Jetpack Joyride (iOS) Review

Developer/Publisher: Halfbrick Studios || Overall: 7.0/10

Hardware Used: iPhone 5 with iOS 6

Jetpack Joyride feels like one of those games that are intentionally supposed to make you nostalgic for side-scrollers. In a sense, the way the game is actually played is almost like an old arcade game, pitting you against ridiculous challenges and timing that almost guarantees you will die – the question is when. And literally, that is the metric by which you “win” in Jetpack Joyride. You are trying to get as far as you can, running from left to right, to the farthest point possible before you are fried, blown up, or electrocuted to death. Avoid as many obstacles as possible, get a couple of power-ups, and collect coins. That’s pretty much it.

When you begin the game, you probably won’t get further than 200 meters or so. Then you’ll slowly progress to 400, 500, and then maybe 2000 meters. Eventually you might even get further, depending on how lucky you are. The only thing that is guaranteed, though, is that you will be attempting it over and over again. The distance you might end up is pushed just a bit further each time when buying enhancements or one-time boosts with Coins that you find during your repeated runs through the evil (or at least, nefarious) science lab you have decided to run endlessly through with your character.

Ah, yes, Coins. Considering you need thousands of coins to even get the smallest of upgrades, you will be playing a lot of runs just to be able to use them in any meaningful manner. BUT YOU CAN BUY THEM WITH REAL MONEY!!!! As if you didn’t see that coming, right? I don’t have much incentive to purchase anything in free to play games, but when something is as grindy as earning the coins in this game, it is definitely one of the biggest motivators to pulling out the credit card. You’re probably going to be spending a good too many hours just trying to collect enough coins to buy the next jetpack or whatever random gadget they included in the game for you to use to your benefit. I suppose it is nice that they at least have Coins in the game for you to collect, but the grind is practically endless. They appear in somewhat plentiful manner, yet they almost always require you to skillfully fly your jetpack in a formation to maximize your collection of the coins. The collision with the coins is fairly unforgiving, so you will have to really be accurate if you’re running through coins to get as many as you can, since you will be leaving a few behind. Sometimes you may even have to sacrifice yourself when your reaction time isn’t fast enough to avoid the next obstacle.

As you run further through the endless, randomized, corridors of this very large science lab thing, your character will begin to speed up. This increases the difficulty considerably, since you aren’t able to see what is coming up more than half a second before you almost hit it. When you come across a power-up, such as the Lil’ Stomper, Crazy Freakin Teleporter, or Gravity Suit, among others, you essentially gain a life before dying – if you are unable to avoid one of the coming obstacles, you forfeit your power-up and revert back to normal Barry Fries the Rocket Guy. The acquiring and destruction of your power up will also clear out any of the obstacles on the screen, so it gives you a fair chance to reset your bearings and be ready for the next obstacles ahead.

The humor of the game is probably what is most enjoyable. I like the terminology they use, like calling the Teleporter power up the “CRAZY FREAKIN TELEPORTER” or the huge mech robot with rocket boosters the “Lil’ Stomper.” The names of gadgets and types of rocket packs are also fun names. The Machine Gun jetpack, the first jetpack you get, shoots bullets underneath you and kills the scientist guys below you. The “DIY Jetpack” is a balloon, which I assume let’s you control just a little bit better than the Machine Gun Jetpack, but I’m not sure if these different jetpacks are more than just cosmetic upgrades. Other jetpacks do other funny things, like shoot bubbles or 1920’s 1000 dollar bills.

I suppose it would be beneficial to buy the in-game upgrades offered. There are quite a few gadgets to purchase, and you can’t get the next tier of gadgets without buying a certain amount of stuff from the lower tier. Of course, the grind becomes longer and longer each time. I am unsure what kind of variety this game can really offer since all that really seems to happen are randomized obstacles, randomized backgrounds, and not much traditional progression. You aren’t excelling to another level. You aren’t starting from a point further than the beginning unless you spend Coins on head starts. I’d even go so far as to say the game is engineered to make you fail a lot and make you feel you AREN’T progressing so that you are more inclined to spend money to get ahead.

Once you die, you are given a chance at bonuses based on how many Spin Tokens you gather during your run. The bonuses will give you another chance, more coins, bonus distance, or a free head start on your next run. The bonuses are random, since it is a slot machine, but since the Spin Tokens are plentiful enough, you’ll at least have one after each run. You can also cash-in your tokens for 50 coins each, which may be a particularly attractive offer if you don’t win a lot on the spins.

To break up the seeming monotony of the game, there are Missions to complete. They are “interesting” challenges such as finishing the game between the 500m and 600m mark (aka intentionally dying at that point), or going a certain distance in a vehicle, or collecting spin tokens in varying amounts, among other things. Completing missions awards you from one to three stars to gain levels, which require progressively more stars. I’m not entirely sure what the point of gaining levels is, except to gain the coin bonuses awarded for achieving the next level. However, you are allowed to spend coins to complete a mission so that you can get the next mission, so there is some weird disconnect here. You don’t really gain any benefits from gaining levels, so why are you trying to do it, and why would you ever spend coins to get fewer coins? It is fairly confusing. But then, I remember that they want you to spend money on coins, not give it to you in copious amounts, so I guess that’s why they let you spend coins to make fewer coins. It’s almost ingenious, really.

The experience as a whole is relatively stress-free. You can play a couple of runs and be done with it for the day. It doesn’t notify you to go back into the game to collect bonus coins or to do something inane for upkeep. In a sense, the game is almost more traditional in this way in that it doesn’t constantly nag you and beg for attention. It also relies on skillful controls, which is rare to see in a touch-based game, especially considering touch-based controls are anything but accurate most of the time. Relying on the skill of the player is also a boon to this game since the controls do not inhibit being able to control the character as they are binary and very responsive. It doesn’t rely on any touch-screen directional pad – you either propel yourself up or let yourself fall down.

However, I wouldn’t say that the game is original or even very exciting. It doesn’t really seem like it’s trying to do anything other than provide a single, difficult challenge, and force you to grind coins for years. If there were actual levels or some other kind of quantifiable progression that allowed you to feel like you were accomplishing something overall, the game would be something great. It definitely has a foundation for good gameplay, good art, doesn’t have any noticeable bugs, and the sound design is pretty much ridiculous in and of itself. I feel a game like this isn’t being simple for simplicity’s sake; it’s being simple because it is lazy, and the intentions of the game design are not toward the experience of the user, but towards people spending money so they can bypass the monotony of dying over and over.

There are a couple of those stupid social features, like leaderboards, and “tweeting your progress.” I can’t believe people would ever want to tweet that they went 1,979 meters. I can’t believe anyone even has another friend that plays this game that they added as a friend in the iOS Game Center thing. Why these developers waste their time with these absolutely terrible features is beyond me.

 

Words with Friends (iOS) Review

Developer: Zynga With Friends Studio | Publisher: Zynga Games || Overall: 7.0/10

Hardware Used: iPhone 5 with iOS 6 / LG Ally with Android 2.1 (past experience, not used in basis for review)

Reviewing a game like Words With Friends is basically just reviewing a game like Scrabble. It’s sort of pointless as long as the rules are adhered to and aren’t taken in some extreme manner. The point of reviewing Words With Friends comes with taking a look at the feature set, its ease of use, and user experience, and little to nothing with the gameplay itself.

The actual meat of the game almost has nothing to do with the actual purpose of playing the game, oddly enough. The point of Words With Friends seemingly is to play Scrabble with your friends on a pace that may take days or weeks, instead of straight through. Given the gift of technology, there is now a higher probability you will actually get to finish a full game of Scrabble. It’s a lot easier to convince your friends to play a couple minutes a day than it is to invite them over to your house to play an hour-long (or more?) board game. So, if you actually enjoy playing Scrabble, this game is right up your alley.

It would literally be impossible to talk about this game without talking about Scrabble. I’ve already mentioned it 5 times, and that’s basically what the main problem with this game is. It’s not very original, but at the same time it doesn’t really have to be. When it comes to Words With Friends, the game pretty much mirrors all of the rules – but there are no errors, since it calculates all of the points for you, easily, and tallies them up. It also makes sure that all of the words you are using are actually words you can use. Inviting random friends on your Facebook is pretty easy, and it shows you who plays and when they last played – so you can play with last week’s hookup or even your mom, and use as many provocative (yet, legal) words as you can in games with them. There is also an option to play a randomly matched player — so it’s not all that hard to find someone to play with, although random matches won’t seem to be as motivated to play with you… at least in my experience. And in the rare instance you are physically with someone who you want to play Words With Friends with, there is a local multiplayer mode where you can play and pass your phone after each turn, which is a nice, if seemingly antiquated in today’s environment, option to have.

Most of the game is rooted in convenience, when it comes down to it. You’re not getting any particular feature that is exciting or cool or helps provide some sort of meta-game experience. I honestly think some sort of score-counter between two players for games won would do a great amount of good for the game – if you play hundreds of games with one person, at least you’re going to see something from all of those matches and know who is usually winning, etc. I’m not asking for a page of statistics, but it shouldn’t be that hard to implement a counter.

The game is free, and with being free comes lots of advertisements. They’re not particularly intrusive, since they will appear typically after one to two plays. You can also upgrade to an ad-free version for 3 or 4 bucks, which might be worth it if you play a lot. Obviously, this is Zynga’s end game when it comes to Words With Friends: Making money off of ad impressions and clicks. They are pretty much painless, though you do have to actively move past them when they appear, sans any bugs that might force you to quit and restart the app (which may happen quite often).

What really inhibits this game are the random bugs you will get. I’m currently playing this on iOS, but started with the Android version. For two years, it was absolutely the most terrible piece of shit I have ever seen. It would crash over and over and when my Android finally ran out of space to keep any apps on it, out went Words With Friends until a year later when I finally got an iPhone (that had more than 512 mb to store stuff). So, why do I bring up the Android version in a review for the iOS version? Because the iOS version is not without its own bugs, either, and shows a pattern of carelessness. While the game is demonstrably more enjoyable to play when it’s stable, there are occasional random crashes, and advertisements that fail to load which produce nothing but a white screen which make you force quit the program to remedy. I have also had problems with letters being frozen and not moving onto the board. Network connectivity issues can also cripple the game temporarily – whether it is a problem with your phone’s connection or not. A company like Zynga, which relies on nothing but its games, should be squashing these bugs within weeks, not months or years. I can’t imagine they aren’t losing some sort of revenue from these bugs.

