good mixture of indie folk and pop, and it immediately reminds of the brilliance that is Katamari Damacy. The graphics are also in the realm of perfect and evoke a certain sort of charm that begs more playthroughs just to see what developer Media Molecule could come up with next. It’s breathtaking and simplistic, like a child’s world come to life, and begs to be admired.
LittleBigPlanet is one of the few games of the past few years that demands to be played and warrants purchase of system just to play it. If you haven’t bothered to play it by now, you need to stop what you’re doing and get on it. It has its minor problems but they’re nothing to keep you from enjoying what’s considered a masterpiece. It’s worth every moment of its Play-Share-Create moniker.

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Shiritsu Justice Gakuen: Nekketsu Seisyun Nikki 2 — 2Q2015

Rival Schools 2-10Rival Schools 1.5 is still fun

by Lyndsey Hicks

by Lyndsey Hicks

We here at GI are strong proponents of anything Japanese, fighting games and education. So, you can imagine the delight that is a generous mix of all three. To that end, it should be obvious by now that we love Rival Schools and its overall series Project Justice. Despite the fact that it comes from the brain trust known as Capcom, we’re still entranced by the concept of Japanese high school students fighting to save themselves.

Score-3-5-retrogradeThe middle game in the series, Rival Schools 2, is an interesting addition to the family of fighting games. It’s neither a true sequel nor a spin-off of the original game. It’s an addendum, which Capcom is notorious for pushing on the general buying public. It’s more of the original game — which we love — with some upgrades thrown in to make it worth importing. This version was never released in America, thus there are modes that you will never see. That makes importing the game worth the time and trouble.

RS2 is your standard fighting game, which doesn’t make it unique. Rival Schools 2-09However, the inclusion of the board game mode and the character creation mode that plays out like an eroge simulation are some of the goodies that we’re missing out on in the U.S. There’s also the addition of three new characters: Ran, a photojournalist who uses her camera to attack; Nagare, a swimmer; and, Chairperson/Iinciyo, who leads the charge for Taiyo High School students to defend themselves. Other than these gifts, there’s not much different here than the first game. You’re still fighting to defend your chosen school, and there’s still fun to be had in a slightly deep fighting game system. There’s not too much different aesthetics-wise, in that there are a few new stages and new stage themes. The older stages are still here and it’s fun to play against the newcomers with older characters or a created character.

JP flag w stick iconI have two caveats with recommending the game to others. The first is the fact that it’s in Japanese mostly and reading is a must to get through the character creation and board game modes. That’s a bit much if you’re not into the language or know enough to navigate through menus. The other issue is the fact that, as usual, Capcom has seen fit to deny American gamers the best of a series, shortchanging loyal money-spending fans who would pay a high price for the goodies of the character creation mode and the board game mode. The dirty truth of it all is Capcom has never thought highly of its American audience. We’re not going to see something awesome like either mode because “we just wouldn’t get it anyway.” A fun fact is that both modes were to be included in the first game but were left out in America because it would have been too much trouble to include them for Americans, according to Capcom of Japan. But we’re smart enough to make cash grabs off of for multiple version of Street Fighter, though, right?

The moral of this story is that Rival Schools and its further sequels all deserve to be played by a wider audience. Although it’s a slight rehash of the first game, RS2 was deserving of respect and a proper introduction to the American audience. Thankfully, we were allowed to see the next sequel, Project Justice. Here’s hoping for a class reunion.

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DDR Max Dance Dance Revolution 6th Mix — 2Q2015

DDR Max-01A new era of DDR

by Lyndsey Hicks

by Lyndsey Hicks

Let’s have a quick history review, shall we? Konami created the Dance Dance Revolution series in 1998 and by 2002, there were at least six entries in the main series. I’d gather that this meant DDR was pretty popular, but you would never hear Konami say that too loud. At some point, however, someone realized the magic that was DDR needed to come into the modern era. So, everything that was related to the first five entries in the series — with the exception of the song wheel and difficulty categories — was thrown out in favor of a complete overhaul. DDR Max was the result and with it comes a mixed bag of modern and old DDR.

Score-4-retrogradeGraphically, Max represents the beginning of a new era. Sure, it resembles current DDR games because they use the song wheel, but the colors became a little brighter and the little touches used to illustrate the different difficulties and categories are emphasized more. The interface is much easier to read, though the addition of the Groove Radar still has some ways to go here. It’s not exactly helpful in providing digestible information that helps make quick informed decisions. That’s a complaint that still stands today, so much so that I tend to ignore the meter altogether. Also, the foot rating is missing and song difficulty rating numbers have yet to come (that’s not until Max 2). But the song wheel has been freshened up so it looks a lot better and is a little more palatable.

Musically, the selection is among the best in the series. The one thing DDR Max-20about Max that’s notable about the music is the lack of a Paranoia mix. For a series trademark song, its absence is immediately noticeable, and quite frankly, drags the mix down a few notches. There’s a few throwJP flag w stick icon away songs like Share My Love and Dive, but overall it’s quite a few excellent choices thrown together to make a good song list. The variety is nice and it feels like a good fresh start for a series that had a lot of repeats in the first five games.

I don’t go back and play 6th Mix often, mostly because I can’t deal with a lack of Paranoia in my life at this point. As a DDR old head and one who owns the American version as well as the Japanese version, I applaud the change up that Konami pursued. It was a bold move that paid off in the long run: DDR still looks like a lot like this form, even with at least eight more games under its belt as a series. Sometimes, a change in pace is needed to keep the dance groove going.

DDR trivia

* DDR Max is the first game to feature a 10-foot difficulty song. Max 300 was officially the first 10-footer in the history of the series, though it wouldn’t receive its official rating until Max 2 was released.

* Max 300, the boss song of the mix, features 573 steps in its Heavy difficulty chart. 573 is known as the Konami number, a number that relates to the romanized pronunciation of the company’s name.

* Max is the first DDR game to feature the Light/Standard/Heavy difficulty scheme, dance point system, speed mods, Extra Stage/One More Extra Stage and freeze arrows. The difficulty scheme would stay in place until the release of DDR SuperNOVA in 2006.

