Gaming Steve

DS Archives - Page 2

December 31, 2007

Matt's Massive List of the Top 25 Games of 2007

Every Christmas I like to ponder my fave 20 odd games of the past 12 months, but with 2007 turning out so utterly insane on the release schedule front, I had to up that number to 25 in the end. I'm almost all gamed out at this point, still unsure where I found the hours to plough into all these darn things, but truth be told? It was worth it, as this past year has been just about the best 12 months for video gaming ever. Seriously. So many highs. So many classics. Let's take a look at 'em, in fact...

25. Folklore (PS3)
Folklore - It may not push the polys, but Folk's one of the sexiest looking games of the year, and by sheer artistry alone.While Folklore has its issues – stilted storytelling and some repetition to be precise – its sheer originality shines through like nothing else. Playing young blonde Irish chick Ellen, the intro of this bizarre and quirky fantasy gem sees you heading to a deserted "Oirish" town to find your missing mother, only to get sucked into a colourful, crazy Elf land known as the Netherworld along the way.

Describing Folklore from here on out's kinda tricky however, as there are precious few like it. Only one springs to mind in fact. I could ramble on about its adventure gamey premise, which has you solving an overarching mystery by collecting items and chatting to NPCs. I could touch upon its RPG influences, earning experience points along the way while pursuing side-quests on the down low. I could even describe its beat 'em up combat, and the barmy manner in which you steal enemies’ souls by yanking the controller around like some kinda child abusing step parent.

Far more accurate though, would be to simply call it the "Japanese Kameo" - a 360 launch game I was somewhat fond of back at the time. That same imagination, emphasis on creature powers, and the bashing your way through a vibrant fantasy land all comes through present and correct. But now with added style.

Inventive use of the Sixaxis' tilt function in its brawler combat keeps Folklore interesting for the duration, and the bizarre plot'll keep you reasonably entertained for much of that time too. It's the universe itself which stands out above all else though, with chapter 1's blue-tinged forest world standing out as one of the most purely memorable virtual environments I visited all year.

Far more accurate though, would be to simply call it the "Japanese Kameo" - a 360 launch game I was somewhat fond of back at the time. That same imagination, emphasis on creature powers, and the bashing your way through a vibrant fantasy land all comes through present and correct. But now with added style.

Inventive use of the Sixaxis' tilt function in its brawler combat keeps Folklore interesting for the duration, and the bizarre plot'll keep you reasonably entertained for much of that time too. It's the universe itself which stands out above all else though, with chapter 1's blue-tinged forest world standing out as one of the most purely memorable virtual environments I visited all year.

Some actual voice-acting, more variation and the inclusion of a two player mode would have gone a long way – plus I'd be lying if I said I'd finished it – but there's no denying Folklore's a pleasingly original and incredibly imaginative title that all PS3 owners should at least sample.

24. Hotel Dusk (DS)
Hotel Dusk - Remember that old A-Ha vid? The one which swallowed Chris Griffin? Imagine a whole game of that.With all the high-profile blockbuster releases hitting consoles recently – not to mention a surprising stream of PC exclusives – it's been easy to forget what a damn good year the handhelds had too. Along with Syphon Filter, Lumines and Zelda sequels hitting the PSP and DS respectively, this little touch pad wonder stole my heart like nothing else.

I hated it at first, mind you. The concept of a Raymond Chandler, film-noire style murder mystery transported to handheld form – courtesy of some good old point 'n' click stylus action and a brilliant new paper book visual style – sounded hot in theory, but the opening hour's so god damn deathly slow, it made me wanna flip the DS shut and flush her down the bog.

Sticking with Dusk through initial hardships reveals a marvellous game however; a living, breathing detective novel in the palm of your sweaty hands, oozing with unique style and gorgeous hand-drawn artwork. It's truly gripping stuff once you get into it, even if the sucker almost plays itself to a certain extent, and you forever find yourself anxious to unlock that next chapter and see where the hell it'll head next. I guess it really is a book in many ways...right down to how you hold the darn thing.

23. Virtua Fighter 5 (PS3/Xbox 360)
Virtua Fighter 5 - VF5 can be an ugly looking game at times, at least by DOA standards. Got it where it counts, though.I never got around to hammering Fighter quite as much as I would have liked to these past 12 months, yet make no mistake, it's undoubtedly the finest 1v1 beat 'em up the genre's ever seen.

The latest update to the 3D fighting originator doesn't disappoint in its depth, range of moves, nor sheer brutality, with so much to see, learn and keep in mind at any one time that merely playing it alone becomes a martial art in and of itself. It's no wonder the Japanese treat it like its own sport at this point, dedicating entire arcades to it and it alone.

As a die-hard fan of Dead or Alive – one who maintained that game's under-rated brilliance in defiance of all detractors due to its online mode – VF5's recent re-release on the 360 with added LIVE functionality was the deal breaker that broke the fanboy’s denial. I admit it, it's the one. The grand dragon. King of the fighting castle. DOA hasn't had a go since.

Most impressive of all, is the mere fact said online mode even works at all, let alone how fun it is. One so fast-paced, tactical and fluid seems bizarrely lag-retardant, making versus battles insanely fun...even when lacking skills as I so readily do. "Winner Stays On" would have been nice, of course, along with some improved presentation. SEGA nail the hard part...but it's all a little barebones, no?

22. Super Stardust HD (PS3)
Super Stardust HD - The PS3's greatest secret, one can't shake the feeling that Stardust'd be raking in far more hype-flavoured praise had it shown up on Live ArcadeThe PS3 took quite the PR battering in 2007 – particularly in the first half – endlessly shanked by the masses for its lack of grade A system sellers and subsequent reasons to live. That's since been alleviated by some of the more recently released semi-classics on this here list, but some'll argue it still lacks that single all-encompassing killer that its rivals so readily boast.

Regardless of what's found on store shelves though, the Playstation Network's been cultivating itself quite the array of downloadable solids in the meantime. Along with the likes of Flow, Warhawk and Everyday Shooter, Super Stardust headlines that particular list for me; a pleasing take on the now done-to-death top down arcade “schmup”, taken to most ludicrous extremes as to breathe fresh and invigorating life into the genre.

With insane amounts of action, inventive boss fights and its ever enjoyable assortment of spruce-up-able guns, it houses surprising depth and variety too, blessing the PSN with its nearest equivalent to a Geo Wars in the process, and some might say even surpassing it. A must-have for PS3ers then, that pleasingly fetches for a mere 5 pounds (or 10 of your Earth dollars).

21. Crackdown (Xbox 360)
Crackdown - The one they all forgot about, but don't sell him short. My opinion of Crack's gone up in fact, thanks to the ace DLC of late.While Grand Theft 4 was expecting to dominate the year on the free-roaming, sandbox tip, its delay 'til 2008 left quite the humungous void in the genre. A void pleasingly filled by Crackdown, as it turns out; a simple, straightforward, yet relentlessly enjoyable open ended arse kicker that surprised a hell of a lot of people in '07. Me included.

Blasting around futuristic metropolises with a buddy in tow, whacking crime lords en masse, while "accidentally" slaughtering civilians by the hundreds, demonstrated a scale of conflict and sheer spectacle matched only by the upcoming Mercenaries sequel. That you could play it online was a breath-taking achievement alone, never mind the rest.

Crackdown was another 360 winner that set '07 off as it meant to go on, and although a year's gone by since and many may have moved on, orb hunting's still just as much fun as it was back on release. Brilliant stuff.

20. Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction (PS3)
Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction - Not exactly the most challenging game o' the year, Ratchet shines in the fun, spectacular and oh so pwetty departments.With the Playstation franchises of old starting to show up on PS3 at last – arguably those that made the past systems what they were in the first place – the brand's return to form seems far more inevitable at this point. If recent sales bumps are to be believed, it could even happen sooner rather than later, and a large part of that's down to this particular game.

Ratchet & Clank's hardly a huge re-imagining for the series, true. Returning the boys to futuristic city-scapes to bash enemies, collect moola and tweak themselves out in the most bat-s**t weaponry seen this side of Professor Farnsworth's lab, it's pretty much business as usual. As someone who rarely touched a Ratchet before though, it proved nigh on impossible to drop.