The occasional interaction with people you may or may not talk to a whole lot is probably the biggest benefit of the game. I personally enjoy playing with people I actually call my friends, because there’s some sort of interaction going on, whether or not it’s real life or meaningful. I suppose that is the main appeal of the game itself, and seeing how well you can play against them. It’s also great when there’s some random word that they make that might have some sort of inside meaning or something that is completely off-base that catches you off-guard. My most recent gaffe was playing a game in which “Krauts” was an accepted word. In another game, I played “Shit” and got a few points, as well. The rules say they don’t allow derogative words or racial slurs, so I’m not sure how they went through, but it’s still fun, nonetheless. It should also be noted that this game’s social features are actually useful and there aren’t really any stupid features like “post your word on Facebook” or some other dumb shit you might see in some other game as a cheap way to get you to advertise for them.

Words With Friends is your barebones convenience package for Scrabble. It’s an enjoyable game that you can play with your friends, but little more than that is what is going to be going on. There are no interesting game modes and no features that string together your multiple games into some sort of a career or competition with particular friends. Some might appreciate the simplicity of “just Scrabble” but there is just a little that could have gone into it that could have kept that simplicity while adding something interesting to the mix. I wouldn’t mind seeing some sort of 3-or-4 player modes implemented or inviting people to tournaments. But since this game doesn’t make a habit of adding features, that is about impossible to ever see from Zynga, who typically like to ride coattails.

 

Tiny Tower (iOS) Review

Developer/Publisher: NimbleBit LLC || Overall: 6.0/10

Hardware Used: iPhone 5 with iOS 6

Tiny Tower is one of those games that takes a relatively simple concept and artificially inflates the time it takes to do anything to make you feel like spending money to get ahead.  But that’s every game nowadays on an iOS or Android platform, and its easy to get riled up about business aspects of any of these “free to play, pay to win” games.  So, what does Tiny Tower offer that you might not occasionally see in other games?  Well, I can’t say that there’s much that I really “enjoy” about the game except for maybe two things: the art style and the humor.  It’s nice to say that in this case, Tiny Tower actually tries to go “against” the curb, looking cartoony or “old” (read: 8-bit) and get away with it.  Truth be told, the art style mixed with the humor therein is more what makes this game enjoyable than anything else.

In Tiny Tower, the basic goal of the game is to add more floors to your tower.  Your tower floors can be residential or a random store within six individual categories.  The people who live in your tower work in your tower.  These little slave people bend to your will and will work and live wherever you tell them to.  And if you don’t like their face or their skills, you can evict them.  Ah, yes, Tiny Tower is also probably making a social commentary on the downturn of the economy with people having “dream jobs” of working in a donut shop or a coffee house, but I digress — that is probably part of the humor of the game and also adds an element of difficulty in trying to match your “Bitizens” (whom live in your tower) to work and be happy.  Oh, and they also pay you rent.  It’s indentured servitude at its finest, and they can wear a sheet to look like a ghost while doing it all.

Tiny Tower is an okay game.  It isn’t exactly the most fun that I’ve ever had with my spangly-dangly iPhone, and I can’t imagine I’d be playing this game for very long because of it.  I think what actually ticks me off about the game more than anything is that there is a lot of micromanaging involved.  Each business on your floor has 3 items it can sell, and each take a certain amount of time to “re-stock.”  Once re-stocked, the game notifies you the item is ready to be stocked, and doesn’t start selling until you go back into the game to click it and then get back out.  I thought I was paying my little slaves to do that for me, why do I have to get notifications every 3 seconds to do something new?  I thought this game was supposed to be leisurely fun, not harassing me to pay attention to it like a GigaPet or Tomagatchi!  Not only do I have to do that, but I have to monitor all of the floors individually by clicking on them and figuring out which items will become out of stock soon.  There isn’t an easy way to just view all of the possible re-stocking actions I can do and decide from there — I have to individually click 6 different floors to see what’s up and if I don’t, I run the risk of losing potential money.  What happens when I get to 30 or 40 floors?  Who do they think they’re kidding with this?

Reeling it back a little bit, there is basically one goal to the game, and that is to add more floors for you to manage.  To accomplish this, the game gives you two currencies.  You know that when there are “two currencies” in a game, one is the one you actually want (Coins), and the other is the one that they want you to buy with real money (Towerbux) so that you can save “time” and actually progress in the game to the point of madness before you have your third coronary.  Towerbux can be used to buy more coins, or pay off some of your Bitizens to do stuff faster.  Great, so why couldn’t I do that with coins?  OH, that’s because Towerbux cost like 3 to 9 cents each (depending on the bulk size) and THEN you can convert them into coins, but you can’t seem to do it the other way around.   Tiny Tower allows for a little leniency in this regard, however, since there are actually ways to earn Towerbux INSIDE the game and as a result the game is balanced around using Towerbux to at least a certain extent.  It makes Towerbux not seem as useless as its cousins in other games, like BlowJobBux, or whatever they’re called in other games, since you actually get to use them.  If a game were giving out free Blow Jobs, would you not partake?

Coins are the real end-game, however, and the more coins you get the more floors you can add to get more coins for the whole process.  Towerbux essentially help you earn more coins at a faster rate, and depending on if your math skills are any good, you have to figure out what the best way to use your Towerbux actually will be.  My general tactic seems to be using it for the “3rd tier” items for whatever has the most stock that can sell (since they sell for 3 coins each, as opposed to the lower tiers which are 1 and 2 respectively).  The amount of stock that an item can maintain depends on who works there, which also relies on your ability to count from 0 to 9 and being able to assign people to the right color based on those numbers.  Sometimes Bitizens will be useless in your situation, so you can evict them and hope for a better idiot to replace the guy who is wearing last year’s purple hat.  Or hope that you’ll get an Asian-looking lady for your Day Spa so that you can start selling Happy Endings.

There isn’t ALWAYS something to do in the game, though.  So, during those times where you’re just trying to wait for more measly minutes of your life to pass you by while you wait for another event to happen in Tiny Tower, you can act like an elevator attendant and work for tips.  Depending on what floor they ask you to take them to, you’ll get twice the amount of coins there.  However, you will occasionally get one Towerbux instead and boy howdy, it’s time to go to the strip bar!  If you know what I mean… it’s on the 69th floor and the 3rd tier of stock to sell is Backroom Dances, so you can tell them to “Hurry!” and get some more Backroom Dances in stock so that people can start buying them at 3 coins each so you can repeat the whole process again and be depressed that there is absolutely nothing better to do with your time than be a slave to this game.

Not only do you have to wait anywhere from 10 minutes to 3 (or more?) hours for things to restock, but you have to use coins to pay for the restocking so that you can earn more coins.  It sort of doesn’t make sense to me when you look at it from a gameplay standpoint, even if it makes sense in a real life standpoint.  But this game is not real life, it is a game.  They should just make us earn less coins per stock or reduce the amount of stock you gain per restock.  It is sort of a weird, needless, cyclical thing going on and perhaps it is some sort of fail safe on their end so that if you end up spending all your coins and somehow can’t afford to restock anything you have to sit there and waste an hour elevating people to parts of the tower that are closed because they can’t sell them anything — or buy Towerbux so that you can exchange them for Coins!!  AHA!  I found out their little scheme.  But, for now, I’m just going to chalk that up to another one of those “meaningless” micromanaging things they thought was necessary to include in this game, since there’s a lot of those already.  Once you further progress in the game, you are also able to fulfill missions and get Towerbux for them.  There are about 50 of them, and it probably isn’t even worth doing for the return you get.

So, what makes me come back to this game?  Honestly, not much.  The only idle interest I have in pursuing the game any further is to see how ridiculous the micromanagement of all of your stores can get once you add a lot of floors to your tower.  I’ve played the game for approximately two days and I already find it taxing on my sanity.  Every three minutes I feel like I have to go back to the game and do “something” before I put it down and wait another three minutes to do “something” again.  The game is stable and has some seemingly useless social aspects in which you can see what towers your friends have or whatever, but that interests me not in the slightest.  How about spending more time on a single-player experience and less with these meaningless faux-multiplayer features?

This game certainly didn’t help my terrible cough, that’s for sure.

Post-mortem:

Since I wrote the review, I ended up getting to the point at which I had 40 floors in my Tower.  The more floors you added, it seemed like the game began to become less stable and you would get random crashes now and then.  They also updated the game for “Valentine’s Day” a week before February even rolled around, and made everything an obnoxious pink.

I finally decided enough was enough and I uninstalled the game on February 3rd.  I feel like a weight was lifted off my shoulders, and I probably should have done it much earlier.  This is an absolutely terrible game, and I would probably re-rate it at about 3.0/10 based on playing it for a long time (3 weeks straight?).  I can only imagine what floor that poor schmucks out there who actually enjoy this game are at, and how much time per day they spend restocking and shuffling Bitizens.

 

Slots – Pharaoh’s Way (iOS) Review

Developer/Publisher: Cervo Media GmbH || Overall: 9.0/10

Hardware Used: iPhone 5 with iOS 6

Slots are one of your basic casino stereotypes.  Old ladies clutching their purses, chasing the 20 dollars they get from their nickel bet…  It’s not that exciting to think about.  In fact, it’s probably a bit comical.

Video slots are much different, though, and appeal to a new generation that is very technologically and entertainment-focused.  Video slots open up a whole new realm of possibilities such as bonus games, screwing the gambler through incorrect math programming, and enchanting the player with even more lights and sounds than mechanical slots typically offered.  Themes also work a lot better with video slots.  Star Trek slots, anyone?  Who wouldn’t want Shatner’s soothing frequencies spurted every time you lost a spin?

Slots – Pharaoh’s Way is basically going to be the best video slots fix you’re going to get for free or otherwise.  I personally downloaded this on iOS 6 with an iPhone 5 and have become enamored with the fake gambling experience it provides.  If the title of the game wasn’t obvious enough, it is an Ancient Egypt-themed slots game.

The game contains all of the things that make actual video slots fun and exciting to play.  Fast plays, smooth animation, high quality art that fits in with the theme, and lots of annoying noises.  The first thing I did was turn off the audio, of course.

It should be obvious that if you don’t like the concept of video slots, this game is probably not for you.  I would say that slots in general do not appeal to me, at least until I played video slots a couple of years ago.  Video slots, to me, provide more “gameplay” opportunities when it comes to bonus games – and boy are they (usually) exciting.  Slots – Pharaoh’s Way replicates the exciting feeling of normal video slots by providing unique bonus games (depending on the slot game you are playing) and free spins.

If you break down the goal of the game to its very basic element, you are doing one thing: Earning Diamonds.  These Diamonds are used in grinding levels to unlock more slots to play.  Diamonds are earned through normal slot play and each progressive level has a substantial percentage more to get to the next level, which promotes playing more/upping your bet to get further along.  Playing straight through, the feeling you are grinding out levels doesn’t settle in until about level 13 or so, and depending on how many Credits (the game’s currency) you have, it is fairly influencing to up your bet and earn Diamonds at a faster, even reckless, pace.