* Two songs introduced in the mix, Flash in the Night and Follow Me, are the only two songs in the series that do not have an official foot rating. These two songs were introduced in 6th Mix, which is the only mix that does not use the foot rating system. They have never appeared in later mixes, which gave official Konami numbered ratings to all songs.

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Samurai Shodown Anthology — 2Q2015

Samurai Shodown Anth-16

A complete classic collection

by Lyndsey Hicks

by Lyndsey Hicks

The fighting game industry has always thrived on the very concept that makes a title in the genre: competition. There have been fabled rivals throughout the entire lifespan of the genre, with quite a few pretenders to throne. However, SNK Playmore was one of the originators and the package of games within Samurai Shodown Anthology shows they weren’t playing around in the ’90s in the slightest.

It’s pretty safe to say that Samurai Shodown was never a pretender. It’s got all the markings of a marquee series, something that could carry a company far in the worst of times and keep eyes on the Score-4-5product. At its core, it’s a game about samurai and other warriors fighting to the death. What sets it apart from the competition — even from within its own stable with brethren King of Fighters — is its production values. The games have always been gorgeous and there’s a level of detail that hasn’t been seen in other series except for the likes of Tekken. Within the collection of that is Anthology, all of the naturally gorgeous artwork and level of detail is on display. It’s important that this be emphasized because that’s what Samurai Shodown is about at the end of the day: Samurai fighting to the death while looking fantastic.

The level of detail extends to the soundtrack as well. In all games in Samurai Shodown Anth-11the package, the soundtrack is an excellent concerto of Japanese bamboo flute and shamisen. This may not float your boat, but for a package that focuses on samurai, this is an excellent choice to make up the backing soundtrack.

Samurai Shodown Anthology is perfect collection of fighting games, mostly because it’s good to have the entire set of games on one disc without having to own inferior versions of notoriously arcade-perfect games. These are exactly what you fell in love with in the arcade and they’re all in one place, lovingly included at the original definition. If you’ve never experienced the hype that was Samurai Shodown, now’s an excellent chance to do so. Prepared to be wowed.

2UP EVALUATION

by Brandon Beatty

by Brandon Beatty

Finally, a classic game that started the weapon-based fighting genre is back on the PlayStation 2. For decades, SNK Playmore continued this series with not one but six titles, emphasizing Japan’s adaption of duels. Utilizing various characters and locales, Samurai Shodown gives gamers a break from the Tekken/Street Fighter clones on the market, and shows a brief slice of life in medieval Japan during which samurai fought under the code of Bushido.

I was allowed for a brief moment to not only act out a samurai fantasy, but also to release any anger in a healthy way. While the mechanics take some practice to become familiar with, the music, Score-3-5-retrogradecharacters and graphics are top-notch and the story is simple. My only complaint is that there’s one cheap shot character that loves to pounce. For all of the SoulCalibur clones flooding the market these days, I proudly say Samurai Shodown Anthology has great replay value, and it DEMANDS a space in any gamer’s library. I’m glad that SNK Playmore had the wisdom to keep this series alive from the beginning, instead of a company that relies on milking their cash cow to the bone. Well done, SNK Playmore. Well done.

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Tatsunoko vs. Capcom — 2Q2015

Tatsunoko vs Capcom-10

Tatsunoko takes on Capcom in Wii brawl

by Brandon Beatty

by Brandon Beatty

Everyone who reads GI knows that I’m an otaku. I’m also a big fan of classic anime that has set the standard for today’s anime. Most of the awesome-level anime old and new has came from Japan’s world-renown Tatsunoko Productions. So, when I heard that Capcom was reviving its “Versus” series, I thought that Capcom was running out of gaming ideas. That was until it was announced that Tatsunoko would play a major role. I thought it was a joke, but I was in shock when the rumors were true and thus the question came about: What would happen if Capcom’s heroes met Tatsunoko’s heroes in a gaming forest? Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars for the Wii answered that question for me.

Developed by Eighting and published by Capcom, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom is a 3D game that places various characters from both companies’ top-selling series into a exclusive fighting game treat. Score-5Inspired by the Marvel vs. Capcom series, TvC allows duos from either Capcom’s or Tatsunoko’s rosters to fight against other characters with the winning team going on to face Yami from Capcom’s adventure title Okami. If you like to mix a Capcom character with a Tatsunoko character, that’s also possible as a way to give the gameplay more variety. In addition to the original arcade mode, there are survival and time attack modes that allow you to test your skills via limited health regeneration and defeating your opponents in the shortest time possible. An additional feature includes a mini-game shooter called “Ultimate All-Shooters.”

Control is handled with three buttons, which greatly simplifies the Tatsunoko vs Capcom-02learning curve. It’s simplified even more thanks to the Wii’s Classic controller, GameCube controller, third-party arcade sticks and the regular Wii remote. You will love the character roster consisting of each companies’ top franchises such as Street Fighter, Rival Schools, Viewtiful Joe, Lost Planet, Darkstalkers/Vampire and Mega Man for Capcom while Tatsunoko is represented by Karas, Tekkaman, G-Force and Yatterman. There are other characters that can be unlocked via use of money (Zenny) earned in each game, which also will allow purchase of alternate endings, costume changes and other unlockable surprises.

The music is top-notch in each stage, but the intro and endings songs are fun to sing and dance to. In particular, the Gesellschaft (Clear Skies) and the Daigo Temple (Cherry Blossom) stages are favorites.

Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars is an answered prayer for fans of fighting games and anime. As a first-time connoisseur of this type of crossover, TvC is delightful game experience. As an otaku gamer, Capcom can work on my damn nerves at times with their no-thought decisions, but in this case, they worked with a renown anime company to bring a quality product to a system that was in SORE need of well-rounded games. Now only if Capcom can make amends with Keiji Inafune. They might be respected once more.

2UP EVALUATION

by Lyndsey Hicks

by Lyndsey Hicks

All of the razzle dazzle hype aside, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom is something I want to play. I’m already a fan of most Capcom fighting properties, and I love the Versus series, so I’m going to play whatever they come up with next to join forces with and create magic. In this case, it’s anime related as well, so there’s a winning combination all the way around.