It'll blow your mind technically, too, showcasing the most epic of views at all times, with a rock solid 60 FPS that refuses to falter. If the PS3's cranking out this kinda stuff just one year in, one can't help but crack a grin at the mere thought of what lies in store. That said, as far as Insomniac games go, I'm probably more of a Resistance guy myself. For all Ratchet's beauty, humour and unbridled chaos, it's all a little easy. Hard to die. Baby-like.

19. Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)
Super Mario Galaxy - Perhaps it's time to snag Mario 64 on the Virtual Console to give 'er another bash. Galaxy has me in the mood.In hardcore circles, it's become somewhat cool to mock the more mainstream Wii at this point, kicking the poor money-spewer in the privates while he sits in the corner crying. Counting his cash. Despite a tumbleweed-tinged wasteland of an opening year though, the sleek white VHS box actually enjoyed one heck of a run from September onwards. From the five games adorning this page alone, you'd be hard pressed to play-down its exclusives at this point, and when coupled with launch beauties Zelda and Sports of '06? There's plenty to enjoy on the system right now.

Many cite this to be the flat-out best game of the year in fact. The greatest platformer of them all, so they say. Unfortunately for me – as blasphemous as it sounds – when it comes to Mario games, I ain't a big 3D guy. As much as I loved the original 2D titles of old – the ones, might I add, that I credit for my even playing games – when the series hit that extra dimension, it kinda left me behind. I missed the sensation of holding down B then hammering A. The smoothness of it all. The simplicity.

That's why you see Galaxy struggling down here at #19 then, because beyond that, it's about as perfect as a video game's ever been. Taking Mario back to the purer platform action of 64, minus the ominous fluids of Sunshine, it's a love letter to Nintendo fans who've stuck with 'em through thick and thin. Conclusive proof, if detractors required it, that they still possess the skill to pump out utterly amazing, truly inspired video game masterpieces centered around nothing but pure, unbridled fun.

With a return to Mario antics of old – the inventive suits, the bopping Goombas, and the lobbing of red shells – the added emphasis on planets and screwed-up gravity then bless it with pleasing originality, constantly reinventing the wheel while maintaining the feel of yester-generations. How one can dream up demented 3D levels like these boggles the mind, but you forever feel in the company of possessed geniuses regardless.

Don't be put off by its child-like exterior either. Think you're too old for Mario? Think again. The game's tough as hell. It remains incredibly addictive in spite of this though, with brief blasts often turning into multi hour-long marathons, and you forever anxious to see just what lurks round that very next bend. There are so many little avenues to explore and additional worlds forever popping up, it's damn hard to tear yourself away. I also appreciate the return to a slightly more sinister Mario vibe too, one encompassing battle ships, ghost houses and the epic lava fortresses of old. Ah, memories.

Not really my genre then, but a fantastic game regardless. If you own a Wii, it's sorta un-missable.

18. Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (PS3)
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune - Uncharted. Hella gorgeous, no doubts there, but often at the expense of PDZ-esque slime. I wish it wasn't laminated in glue.This however, is a little more my platforming pace. Drake's the unholy melding of Tomb Raider's platforming and Gears' combat, with a little Indiana Jones thrown in for personality's sake. Playing Sir Francis Drake's ancestor – Nate – hot on the trail of Pirate Dad's buried treasure, the game's a swashbuckling ride through Amazonian jungles and Goonies-style caverns with a healthy dose o' humour packed in on top. That old skool adventure movie vibe one hasn't felt since the '80s returns in full force as a result, in an effortlessly loveable tale that's just what the PS3 ordered.

It handles well, given Sixaxis holdbacks, plays tight, and many call it the best looking console game of the year too (not me, of course). Cooler than all that combined is simply the storytelling though; Drake's a funny guy, and his facial expressions, voice acting and stream of expletives prove forever entertaining. Courtesy of Jak & Daxter developers Naughty Dog – another of the Playstation alumni helping re-forge the shards of Sony – their trademark wit and storytelling prowess shines through in droves.

Much like Ratchet, Drake's another most definitely worth a ganders on that front, even if it's still, perhaps, not quite that Halo killer Sony require. Now where's our new Jak game, Dog?

17. Pacman: Championship Edition (Xbox 360)
Pacman: Championship Edition - Trust me. Amazing-ness contained within.In the genre of budget-ware arcade titles that have since become all the rage, Pac goes down as downloader of the year for me. This was Matt crack in '07 in fact; I'd often finish work, collapse on the sofa, then play the damn thing 'til bedtime. I never came close to topping out my friends' leaderboard mind you, a worrying sign of old age. Or perhaps their superhuman, freakish skills.

Pacman as a franchise, means nada to me, but Champ's beautiful neon upgrade turned a previously dull and dated concept into ever scrumptious candy. It was the five minute time limit, enforcing addictive quick-fire replays like never before. It was the gorgeous new face-lift, beautifully bright yet lovingly respectful to those that cared. And it was the unbridled skill required, as lunatic ghosts ramp up to ludicrous speed, a mere motion blur of eyes in those final dying seconds.

Pacman did the impossible, by not only updating one of gaming's flagship titles for the new millennium with 100% success, but also knocking Geo Wars off as the be-all, end-all of downloadable Arcade games. Now if only the 360 had a D-pad worth a poop, we'd be in business...

16. Project Gotham Racing 4 (Xbox 360)
Project Gotham Racing 4 - I took this myself, of course, thanks to Gotham's vital photo mode and pleasing web integration.I'll be honest, I wasn't expecting the world outta PGR4. Even as a Gotham mega-fan, this felt like one too many. After an initial hour of mild boredom though, it ramped up into one of the year's finest, a pleasant surprise, and a modern racing classic.

With tight handling meeting fab courses and a perfectly pitched selection of modes, it's the racing game that keeps on giving. Blazing around a snow-capped Nürburgring in a 1950's rocket car – Covenant's "The Men" blaring out of the speakers to particularly haunting effect – is a major highlight of recent times, as are the numerous online battles and cat 'n' mouse shenanigans since enjoyed over Live. That PGR4's a visual step above its already utterly gorgeous predecessor doesn't hurt either, rounding this off as a series high point right up there with #2.

15. MotorStorm (PS3)
MotorStorm - Heart-warming to see so many PS3 games among the list, no? Or should I say...a relief.As much as I love me some good old Gotham though – Geometry Wars Waves in particular – MotorStorm's the one that beat it to the finishing line I'm afraid. The game may have lacked modes, a wealth of courses, and even the ability to play on worldwide servers, but in terms of pure, undiluted fun alone? It's the pick of an extremely packed pack for me.

It's that rickety feeling of blazing across desert which MotorStorm nails so well. The bouncy suspension, insane jumps and ever satisfying smashes go toe to toe with Burnout on the edge-of-your-seat front, yet MotorStorm piles on a far greater sense of skill, hints of strategy and more enjoyable online mode than that ever did. Of course, it doesn't hurt that MotorStorm is – still – one of the most graphically stunning games on top. System show-off material, no doubts about it.

For those, like me, depressed at its lack of content on release, hit up the Playstation Store for some ace new DLC that decks it out nicely. Rumours are, we may even see a sequel soon too...

14. Ninja Gaiden Sigma (PS3)
Ninja Gaiden Sigma - Gaiden's without doubt a top 10 desert island Dig disc, and this right here’s the definitive version.PS3 wise, here's my pick of the lot though. A graphical upgrade to an all-time fave, Sigma doesn't feature higher for the simple reason it's a mere remake when all's said and done. But what a remake, eh? The gorgeous world, the lethal combat, those slamming decapitations...bloody hell, do fighting games get any better? Kratos and Dante fans'll claim so, but I think we all know they speak rubbish.

Much like MotorStorm, Sigma too has been further fleshed-out via the penny pinching art of downloadable content, with a wealth of new challenges, game-types and additional levels to slice your way through. Not that it needed anything of the sort of course; Sigma was already packed to the decapitating gills.

With Gaiden 2 recently announced and heading our way sooner than some might think, Siggy's release provides ample opportunity to get up to speed, reawakening those skills of old while prepping for a second Team Ninja arse kick-o-thon. If its follow-up is anywhere near as tough as this son of a gun, chances are you're gonna need it.