Your most reliable source of Diamonds comes from your initial bet at a rate of x2 what your bet is.  If you’re betting 10 Credits per slot play, you gain 20 Diamonds, if you bet 100, you get 200, etc.  More often than not, at least one of the spaces on your slot board will be bonus Diamonds which also increase at a rate of x20 what you are betting.  In this case, you gain 1000 bonus Diamonds for a 50 Credit bet, and so on.  That’s only if you hit bonus Diamonds in a space, and that can sometimes prevent you from winning more Credits depending on its placement.

When your next level is about 150,000 diamonds away (at level 21) you’re almost going to be hoping for the bonus Diamonds more than anything else you could get.  Essentially, when you are using Credits to win more Credits, what you are actually doing is using Credits to get more Diamonds, and being as efficient as possible in earning Diamonds becomes the real intent.  Earning Credits only allows you to have a chance of earning more Diamonds.  There are also various rewards and bet amounts unlocked for each progressive level, which can supplement your Credit gain/usage.

What I began to realize is that earning Credits is paltry compared to getting Diamonds, and in the end Credits almost mean nothing as the game forces you to keep parity with your growing Credit pool and level by upping your bet to earn more Diamonds at a higher rate.  No matter how many Credits you have, you will practically always have the “same” amount of spins you started out with as the winnings all scale linearly.  The only thing that increases exponentially is the barrier to level up.

Sure, you could play for 1 credit each bet while you have 3,000 sitting in your pool, but what the hell is the point when there’s absolutely NOTHING else to do with said Credits other than to earn Diamonds with them?  In a sense, it combats the inflation that the developers no doubt predicted would happen with Credits, and unless you want to be stuck at the level 20 range for the rest of your life and never unlock another slot, you’re going to be upping your bet.

My personal strategy for betting with Credits has been to always have “100” spins available to me before I go bankrupt.  If I fall below the 1,000 Credit mark, I would lower my bet to 10 Credits so that I could work my way back up to a comfortable level for my currently-comfortable bet of 50 Credits.  However, when I get up to 5,000 Credits I’m sure I’ll at least up it to 100 or 250 Credits.

Design-wise, all of this makes sense.  When you actually play it, however, you begin to beg for variety.  Playing the slots game proper is good enough, and every time you win a bet, you get the option to play a simple card game where you can guess the color or suit of the card and gain twice or four times what you won in the slot game.  This bonus game is fun for a while, but ends up being less enticing as the stakes get higher, since it really is not in your favor, and doesn’t even net you any Diamonds directly.  You’ll probably not want to waste time playing it at all after a while, regardless of the fact that the card game has better odds than the actual slots game at the end of the day.

New slots open every 10 levels with new artwork, a different bonus game, different payouts, and slightly different rules/spaces.  For example, the second slot is only 3 reels, but every consecutive 3-way match is counted.  On the 5 reel slots, which are the first and third slots, you have 25 to 50 lines in many different random combinations that are harder to predict when you win.  The idea is that the more progressed slot has the best payouts, but you might visit the previous ones to get a change of scenery every now and then.

Each slot has its own bonus game which throws in a little variety every now and then, but they are barely rewarding.  One of the bonus games named River of Luck relies on your… “luck” to guess whether or not the next number in a sequence of numbers will be higher or lower.  If you know anything about statistics, it might be an easy decision process, but it certainly does take a long time to get through the game, not to mention the payouts are almost laughable for the amount of time you spend on it until you guess about 8 times in a row correctly (which almost never happens).  The bonus games don’t typically hit often either, which adds to the disappointment.  The monotony of constantly pressing the “spin” button can be subsided with the AutoPlay option, but then it REALLY feels like you’re doing nothing, so I use it sparingly — only when I’m jerking it.  Other bonus games are pretty simple, like “finding a match” and clicking cat idols until you click two of the wrong ones.  Meh.

I think there is a missed opportunity here with the way the game is made as far as bonuses go.  If they made some mechanic for spending a certain amount of Credits and being able to play a bonus game that awarded Credits, Diamonds, or even both outside of the random chance of the Slot games, it would be a lot more fun to play for long sessions.  Even if they were rehashed bonus games that you already unlocked for the slots you are playing, it would be a step in the right direction.  As it is, you simply plug away and hope that you get to the next level range before the turn (pun!) of the century.  But I suppose that’s where buying Credits might alleviate this frustrating aspect of the grind.

Every 4 hours you are able to collect free bonus Credits.  When the four hours are up your phone will light up and notify you that you are able to collect bonus Credits, thus allowing for the timer to restart.  Your bonus will increase the more levels you gain, but in the end you’ll probably burn through it all in about a couple of spins regardless of how much you actually get, since your normal bet will keep increasing along with the bonus.  If you are really enthralled with the experience, you can always buy more Credits.  The option to buy Credits isn’t terrible, but you come to think about the philosophy behind a game like this.  By no means is Slots – Pharaoh’s Way a major offender of the “Free2Play” format as you can get by just fine without ever paying one red cent to get ahead.  At some point, though, you’ll need to up your bets considerably to match the teetering-on-the-insane Diamond grind.

Taking a long, hard look at business practices for one throwaway game might be a waste of energy, but this isn’t the only game with this model.  “Free2Play” games create unique products that may not have otherwise been available, and I know that I wouldn’t be playing this game at all if I had to pay anything to play it.  With so many options for games nowadays, getting someone to even spend time with your game is particularly valuable when you can make more money than you ever could per player by creating the capability to spend absurd amounts on it on the back end.

At the end of the day, Slots – Pharaoh’s Way is what it is, regardless of the philosophy involved.  Having a four page review on what is “simply” a slots game is probably overdoing it but as soon as I started playing I knew I had a lot to say about it.  The game sets out to do what it does with almost perfect execution, and the only glaring flaw is that the game lacks variety and more of a meta-game.  I don’t only want to progress, but I want to be able to play a random cool game every hundred spins so I can be excited to do another hundred spins to play that quick, fun mini-game without taking too much focus off the slots game itself.  It would be a detriment to the point of the game to have a whole suite of mini-games that are always accessible – but there is a happy medium that should be attained.  Otherwise, all you’re “doing” is grinding the Diamond counter, and not playing a game.  It is “drop-in-a-bucket” gameplay at an extreme.

From what I gather, this game is actually updated every couple of weeks to add more slots and adjust payout balance or math errors.  I’m not sure how engaging this is for people who just start out the game, since it appears you have to grind at least 50 levels before you even get to a “new world” which may or may not be available at this point.  To know the game is supported is nice, however.  But it would do wonders for the game if it had some sort of “news” in the game to keep people up to date with what’s going on.

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Odin Sphere (PS2) Review

Developer: Vanillaware | Publisher: Atlus || Overall: 9.0/10

Warning: This review has spoilers since the game is like 5 years old at this point.

If ever a game has attempted to be Shakespearean in its story delivery, it is Odin Sphere.  Odin Sphere is a side-scrolling action beat-em-up game starring five different playable characters.  The story and how it is presented is very much the forefront on what is “unique” about this game, but the mechanics involved are also very robust and allows for a challenging experience whether or not you want one.

Without doing much research or knowing much about the game beforehand, if you dive right into it, you’ll probably be a little bit confused.  Confused because you start out the game as a little girl in the attic of the house she presumably lives in.  You’ll see a book, and then you’ll see a cat named Socrates.  Nothing really happens unless you start reading the book at which case you’ll begin the story of Gwendolyn, the daughter of the Demon Lord Odin.

My personal experience with the game began 2 or so years ago.  I had played the game quite a bit but never actually beaten Gwendolyn’s storyline, so when I had actually gotten through her book, it was quite intriguing to see the oh-so-dramatic events and the ending for Gwendolyn.

For the first 5 books, you will play characters who are somehow connected to the royalty of the world of Erion.  The five different characters go through the events of the story from their points of view, and will occasionally fight or interact with other characters you have controlled or will control later on.  Needless to say, the story itself is very non-linear and if you stick with it you will see an interestingly multifaceted story unveil before you.  The only thing that detracts from this are the boss battles in which you defeat bosses in different areas or under different circumstances, but still the same fight when all is said and done.  It feels kind of weird “killing” or severely debilitating the same dragon repeatedly, considering he had just been defeated or will be defeated again by another one of the characters you play in what seems like a day or two story-wise.

Besides the blatant “replay the same game 5 times” aspect of the game, which you really kind of do, they do toss in different mechanics for each of the characters you play with.  The different weapons and characters all have unique and different feels, and it keeps the gameplay more-or-less fresh as you go and play through the story again.  As for the mechanics itself, you will mostly be hitting the Square button over and over.  Jumping and the direction of the analog stick while you press the Square button affect the type of attacks you do, and it is a pretty standard combo fighting system.  There aren’t any huge combos to pull off, but most of the challenge in the game comes in the strategy in which you defeat the enemies that are laid out before you in each section.  Almost every character is able to parry attacks and perform knock-backs.  Gwendolyn, using a spear, can block and glide around the map.  Cornelius, using a sword, can block attacks and do a spinning attack in mid-air.  Mercedes, using a bow, can fly, charge her attacks, and use a unique magic spell.  Oswald can activate shadow powers and make all of his normal attacks hit around twice as hard and twice as fast for a short period of time.  Velvet, using chains, can attack all around her, charge an attack and swing across the map. Using each individual character’s strengths to your advantage is vital to defeating the challenges presented.

Each character has the same repertoire of magic “Psypher” attacks, but they are earned in a different order.  The essential purpose of these Psypher magics are to make the game easier for you — you will need to use them to defeat tons of enemies or defeat a boss you just had enough of instead of just spamming your basic attacks.  Basic attacks can also only be spammed to a certain point, as they are limited by a POW gauge.  The POW gauge will decrease as you use your basic attacks and then you’ll have to run around or stop attacking for a few seconds for the gauge to fill again.  If you fully deplete the POW gauge you will stun yourself for a good 4 to 5 seconds waiting for the gauge to fill to 100% again before being able to move.  A lot of the strategy you employ during the harder fights in the game rely on a careful balance of your attacks and trying to be conservative in your spams.  The game mechanics are fairly engaging and can be quite fun despite its simplistic approach.