I didn’t know much about Tatsunoko before playing the game, but after spending a little time immersed in the super sentai world, I learned that it’s something that’s compelling to return to time and time again. Nice mechanics, an Score-4-5interesting roster and gorgeous attention to detail with the environments and soundtrack make it a nice package. My only gripes are that the story doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense (really, Yami from Okami, Capcom? That’s it?), and that not knowing that much about Tatsunoko actually works against me. Other than that, there’s isn’t a reason why I wouldn’t play this constantly, even if it is a Wii exclusive. That’s just another reason to go out and buy the now-defunct console.

TvC trivia

* The original title for TvC was Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Cross Generation of Heroes.

* While the game developers had the OK to add any character from Tatsunoko or Capcom, Tatsunoko did deny some choices because of licensing issues; originally, Phoenix Wright was suggested, but was pulled because of difficulties with finding proper attacks for him.

* Most video game reviewers such as G4’s Adam Sessler and IGN’s John Tanaka were doubtful about an outside-of-Japan release because of Tatsunoko’s final approved roster of characters. They were licensed in other countries, despite being owned by Tatsunoko, and the level of recognition of some characters was a concern.

* As of 2012, Capcom USA senior vice president Christian Svensson has stated that Capcom could no longer sell the game in physical or digital form because licensing rights with Tatsunoko expired.

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Midway Arcade Treasures 2 — 1Q2015

A mostly forgettable treasure trove

by Lyndsey Hicks

by Lyndsey Hicks

We’re going to use the term treasure trove loosely when I refer to Midway Arcade Treasures 2. Sure, there are some diamonds in the mine that was once Midway and its arcade hits. But sometimes, as demonstrated ably in this package, Midway dug just a little too deep to find things that I wouldn’t trade for a seashell and some glass beads.

Midway Arcade Treasures 2 follows in the vein of the previous title, mining for hits out of the veritable Taj Mahal that is Midway’s catalog of arcade favorites. The second go-round immediately catches the eye — and wallet — for versions of Mortal Kombat II and Mortal Kombat 3, arguably the centerpiece in the entire show. Following up those pieces are lesser hits such as Primal Rage, APB and Rampage World Tour. The entire compilation is made up of 20 titles, which is a bargain for the amount of games you’re getting. Whether you want to play all 20 titles or not is the question and it’s easily answered quickly: No.

A few of the titles included immediately dredge up horrible memories. These drecks of modern gaming society have been resurrected, and I’m not exactly sure for whose benefit. Hard Drivin’, mentioned and dissected in GI’s horrible games podcast of yesteryear, is the worst offender of the bunch. I have no earthly idea who thought this was an arcade classic and why it needed to be thrust upon the masses again. It was a horrible game to begin with and deserves no further discussion or inclusion to reanimate it from the depths of hell where it belongs (Editor’s Note: Fun factoid — Hard Drivin’ provided the basis for GI’s Torture of the Quarter column). N.A.R.C. also warrants a mention as a title to avoid, as well as Primal Rage. Let’s face it, Primal Rage was touted as competition for the likes of Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter and Killer Instinct back in the day, but no one with any sense ever took it seriously. The game doesn’t inspire any new feelings of doing so after 20 years.

With the inclusion of hideous titles, there will be some control Midway Arcade Treasures 2-46issues. The good news is that most titles play like they did when first released. The bad news is that some “improvements” have done just the opposite of their intention. Let’s take, for example, Mortal Kombat II. Because of “new-and-improved” control mapping, it is impossible to fight hidden character Smoke in all versions except the PC version, and it takes a patch to fix that. That drags the overall experience down considerably. Continuing with the Mortal Kombat example, Mortal Kombat 3 runs just like the arcade. Except, the arcade version of MK 3 was terrible, with a lot of bugs and glitches that necessitated the much-better Ultimate MK3. It’s a mixed bag: On the one hand you’re getting improved controls and modern advancements, but on the other hand, these changes aren’t exactly welcome.
Score-2-5-retrogradeWhat is welcome, however, is the inclusion of the behind-the-scenes material. Documentaries and making-of materials are included as bonus features for a few games, most notably Mortal Kombat II and Mortal Kombat 3. If you were an MK fanatic, these are interesting looks at the franchise at the height of its initial popularity. If you’re wondering what the hype was about, it’s a great look at the origin of the series and where ideas and mythology were created. The bonus materials for all games included are worth buying if you’re into the arcade scene and its history.

Whether you deem this collection worth your time depends on how dedicated you are to the preservation of the U.S. arcade scene. If you’re a purist and you care about obscure games such as Wizard of Wor and Xybots, by all means go out and search for the treasure. Otherwise, let this booby-trapped box stay hidden.

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Devil May Cry — 1Q2015

Photos by Brandon Beatty/Gaming Insurrection

Photos by Brandon Beatty/Gaming Insurrection

Capcom’s instant action platforming classic

by Brandon Beatty

by Brandon Beatty

In previous installments of Otaku Corner, I reviewed manga based on Capcom’s Devil May Cry. Ever since DMC’s arrival in 2001, it has grown from a critically acclaimed series to written and visual adaptations in comics, written novels and other various merchandise. Originally set in the Resident Evil universe, because of technology restraints and an expanding reverse storyline from Resident Evil, the series was ported to the PlayStation 2. Having enjoyed experiencing the manga’s action, I wondered if I would feel the same when I played the first DMC game? I was about to find out.

Devil May Cry has elements that are similar to Resident Evil; the Devil May Cry-15only difference is that you will be dealing with supernatural enemies instead of those who were created by unethical scientific experiments. You assume the role of Dante, a demon hunter/investigator who uses his skills to exercise demons for profit and to avenge the loss of his family from said creatures. One night while working, Dante is hired by a mysterious woman named Trish, who after a brief but amazing test of Dante’s skill, hires him to go to an abandoned castle where Mundus, the demon who is responsible for the death of Dante’s family, is planning a return from hell. Unknown to our badass hero, he has taken on a a job that starts out as an opportunity for vengeance, but soon will unlock an ancient birthright and his true destiny as mankind’s newest protector against demonic forces.