13. The Witcher (PC)
The Witcher - Another notch on the bedpost, eh Geralt?I’ll never get over how good this turned out. Back on release, first impressions proved poor, but sticking with The Witcher showcased one of the better RPGs the PC's seen in years. If not ever.

The load times make it borderline unplayable at times – slightly alleviated by recent patchings – and it may lack the spit, polish and more professional voice-acting of a higher profile US-backed outing, but there's no denying that this Polish developed masterpiece delivers the goods where it counts. Moral dilemmas? Inventive quests? A truly captivating world? A whopper of a yes on all fronts.

Its non-US heritage awards it with a fresh and original voice too, one far darker and more mature than we've come to expect of its genre. I talk not about the player's ability to bed every single female the game throws their way, but its pleasing use of more contemporary metaphors in its plot, themes and side-missions. And the aforementioned "casual relations".

Combat's fun, the music's great, and for all its presentational flaws, the character interactions rock. Half-way through its 50+ hours, I already dread its end.

12. Assassin's Creed (PS3/Xbox 360)
Assassin's Creed - PC version should arrive in early ‘08 by the way, console-phobes. I believe it's the same exact game.Creed's a controversial beast that suffered primarily from its time of release if you ask me. Back in the slow summer months of death, we would have been all over this, no doubt proclaiming it a much-loved masterpiece and a welcomed new franchise with which to milk via sequels. Nestled between the all-encompassing classics released towards the latter half to the year though, its flaws and repetition shone a little too brightly, subsequently meeting with alarmingly more scepticism than I think anyone expected. Along, of course, with just about the most wildly varying review scores of any game ever.

A pity really, as it's hardly a dud by any stretch of the imagination (hear me, GamesTM?). Taking the concept of parkour and melding it with a Hitman-style assassination sim, the concept sounds perfect on paper. Although the game subsequently grinds the idea into the ground by its sheer stubbornness to add any kinda variety onto such a solid base, the blueprint alone's enough to see it through to borderline brilliance.

One thing you may not be expecting from Assassin going in, is that it's also quite possibly the finest looking game ever made too. Not only does it have easily the best character model of them all in Altaïr – iconic, memorable and truly bad ass in just about every way – but the undeniable scope, the bustle of the crowds, and the sheer amount of architecture on screen at any one time is truly unparalleled...even by real-life. You can't believe what you're seeing half the time.

It's a game that rewards perseverance more than anything. Once you perfect the free-running – bounding around like a gymnast while smoking fools via the most awesomely slick "have it!" knifings – one'd be hard-pressed to say it ain't fun. Even the infamously dreary sci-fi plot starts to meander its way into the storyline with some mild success at times. Ubi's Sands of Time – one of the finest games of them all – had a similarly inspired way of working respawns and deaths into its underlying mechanics, and Assassin does so too. Quick-saves, loading screens, even menus themselves are all part of the game world, and it's pretty inspired stuff for the most part.

What was ultimately not the be-all, end-all of gaming as we know it then, was at least a diverting platform game with a difference, boding well, more than anything, for perfected sequels down the line. I'm truly curious to see which direction they offshoot for said follow-ups, as there's a wealth of potential avenues to pursue. Blade Runner style futuristic free-running, perhaps? Pretty please with sugar on top.

11. The Orange Box (Xbox 360/PC)
The Orange Box - Yeah, yeah, TF2's great too, whatever. Whine an e-mail to my 10 year old Compuserve account back when I still gave two poops. Joke.More specifically, Portal, which left such a startling impression on me in its miniscule run-time, that it's burrowed a place in my heart forever.

True, it’s not quite the revolution some’ll claim. The game's based on an indie freeware project if you weren't aware, one known as Narbacular Drop. Valve's buying up of developers Nuclear Monkey though, and subsequently reworking their concept into the Half-Life universe comes off as a stroke of genius here, bringing with it a much larger audience and a far brighter spotlight in which to sing. Much like they did with Team Fortress, in fact.

And to be honest? While the portal zapping stuff's fun as hell – blowing holes through space and time amidst brain-imploding 4D puzzles – Portal's true strengths – story telling, narrative and humour – are all Valve through and through. Those tiny hints of a plot? Its creepy presentation? That psychopathic robot? Few stack up at such things.

Breaking free of your chains in the game's final stage – then escaping through the inner workings of Aperture's labyrinthine test chamber – is a truly unique experience in particular, backed up superbly by the ever enjoyable voice-acting and oh so dark dialogue. Its monumental achievement even more impressive in light of the game's meagre 2-odd hour long run-time. I'm just crossing the old fingers for a Portal gun in Episode 3 now.

The rest of The Orange Box line-up’s fine too, don’t get me wrong, but for me, the pack's pretty much worth buying for Portal alone. Amazing stuff.

10. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (Wii)
Metroid Prime 3: Corruption - Apologies, Wii haters. Of which I used to be one. Homie came through in style. Eventually.The game which signalled the changing of the tide for the Wii; since Metroid's release in the year's tail-end, things have most definitely looked up for lovers of Nintendo. Not just one of the better titles out for the system itself, Corruption's without doubt my fave of its series too; an epic blend of Metroid's trademark deep space alien exploration, with inventive new Wii-mote waggling FPS action and far more focused level design.

Four years on since the series' conception, it still retains such unique and distinct style of its own, in a sub-genre of the first person shooter no one else dare touch. It doesn't hurt that Corruption's also the first – and indeed only – Wii game to see my jaw so regularly drop from mere graphics alone. The detail, art design and rock solid frame-rate impress hugely, with sights like the Valhalla and the game's endless stream of boss lairs pretty darn breath-taking to behold. System specs be damned.

I could have used some extra tweaking on the aiming system, and enemies that don't take 10 zillion hits to floor, but there's no denying Corruption's one of the most satisfying single player experiences of the year, and one of the most atmospheric to boot.

9. Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 (PS3/Xbox 360/PC)
Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 - GRAW2, once again, had an exclusive PC counterpart (not pictured), a separate entity also fun in its own unique way.As with 2006’s premier instalment, many of the year's greatest online memories are housed within this game for me. GRAW2 was hardly a massive reinvention for the series – and in fact, barely indiscernible from its daddy 90% of the time – but with such a rock solid, yet finely chiselled base, who are we to complain?

The ramped up difficulty to the always-fun co-op campaign meant I only just finished that sucker recently – despite literally hundreds upon hundreds of hours ploughed into the ruddy thing – but 16-player one-life show-downs against the CPU fail to grow tiresome it seems, thanks once again to GRAW’s pleasing roster of missions and expert combat model. The promise of a second co-op pack dropping any day now means she'll see no rest any time soon either.

Call it an expansion to the first game all you will – I won't argue there – but GRAW2 did continue everything great about its ever impressive predecessor, still maintain its position as a top of the rung Xbox Live shooter, and showcase some of the best bleedin' visuals of the entire year along the way, and that deserves much kudos.

What beckons next for the franchise? Rumours speak of a return to the series' more realistic roots. Mixed thoughts on that, myself.

8. Halo 3 (Xbox 360)
Halo 3 - I call this one “The Flying Scotsman”. God bless save-able videos.I'm pretty much all Halo'd out at this point, so will try to keep this brief. Most of us have had our time with the single player mode by now though I'm sure – blazing through it in excess of five or six times in its varying modes – yet multiplayer lives on, just as fun as ever. As far as pick up 'n' play online action with a group o' buddies goes, are there any better in fact?

Perhaps not. Halo 3's easily one of the most polished, tightly crafted and well made titles of the year...but not my personal fave. Soz.

7. Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition (Wii)
Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition - Resi on the Wii’s just about the most natural a shooter's ever felt if you ask me. Next stop: Umbrella Chronicles.While I've yet to nab Umbrella Chronicles (believe it or not, I don't play 'em all), Resi gets a well-deserved look in regardless. It may speaks volumes that arguably the Wii's greatest game yet is a mere remake when all's said and done, but as I like to tell myself, it's an ever rare system where cross-platform ports have the bizarre potential to drastically improve upon themselves via that ever enjoyable remote.