What makes the game more of an Action RPG is obviously with its leveling and, to a lesser degree, alchemy system.  Your Psypher and your Character each have independent levels.  The main way to increase your levels is by the way you use Phozons.  Phozons are magical orbs that appear after you defeat an enemy.  You can choose to absorb the Phozons into your Psypher weapon or put a seed into the ground and after a certain amount of required Phozons, pick the fruit (or meat) that grows out of the ground.  You also have a limited storage menu so you’ll have to constantly be managing it as you play through each section.  The food that you can buy or grow in the game can also be used between levels to increase your hit points and gain more experience at a more efficient rate than just eating the food alone.  When you are able to access the Pooka Village, you can visit either of the two restaurants and have them cook up something using your food and adding some permanent hit points.  Using these restaurants are vital to increasing your characters stats — the natural hit point increases from leveling up are about half the amount you actually want to have by the end of each book… at least on Easy mode.

One of the things Odin Sphere has going for, or against it, is its difficulty.  I started playing the game on normal, and ended up dying so many times on shitty trash (non-boss) enemies that I changed the difficulty to Easy.  It was more-or-less smooth going from there, but there were still some tricky bosses that made me question whether or not I was still on Easy.  The bosses at the end of the game were also quite difficult for an “Easy” setting, which makes me wonder how hard the Normal and Hard settings actually would be.  It really made me question what kind of enjoyment people get out of dying over and over on games like this… it really isn’t that much fun to keep dying, but to each their own, I suppose.

The visuals are definitely one of the other unique aspects of this game.  Vanillaware is known for their awesome-looking 2D hand-drawn visuals that stray from what you normally see in gaming today.  They also like to draw chicks with huge boobs and sexy legs and little to nothing to cover it all.  Girls with less-emphasized features also exist in the game, so it’s not that “one-sided” as far as it goes.  Suffice to say, all of the chicks — even the queen of death — are all banging and who wouldn’t want to see these chicks getting ass-rammed with their boobs flopping around?  There’s a lot of provocative fan-service animations and poses the female characters in the game do, as well.

The art style is also interesting because you will see giant men who have toothpick legs.  Not all of the men in the game are that disproportionate, and there are a couple of different mythological races in the game such as Dwarves and Fairies.  Most of the game is influenced by Norse mythology and mixes in with normal fantasy, and the art style definitely goes with what is going on, as it is essentially a “storybook” being read by the little girl in the attic every time you start up the game.

The point of the game probably won’t culminate into much of a cohesion until the end of the game, which all of the events that transpire in each individual character’s book leads to.  The last phase of the game is a series of five difficult boss battles, and provided you leveled each of the characters appropriately and they have enough items to assist them in the final battle, you will choose one character to fight each boss up to the game’s ending.

The game begins to split its path when you choose the correct or “incorrect” character for a particular end boss.  Each boss is to be paired against one of the characters you have played as “the prophecies state” that you collect while playing the preamble.  There is a satisfying ending as long as you choose the correct characters, but there’s not a whole lot that is “plainly explained” in the context of the story.  The purpose of the girl, which I believe her name is Alice, at the beginning is more-or-less justified, giving the story, which you thought as a “child’s story” to be something more of a sad, dark history of the world she lives in.  When Cornelius and a Pooka-cursed Velvet appear in the attic she has been reading her books in, it affirms that the books her “grandpa loved to read so much” actually were real after all.  The set of five books, including the Armageddon and Wheel of Fate books combined ends up being the “Odin Sphere” book written by an unnamed, unknown character whom we can only assume the identity of.  It can be also be inferred that the writer is “you” since you were there at all of the events that had transpired.

I sort of wish that they would have added a little bit more of an explanation on certain things that were left open to interpretation in the game.  The question behind who wrote the Odin Sphere book series is probably the biggest question, and how Cornelius and Velvet affect the world after they turn back into humans, and where the people of Valentine originally came from, and what the actual origin of the mechanically alien-like Cauldron is.  The total rounding up of all the loose ends wouldn’t have taken much effort, considering they were more-or-less extraneous aspects of the story that were still interesting.

I spent a good 40 hours or so on this game, and I probably would have liked to spend about 10 hours less than I did, having to beat the same bosses over and over, in what seems like a forced fashion.  They could have, and should have trimmed any of the “forced” boss encounters, especially considering you don’t even get any experience from those battles anyway.  Once you complete a book, it’s nice being able to replay the story from the beginning, but all of the locations you opened up through your first time through should have been open as well so that people trying to grind up levels a little bit for the Armageddon didn’t have to go through the same stuff again.

The inventory UI, while having an interesting take, was probably the most frustrating thing about the normal gameplay.  I wished so many times that I could open the bag view and use all my items there rather than having to use it through the swirly-circle-single-bag-at-a-time interface.  I would lose items many times and just go through each of my bags not remembering or not knowing or not seeing where something went.  Once all of the books opened up and I was grinding levels for the Armageddon, there is no way to change books without resetting the game entirely — that seemed like an oversight on the part of the design team.

Odin Sphere can be a real challenge to get through and see it through, but I feel like it’s worth it, since what the game set out to do is probably not going to be done again.  I loved the art, I loved the way the story was told, and the game play was a good stylistic compliment.

 

Dungeon Overlord (Web) Review

Developer/Publisher: Night Owl Games || Overall: 8/10

If you ever thought of opening up your own dungeon in the pits of Hell (or maybe just your local uninhabited doomy-looking mountain overlooking villages to rape and pillage), Dungeon Overlord is your game.

Screw that Farmville crap.  It’s time to make some dungeons full of farms!  And sleeping areas for the illegals– I mean Goblin workers — and slave chambers for the wise Warlocks writing your scrolls of knowledge to research random things you didn’t think you need to use.  I can’t wait until I’m able to spend 20 million research tokens to get mastery over dragons — but I guess I’m getting ahead of myself since that’s about a year out.

So, instead of jumping ahead into the future, let’s start at the beginning.  It starts with a very strict tutorial.  Strict in the sense that if you don’t follow it, you will royally screw yourself, at least when you are starting to get into the game.  It is very strict during that whole phase, despite the fact you can “do other things” while doing the tutorial phase.  It can take a lot longer than you may be accustomed to actually “start a game” since you can end up screwing yourself if you are too impatient and look ahead to what quests you can do later on.  If you don’t do exactly what the game tells you for the first hours of the game, you essentially can become stuck unless you want to wait a day to get enough resources back to fix your “errors.”  You don’t go to the Overworld until you are level 10, which pretty much means the tutorial lasts until then.

Speaking of waiting, that is what most of the game is.  Everything happens in real-time and things literally take hours to accomplish.  Two hours here, two hours there, things add up.  This game was obviously made for people who can log in maybe once or twice a day, so if you’re expecting some sort of traditional game that you can consistently play for more than an hour in one sitting, you’re not getting it.  Dungeon Overlord is by no means the only game that propagates this style of gameplay, and if you’re a traditional gamer like I am, it can be sort of annoying having to come back and only being able to do about 5 minutes of playing at any given time.  The responsibilities you gain ramp up as you expand, so it feels like there’s more for you to do in any one visit to the game later on.

There are a ton of resources to gain.  The list of resources I could find are:

Food, Gold, Research, Experience, Leather, Iron, Crystal, Abyssal Mantle, Adamantite Ore, Deep Ochre, Dense Basalt, Diamond, Feldspar, Heart of the Earth, Mithril Ore, Moonstone, Primordial Earth, Primordial Fire, Primordial Ice, Primordial Water, Quicksilver, Ruby, Shallow Mantle, Adamantite Ingot, Ashen Stone, Cold Iron Ingot, Crystite, Dense Iron Ingot, Goblin Twine, Mana Spark, Mithril Ingot, Reinforced Leather, True Silver Ingot, Prismatic Glass, Whirling Gizmos, Steel Ingot, Explosive Grog, and maybe more?

Why are there so many resources?  I don’t know.  What basis of the decision is there behind adding more resources?  I’m not exactly sure, but each different room requires some of these unique resources to upgrade.  Crafted Resources (included in the list) are more complex, because they are made by combining basic resources.  It also seems like they can just add more whenever they want, but it’s not like they’d announce that kind of stuff as far as I can see.  I don’t even know how I collect half the resources I DO have in my storage spaces right now.  I also don’t know what benefit diamonds have over rubies or pig iron other than making cars is better with diamonds.  In fact, there are so many resources, it could be kind of confusing trying to figure out why you have them in the first place.  I don’t exactly understand how experience is earned other than quests, but I seem to get it anyway, much like other resources I randomly have or get.  You get experience just from upgrading your rooms, apparently, even though that isn’t too plainly spelled out for you in-game.  I’m about a week or two into the game, and the overall point of gold is to seemingly pay off your servants for the handjobs they give you.  You can have as much as you want without any limits to it, and the only way to spend it on any resources you DO need, like Iron or Crystal, is via a hidden menu item in the Overworld where you can buy resources people post for sale.  Once you’re able to get to a second dungeon, it increases your resource acquisition by a bit as well.

When you expand to your other dungeons, they work independently of your original one, and you have to ship goods to and from the new dungeon, such as workers, resources, and furniture.  It is easy to run out of space in your starter dungeon, so you do need to expand to get more tiles.  But of course, you can buy more tiles for your home dungeon!

Games like Dungeon Overlord are free to play, but they thrive on arbitrarily creating quality of life issues, such as waiting three hours for an upgrade, so that you can pay with Facebook Credits to temporarily alleviate any concerns you may have while playing.  This game isn’t SO bad in this regard, as you can definitely get by without spending one red cent, but there are many many “opportunities” built into the game to spend your Dungeon Marks (which are the in-game currency converted from Facebook Credits).  Using any of these boosts or upgrades gives you a huge advantage over players that do not use the same boosts, and that is probably the point.  To me, it seems like the only “useful” upgrades are permanent ones.  Paying money for temporary boosts and fast upgrades is not cost effective at all, and you’ll end up spending a lot of money without realizing it, not to mention forgetting to or not being able to fully use the capabilities of those boosts at all times.

The things you actually pay for are things like resource boosts, upgrade completions (at different rates, as well), more tiles to build stuff on, immunity from raids, other stuff like that.  You’re not going to find much that is useful below 5 marks, and most of the upgrades and boosts are time-based and temporary, or only apply to the current dungeon you are in, allowing you to purchase those same permanent increases in your other dungeons as well.  The current conversion of Facebook Credits is 20 for $1.99.  That comes out to about 10 cents per credit, but you get an extra 10-15% extra dungeon marks depending on how much you redeem in-game.

The User Interface is okay, but it can be sort of lacking in regards to trying to figure out how many Dungeon Marks you have — scratch that.  While I was playing, they upgraded the game to plainly show how many Dungeon Marks you have, not to mention another handy “buy” button to refill up your marks.  As a reviewer playing this game, I got 300 marks to play around with, and I easily spent 105 while being super conservative.  Anywho, back to the user interface, the miscellaneous amount of information that you might want to look up are in places you probably wouldn’t intuitively think they should be in, but if you click around enough you eventually do find what you need.  There is also a huge “invite friend” toolbar at the bottom that takes up a huge amount of your screen, which I do not like.  They might as well make that toolbar an “announce you are an idiot” toolbar, cause I ain’t using it either way.