Gameplay in DMC is a complete 180 from Resident Evil as the battle style is more melee combat that running and hiding from zombies. I found the controls pretty easy to use, thanks to the analog sticks that allow plenty of free movement to jump and take full advantage of Dante’s sweet combat moves. You will love it when Dante gets to business immediately with use of his twin handguns that can infict damage rapid-fire style and his awsomely designed sword Alastor that can be upgraded to unlock new attacks. He also has a BIG trump card to really make the demons howl with the use of “Devil Triggers” (think Goku or Vegeta going Super Saiyan with an arsenal of weapons and being in god mode).

Score-5-retrogradeThe graphics are beautiful as Capcom developed a great game engine and made great use of the PS2’s technological capabilities to bring out the action without using the god-awful camera angles found in Resident Evil. I personally liked how each cutscene brought DMC’s storyline together without any over-the-top drama. The enemy variety is good, too, ranging from demon marionettes to giant owls and other demonic creatures. I enjoyed the voice acting because it was not forced, flowing in sync with the game’s plot. I am proud to say that I would definitely replay this game when I’m feeling like I want to rip some demons apart.

Devil May Cry is a standout original game that is worthy of its praise from gaming critics the world over. I find this another testimony to the fact that Capcom can do themselves and their customers justice by being true to their craft. I was pleased with my first DMC gaming experience and await more in future installments of this series.

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Mega Man X5 — 4Q2014

Photos courtesy of Gamefaqs.com

Photos courtesy of Gamefaqs.com

Duo team attack finish

Brandon-2013-cutout

by Brandon Beatty

MMX5 takes place several months after the events in Mega Man X4, during which the giant space colony Eurasia has been taken over by an unknown reploid known as Dynamo as it was undergoing extensive repairs. As a result, a computer virus infected Eurasia’s gravity control systems, sending it on a collision course with Earth. At the same time, Sigma and his new band of Mavericks have taken control of various areas that have equipment capable of preventing Eurasia’s fall, and he has also launched his own virus across the globe. X and Zero, under orders from their new leader Signas, must go to those areas to acquire the equipment needed to stop Eurasia, and send Sigma back to the scrap heap once more where he belongs.

MMX5’s gameplay remains the same as any regular action-adventure game. You can chose between using X and Zero, who Mega Man X5-01each have unique abilities. I chose Zero because of the option to use his Z-Saber and Z-Buster as more effective combat tools, and also because of his stronger jumping abilities. MMX5 allows both characters to be swapped out during the stage select screen, provided you choose before time runs out. This adds freshness to the gameplay, keeping the game from being too mundane or too comfortable for a chosen character.

I liked the fact that there are new armors in the game that X can start off with. The Gaia armor from MMX 4 is less powerful but Score-4-retrogradestill gets the job done. You can find other armor sets that will give you an advantage, with good old Dr. Light providing insight about them. He has also made a special armor for Zero that you will find later on. I also want to note that if players pay close attention, there will be some background scenes in MMX paying tribute to classic Mega Man and Mega Man X games.

The plot of the game, while a good storyline point with stopping Eurasia, may frustrate you because you would have to defeat the first four Mavericks and later be told that two were developed simultaneously without previous knowledge of both plans. I also questioned the developer’s method of stage planning when they placed Dynamo in nearly every mid battle to delay either X or Zero without any strong challenge, and I questioned why, during Duff McWhalen’s stage, it takes a huge amount of game time to fight off a sub-boss that required running and firing just to keep it at bay.

Despite some frustrating issues, MMX5 is a great game to kill time with and shows how — with proper care and fresh ideas — a gaming franchise can still be relevant. Get the picture, Capcom?

Mega music

Capcom always had a creative knack for naming Mega Man adversaries. Mavericks in X5 are based off of the original band members of the rock group Guns N’ Roses.

Grizzly Slash – Slash
Squid Adler – Steven Adler
Izzy Glow – Izzy Stradlin
Duff McWhalen – Duff McKagan
The Skiver – Michael Monroe
Axle the Red – Axl Rose
Dark Dizzy – Dizzy Reed
Mattrex – Matt Sorum

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Harvest Moon: Back to Nature — 4Q2014

Photos courtesy of Gamefaqs.com

Photos courtesy of Gamefaqs.com

A life that’s second nature

by Lyndsey Hicks

by Lyndsey Hicks

A life of farming is never simple. Ask any farmer and they’ll tell you: It’s a tough, tough job that requires before-dawn rising and at-dusk retiring that repeats itself over the course of many a day. There’s also the fear of Mother Nature wrecking your livelihood and outside forces such as other humans stealing from you and running you into ruin. But, thankfully, you can avoid all of that and experience the joy of living off the land at its finest, digitally if you so choose, thanks to Natsume’s Harvest Moon: Back to Nature. And, if you play your cards right and take time to pull yourself away from digging up your ground, you can find yourself a certain Mrs. to share the farming duties with as well.

Back to Nature is the best game in the long-running series. I say this with confidence because it’s one of the only titles in the series to have been remade multiple times with the same setup, just different characters. Every modern Harvest Moon title takes its cue from Back to Nature, as well. The main goal, which stays the same throughout the series, is to take a farm that’s fallen into disrepair and make it into a profitable bastion of hard work and success. Your character works to accomplish this by pulling up his bootstraps and putting in a little elbow grease with little to no help from anyone else, aside from the gnomes he meets tucked away in the crease of the town.

Speaking of the town, you’re tasked with meeting folks and forging Harvest Moon BTN-01some type of relationship with them so that you are considered neighborly. The town’s set schedule makes for interesting interactions and a type of schedule planning not unlike Animal Crossing. While you’re working to save your farm and chatting up the townsfolk, you’re given a third task of finding a suitable lass in town to wife up. If you can manage to put a ring on it by wooing your intended (there are five lovely ladies that you can choose from to pursue with varying likes and dislikes), you’re all but guaranteed to earn your place in the town and be allowed to stay.

Back to Nature is deep, extremely deep. So much so that it takes quite a bit of time just getting the farm up and running in a proper manner that you might make money to sustain it. And that’s Score-4-retrogrademission accomplished for Back to Nature: Get you involved and thinking hard about what it is you want to accomplish in your town. That level of interaction is simple to begin with, and with decent controls it doesn’t get too much harder to maintain. It’s one of the things that I love about Back to Nature. It doesn’t press too hard about mechanics and there’s a wealth of information within the game about crops and caring for animals that can help you maintain a comfortable way of life within the game. But sometimes, the level of comfort you want isn’t always within reach.