Along with Zelda, Resi 4's the textbook example of that, a game that takes the previously ace Spaniard slaughtering antics from Gamecube and PS2-ville, then promptly ramps it up another twelve notches to the realms of utter brilliance.

A stunningly twisted and atmospheric outting already – now with controls to match its beauty – rediscovering it all over again in 2007 was a six month long highlight for me. Bundled bonus modes and a budget-ware price sealed the deal as a must have for all, and in my opinion, almost give sole reason to own the Wii alone, never mind the rest.

6. Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar (PC)
Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar - LOTRO's player base has dropped to depressing lows lately. Ironic, given the fab-ness of recent updates.My LOTRO sessions have sadly lightened these past few months, yet blame not this game, but the stupidly busy release schedule of late. This sucker's actually one of the few MMOs to keep me enthralled for a year's solid play you see – and believe me, I've played 'em all. I can't foresee a quitting any time soon either.

Turbine played it smart really. They took the greatest license of them all, then melded it to the greatest game. You might as well be playing Rings of Warcraft for the most part, thanks to a similar range of classes, identical questing system, and barely a handful of improvements – or even alterations for that matter – but as safe as Rings feels, the results speak for themselves. One of the tightest games around. The one MMO to really go toe to toe with WoW itself...if not in numbers, then at least in quality.

If you're yet to grow bored of these fantasy MMOs – which judging by WoW subscription figures, is a China-esque number of peeps – LOTRO's a fine alternative then, and a great addition to an extremely packed genre. I had some damn good times right here in fact, and with a wealth of add-on packs in store, here's to the many more that head our way.

5. Bioshock (Xbox 360/PC)
Bioshock - What’s the bet on a sequel announcement within the next six months?.Bioshock may not have had particularly long legs, nor quite lived up to its System Shock heritage, but there's no denying Ken Levine's latest boasted one of the most truly memorable video game worlds our pastime's ever seen.

As a huge fan of the first person, RPG-slash-adventure game genre, this ticks many of those same boxes while even one-upping Shock in the atmosphere stakes to boot. Like a beautiful film or a gripping novel, it constantly draws you in, forever anxious to see what twisted designs lurk in the next hub. Not to mention, how its impeccable storyline will resolve itself.

A large part of that draw's down to the aforementioned world though, meticulously rendered from the ground up with not even a single pair of rooms ever looking the same. Rapture is an amazing achievement, with Irrational's undeniable brilliance being their ability to disguise what is ultimately pretty much just a corridor shooter by surrounding it in the most gorgeously original underwater setting ever seen. Some whine about the combat, others the repetition, but this sheer beauty alone proves more than enough to overlook both for its duration. Eye-scraping final boss aside.

Yeah, it's easy. Too easy, in fact. The inability to truly die, and the unlimited respawns that go with it, essentially turn Bioshock into more of an interactive story than a traditional video game. If nothing else though, more recent DLC has spruced up the toughness for those that demand it, while also fixing up one or two other minor niggles along the way. I'd sure love to retackle some of those Big Daddy show-downs in light of this, minus the ever reliable safety net of the god-awful Vita Chambers.

For an absorbing, deep and endlessly rewarding single player experience then, Bioshock most definitely stands out as one of the better seen in recent years.

4. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. – Shadows of Chernobyl (PC)
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. – Shadows of Chernobyl - Worryingly ugly on low-end rigs, and insanely buggy back on release, STALKER's still the home to many a fab memory.Proof, if ever needed, that in spite of stupidly expensive system upgrades, endless patch woes, and constant crash headaches, when gaming's at its genre-busting very best, it does indeed come from the PC. It's just a shame a game like STALKER comes round maybe once every five years at this point. If that.

With such a sordid and long-winded development history – one up there with Duke Nukem himself – I guess pondering whether it lived up to the hype's irrelevant at this point. Did any really remain? STALK's an incredible achievement in its own right however; a spooky, free-roaming scavenge 'em up, with alarming scares and immense ambition.

Yeah, it's frustrating, hard to get into, and much like The Witcher, a distinctly non-US title immensely rough around the edges. But my god. STALKER'll show you a world and an experience simply never seen before. One unique...incredibly absorbing...and absolutely terrifying. Love it.

3. Crysis (PC)
Crysis - Add two parts Far Cry to one part CoD, multiplied by some Battlefield 2 with a sprinkle of Republic Commando, then bake for way too long, et voila! Crysis ahoy.Developer Crytek's unofficial futuristic follow-up to the supreme masterpiece that was Far Cry, Crysis is the first jungle-ised FPS to stack up to the lofty leaved shoes of its predecessor. Who are we kidding? It's the only one to come close. Those same epic views, those long distance sniper duels, and the ever enjoyable skinny dipping return in force, yet Crysis throws in some pleasing new additions that send it off on a crazy original tangent on top.

I reference the bionic suit, of course. Playing a super soldier of tomorrow comes with pleasing benefits you see; super strength with which to toss enemies into the air with, super speed with which to outrun Road Runner with, and even a full-blown cloaking device, for donning your best Predator impression while going "waaaaaaaaaah" from up in the trees. One alteration which I do think would have made these abilities infinitely cooler mind you, is if you didn't have to switch between 'em all manually. Rather than charge forward at 200mph, leap across a humungous ravine, then sucker punch a grunt 10 miles into the distance in one seamless motion, it makes for a far more stop 'n' start affair instead, as you fumble with the required buttons like a two year old.

When you eventually get the hang of it though, flicking between powers subconsciously, Crysis comes alive. I worship the ability to tailor the game to your own individual play-style via said abilities, such as flipping the cloaking device on, modding all your guns with silencers, then popping off headshots in a full blown Sam Fisher style. You can just as easily whack on full armour, grab an AK, and mow dudes down like Commando though, along with everything in-between. It's just as much fun either way, and beautifully free-form in that regard.

Such freedom extends to the level design of course. There's a sandboxy feel to the combat that I've never really experienced in an FPS before, only truly limited by your insane imagination and ability to think on your feet. There's a sequence early on where you take control of a village for instance, with the Koreans rolling in two tanks to promptly take it back. You're tasked with taking 'em both out – single-handedly, of course – but told no more. Mr Matt – blind idiot that he is – neglected to search the building he was in, and thus find the stash of rocket launchers awaiting him, so instead had to improvise.

So I cased the town on the stealth tip, noticed there was a petrol station on the outskirts, and put two and two together. I peppered the tanks with fire to draw their attention, ran like a spazzo into referenced petrol station, then darted out the back exit and off to safety while cloaked. The pair of behemoths opened fire in my general direction, blew the fuel tanks up, and in a full-on Robocop style, pretty much everything within a 30 meter radius went up in flames. Minus yours truly. Don't thank me...thank The Suit!

Or how about the time a chopper caught sight of me out in the wild? I legged it for miles into the nearest building for refuge, dodging mini-gun fire the entire time, where I caught my breath, counted my ammo, and began plotting an all-important escape route. I was shortly interrupted however, when said chopper decided to bombard my hide-out with missiles, promptly sending the roof caving in, crushing my skull with beautifully deforming physics in the process. I died instantly, in fits of laughter. Only in Crysis do you see this kinda stuff. Randomly, at that.

Only a slightly schizophrenic final hour lets her down really. With the game starting out like some kinda jungle themed squad shooter, your buddies are then slaughtered one by one by some kinda extra terrestrial evilness lurking in the bushes. Where the game goes from here, I'll resist spoiling, but many highs here and the odd low there, it rounds itself off with a truly anti-climactic urine-soaked ending that feels nicked from a far inferior game. You can kinda forgive it though, considering the five or six hours that precede it are some of the best video gaming of the past ten years.

Enjoy sniping dudes? Loved that Far Cry? Think the sandbox combat of Halo 3's as good as it gets? Crysis shows 'em how it's done. It's a shame no one's able to play it, really...