The Overworld is an interesting place, as each player resides in their own mountain, along with four other players.  Each player is able to potentially expand into the rest of the mountain, and if you wanted to, attack your neighbor’s dungeons as well.  There is quite a lot of real estate available in each mountain, and depending on how active your neighbors are, you might even have the whole thing to yourself.  Raiding is just another way to gain resources, and can only be done in the Overworld screen.  The raids on other dungeons and towns are passive (meaning all you need to do is wait for it to happen and then it does), and they usually require a certain amount of minions.  You use orcs to raid, initially, and eventually use other units such as Thieves, Warlocks, Dark Elves, etc etc etc.  Once a battle is over, you can “watch” the battle as it happened, but it is basically just your minions going in and moving very slowly until they find something to whack and then I guess the goal of your minions is to get to the vault, steal gold and other resources, and then leave.  There is no destruction of any rooms or anything like that.  Raiding is useful because some resources are only gained by raiding, such as leather.  The world map actually has many different zones and other villages around your mountain.

For some reason, the keyboard does not work when you are in full screen mode.  Don’t ask me why, but that’s annoying when you’re trying to rename something into your favorite rapper.  When you start out the game, annoying “share” pop-ups appear every other quest, which takes you out of the game so you can tell your friends how much fun you’re having placing a jewel box in your vault.  It tapers off after the Tutorial quests complete, but occasionally you still see them.  I can understand that they want you to share with your friends, but it really breaks up the experience by tossing you out of the game (especially if you’re in full screen mode) to do so.  It should be integrated into the game, if anything.  In fact, the invite friend bar should be used for this purpose.  I’d actually prefer that this didn’t happen at all, but thems the bricks, I suppose.  The constant badgering of telling you to share stuff with your friends is almost a game breaker for me, and I probably would have stopped playing if it weren’t for the fact that I was going to write something about it.

There is a lot of noise pollution created by this game.  Sound effects are constantly going, and doesn’t seem to have had much design intent involved as to when you hear most of the sounds going on.  They are just on an endless loop.  There is music, which you can mute independently.  You can also mute everything, but there is no way to mute ONLY sound effects if you felt like you wanted to listen to the music in the game.  I guess I should be thankful that the game remembers you keep the sound on mute.

The graphics in the game are reminiscent of Roller Coaster Tycoon, a game about ten years old.  It’s not exactly something I missed, but I guess its nice to see that quality of art again in a new game.  It has a sense of humor, which is nice, as well, but that’s only if you care to read anything the quests say, and some of the nuances in the things your decorations do on your rooms.  The game can “improve” or “change” at any time, as well.  Earlier when I was playing the game, I was going to make note of terrible use of screen real estate with the friend invite bar that is so usefully (/sarcasm) placed at the bottom of the screen at all times, and not knowing how many Dungeon Marks you actually have, but it was updated literally the next day and alleviated that “issue.”  But that doesn’t mean that every version change is a good thing.  The new version I had been playing made me freeze on the loading screens between different areas, resulting in it taking for-fucking-ever.  When stuff like that happens, I guess you just have to wait until they fix it since they can potentially update it at any time without letting you know.  In this case, the freezing issue was fixed by the next day.

Gameplay issues come mostly in the form of the intentional gating to artificially inflate the time one can spend on the game. For instance, you can only upgrade one thing at a time.  Though, this provides a challenge in and of itself in the form of using time as a resource — what should you waste more time on to upgrade first and what will be more useful.  It is easy to run out of tiles to build rooms on, and there is a hard cap for each dungeon — you just have to pay for the last 50.  Research costs will grow exponentially, meaning you will have less and less times where you’re going to actually have enough research to get new features in the game.  It would also be more convenient to be able to “request” supplies from your main dungeon rather than having to go your main dungeon and move supplies to your expansion dungeons each time you need something.

There is no “end” to this game, and that is good and bad thing.  Good, because well, you can keep playing until you don’t want to, and bad because of how much money you might actually sink into the game.  It is so easy to spend Dungeon Marks on temporary benefits, that it is quite scary.  I also see the boasting of the game being a “massively multiplayer” game as a buzz word to get drawn in to initially playing.  It is simply multiplayer with many people having persistent locations for their dungeons.  There isn’t much of a way to tell if these other players are actually playing consistently or as much as you, other than checking out what level they are.

Whether or not the game is fun, I guess you could say it is.  There is some sort of satisfaction in seeing your progress and upgrading of your dungeons as time goes on, and acquiring a massive amount of resources also has some weird pleasure factor involved, even if I don’t understand the intricacies of every single mechanic.  If you like this sort of drop-in-a-bucket gameplay that Dungeon Overlord has to offer, then you should give it a try.

If you have a Facebook account, you can check it out here.

 

Pawn Stars (Web) Review

Developer: ??? | Publisher: History Channel || || Overall: Good

Ever want to own a pawn shop? What do you mean no? Why are you walking away? Come on, you know you want to! Before I delve into this Pawn Stars Facebook game review, I’m going to give a brief summary of the show that it’s based on:

Rick Harrison, his “Old Man” (I don’t think he has a name), his son Corey aka “Big Hoss,” and a friendly, simple man named Chumlee star in a History Channel show about a pawn shop that operates in Las Vegas. The show features staged presentations of people trying to sell their antiques for various reasons. Nine times out of ten, the person is completely ripped off by Rick, who pretends that the item they’re trying to sell is only attractive to a limited market, only to turn around to the camera and remark that he already has three potential buyers for it.

Now that you know the skinny about the show, let’s talk about the game.

You start out by naming your pawn shop and choosing the person who will be behind the counter. At level 1 you’re limited to just the free workers, who are good enough at this point. They each have three stat bars that show their expertise: Knowledge, Happiness, and Selling. These stats can make a big difference when it comes to making money, as they are all important when it comes to the pawn biz. They also have different categories that they are especially knowledgeable in. I personally chose “Al” who mysteriously looks like Al Roker and appears to have his same charm and wit. After all is said and done you start to actually play the game.

This is where the hardcore pawn (oops, that’s a different show) business starts, but at least you have the gang from the show to help you out! Well, they don’t really help. They just pop up occasionally and make faces at you. Anyway, you should already have a few customers waiting in line. A preview of the items they want to sell you appears over their heads, along with bars that indicate their current moods. The longer they wait, the more their moods go down. The Happiness stat on your worker also affects this. When you decide who you want to deal with, simply click on them.

The haggle screen is pretty simple. The person offers what they think the item is worth and you can either counter-offer, accept their offer, or refuse the item altogether, which makes the person leave your shop. On this screen you can also have the item appraised for $200 if you think you may be able to con the guy into giving you a lot less than it’s worth like Rick does on the show. The final choice on this screen is to pray to the pawn shop gods and automatically receive wisdom on the item in question. This costs money, though. The gods have to make a living too.

After buying something you can proudly display it on your shelf or table and wait for someone to make an offer. The time you have to wait for an offer increases the higher the item is worth. Hopefully after the time elapses, the offer made is higher than what you paid for it. If it is, sell it! If it isn’t, you can either cut your losses and get rid of it anyway or wait for the next offer, which could be higher or lower, no telling.

Occasionally someone will bring in a broken item. You can buy these “restoration” pieces and either try to restore them, or break them down for parts to use on other restorations. Restorations can be a long and expensive journey, as some items have several stages of fixing up that cost valuable time, money, and parts. There is a nice selection of ways to fix things up, however, so you can customize things to your liking, whether it makes you money or not.

Too much buying and selling, you say? You also have the option to decorate your shop with various items, some of which have benefits like increasing happiness of customers, decreasing time to wait for a customer, etc. Some of these cost money, some cost “candies.” This is where Facebook rears its ugly head and tries to get you to pay real money for fake Facebook credits so you can buy more candy. If you’re not willing to do that, then it is going to take a long time to earn enough candies to buy anything.

All in all, the Pawn Stars Facebook game is a very addictive, fun little time waster. If you want to be like Rick Harrison, put on a hundred or so pounds and wear a tacky polo shirt with no undershirt. But if you want to own a pawn shop, play this game and see if you have what it takes to make a living off of other peoples’ ignorance and gullibility!

If you have a Facebook account, you can play Pawn Stars here.

 

BAN (PC) Review

Overview

The game BAN has a strange title for so many reasons. One I can think of is that this game should have a BAN slapped on it for being completely crap. All you do is play a crap drawing of a person and shoot what looks like a monster by frantically pushing CTRL. You then die and think hmmmmmm that was fun and then you think how did I get that score.  The gameplay is so minimal but then again what do you expect from PG Games.

Graphics

A stick with a head and a head for a monster well okay long story short there a pile of shit the was no effort in this area.

Sounds

Nothing but a crappy sound track, which is very annoying and is probably why the game is so dam big. I would personally prefer hearing someone straining when having a crap.

Gameplay

It’s all down to button bashing and is well very boring, it is so boring this can be called a medical breakthrough, a fast and effective sleeping drug with no side effects.

Crappiest Part

Well all you really have to do is read the review but I would have to say the graphics they look like a 3 year old drew them.

Overall

Am I allowed to give 0? If not then I will have to give it a 1/10 just for the fact it has no good features.

If I ever find the download for this game, I will post it.

 

Mount & Blade: War Band (PC) Review

Developer: TaleWorlds Entertainment / Publisher: Paradox Interactive || Overall: 9.0/10

Mount & Blade: War Band is a medieval combat strategy RPG developed by TaleWorlds Entertainment.  War Band is a unique blend of strategy, adventure, and mounted combat that makes it a wonderfully pleasant game play experience.  However, there are a few issues that plague the game, namely with its presentational and user interface, which can put a damper on its enjoyability.

War Band takes place on a medieval continent named Calradia.  On Calradia, there are six different factions, whose leaders all claim they are the rightful rulers of the whole of Calradia.  Who you choose to begin the game with has less to do than where they actually are on the continent.  Every new game starts you off being attacked by assassins in the trade district of the major city of the faction you select.  After you win or lose this fight, a tradesman comes and saves you.  He pleads with you to help him save his brother that has been kidnapped by the group of people who attacked you.  If you choose to save him, you aim to gain a small sum of money.  If you don’t, you’re able to do whatever you like in the game as you please.