While I praise the controls, the effect isn’t always beneficial for you. The game is hard in the beginning, sometimes too hard for its own good. Take, for example, the fact that you arrive in town with basically nothing but the clothes on your back. You’re expected to succeed and settle down there but you have nothing tying you there very much. What’s to say that your player character doesn’t decide that it’s too much, packs up shop and goes home? It’s not very realistic with some of the things you’re tasked with doing, and starting with absolutely no money and trying to rebuild a farm is impossible with no cash flow.

My next problem comes with the cash opportunities afforded in the game. Without cheating, it is nearly impossible to become successful and well off. This leads into a larger problem with the way time is structured in the game as well. While the time aspect has to be different than real time, an entire day should not pass within nearly 30 minutes. It’s extremely hard to get much accomplished in the early going and it demands that you must have a routine in place quickly or risk being left behind. Sure, you’re given a year or two to get things together but it’s hard to make things work on the farm, court a girl and participate in town activities all at once in the short amount of time that passes as a day.

Couple it with the schedule given to the town and there’s a time management problem just waiting to happen. The controls sometimes leave a lot to be desired, too. More than once I’ve had a bucket that I’ve filled with goodies from my plot of land empty just far away enough from a bin that it went wasted. And more than once I’ve been angered by loss of income because it’s on the ground and not able to be reclaimed. But that’s a fact of life in Harvest Moon titles, I suppose.

Otherwise, Back to Nature is a great simulation of farm life. It’s a good way to play a dating sim and life sim all at once with very little consequence for poor choices. Getting back to nature is an idea all of us need to think of at least once, even if it is to digitally pair off and make a fast dollar.

Back to basics

Back to Nature, released in 1999 for the PlayStation One, has been remade several times. The first remake was released for Game Boy Advance as Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town in 2003. Friends of Mineral Town was expanded with a side story, More Friends of Mineral Town — which allows playing from a female farmer’s perspective — in 2005. These were later ported as Harvest Moon: Boy & Girl for PSP in 2005.

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ChuChu Rocket — 4Q2014

Photos courtesy of Gamefaqs.com

Photos courtesy of Gamefaqs.com

An epic cat and mouse game

by Lyndsey Hicks

by Lyndsey Hicks

Cats in rockets trying to kill mice. As well as being weird, the age-old concept of a cat-and-mouse game is surprisingly addictive. In the form of the Dreamcast’s ChuChu Rocket, the concept manages to jump the barrier of weird and branch into the realm of entertaining.

The game of cat-and-mouse is simple: Lead mice to safety in your rocket with well-placed arrows while avoiding cats that other players will send to hunt the mice. The more mice you have left alive at the end, the better. It’s not hard to get started once you have that basic understanding of the game, and it quickly becomes an addicting exercise of frantic fun to keep mice alive.

The fun thing about ChuChu Rocket is the sheer randomness of everything happening on the playing field. There are so many factors that can affect your mice total at the end of a round that it’s Score-4-retrogradeimpossible to win by talent at moving rodents alone. One must consider the fact that only three arrows can be placed by a character at any given time. With level layout also taken into consideration, the idea that you can be in the lead for five seconds and that be enough to win is a real possibility. Throw in the power-up aspect and constantly changing conditions of the match area and there is a real recipe here for disaster disguised as fun.

It’s a good thing that the game is so fun to play because the ChuChuRocket-02graphics and the music sure aren’t going to draw you in by themselves. The game looks like a 1999 game, which isn’t to say it’s horrible, but it isn’t pretty, either. The graphics date themselves mightily, but that’s not really anything to be ashamed of, since ChuChu Rocket doesn’t exactly need to get by on the quality of the scenery. The music is nothing to write home about, and frankly, I played with it turned off for the majority of the time that I’ve owned the game. It really adds nothing to the overall experience and after a short time, it becomes rather irritating. But, like the graphics, it isn’t really what you came here for.

What you’re going to take away from ChuChu Rocket depends on what you’re looking for. In this day and age, 15 years after its original release, you can take a solid party game from this that’s a highly quirky title worthy of many replays or you can see a weird 15-year-old game about cats chasing mice with questionable game conditions attached. Rat infestation issues aside, ChuChu Rocket is a great rat race into nostalgia.

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Injustice: Gods Among Us — 4Q2014

Photos courtesy of Shacknews.com

Photos courtesy of Shacknews.com

Justice takes a new form

by Lyndsey Hicks

by Lyndsey Hicks

There have been a few DC Comics fighting games that have taken advantage of its variable superhero and metahuman roster. Justice League Task Force and Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe are among those that come to mind. And because of MK vs. DC Universe, brought to you pre-Midway implosion by the company that created that step in the direction of redemption, DC was able to foresee the fruits of making a decent game based on their properties. Enter Injustice: Gods Among Us.

Let’s get straight to the point: Marvel has had the market cornered on fighting games involving superheroes for some time now, thanks to the resourcefulness and shady undertones that are Capcom. So, for Injustice to stand a chance in the suddenly re-crowded fighting game arena, it had to be something special. Thanking those gods among us, it is.

Injustice plays much like the 2011 reboot of Mortal Kombat. The combat system is a lot like it in tone and rhythm and the animation style and framing is much like it as well. If you can play that incarnation of MK, more than likely you’re going to be able to pick up Injustice and run with it in a few short hours. And much like the MK reboot, there’s much more under the pretty coat of nostalgia. Injustice is deep, with plenty to keep the fighting game crowd coming back for more and just enough to pique the interest of casuals who don’t know much about fighting games but want to see who would win in a Batman vs. Superman battle.

Score-4-5That’s something else that’s going to draw in even the uninitiated: the name recognition. Yes, lots of folks now know who the merry band of mutants are over at Marvel, but millions more know the names Batman, Joker, Superman, the Flash, Lex Luthor and Wonder Woman. That instant brand recognition is what compels a certain part of you to come back and learn more about what’s really a good game. While you might not know who Doomsday is or why the Omega Sanction is instantly fatal to most living beings, you know the names behind the main characters for play, or at least most of them, by sight alone.