2. Call of Duty 4: Modern Combat (PS3/Xbox 360/PC)
Call of Duty 4: Modern Combat - Sadly, we're hearing CoD5 is not only a return to WWII, but Treyarch are in charge...With all these games touching down in quick-fire succession, it's been interesting to compare their contrasting styles and mechanics. Take Call of Duty 4 for example; the gameplay feels archaic and even somewhat forced next to Crysis' more open-ended style – particularly the more you replay it on the harder difficulty modes – but it stubbornly refuses to care. CoD doesn't want your freedom you see. He cares not for your special abilities either. He has a job to do, and he's gonna do it. To showcase the most awe-inspiring, rollercoaster ride of your freaking life...and pretty much nothing else.

Yeah, there's no way to deviate from said rollercoaster, and expecting even a mild hint of choice results in bitter disappointment...not to mention death. But for what it does? A 100% linear FPS extravaganza conceived from day one around sod all but the set-piece and pure thrill? CoD4 might well be the greatest game the genre's ever seen.

That sensation of war feels simply unmatched here. While the loudness, the screams, and the explosions are nothing new, the culmination feels truly perfected at last. Grabbing the nearest rifle and getting stuck in'll see brilliance blossom, once you behold the beauty that is CoD's extreme arsenal of modern weaponry. Screw World War II, I say...bring on WWIII!

Surprisingly awesome amidst all this is the storytelling. Particularly – spoiler warning – the concept of playing, well, dead people. For all the zillions of times we've died then quick-loaded in shooters over the decades, there's something unnerving and flat-out eerie about unavoidable death sequences from which there's no escape. I talk partially of the presidential assassination in the game's intro sequence, sure, but more specifically the mid-game nuke scene and subsequent flopping to the ground, dead. Dark, soul destroying scenes that left me quite speechless. The gunship level's one of the other more memorable experiences of the year too, just as messed up in its own, notoriously humorous way.

Somewhat controversially, I'd also say CoD4 throttles Crysis in the visual department, simply due to how fab it runs. It's oh so detailed, animated to perfection, yet buttery smooth at all times. It doesn't hurt that CoD4's multiplayer mode is arguably the best of the year too; a fantastic array of unlocks adding a pleasing dollop of depth to an already riveting experience. If it'd boasted co-op missions and a single player mode longer than an hour, it'd most likely be game of the year.

But who am I kidding? The real reason it ain't is ‘cos of the rap.

1. Mass Effect (Xbox 360)
Mass Effect - There are a zillion tiny niggles you could whine about in Mass, but at the end of the day? It's the most fun I've had in years. Particularly playing “Renegade”.AKA the greatest sci-fi film never made.

Once in a blue moon, a rare game plops out that just feels tailor made to you, and you alone. Much like Deus Ex in its prime, Mass Effect is one such beast, tapping into my dorky sci-fi fetish, love for space exploration, appreciation for a deep RPG story, yet sheer need for real-time combat. The engaging characters and effortlessly brilliant BioWare dialogue ain't so bad either.

But you needn't be a fan of such things to appreciate Mass. Like all good classics, it's accessible to everyone, regardless of tastes. It may be glitchy at times, bugged to hell at others, and thus far from the most solid game of the year. It is however, easily my favourite. Commanding my own crew of memorable personas, hitting the furthest reaches of space, then saving the galaxy from an (apparent) megalomaniacal's why we play games, no? That you can then craft your own face and essentially paste yourself into the heart of this most epic of movie-like experiences bulks the gravitas up ten fold.

In fact, I'd say Mass does arguably the greatest job an RPG's done yet of actually letting you, well, role-play. Levelling up, tweaking stats, and modding your load-out is fine and dandy, but while such dated concepts have since become synonymous with the genre, let us not forget what the term actually means. Mass truly lets you get inside your character's head you see, tailoring not just his look and back-story, but his fundamental personality to your liking. Throughout my 30 odd hours of play-time, I felt as if I was genuinely crafting a character of my own – one who's actions were all of my choosing – truly different and distinct next to everyone else's. That's role playing by definition, and comparing to so-called staples of the genre, makes me milk-laugh right out my nose.

The ability to kill major characters, dictate wars, and ultimately affect the outcome of an entire galaxy is shockingly epic stuff, and the promise of being able to carry the resulting toon over to the following two games with hopeful repercussions should add appropriate depth to every such decision too. How Bioware'll pull off such a promise, remains to be seen I guess, but god damn I can't wait to see.

Sure, it's got issues. With so few city planets, and real-time conversations gone, I think it's blatantly obvious some major cutting back occurred during production. Yet you oddly care not. Mass does so much right, the glitches feel invisible. 'Cos you're there. When it touched down in fact, I locked myself away, called in sick, and barely ate for three days straight 'til I saw her through. Know the last game I did that for? The KOTOR series.

Says it all, I hope.

Honorable Mentions

Of course, there were many more where that lot came from. Including, but not limited to...

God of War II (PS2) – What one could call the game I missed out on, I've yet to plough more than one measly hour into Kratos' latest. This short play time alone solidified it as a fitting swansong for Sony's aging champ though, in the last major exclusive the PS2 seems worthy of, and I'll no doubt give him the proper bash he deserves one day down the line. So long then, ugly black grill...we sure had some fun times, didn't we?

Spider-Man 3 (PS3/Xbox 360/PC) – Undoubtedly 2007's "game they all got wrong but me", I for one dug Spidey 3. Forget the critics, ignore the haters, it was fab. The game that is. Not the film. God not the film.

Tabula Rasa (PC) – I only sampled Tabula in beta form, but had myself a surprising blast regardless. If not bogged down by stupidly large amounts of "real" games – not to mention a life-time sub to LOTRO – it might even have seen a purchase. Perhaps worth a revisit in the slow summer months then.

Super Paper Mario (Wii) – Any high-profile, well received Wii game deserves some love – not to mention an instant buy, let's be honest – and Paper Mario certainly falls into that camp. The fusing of traditional Mario platforming with a more adventure gamey, RPG twist sounds ace in theory – and the end result is indeed pretty darn swish – but for some odd reason, Paper just never sucked me in to the level I expected. I love the platforming side, and yearn for an entire game like that, but the RPG angle doesn't quite do it for me. I feel like it's forcing me through hours upon hours of child-like cut-scenes and never ending dialogue in order to reach the good stuff. A shame, 'cos it really is good too. A rainy day game, I guess.

Earth Defence Force 2017 (Xbox 360) – I dunno about you, but after the past three months, my bank manager's put a hit out on me. Too many damn games...and too many expensive ones, at that. EDF stands out like a black clansmen with that in mind, an insanely cheap value pack of a game, boasting 50 odd humungous levels, 150 weapons of insanity, and some of the most unbelievable, awe-inspiring showdowns ever seen in video gaming. For under 20 freakin' quid. It's simple, there's nowt to it, and it's utterly, stupidly cheesy, but much like the B-movies that inspire it, there's a loving sense of fun permeating throughout Earth from head to toe. So much so, you grow to love the sheer jankiness of it all almost instantly. Another budget-ware beaut then, to match Resi4, hopefully signalling a return to more simplistic, value-for-money offerings long since needed in this industry.

Endless Ocean (Wii) – Less game, more bizarre deep sea diving sim, Endless Ocean is strictly one for the hippies and stoners among gaming's more laidback. As a diver let loose in a free-roaming sea, able to take missions, explore and, er, stroke big fish (no euphemism, I promise), it's what can only be described as a twisted melding of GTA, by way of Flow. Those after action, noise and gunfire will point and laugh, but us into pretty sights, relaxing times and a general ambience of beauty will find much to suckle on here. Custom soundtrack support, surprisingly pretty underwater views, and another pleasing budget-ware price sure help the cause...although nothing makes up for the sub-Dreamcast era graphics seen up top. You gets what you pays for, I guess.

Mutant Storm Empires (Xbox 360) – A pleasing follow-up to the Live Arcade launch title we all know and love, Empires may not have quite lived up to the superb precedent set by Reloaded, but it's still – yet another – fab little top down shooter managing to keep the genre afloat another year. The ability to play online co-op for the first time in any of these games since the late, great Smash TV gives it instant reason to exist – minor lag and a serious boat of confusion aside – even if it gets frustratingly brutal in the game's dying levels.