War Band takes it upon itself to let you roam around the sandbox it has created as soon as it can.  In fact, most of the game itself is free form and there is basically no real story or stringent quest structure to be had.  Events such as tracking down bandits and recruiting new members to your party become the story itself, as you fight battles and run around Calradia doing the biddings of Kings and their vassals, if you choose to do so.  If you progress far enough in gaining the respect of a King, you will eventually be asked to become a King’s vassal, and be awarded pieces of land acquired from your enemies.  You can also be asked to fight alongside the King in raids on castles, or come to the assistance of your allies against mountain bandits or enemy armies.

Another way to play War Band is by going against the current political structure in a certain area, and supporting a suitor that claims ownership of a throne.  By supporting these suitors, you are able to work to overthrow a King and make the person you are supporting become King or Queen in their stead, along with all the benefits and consequences that go along with that.  You are also able to establish yourself as a King or Queen and attack castles, acquiring fiefs for your own purposes.

The basis of the game itself is very interesting for gamers who have played games such as the Elder Scrolls and Civilization.  However, the game play itself has a couple of issues.  There is not a lot of explanation as to how to do certain things in the game, such as establishing yourself as a King or Queen. It is hard to find much information on it.

A lot of quests are unnecessarily vague.  It may take Internet research to figure out what to do or how to do a quest.  For example, you are told to bring some cows to a small town that has had their herd stolen by local bandits.  The only way to get cows is by stealing or buying cows from another town and bringing them to the first.  However, when you get this quest, that isn’t mentioned at all.  They tell you to “get some cows” and are left to your own laurels to figure out how to do it.  Unless you somehow happen upon the prompt to buy cows, it can be frustrating to figure out how to do this the first time.  Another instance where the game can be unnecessarily harsh is when a local Guild Master gives you a quest to find a Bandit’s Lair and expunge the threat.  The Bandit’s Lair itself does not show on your map until you are directly above it.  Considering the map of Calradia is huge and your unit is very small, it can take a certain amount of luck to happen upon the lair.  Quests like these do not lend themselves to making the game user friendly.

Combat itself is quite fun, and the large battles that can be had are quite enthralling.  Most of the time you will be fighting in first-person, but third-person is another option, and depending on the situation it is easy to switch back and forth.  Your character is able to use any weapon in the game, so it comes down to personal preference. One handed, two handed, and throwing weapons are available, in addition to shields, bows, crossbows, polearms, and maces.  There are four weapon slots for your character, allowing you to have a variety of weapons for the different situations you might be in.

Combat can take place in a variety of places, but most happen in the open field.  The open field combat stages take place on a map that closely reflects the type of area you are in, such as a mountainous area or in the woods.  Smaller stages take place on the beach, a mountain pass, or in a town.  In all of these situations, you are able to bring allies along with you, and as you grow your party larger and they become more powerful, you will begin to trump your enemies with ease — until you eye larger and more powerful enemies.  Simply put, the combat is the shining star of War Band and is what keeps you coming back for more.

When in combat, you use your mouse to change the direction you are attacking from.  To hit someone from above, you bring your mouse back towards you.  To hit them from the right, you move your mouse to the right.  You move using the WASD buttons, but there is no sidestepping with Q and E.  Q will bring up your quest log and E will kick in front of you.  If you are used to sidestepping, this can be annoying.  The objective of combat is to basically kill or knock unconscious all of your enemies.  Once that is accomplished you win.  If your army is quashed in the same manner, then you lose.  If you are knocked out before the battle ends, your army will fight at a lesser capability, and become more susceptible to losing.  It is very important to not only keep yourself alive through the whole battle, but to also help your army in the fight.  This brings a delicate balance between risk-taking and being careless and running into a group of enemies with spears.  You are also able to give your army orders to follow you, to charge, or to flank your enemy, among other commands.  These commands allow for strategy to be built around the situation at hand.

Graphics can take a big part in whether or not someone can be interested in the game without knowing anything about its game play.  With that being said, the game is downright ugly, and is about ten years behind.  The character models aren’t animated very well, many textures are smudgy, and just about everything has sharp edges.  While good graphics and animations aren’t required to have a fun game, it definitely makes it less painful to look at.  The unequivocally worst characteristic of this game is its graphics.  The second is the user interface.

The user interface is sorely in need of improvement.  When selecting from a long list of responses, it can be hard to figure out or remember which option you had last selected, so if you had to talk to the person again to get something done you may be confused as to which you had selected previously.  When looking through the in-game reference manual, it can be hard to find what you are looking for, stumbling across many pages and guessing what you might be looking for at times – this ties into finding out what to do for quests.

While navigating the map, it can take a very long time to travel and to even find where you’re trying to go.  There are no user-friendly options for accelerating travel speed, and sometimes you’ll be travelling for ten minutes straight before getting to your destination.  Over time, this adds up, and less time is actually spent playing the more interesting parts of the game.  Towns are also designed in a confusing manner, making them hard to navigate as well.  Each town has one leader that you are able to acquire quests from, but they are very hard to distinguish from other random town members at times.  The absence of a mini-map with markers while in towns would make this an easier exploit – otherwise, you are left to run around towns and talking to random people in hopes that they are the Guild Master or Town Elder.

Another user-friendly improvement that is needed would be with party management.  As you gain heroes to tag along with you, they bring their own blank slate for you to skill them up as they level.  The point of your party heroes is to fill in the gaps as far as your party skills go.  While this makes sense in theory, the execution doesn’t lend itself to helping the player figure out which skills are actually going to benefit the party or which ones another hero already covers.  Some sort of interface that tells you which party skills you are missing or have covered already as you are deciding which skills to level your characters with would make it a much more pleasant experience.  Otherwise, you have to resort to creating a small spreadsheet to figure it all out.

Party management is also irritating when it comes to managing your heroes’ equipment.  Instead of having one simple interface to tab through each party member’s equipment screen, you have to talk to him or her individually and ask to see his or her armor.  If you came into a number of upgrades to compare to what your party members have already, it is very tiresome to click three times to see one equipment screen, and then escape out of it, and then do it again for the next party member.  Most party-based RPGs have solved this problem by making it easy to switch to the next party member’s equipment/skill screen without having to exit back to the party screen, and War Band should have had something like that implemented.  Wasting time on obstacles like these can detract from the game’s enjoyment.

The inventory system also suffers from user interface issues.  You have a certain number of slots for inventory that can increase via skills.  Once you get to a large inventory capability, it can be easy to overlook what you may or may not have in your inventory.  A sorting option is desperately needed to re-sort your items and fill in slots from top to bottom.  This would prevent having to manually move each item, one at a time, from the bottom of the list to the top.  Another missing feature is a “take all items” option after defeating an enemy.  Instead of stuffing everything you can into your bags, you must click each item, one at a time, to loot them.  This, again, wastes time and energy going through and clicking everything you may want without automatically looting everything you can fit into your inventory.  In addition, inventory squares are fairly huge and could have sized down a little bit to accommodate being able to look at what you have in an easier fashion.

There is a multiplayer aspect to the game, but the most common are deathmatch or castle sieges.  The multiplayer modes are more akin to Counterstrike or other objective-based multiplayer games. Some sort of a co-op mode for the single-player game would be nice, but would have unique challenges to overcome, considering much of the game itself is traveling and quest-taking, and that wouldn’t exactly be very fun to experience alongside a friend for very long.

War Band also allows for modding.  If you find an interesting mod available, you are able to import it into the game and run it.  While War Band doesn’t have as many interesting mods as the original Mount & Blade does, there are a couple available that may be worth a try.  These mods change the single-player game in ways that the overall objective changes, or new armor/weapons are added.  Like many other PC games that allow modding, it creates a community that is involved with making these mods and keeps people interested in the game itself, as its game play could radically change with a new mod.

As a cohesive whole, Mount & Blade: War Band has many interesting and fun features. But if one thing of the game needs to be said, it’s that it mainly suffers from user interface design.  An overhaul in its user interface would severely be recommended in any future game in the series, and would lend itself to making the experience much more pleasing.  War Band is an activity that you can sink many hours into, and not realize where the time has gone. At first glance, the game can give the wrong impression, but War Band is definitely a title to experience.

 

Schuyler Hunt (PC) Review

Game by EEs.  Made with Game Maker.  No download is available — if it ever does become available, it will be uploaded.

Overview:

Some old company called Schuyler & Sons closed for some spooky reason, and you think that there is money hidden within the old joint.

Schuyler Hunt is a point and click adventure, which is rarely seen in the Game Maker community. It even has a little inventory system! Is this tale scary enough to warrant playing? Let’s find out!

Graphics:

Though the pictures were randomly picked from an image search and colored black and white, they go incredibly well together and make this fictional place seem real. The rooms you go through have an eerie feeling to them, and make you expect for something to jump out at you at any moment. However, the few hand-drawn sprites that are in the game are incredibly terrible. Everything that was drawn looks like it was concocted in MS Paint in a matter of seconds and really lessens the creepy atmosphere. Also, the maker of this game’s first language is not English and it shows, as frequent misspellings and unintelligible notes litter a large part of the game. Still though, the backgrounds do a pretty good job of immersing you into the game.

Sound:

The music in Schuyler Hunt is very well done and adds a lot to the already creepy atmosphere. The game features no sound effects, but this gives it sort of a charm, as adding a lot of sounds may ruin immersion.

Gameplay:

You point and click just like any other point and click adventure, only when you click on an item that can be picked up, it automatically puts it into your inventory. Left clicking on certain things will either give you a short description of it or place it into your inventory. Right clicking on your inventory will give you a description of the item and can be pretty handy if you’re unsure of what to do with it. Right clicking on notes will show you what is written on them, though almost all of the notes in the game are completely useless and make no sense.

Crappiest Part:

Definitely definitely definitely the hand-drawn graphics. If any effort at all would’ve been put into them, the quality of the game would’ve multiplied. But the way that they are, the game looks very amateur and sometimes ridiculous.

Overall Score:

Schuyler Hunt is a pretty smart game that focuses more on atmosphere than anything. My gripes are that the game could’ve been a little longer, it could’ve had better spelling (although the reason for the misspellings is understandable), the notes mostly make no sense, and most of all the drawn graphics are just flat out terrible. This game could obviously have been better, but it is a fun game that sucked me in the whole time. That’s something I can hardly ever say for a Game Maker game.

8.5/10

 

WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 (Xbox 360) Event Preview/Review Event

There were two separate media events that I was able to attend for this game.  This was nearer to the end of the run for GamersMark, so I never actually did a full review of the game, but I documented my experience with playing the game at a Preview Event, which is the first portion here.

Developer: Yuke’s Media Creations | Publisher: THQ

A recent trend in the game industry is the shift towards user-created content, and the titles that specifically encourage it. Games designed with that intent seem to have two parts to them: the part that the creators make for you to play, and the “tools” for creation that allow you to make a seemingly infinite amount of content. WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 is the latest entry in the Smackdown Vs. Raw series, and this year it’s all about user content creation – “It’s Your World Now.” I attended the preview event hosted by THQ in downtown Los Angeles in late August and got a lot of hands-on time with the game.