That brand recognition plays a large part in why the game is Injustice-02successful in its mission: The package around it doesn’t have to be slick and beautiful, but it is. And it’s enough to make the price to play worth it. Taking into account the work that NetherRealm Studios previously completed, Injustice is quite the step up graphically. Every background is gorgeous and lavish in the game that’s already beautiful from the outset. The graphics step up from MK vs. DCU in a way that have to be seen to be believed. And while it doesn’t seem like the game could get any better looking, then there’s the character models. Every character is accurate, down to the details from storyline arcs such as Crisis on Infinite Earths differences. However, while the graphics wow, the music isn’t great. It’s not terrible, either, but it’s not exactly turn-up-the-volume quality. It’s just there, which is highly unusual for the team known for producing outstanding soundtracks in the MK series.

I may not be able to tell you exactly who would win in a fight between Darkseid and Black Adam, but I can make the point that Injustice does the DC universe quite a bit of, well, justice when it comes to a quality fighting game featuring the Dark Knight, Boy Wonder and Man of Steel.

Which version to buy?

There are two versions to choose from: regular edition and ultimate edition. Ultimate edition, while costing considerably more, is the better bargain because it features all of the released DLC and character skins. It also comes with Mortal Kombat combatant and stalwart Scorpion as a playable character.

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Thief — 3Q2014

Photos courtesy of Shacknews.com

Photos courtesy of Shacknews.com

It takes a thief

by William Harrison

by William Harrison

You know, once in a while, a game comes along that is just full of fun stuff and guilty pleasures that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Ladies and gentlemen, this is that game. Thief is a game that when I first heard about the original — way back when it was only available for PC — I thought it was one of those games I would have liked to play but didn’t think it would be fun. Man, was I ever wrong.

Thief places you in the role of master thief Garrett as he works his way through a city run by a greedy and bloodthirsty Baron and his guard known as the WATCH. Use the shadows to your advantage and truly make what is theirs … yours.

Eidos/Montreal and Square ENIX put forth a great effort in Thief-05making this game a reality and bringing it to home systems. Thief is actually the fourth incarnation of the series, set during the time period around the same time as the Black Plague, I think; they don’t really tell you when it’s set or where it is relevant to any time period. I only say during the time of the Black Plague because of the disease that runs rampant called the gloom, which is a lot like it.

The stealth gameplay is the main reason why I’m a huge fan of this game. I like the fact that it’s a major part of the game and there is an achievement for making it through the game unseen. There is the rating system where I seem to always straddle the line between ghost and opportunist in my quest to see if I’m still as sneaky in stealth games as I claim to be.

As of press time, I haven’t finished Thief but the story and the free roaming aspect are awesome. At times, I wander from the story to explore, roam aimlessly and rob people blind just like in real life.

Score-4The city and the characters are beautifully designed and rendered but it seems to be missing something. The music — as far as atmosphere goes — is OK but it seems that you can’t really hear it. And, a lot of times the interactions between characters is almost a joke because you can sometimes barely hear what a NPC or yourself are saying. Apparently, subtitles are a bit of a must to catch everything being said.

I’m not quite sure how the old Garrett matches up to the new Garrett since I haven’t played the PC titles but hopefully it’s not too far off. I really do enjoy this game, but it seems that it isn’t really all that long, at least not when you get into the story-specific missions. There is still a free roam element there but there are also points where you can’t go back and that seems like it’s punishing the player and slapping you saying, “You want to explore?! NOW!? The fate of the world is at stake!!”

Thief is a really good stealth, make-you-feel-guilty-in-a-good-way sort of game and should definitely be played by all. The fact that it’s the fourth game but also a reboot of the series is fine, but the fans of the older games may have a problem with the differences. Sound issues aside, this is a hell of a steal.

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NBA Jam — 3Q2014

NBA Jam-02The old king of the court

by Lyndsey Hicks

by Lyndsey Hicks

NBA Jam was — and still is — an experience. No, that’s not some preposterous fluff dreamed up by an National Basketball Association maven like yours truly. It was truly an experience because if you were around at the time that Jam hit the streets, you’d remember the sheer amount of hype that surrounded the arcade release. You’d also remember the hype that came home with it. Was it justified hype? Yes and no.

You see, Jam represented the start of the exaggerated sports game era, the type of game where the player animations were over the top and the action just as extreme. Throw in a plethora of secrets — like playing as President Bill Clinton — and the hype went into overdrive. The game isn’t bad and it mostly lived up to its billing. The simple setup of two-on-two basketball and fast-break basketball helped certainly, and the animation isn’t bad at all. The player interaction is where it mostly succeeds, actually. At the time, there was no other place to get the kind of play that Jam offers: Crazy dunks, the ability to be on fire from great shooting and street ball-type rules. It’s that offering that made it a phenomenal success.

Jam doesn’t stumble in its race to be an in-your-face baller NBA Jam-17experience. That street ball player interaction means you don’t have to learn much about the game to succeed and play well. The control is simple yet has a layer of depth that means anyone can do well at any skill level. The atmosphere could be a little better with a better soundtrack, but what will make you take notice is the announcer. If there’s anything you will remember about the game, it’s Tim Kitzrow shouting to the top of his lungs that a man is “on fire” or “BOOMSHAKALAKA.”

Score-4-retrogradeThe graphics, like the soundtrack, are nothing to get excited about. There’s a static crowd except for the courtside folk, and then there’s the players. Jam popularized the over-exaggerated look for players, and it certainly had its uses. It’s not out of place for Jam, and it brings a certain atmosphere to the action that Jam benefits from.

If there’s ever a reason to play NBA Jam, find it in the cartoonish action, sound and look. That’s where the fun is, and the main reasons why the game succeeded in living up to the hype (mostly) that broke backboards in the olden days of 1993.

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SSX Tricky — 3Q2014

SSX Tricky-02Grab your gear and hit the slopes

by Lyndsey Hicks

by Lyndsey Hicks

SSX can get a little … well … Tricky. OK, yes, I went for the easy joke, but it’s one that can be made with a solid title in SSX Tricky. Tricky tends to take the best things about the SSX franchise and make them better. And that’s better for everyone because snowboarding games of the time weren’t exactly freshly powdered experiences.