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS) – Hourglass deserved a spot further up this page, but "Top 26 Games of 2007" doesn't really tongue roll does it? A lovely little game, regardless, Hourglass is up there among the DS' finest. As yet another Zelda game to chuck on the stacked pile, there's precious little newness here in terms of series reinvention, minus the initially aggravating stylus control that sees hairy palmed hands obscuring the screen 90% of the time. With a little practice and some minor patience, it starts to work though, with screen-swiping sword fighting a blast in particular (no doubt boding well for the upcoming Ninja Gaiden game touching down in 2008). Like the DS' Metroid excursion, Hourglass is very much a condensed take on its older brothers for the most part, retaining all the hallmarks of a real Zelda title, while removing much of the fat along the way. Dialogue is brief and zippy, dungeons can be rounded off in no time, and the plot propels forward pleasingly swift on top. I also love the puzzles, the sound, and the return of that old Wind Waker vibe of old. But I could go on forever so let's move on...

Warhawk (PS3) – My time with Warhawk's been limited thus far. Truth be told, I'm so utterly rubbish at it, I can seldom stay alive long enough to move. The 10 odd second clumps of action I've been witness to before owning can commence however, hint at much in the way of cheeky online fun, with the airborne Warhawks themselves standing out as a genuine treat to wield. It's hardly a Battlefield killer, of course, and the ground combat suffers from Sony Analogue Stick Syndrome, but if little else one has to award the guys immense love for stripping the original game of its lacklustre single player component and re-imagining the project as a budget-ware online game. The sorts of practices other large publishers could do well to follow suit with, eh Shadowrun?

Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD (PS3/Xbox 360) – With some let down by 2006's Arcade port of Street Fighter II, it seems Capcom ain't giving up the cash-in cause just yet. Puzzle Fighter HD took the 10 year old PSone block falling classic, spruced up the presentation beautifully and added pleasingly addictive online play for good measure, resulting a bit of a perfect fit for the 360's downloadable arsenal. It's even out for the PSN for those more inclined. I'll admit, as he who never owned a PSone, this was my first real exposure to the game, but with the mechanics sussed and the lag ignored, it's housed endless fun ever since. Stand-by for a similar HD spruce-up for Turbo itself next, not to mention of course, Street Fighter IV…

Switchball (Xbox 360) – Forget about the above though, puzzle game of the year's right here, boyos. A criminally under-rated Arcade title no one dares talk about, Switchball's everything great about the Live download service quite literally rolled into one. A fantastically spruced up take on the previous year's Marble Blast Ultra, Switchball takes the ball rolling vertigo-tinged 3D shenanigans of that, adds a huge dollop of beauty on top, then works in some of the most imaginative and giggly mazes ever imagined. The use of materials and physics is pleasingly fresh, with helium balloons, metal balls and fully animated cloth used to inventive effect, while the bundled co-operate and oh so funny race modes give it tremendous shelf-life on the multiplayer tip too. Strange how it never took off really, though I'd argue the trial game does her no justice. The good stuff requires an unlock.

Forza Motorsport 2 (Xbox 360) – I was suitably into Forza back on release, and certainly had a blast tinkering with her at the lower levels. As the cars got faster, the courses more trying, and the competition more extreme, it kinda left me behind to a certain extent, and then the release of PGR4 pretty much buried it for good, but that initial month of experimentation and grease-covered fondling? Fun times, right here. Looks gash, mind you.

Everyday Shooter (PS3) – Another trippy PS3 indie, and one most certainly boasting its fair share of flaws, Shooter still stole dozens of hours of my life in the year’s dying months, thanks to its artsy twist and original spin. For a 2D shooter, its lack of online scoreboards and flaky firing can't go unpunished, yet neither stop it going down as one of the more bizarre and intriguing games of late.

Sam & Max (PC) – Episode one touched down in 2006 of course, hinting at the greatness shortly to come, but the bulk of the series saw fruition throughout '07, including – I'm sure many would agree – the best episodes of the bunch. Despite proving episodic content works wonderfully when done right, the return of Sam & Max feels all but ignored in most circles – odd, considering how rib-bone starved for non-shooting content the PC's been of late – but those who sampled Telltale's delights didn't regret it I'm sure. Sam and Max are just as funny as ever, their new cohorts are fantastic – Bosco in particular – and the pleasing new down-to-earth puzzles make 'em far more manageable games too. The point 'n' clicker's back, friends, resuming right where he left off. Now roll on Season Two...

And there we are for 2007. Quite the ride, no? What were your picks of the year in video game-ville?

Next up: The biggest disappointments of 2007!

Posted by Matt Robinson at 2:00 PM | Comments (6) | Posted to DS | Feature | PC | PlayStation 2 | PlayStation 3 | PSP | Wii | Xbox |  Add this story to  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

September 19, 2007

MySims EA Site Visit

MySimsEA games held its first Blogger’s Day Event and I was one of the lucky 7 who got to attend. We all gathered at the headquarters in Redwood City, CA to get a preview of the new MySims game and meet the game developers ... a Sims game unlike any other.

Our day started with a tour of the EA campus and soon we found ourselves in a conference room surrounded by a new breed of Sims. Unlike other versions of The Sims, MySims was created exclusively for the Nintendo platform for release on both the Wii and the DS. With that in mind, the Sims was recreated to appeal to the Nintendo audience while holding on to the hallmark appeal of the original Sims game.

Like other Sims games you start the game playing one Sim which is customizable within the create-a-sim menu. The main head shape stays the same but you can change other unique features to make your Sim all your own. You can change their hair, skin tone, clothing, and even the voice from one of six different options. These little Sims are gender neutral so you can get really crazy with their look. And unlike other Sims games these Sims are cute ... really cute ... like a puppy sitting in a flowerbed holding a rubber toy in its mouth cute.

Of course there are options for additional personal items, such as eye glasses and facial marks. My Sim ended up in a skirt with a beard, a monocle and a spider tattoo on its cheek. There are more than enough options so that you can make your little Sim a mini-version of yourself which was a main goal of the development team (which, of course, they made several versions of themselves and their family members.)

Once your Sim is complete you begin the game within to a rundown town with your main goal to bring the town back to life and earn a "five star "status. You can improve the town by talking to other Sims and completing tasks for them, such as finding items, building things, giving them gifts, and so forth. The happier the Sims the more the town improves and more options become available to you.

As the town improves new Sims will show up (with new tasks for you, of course!). The game supports a total of 80 Sims but you can only have 27 Sims to your town at once so you need to plan your tasks accordingly as well as find and unlock the other Sims.

As for those of you out there who like to kill or torture their Sims, well, you can’t do that. They also don’t Woo Hoo or make babies but you still can mess with them and make them unhappy if you really want. You have four main interactions -- talk, be nice, be mean and give stuff. Each Sim has two likes and one dislike, so using these interactions and some creative responses you can make your Sims quite happy, or very upset. The choice is yours.

But there is so much more which you can do in this game besides making other Sims happy. You can fish, plant trees and prospect for cool new items. You can also unlock assets such clothing and blueprints by making friends with the Town Sims. Next to your house you have a workshop where you use your blueprints to build furniture and other objects. With a blueprint you can create a base object and then mix and match other pieces to create a uniquely different object. The more you play, the more building pieces you will unlock. Of course once you’ve made your creation, you can paint it with various colors and textures to truly make it your own.

There are no "simoleans" currency in version of The Sims but instead uses something called “Essenses”. There are six main Essences -- Cute, Geeky, Studious, Spooky, Tasty and Fun. All the objects are related to one of these essences and they are used to create furniture, paint walls and floors. Part of the fun is mixing and matching essences when creating new objects.

There are small differences between the Wii and DS versions, such as the DS version takes place at a seaside resort. Hence, the game plays slightly differently on each platform. At the resort you get to explore, meet and help the guests, design clothes and furniture and play mini games to earn money. One of the 10 mini games can be downloaded to a friend’s DS so they can play it without having the Sim game but it’s only playable while your DS is running.

The game was a lot of fun to play and all of us were laughing at the creations we made. Though it’s not a multiplayer game, it’s still fun to play with other people around to share the experience. It’s as much fun to watch as it is to play. The music was very pleasant and each location had its own unique tune so you could tell where you were just by listening to the song. Plus there is a ton of unlockable items, including new playable areas including a desert and a forest.