This year, it’s more about creating your own personal game experience. There are new creation modes, new customization tools, new content, and the community is able to share everything that’s made.

The main menu itself has changed into an interactive tutorial mode of sorts, which boots up as you start the game. Here, you’re able to interact with another AI player to learn all the different moves before actually playing and learn at your own pace; tutorial tips pop up telling you how to perform certain moves or tasks in the ring as well as outside it. Once you accomplish a tip, it will check off and disappear, but you can reset them to teach a friend how to play or perhaps refresh yourself if you’ve gotten rusty. This new tutorial mode allows you to practice in many ways, on several difficulties, and preps you well for what to do during different situations.

The UI itself has received a major overhaul – it is no longer static and actually follows your character around, which is a very welcomed change. A circle with your Superstar’s stamina/momentum is constantly hovering, with an “F” or an “S” showing up when you are able to perform your Finisher or Signature move. At any time you need to be pressing a particular button, it will appear right next to your Superstar (rather than in the corner where the UI used to reside) making it a lot easier to react to the game while it’s happening.

Create-A-Superstar has been improved this year as well – and it’s a blast. Personally, I spent about an hour of the time I spent with the demo just in this mode making the most messed up characters ever seen. As I was making them, a lot of people commented about how “effed up” they looked, or how “messed up” I was. I even put a buff hairy guy in a diva’s outfit – hey, it wasn’t my fault they put it in the game to allow you to do it! But it didn’t go over so well with anyone watching, so I didn’t save him.

As a bonus, my created characters played in the background of a bunch of G4 interviews of WWE Superstars. Hornswaggle jacked the controller from me and started messing around with it during his interview (he said beforehand that he wanted to have fun with the interview and take the controller from me). People probably thought I was working for G4 since I was there playing the game behind it the whole time. At least the G4 guys found the characters I made funny.

Create-A-Superstar has received a big uplift, with all new 3D accessories that actually look and feel like they are on the character and not painted on like last year. There’s a lot of crazy, zany stuff and you can change anything into any color you want. There are also a lot of interface improvements, faster loading, and it’s just a generally more pleasant experience. 2009’s Create-A-Superstar couldn’t hold my attention as long as this year’s has, and that’s a great boon to the game. Another cool thing is the VS. Screen Pose that you can set to give your character a little more personality.

A new customization tool is the Paint Tool, which allows you to draw logos, tattoos – whatever you want, and Superstar Threads, new also, allows you to change a WWE Superstar’s costume as far as colors go. You can’t give them new costume pieces, but each wrestler can be modified in their own unique way depending on their existing outfit. This allows you to keep your favorite superstars more up-to-date as their costumes change. Three alternate attires per character are allowed, and the default one is never overwritten.

There are new Create-A-Finisher additions as well as a brand new finisher: Diving. The diving mode allows you to create Diving attacks, adjust height, speed, and many other settings. The Front Grapple finisher also has possible adjustments to speed, or other unique settings depending on what move is being changed, as well as more animations to choose from.

The biggest addition this year, however, is the Story Designer mode. Just like the Road to Wrestlemania stories in 2009, you’re able to create your own drama starring your favorite Superstars or even your created ones. You can devise matches and moments – such as backstage “discussions” – and change conditions for matches depending on the storyline you create. There is also a cutscene creator that allows you to direct animations and emotions, and even includes a free camera to swoop in on a situation however you like. You can also set up the movies that play in the background during an entrance, have people run in during matches, and even have characters hit by cars or make the vehicle itself explode. There is a lot of options to choose from.

Content sharing is now a big part about the game (if you’re one of the types of people to spend a ton of time making content within the game’s bounds you’re most likely going to want to show it to other people). With THQ’s online search engine you can search for whatever you feel like downloading – a created superstar, custom stories, a finisher or any other type of user content that can expand your personal game experience. You can also preview stuff before saving it, and if you see something that is inappropriate, you’re able to flag it as such for review.

In the Road to Wrestlemania mode, there will be six new stories, including a diva story, and a Create-A-Superstar story. There will be interactive cutscenes to allow you to decide how a superstar acts in their situation, as well as multi-branching story endings so that the decisions you make actually make an impact on how everything goes down.

There’s a planned 60 superstars for the roster this year, and of course ECW is back again. For those with a Wii console who played Smackdown Vs. Raw 2009, rest assured that all of the features that are in the 360 and PS3 versions will be included in the Wii release as well. The Wii version will also get a control overhaul to be more on par with the other versions, and both the Classic and GameCube controllers will be supported. The DS release will have a couple of exclusive features such as a trading card system – to trade cards with friends – and an exclusive match type called Ambulance Match.

The game is slated for an October 20 release. With over 46 million games sold in the franchise, the game should expect to do quite well during the holiday season, especially with all the new content creation modes.

As I mentioned previously, G4 decided to take some video with me as a backdrop and while I was playing with my deformed created wrestlers.  I was playing in the background for at least 85% of the interview shots.  You can first see me at 1m 32s.

Before the interviews started, Cody Rhodes and Dolph Ziggler made comments about how weird it was and asked if I knew who they were.  They were new at the time, so I didn’t know and they pointed out what their wrestling personas were.  Also, the take where Hornswaggle took the controller from me was not included in the video.

The following is what I wrote after attending the Review Event in late October.  The purpose was to get a good two or three hours with the game for purposes of review.  We had a press conference, meals, a couple of meetings, and the hands-on with the game on the second day.  They also gave us lots of free shit, most of which I currently still have laying around my room.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 Review Event hosted by THQ. After being given a presentation that showed the final production of many of the things mentioned in my Preview for the game we had a chance to mess around and see the game in action.

All of the unfinished game modes and creation modes were available to play at the event.   While much of the game is pretty much what to expect from Smackdown vs. Raw, there are always additions and improvements made to the game. As far as game modes go, this year the Royal Rumble was given a complete reworking. The mode is now a lot more representative of what you would expect, and a bit more fun. There are now multiple ways to push your opponent out of the ring, and once they’re out – they’re out. When you try and push an opponent out of the ring, a mini-game of sorts will play out – either making you button mash like crazy or hitting a button at a precise moment to make sure your opponent is defeated.

The big Create Mode added this year is the Scene Editor – and it looks like it’ll be a blast once you get used to its little quirks and options. While sitting and messing around with it for about thirty minutes didn’t allow me to fully get used to the scope of the mode, there are quite a few options to play around with, such as casting, location, and textual speech. The mode may feel lacking only because you don’t get to hear any actual voices (you can’t record any either), but the potential of just having fun messing around with it is well worth the addition.

All the versions of the game looked very good on the HDTVs that they had. There was some discussion about why the PS3 version didn’t look as good as the 360 version, but nothing conclusive – we had no idea whether or not the particular station was just not set up correctly or if that was actually indicative of the PS3 version being slightly worse. However, the differences are so minute that it isn’t even something to worry about.

Wii owners this year will also be pleasantly surprised at the fact that 99% of the content in the PS3/360 versions made its way over to the Wii. The biggest difference, however, is that there is no Tutorial mode. The Wii is also back to supporting straight button input, so there is no more waving your hands around to play, which is apparently what Wii owners wanted out of 2010. In addition, 2010 will support all the Wii’s possible controllers – Wiimote/Nunchuck, Classic Controller, and the GameCube controller.

WWE’s “The Miz” came by to attend the event, as well, and put a little fun into the day. He made a hilarious ruckus about “only being a 78” according to the game’s Overall Rating system, and gave one of the game designers, Bryan Williams, a tough time about it since he just won the US Championship on last week’s Raw. It was quite funny seeing Bryan getting put on the spot like that, and profusely apologizing about having him at that rating, stating it would be different in next year’s game.

There was also a character creation workshop in which everyone made their own characters to compete against one another and win the approval of The Miz. At the end of the workshop, it came down to two characters – my pregnant 8 foot tall “Angry Smurf” named Rodney Cornsmithe and another character that was a recreation of the actual person making the character whom I’ll just call Sunglass Man. The Miz was simply dumbfounded when he looked upon my creation, but he ended up picking Sunglass Man, with my character becoming the “THQ winner,” as picked by another game designer attending the event.

Look for Gamersmark’s full review of Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 later this month.

Unfortunately that review never came to fruition as it was nearer to the end of GamersMark.  I was generally very pleased with the game, and was probably going to give it a 9.5/10.

 

 

Singstar Pop Vol. 2 (PS2) Review

Developer/Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment || Overall: 8.0/10

Music games seem to be all the rage these days. When Guitar Hero came out it unearthed a new market for music games, allowing for the eventual “full band” music game in Guitar Hero: World Tour and Rock Band. However, only a few genres of music fit into this “full band” experience, leaving many genres of music out in the cold. The SingStar series lends itself towards being able to cover practically any song that has vocals in it, allowing for a more diversified line-up of genres in each edition of the game.

Thirty songs usually come in each SingStar title, and SingStar Pop Vol. 2 is no exception. Some songs that I like that made it into the game are “Duran Duran – Ordinary World,” “Evanescence – Bring Me To Life,” “Lifehouse – First Time,” “Sum 41 – Fat Lip,” and “The Outfield – Your Love.” Some really weird choices that I can’t even bring myself to play are songs like “Boys Like Girls – The Great Escape,” “Santana Feat. Chad Kroger – Into the Night,” and “Ashlee Simpson – Boyfriend.”

While there are more hits than misses in the compilation, I found the selection of songs mostly satisfying for a karaoke game. Being more used to Rock Band’s vocal visual system, I found it harder to keep in tune with the song (as much as I could, considering how horrible I am at singing in the first place) and say the words at the same time. SingStar Pop Vol. 2 is the first karaoke-only game I’ve really played when one considers that Rock Band itself is a mish-mash of karaoke and beat-keeping.

Vocal skills not withstanding, I did have a fun time playing the game with my roommates. Essentially, the game is a party game – something to play with other people in the same room as yourself. A caveat that comes with that, though, is that even though there are 30 songs to perform, it never feels like there’s enough. Both players have to agree on a song they want to sing, and sometimes that comes down to three or four songs that both want to try, let alone knowing how the song goes enough to attempt singing it. More often than not people don’t even want to try singing songs they don’t know.

Though you can hook up only two microphones, you can play with up to eight players through the game’s different modes. Other than straight out duels between two players, most of them consist of passing the mic to the next person in line after dividing up players into teams. The modes aren’t all that different from each other, but there’s only so much you can really do and most of that is already in the game.