Tricky settles into its role as a snowboarding simulator with slick visuals and an added bonus of interesting characters. The easiest way to describe playing Tricky is that it’s you versus the mountain, and well, sometimes you versus the other characters versus the mountain. While the World Circuit mode is touted as a main attraction — and it is certainly is for several reasons — the mode that does the most for me is Free Ride. There’s nothing quite like running down the tracks and pulling off tricks without other characters to annoy you. The characters aren’t really that annoying, and the rivalry system is fun, but I preferred my solitude while learning the game and Practice and Free Ride provided that easily.

Those slick visuals are also on display throughout the different SSX Tricky-19modes, and it immediately sets the game apart from its competition of the time. The game flat-out looks great on the GameCube, and the other console versions looked great, too. The GameCube version has an interesting control scheme that lends itself to rolling down the slopes, and it’s intuitive and becomes second nature as you become more comfortable pulling off various tricks. For that increasing level of comfort, you are rewarded with bigger and better items that should help you improve as well as make you look a little better on the track. It’s that drive to unlock these goodies and tracks that keeps you coming back to Tricky.

That’s all alongside the soundtrack, which is excellent, too. There are a few vocal pieces with the instrumental tracks for the different levels, and all are appropriate for the atmosphere EA wants to Score-4-5-retrogradeconvey. In particular, the remix of Run DMC’s massive hit “Tricky” is the highlight — as it should be. If it’s the main theme of the game, it should stand out, which it manages to do so. It never gets old to hear the trio’s 1986 hit sampled and remixed (editor’s note: ’80s rap never gets old, in any situation) while throwing down massive tricks on a treacherous mountain. And, believe it or not, the voice acting adds to the game as well. Usually, a fully famous all-star cast of voice actors produces mixed results. However, Tricky is an exception to that rule. Folks like Lucy Liu, Oliver Platt, Patricia Velasquez and Billy Zane deliver solid results.

With three other sequels and a reboot in 2012, Tricky has had the challenge of standing out in a crowded library of titles featuring snowboarding. But it’s not that hard to do when it’s got good mechanics and great atmosphere, a rather tricky feat to accomplish.

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Titanfall — 3Q2014

Photos courtesy of Shacknews.com

Photos courtesy of Shacknews.com

Keep calm and prepare for Titanfall

by William Harrison

by William Harrison

Hello, pilots and welcome to the Frontier. The long-anticipated Titanfall is up for review and let me tell you, I had a lot of fun with this one and so will you. It posts a few unique innovations as well as an online only style all of its own. And, of course, giant robots … everything is better with giant robots. The campaign mode is weird at first but it’s nothing that can’t be handled.

Titanfall takes place in the distant future and in another colonized area of space. Two warring factions, the IMC and the Frontier Militia, are fighting for control of their little pieces of space and the place they call home. Unfortunately, the IMC seem to be looking to control the area under the flag of Hammond Industries, a galactic widespread company that has its hands in … well, pretty much everything. Then in comes the Frontier Militia, who believe the people are better off without the watchful eye of the IMC and Hammond Industries telling you what to do.

Titanfall is a very impressive and beautifully rendered game. It’s Titanfall-01currently out for the Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC. I have it for Xbox One and it’s about the only first-person shooter that I currently play. The gameplay is pretty much like Call of Duty, but that’s to be expected when Infinity Ward closed its doors and reopened to a split in the company not called Respawn Entertainment and Sledghammer Games. Respawn Entertainment is pretty much made up of the developers that made the COD series stories and games what they were.

The addition of the Titans (25- to 30-foot-tall robots) and the ability to either pilot or have the AI control it makes for a new number of things that can be done.

Score-4-5There is a campaign mode but it is multiplayer-based, meaning that the story is controlled by the outcome of the winning team in some missions. It only allows for 6v6 (12v12, if you include having the AI-controlled Titans on the map as well) so that the games can remain as lag free as possible. Don’t want to ride inside your own Titan, well hop out and switch your Titan to either guard or follow to help hold a position or for a little backup. I must admit that I am rarely riding inside my Titan when I play. They have a nice selection of weapons for the pilots but only about six for the Titans themselves, which is fine by me.

The multiplayer is done really well, but right now there are only seven play modes, with the seventh as a mash-up variety pack that consists of all play modes on all maps randomly selecting both. I believe the Xbox 360 version is missing a mode or two.

Here is how I see it: Titanfall is one of those games you hear about and think it would be awesome if they can pull it off right. Respawn did their homework and came up with a game that is fun and immersive. Unfortunately, it kind of hindered itself by being online only, and although the download needed to play it on Xbox 360 isn’t as massive as the GTAV download (1.3 GB versus 7.9 GB), it’s still a bit annoying. However, you don’t have to delete data to play. A matchmaking option that puts you with people in the same skill level would be a nice idea, too. If you haven’t played it, then you should definitely “Prepare for Titanfall.”

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Excitebike — 3Q2014

Excitebike-02Nothing to get excited over

by Lyndsey Hicks

by Lyndsey Hicks

Nearly everything game industry legend Shigeru Miyamoto touches turns to gold. The keyword there is nearly. While it might be considered blasphemous in some circles to question the godlike tendencies of Miyamoto-kamisama, there are sometimes valid reasons strewn about his resume. Excitebike is one of those excuses to point to when someone says that Miyamoto is capable of committing no wrong in game design.

Excitebike isn’t a terrible game. In fact, it’s one of the better games to come out of the NES lineup. But that isn’t saying much in the long run. Excitebike takes a simple concept and makes a mountain out of a mole hill. So much so that if you have no idea how the game works, you’re not going to immediately figure it out just by rumbling through a couple of tracks. My personal learning curve stretched from age 8 to age 28, and it was only because I asked someone about the nuances that I became a better player.

That’s the thing about Excitebike, though: I get that it’s a really Excitebike-14simple game. You, the dirt bike rider, are gifted and able to challenge a multitude of tracks. You aim for the highest score, stay off the rough patches, use your boost to speed up and attempt to keep your bike level with the course once you make big leaps. That’s the extent of the game. There’s a track editor thrown in for good measure and a second type of race that’s basically time trials. Simple, right? Yes.