The game shipped today and although MySims is unlike other Sims creations it has enough "Sims flavor" to interest the diehard Sims fan. Hours of fun for the whole family.

My Sims EA Visit

My Sims EA Visit

My Sims EA Visit

My Sims EA Visit

My Sims EA Visit

My Sims EA Visit

My Sims EA Visit

My Sims EA Visit

My Sims EA Visit

My Sims EA Visit

My Sims EA Visit

My Sims EA Visit

My Sims EA Visit

My Sims EA Visit

My Sims EA Visit

My Sims EA Visit

My Sims EA Visit

My Sims EA Visit

My Sims EA Visit

My Sims EA Visit

My Sims EA Visit

My Sims EA Visit

My Sims EA Visit

My Sims EA Visit

My Sims EA Visit

My Sims EA Visit

My Sims EA Visit

Posted by LadyM at 9:00 PM | Comments (21) | Posted to DS | Preview | Wii |  Add this story to  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

March 22, 2007

Yeah Obscure Japanese Nintendo DS Import Titles!

Picross DSOne of the most popular/obscure games for the original GameBoy was strange little puzzle game (and the black sheep of the Mario family) called Mario's Picross. The game was sort of a combination of sudoku and minesweeper where you start out with a blank grid and by cross-referencing numbers you slowly fill in the grid. When complete the grid would revel a hidden Mario-related picture ... ah it's sort of hard to explain so just give it a try and you'll see what I mean.

Mario's Picross came out way way back in 1995 I know of very few people who actually played this game (about the same number who played the CD-i versions of The Legend of Zelda), but everyone who did truly loved this game. The difficulty scaled well, the puzzles were fun, and it was the perfect portable game. Plus you were making pictures of Mario characters, what couldn't be more fun?

I was hoping that a DS version of Picross would come out as the touchscreen and worldwide success of sudoku puzzles it would only make sense for a Picross game to appear on the DS. And my prayers have been answered ... sort of.

Picross DS has been released! But only in Japan (of course, why can't we get decent puzzle games in the States?). Thankfully the DS doesn't have region protection and Play-Asia is awesome when it comes to imports, so I'm quite excited about getting this one. The reviews have been quite good and there is hardly any reading necessary, so this is about as good as it gets when it comes to an import title.

If you enjoy sudoku puzzles you might want to give this one a look and make sure to try one of the many online versions of these picross/nanograms a try. Yeah import titles!

Posted by Gaming Steve at 12:00 PM | Posted to DS |  Add this story to  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

June 19, 2006

Gaming Steve Episode 56 - 06.19.2006

Louis Castle and Peter MooreNow this is a show! I got Peter Moore, I got a preview of the first RTS for the Xbox 360, I got a review of the Nintendo DS, I got an interview with the godfather of RTS, Louis Castle, I got you a detailed overview of Microsoft Game Studios in Seattle ... I got a lot. Enough with the talk, on with the show!

Gaming Steve Episode 56 Program

  • 00:03:15 Game News:
    • Dungeons & Dragons Online goes solo.
    • Wii price and date to be announced ... by September.
    • EVE Online invades China big time.
    • Dragon's Lair goes HD.
    • Blizzard making everything into an MMO?
    • DS Lite sells 136k in first two days.
    • Tim Schafer demands 360-compatible Psychonauts.
    • Spore spreads to mobile phones (again).
    • Lara Croft is coming back.
    • Microsoft is working on a handheld ... what exactly?
  • 00:31:54 Interview: Peter Moore, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Interactive Entertainment Business in the Entertainment and Devices Division. Oh yeah, and he also runs something called the Xbox 360.
  • 01:07:36 Game Preview: The Battle for Middle Earth II for the Xbox 360.
  • 01:22:56 Interview: Louis Castle, Vice President of Creative Development for Electronic Arts and the creator of such classics as Dune II and Command & Conquer.
  • 01:34:56 Review: Nintendo DS Lite.
  • 01:41:25 “Name That Game!” contest winner from last week, a new clip, and the always cool prize!
  • li
  • 01:45:34 Show Mail: I answer your audio questions.
  • 02:19:23 Final Thoughts: Digital download is just awesome.
Download the show (145 minutes): Gaming Steve Episode 56 (MP3).

Subscribe to the Podcast directly in iTunes (MP3).
Add the Gaming Steve Podcast feed to your RSS aggregator.
Vote for Gaming Steve on Podcast Alley.

Posted by Gaming Steve at 5:00 PM | Posted to DS | Interview | Podcast | Preview | Review | Xbox |  Add this story to  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

March 1, 2006

DS Download Station Hands-On Review

DS Download StationWhen I heard that Nintendo World in New York City just got the first DS Download Station in the US I ran down the street to give this Station a try.

The first thing I noticed about the Station once I entered the store was that ... there was no Station! I was expecting to see a small kiosk or something similar, but there were none to be found at Nintendo World. Only after I spoke with an employee did I find out that the store itself was the Download Station and that I could use my DS Wi-Fi anywhere within the store to access the Station. Good to know if you plan to visit the NYC store and give this service a try (note to Nintendo, you might want to advertise the DS Download Station a bit in the NYC store). This setup is a unique case as when these DS Stations begin to appear throughout the country there will be an actual kiosk that will beam wireless demo versions of games and other downloadable content into a players’ Nintendo DS system.

After my initial confusion I whipped out my DS, took a seat, and started to look for a local Wi-Fi signal. Sure enough, within 10 seconds my DS found the "DS Download Station" signal and I quickly connected. Oh yeah, in case you are curious the station was "version one" (Nintendo expects to update the content on these stations once every three months or so).

Once my connection was established I was given a list of seven game demos and one movie I could download (you can view the interface in the above photo). The games demos were Brain Age: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day, Mario Kart DS, Meteos, True Swing Golf, Pokemon Trozei, and two different versions of Tetris DS, while the video clip was an "exclusive" Metroid Prime Hunters movie. I wasn't too interested in Mario Kart DS or any of the other games which were already on the shelves, so I decided to give Brain Age and Tetris DS a go. First up, Brain Age!

I have been really interested in giving this game a try ever since I first read about it several months ago. In Japan this game has been an absolutely monster success, so much so that it actually increased sales of the DS hardware. The first two versions of this game will appear in the US on April 17 and May 30 and have been localized for Western tastes.

Once I selected the demo it took around 15 seconds for the game to download into my DS and then begin. The menu for Brain Age appeared to be the same menu used for the full-version of the game, but most of the options were grayed out. I was able to access two "tests" (“Brain Age” and “Brain Training”) as well as the sudoku number puzzle.

I selected the "Brain Age" test from the touch screen and was quickly introduced to this “test” by the disembodied head of Professor Ryuta Kawashima (don’t ask). This first test consisted of a series of cognitive tests which required me to look at words that appeared on both DS screens. I actually needed to hold the unit sideways, like you would hold a book, and as the words appeared on the screen I needed to say the color of the word into the DS microphone. So if the word was red in color I simply needed to say “red” into the DS microphone.

Sounds easy, right? Well, there was one trick; the word itself was often the name of a color. So the word "blue" might actually be in green letters. Your brain might “read” the word “blue”, but you needed to say the word “green” in order to get the answer correct. It might sound simple, but it was a bit tricky to say the correct color quickly and accurately. The good news is that the DS's voice recognition, via the built-in mic, worked great, even in the loud Nintendo World store. After about 45 seconds you are done with this short exercise you get a score based upon the speed and accuracy of your responses.

The other mode, "Brain Training" was actually a math drill! Yikes! But wouldn't you know it, Nintendo somehow actually made doing math problems fun. Again, I needed to hold the DS sideways (actually the entire Brain Age game was played in this manner) but instead of words appearing, math problems would scroll up the left side of the screen. I needed to write the answers to these problems as quickly as possible on the touch screen. One nice touch is that before you begin the game asks if you are left or right-handed. If you are lefty the game flips itself 180 degrees so that the touch screen is on the left side. No wonder this thing is a best-seller, little touches like that go a long way.

The math problems were all fairly simple addition, subtraction, and multiplication problems and the handwriting recognition was quite impressive. Especially considering that I was writing as fast as possible, and there were times where even I couldn't understand what I wrote, the software rarely made a mistake. Once again at the end your time is analyzed (with five seconds added for each incorrect answer) and you are given a brain score.

Finally I gave the sudoku game a try. It was your standard sudoku game played on a 3x3 grid and the DS needed to be held sideways. The board appears on the touch screen and whenever I needed to enter a number into the board I just selected the appropriate box. Once selected, the sudoku board flips to the left screen and the entire touch screen allows one to easily write the number on the screen. If you get the number correct, you are rewarded with a little green checkmark. If not, you get the buzzer and have to try again. And you need to be careful because if you enter five incorrect answers you lose the game and need to start over again.

I was a bit disappointed that these three demos were so short (although the sudoku game took a few minutes to finish), but I have to say that I definitely see the appeal of this game. The interface was simple enough for your grandmother to use, and yet somehow I was having fun doing math problems. A lot of fun. Expect this game to become a monster hit in the states as well.

Once I was done playing the demo I turned off my DS and jumped back onto the DS Download Station. In theory I could keep any demo I downloaded in my DS for weeks at a time as you only lose the demo data after you turn off your DS. In fact, I still have the "Tetris DS Push Mode" on my DS and I expect to keep it on my DS until the game is released later this month!

With that being said, the next demo I tried was "Tetris DS Standard Mode". Again the demo downloaded into my DS in about 15 seconds and started right up. This version of Tetris was actually a "battle" version of Tetris where I was going up against the computer. This version of Tetris has been around for quite some time and should be familiar to many people. The computer’s board was viewable on the top of the DS while my board was on the touch screen. As rows are removed they are sent to the opponent’s screen, the first person to the top of the screen loses. Other than this “battle” aspect, it was a traditional Tetris game, only with a Super Mario Bros. backdrop and the ability to "capture" any single piece to save for later.

As for the gameplay, what more can I say? Tetris plus Super Mario Bros. background graphics plus Nintendo DS Wi-Fi plus classic Nintendo sound effects/music equals the best version of Tetris ... ever! Oh yes, this game is going to sell several million copies no problem.

After getting my butt kicked by the computer a couple of times (the computer was surprisingly difficult to beat) I downloaded the other Tetris demo, "Tetris DS Push Mode". A strange combination of Tetris, Donkey Kong, and tug-of-war I found that I enjoyed this demo above all the rest. You must compete against the computer and push him/it off the screen before he/it does the same to you.

Themed to the classic Donkey Kong arcade game, the Tetris field takes up both screens with you dropping shapes from the top of the screen to the bottom, while the computer drops shapes from the bottom to the top. In the middle of the screen is the mess of shapes which is constantly shifting back and forth between you and your opponent. Each time the player clears two lines the screen will move down a small amount and vice versa for the computer. Eventually one side will be pushed off the screen and the game will end.

Since you and the computer are building on the same playing field you really have to be careful where you place your shapes. That huge block of lines you're waiting to clear might be cleared by your opponent instead if you're not careful. The game is extremely fast-paced, even for Tetris, and the classic Donkey Kong animations and sound effects are fantastic. As I said before, of all the demos I tried this was the game I kept on my DS and have played it more than a dozen times so far. This game really is a great implementation of the Tetris and Donkey Kong license.

In addition to these three demos I downloaded and tried out the others as well. They all play as you might expect, such as the Mario Kart DS which allows you to try out a sample race. Overall the DS Download Station was simple to use, extremely fast, and allowed me to try out two of the most anticipated DS games of the year. What more could you ask for? Look for these Download Stations in a store near you later this March.

Posted by Gaming Steve at 1:00 AM | Posted to DS | Review |  Add this story to  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

December 9, 2005

Nintendo DS Port of Dragon's Lair

Dirk the DaringAs many people who regularly read this site probably know that Dragon’s Lair is one of my favorite games of all time. I would really love to replay this game every so often, but good luck trying to find this game in your local arcade (yeah, right) and a PC or console version of the original has never been released. Of course you can buy the game as a DVD and play it on your DVD player or console system, but using a crappy DVD controller just doesn’t cut it in my opinion. Plus, your average DVD player responses aren’t nearly fast enough to simulate the arcade game.

I was recently thinking/hoping that someone would port Dragon's Lair onto the PSP as the large screen and excellent controls would probably make for a near perfect port. I have yet to find a homebrew version of Dragon's Lair for the PSP but I was moderately stunned to find that someone is working on a Nintendo DS port of Dragon's Lair. I would have never even thought of porting this game onto the DS, but in retrospect there is no reason not to think that the DS could do as good of a job as the PSP.

So far they only have the first four levels complete and you'll need to use Neoflash in order for it to work on your DS, but the concept is fantastic and I'd definitely go to any length to get a portable version of Dragon's Lair. I just hope that they finish the entire game ... now someone get working on Space Ace!

Posted by Gaming Steve at 5:30 PM | Posted to Classic | DS |  Add this story to  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

October 19, 2005

Nintendo DS Rumble Pak Revealed

Nintendo DS Rumble PakThe Nintendo DS might have started out slow but with the smash success of Nintendogs the DS is quickly picking up steam. Well the DS just got a little bit more interesting with announcement of the new Rumble Pak accessory.

The Rumble Pak is the same size as a Game Boy Advance game, and will come packaged with Metroid Prime Pinball (to be released next week). The Pak is the first accessory that makes use of the secondary slot normally reserved for Game Boy Advance games and it makes you wonder what other accessories Nintendo is going to release for us to shove up there? It is unknown how many games will be compatible with the Rumble Pak with it has been confirmed that Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time (which launches on November 28) will work with the Pak. It has also been rumored on the IGN subscription threads (you need to be an IGN Insider to read the thread) that the Pak will also work with the upcoming Metroid Prime Hunters.

I don't care so much about Hunters, but if the Pak is going to work with the highly anticipated Mario Kart DS and Animal Crossing: Wild World I would say that Metroid Prime Pinball is going to quickly become a huge success.

Posted by Gaming Steve at 11:30 AM | Posted to DS |  Add this story to  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

August 29, 2005

Hot Biscuit Mod for Nintendogs

Hot BiscuitI guess if you play any game long enough you'll find something naughty. It appears that some hackers somehow managed to unlock something "not quite right" in the "E for Everyone" rated Nintendogs! Oh those naughty little doggies!

Okay, before I get a ton of letters about this image here are few things that I know. First, I don't know if this is a real or a hoax, but do keep in mind that real dogs to hump each other on occasion (just like people!). Two, I have never see this sort of behavior with my Nintendogs, but you never know. Three, if someone has seen this sort of behavior in your game I would be interested to hear from you. Fourth, make sure to contact Jack Thompson right away! I would love just to read the press release he comes up on this one and how it is "corrupting the children".

Posted by Gaming Steve at 5:30 PM | Posted to DS |  Add this story to  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

April 5, 2005

Metroid Prime: Hunters Fully Online

Metroid Prime: HuntersSpong is reporting that the Nintendo DS game Metroid Prime: Hunters will feature full online functionality. According to their source, Hunters will be a fully-optimized real-time FPS along the lines of Halo 2 with deathmatch play, online leagues and so on. The game and online functionality will be shown at E3 and will with the US in mid-summer.

Wow, I guess Nintendo is finally getting into the online play arena, even if it's a little late it's good to see.

Posted by Gaming Steve at 4:00 PM | Posted to DS |  Add this story to  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

March 31, 2005

Advance Wars DS Announced

Nintendo announced today that its very popular Advance Wars series of turn-based strategy games is headed to the Nintendo DS and is set for a June 23 release in Japan. The game is being developed by Intelligent Systems who made the original Advanced War games as well as the excellent Paper Mario and Fire Emblem games. Advanced Wars DS is slated to hit the U.S. on October 9.

Little is known about the game at this time but it will boost all-new missions, several new CO characters, and a new battle system where players use bottom touch screen to issue orders to their ground forces while the top screen is used to command their air forces. Multiplayer battles will employ the handheld's wireless connectivity feature, although it's not yet clear how many players will be able to participate in a single battle.

Posted by Gaming Steve at 5:30 PM | Posted to DS |  Add this story to  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!