Score-2-5-retrogradeAnd frustrating. No one knows what I would have given to know that pressing A rapidly when you fall off your bike helps with recovery. I would have traded my tiny kingdom in little old Columbia, S.C., to know that. It would have also helped to know that driving over the arrows on the ground reduces bike temperature. Knowing these two important pieces of information might have made a distinct difference in my continued career of dirt bike racing. But, alas, that dream went right out of the window with my inclination to continue renting the cart back in the day.

If you want nostalgia and you can appreciate being forced to learn the ins and outs of dirt bike racing, by all means pop a wheelie in Excitebike. But don’t be surprised with the unimaginative locales, race layout and penchant for keeping you the player in the dark. Simple concept? Check. Simple controls? Check. Mario cameo? Triple check. But Shigeru Miyamoto’s genius touch to make the game a better experience for the uninitiated? Nope. That’s still sitting in the garage with my drive to play the game as a frustrated 8-year-old and now as a more discriminating 32-year-old.

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Unreal Tournament — 3Q2014

Unreal Tournament-01An unreal icon for consoles

by Lyndsey Hicks

by Lyndsey Hicks

As someone who has never really gotten into the Unreal series or PC shooters in general, learning to run and gun with one of the seminal shooters of our time was and has been a challenge. It’s a challenge in patience and in equilibrium, mostly because I can’t play older first-person shooters without migraines and vomiting. So, if a game could persuade me to sit down and enjoy the fruits of its murderous labor, then more power to it. Unreal Tournament didn’t have to try to hard to work that magical feat.

Unreal Tournament is a patchwork of ideas found commonly in modern shooters. It’s arena-based play that requires you to hunt down and eliminate the competition. That’s not that hard of a Unreal Tournament-19concept, actually. You’re given an arsenal with which to complete your reign of carnage and helpful items such as health and armor boosts. While the concept is easy, the number of control options offered can easily overwhelm even a seasoned shooter veteran. Mostly, you’re just looking for a way to aim and shoot, but there’s about 15 different ways to set up your gunning exploits in UT. There’s a wealth of modes offered, too, and you can’t go wrong with picking any of them. It’s nice to be able to practice before jumping into the main story mode, or play a good Capture The Flag match.

Score-3-retrogradeDespite the variety of modes to run through, the character selection isn’t all that varied. Stalwarts, like Malcolm from the original Unreal, are available but beyond that the character selection is a little blah. There are some to be unlocked but the question remains: Do you want to go through the trouble of unlocking a character that you aren’t going to care about?

The soundtrack is decent, with a few standout tracks so there’s something to spice up the disappointment of the character selection. The graphics are OK, but like that dearth of characters, there isn’t much to get excited about. For the translation to PlayStation 2, the game plays and looks OK. It’s nothing special but it isn’t terrible, either. Just don’t expect super impressive PC quality.

Unreal Tournament is an interesting experiment. It’s a PC juggernaut that tries its hand at accessibility in the home market and doesn’t fail miserably yet doesn’t entirely innovate, either. If you were wondering what the hype was all about for the PC darling, the PS2 version is just the right version to introduce you to the world of Unreal.

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DDR Max 2 — 2Q2014

ddr-max-2-16

Choosing a seventh dance card

by Lyndsey Hicks

by Lyndsey Hicks

There comes a time in every long-running gaming franchise when said franchise has to grow up. That transition may come in the form of a new coat of paint or through a purging of characters, a reboot, if you will. But every franchise goes through it, and Bemani and Dance Dance Revolution, in particular, are no strangers to this. By the point of Max 2, the seventh main mix in the series, DDR had to do something at the risk of growing stale. So, continuing the trends started in Max it was.

Max 2 presents itself as an interesting beast, even if you’re intimately familiar with the series. There’s a new mode to play, Oni — which introduces the concept of a “three strikes and you’re out policy” with courses to play — and the overall look and feel has been upgraded from the days of yore. Max 2 represented the middle of a new era for DDR, begun with the wholesale do-over of Max. There’s not much new in the way of concepts for Max 2, and that’s all fine and well. Since Max’s changes were regarded as a failure and an unnecessary slash-and-burn of the franchise, Max 2 works toward undoing the mess made previously.

Score-4The game does well with updated aesthetics. The song wheel (introduced in 5th Mix), the foot rating (dropped in Max), Groove Radar (introduced in Max in favor of the foot rating) and Freeze arrows return. The re-introduction of the foot rating system is the best idea that could have come from cleaning up Max’s mess. The Groove Radar and foot rating system give you all of the pertinent song difficulty information that you will ever need. The song wheel looks better than ever since it’s now in its third iteration and Freeze arrows don’t seem to be such an aberration as they once were in Max.

The song list is interesting mix of updates to old favorites as well as ddr-max-2-05new entries aimed at adding something new to DDR. Not that Max didn’t do that very well, but Max 2 is about a greater variety of songs and it shows in the fact that there’s not a new Paranoia in sight — at least in the arcade version. The home version attempts to inject a new iteration of the familiar song, but it’s not nearly as successful as it thinks it is. Yes, Paranoia Survivor, one of the boss songs of the sequel Extreme, is present and available for play in the Japanese console version, but its inclusion as a preview song isn’t really necessary. And it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Why destroy the myth of Survivor — the first 10-footer Paranoia — by showing its hand early? My problem with Max 2 is illustrated by this point: JP flag w stick iconThe game sometimes feels like a re-tread of previous entries, and it shouldn’t. I was under the impression that the reason for the debacle created by blowing up DDR with Max was to avoid just the sort of problems that you’re going to run into with Max 2. Though, in its favor, Max 2 has Maxx Unlimited, which is my favorite Maxx song out of the entire bunch.

I have to commend Konami for at least trying to right the wrongs committed with Max’s well- meaning philosophy of starting over. It just feels a trifle like Max 2 is slacking into old habits. Max 2 may not feel like it’s cheating on its diet started by Max’s slimdown but by having a few extra songs, Max 2 isn’t necessarily pushing the plate back like it should and it shows.