Something that is also really nice about the SingStar games is the user interface. It looks slick, and looks cool even when simply messing around in the menu system as you set up your next game. It’s not overly complicated either, which results in getting what you want most of the time. While you play the game, the music video for the song plays in the background, so that during sequences where there may be solos or intros, you have something to watch while waiting for the vocals to come back in. Plus, it helps keep the other players occupied.

SingStar is based on points, and how many you earn during a song is the comparative factor against your opponent. Unlike other music games where you have to perform to a certain degree or get punished by “losing,” SingStar just lets you go through the whole song, no matter how horrible you are. In a way, it makes the game more fluid and the overall objective goes away from “beating” the song and more towards beating your opponent or getting the highest score you can.

On the PS2, SingStar games are typically available with the mics or without them at a cheaper price. New editions of the series come in at $40, while the packs with the mics can cost anywhere from $60 to $80 considering where you shop for it. The EyeToy can also be used in most (if not all) the SingStar games for extra functionality. Another cool aspect of the series is that it treats them all like the same game. The ability to swap out discs and quickly jump into another set of songs is a wonderful feature. PS3 users take note: This unfortunately didn’t work on my 60GB PS3 when I tried it, and it resulted in having to restart the console.

If you like straight-out karaoke games and still only have a PS2, the SingStar series is going to be the perfect game for your collection. While buying them all at the same time would cost a pretty penny, it’ll be worth it once a party gets going and people want to look through more songs, especially if you like most of the songs on any one edition. There’s also the promise of a future update to the PS3’s firmware that will allow the PS2 SingStar games to communicate with the PS3 versions, which would put more use to the PS2 versions of the game.

 

Yggdra Union: We’ll Never Fight Alone (PSP) Review

Developer: Sting Entertainment | Publisher: Atlus || Overall: 4.0/10

Yggdra Union from Atlus has a seemingly awkward place in the PSP library. It’s practically a straightforward GBA-to-PSP port, so it’s quite obvious that it won’t be visually pleasing. Yggdra Union is essentially the GBA game with some voice-overs and possibly some other improvements that are harder to gauge.

Typically in tactical strategy games there are two teams fighting against each other on more-or-less even ground. One would expect there to be new challenges here and there, just as long as both sides followed the same basic rules of gameplay.

Not in Yggdra Union.

If there ever was a tactical strategy game that made me want to play on the enemy’s side, it’s Yggdra Union. It’s almost amazing to me how two different games are going on at the same time, with the advantage always (and I really mean it) going to the opposition.

Now, there’s lots of needless complication to Yggdra Union. Even after playing over 20 hours, I still have trouble knowing which button does what in the game. In light of the confusion, I’ll spare you a helping and get down to the basics. The basis of combat relies on cards. You get a certain amount of cards, which you use for moving and performing actions during battle. Once you use a card to move, or create a Union (the game’s term for a battle), the card becomes unusable for the rest of the current map you are on. The same does not hold true for your enemy, however. They have one card to use and they keep using it over and over. Okay, I’ll give them that. During battle, however, is where this difference becomes even more of a factor in the gameplay.

When creating a Union, you can enter into a battle with other units as long as they match the certain formation the initiator of the Union has. Why this matters, I’m not sure, but it adds some sort of strategy to the game in the long run. The map itself is also very restrictive as far as positioning units in strategic ways. There are no “extra” pieces of the grid to traverse and flank an enemy, as the current map you are on has a bare minimum of squares required to accomplish whatever the current goal happens to be.

During a battle, there is a gauge at the top of the screen that you can fill up by going Passive or drain by going Aggressive. The higher the bar is filled, the more likely it will be that you will win the battle. Of course, its not assured as other factors are taken into consideration. When you go Aggressive and drain your bar, the likelihood of you winning goes even higher, but only until the bar is drained before going to normal. Going Passive refills it, but your troops are then more susceptible to losing.

Here’s the kicker: Take everything I said in the last paragraph and throw it out. Your opposition doesn’t have to worry about that at all, since they have a “Rage” bar that constantly fills according to the amount of time you spend in battle. Not only that, any amount of Rage that is built up from the first fight in a battle is rolled over to the next fight to benefit the next unit. The gauge you build up does not roll over in the same fashion, as yours is seemingly random considering how well off you are against your enemy.

The only thing that your Passive/Aggressive bar and the Rage bar have in common is that it grants access to a special ability when full. Your opposition can use the card’s special abilities from the get go, while you have to wait until the seventh map of the game (about eight hours in for me) before even finding out why cards are named something. The inability to use special abilities until that point in the game is absurd, especially when the opposition is able to use their card’s special abilities from the beginning of the game.

Particular cards also have Ace Types, which means only a unit that matches the Ace Type can use the card’s special abilities (as long as all other conditions are met). There are three basic weapons – Sword, Spear, and Axe. Sword is better than Axe is better than Spear is better than Sword. Using that formula, you are able to sweep through your enemies, as long as you have the right units attacking against a weapon type that is weaker.

And then, to top it all off, three more types of weaponry are added in halfway through the game. Sword/Spear/Axe are all better than Bows (except when attacking, and you can’t counterattack against a Bow), Rods (better than Sword/Spear/Axe) and something that looks like a Rock that is just tossed in somewhere, which isn’t exactly explained plainly enough for anyone to understand.

Really, Yggdra Union ends up a Chess-style game in which the other guy can take any piece he wants whenever he wants and says “live with it.” There’s something random tossed in each level that completely messes you up without giving you any ability to counteract it. You are constantly put at a disadvantage, seemingly out of spite, with no real rewards for finally succeeding and beating the challenge. Not even the story’s progression rewards you with much of anything interesting or suspenseful.

There are lots of voice-overs, but voicing as a whole is conspicuously thin. The voice actors themselves aren’t bad, which is a boon to the already low production values of the title. Needless to say, the sound effects, graphics, and pretty much everything about the game look like a GBA game, but that’s because it is a GBA game. Watching battles unfold isn’t particularly interesting either, and even though there is a “HIGH” speed option available, its still not fast enough for me.

Yggdra Union will make you hate yourself for playing. It is a fairly unique game, but only in the sense that there are so many weird things about it that make you frustrated. Some friendly user interface additions would go a long way to at least making the game somewhat more pleasant. What it comes down to, however, is that Yggdra Union is a poor strategy game in its very bearings, with very little actual strategy to experience, and more fumbling around with cards and weapon types than necessary instead.

 

 

Overlord: Raising Hell (PS3) Review

Developer: Triumph Studios | Publisher: Codemasters || Overall: 8.5/10

It’s not too often you get to be the bad guy in a game. In Overlord: Raising Hell, you’re given the primary role of being “The Overlord” – the master of the Minions. With their help, you’ll rebuild your evil kingdom, confronting those that have killed your predecessor and rebuilding your once-fear-inducing-yet-humble abode. Throughout the levels you’ll find pieces of your tower, power-ups, and more minions to help you.

Essentially, Overlord is a mish-mash of a few genres – action, RPG, and real-time-strategy. The action influences come from the obvious gameplay mechanics such as controlling a menacing dude who goes around beating people with his axe, solving puzzles, and the like. The RPG elements come in with increasing your stats by gaining new weapons and getting new power-ups to help you maintain those stats. The most interesting aspect of Overlord, however, is how it accomplishes being real-time-strategy in tandem with the aforementioned aspects of gameplay.

Fundamentally, the importance of succeeding in Overlord is using your Minions in a strategic fashion to accomplish goals. Sure, you could go in and swing your weapon around at your enemies, but that would take a long time — not to mention there are some very difficult enemies where taking them on alone would be nigh impossible. Thinking of Minions as your “units” in a real-time-strategy game, you send them into battle and watch the mayhem unfold, modifying their focus as needed. While it starts simple, more strategy is involved when certain enemies are susceptible only to certain types of Minions’ attacks.

There are four different types of Minions – Browns, Reds, Greens, and Blues. The Browns are multipurpose melee fighters; Reds are long-range, fire-based attackers; Greens are stealthy, poisonous melee fighters that are weaker than your Browns; Blues are weak but they swim in water and can resurrect other Minions. Using all the different Minions and their unique skills to your advantage is the real challenge of Overlord.

The control scheme is something to be appraised. While you don’t normally see RTS-type games on consoles, Overlord has an advantage from being in a 3rd-person perspective. If you just want to tell your Minions to go somewhere, you move the right stick and control your group to go wherever you want without moving The Overlord himself. The camera also follows your group of Minions without getting far away from The Overlord, just in case something starts attacking you, but it also keeps the focus of the game of you being The Overlord at the same time. This comes into use when you meet obstacles that only Minions can go through, and you must use them appropriately to solve the puzzle or defeat the enemies at hand. If you just want to send your minions in to destroy anything they see in front of you, you just press and hold the R2 button and you’ll be able to watch the carnage, get the rewards, and not have to get your own hands dirty at all.

While the graphics aren’t the most beautiful you’ve ever seen, there is a style to the game that makes it feel like if it were any different, a certain charm about the game would be lost. The visuals match Overlord’s zany humor, with all the different quests you’ll be going on and different things your Minions will say. In a sense, it’s almost like playing a cartoon. Your Minions say some clever/funny things at times like “Treasssurreeeee!,” or “For the master!,” or “For the Overlorrrrrd!” while they bring treasure and other items back to you. There are also some offhand Minion comments that are context-specific.

While visiting your Tower, a Jester will follow you around calling you different things based on the quests you have already accomplished. My personal favorite is “Persecutor of Pumpkins” — referencing a quest in which you kill evil pumpkins that are eating townspeople. While that may sound off, considering that you’re supposed to be evil, the way the game rationalizes doing any good for people in the first place is that if they’re all dead, there’d be no one to boss around and torture. However, you are given the option of killing any of your subjects at any point, which raises a stat called “Corruption.” A certain amount of Corruption allows you to gain more power and skills, but must be taken in moderation, as there are disadvantages to gaining Corruption percentage.

Overlord: Raising Hell for the PS3 includes the DLC that was available for download on Xbox 360 and PC. The DLC adds a good 10 or 15 hours of playtime on the 20 hours or so the normal game had previously. There are also some other improvements and additions to the game that are integrated, along with the extra levels compared to the initial release of Overlord.

Probably the only things that I can complain about is the loading and other small technical issues that make the game a bit cumbersome to play at times. Loading usually takes a bit longer than I would hope for, especially since there’s about a minute of loading as soon as you start up the game as well as loading whenever you enter a new level. I encountered a few bugs that would result in the game becoming broken, forcing me to either load the game from my last autosave or restart my PS3. The minimap is almost a pain to use: while it is definitely a needed and welcomed addition from the normal version of the game, it can be hard to find your quests sometimes since you can’t really zoom out on it. There is a full-size map, but it’s not nearly as useful as the minimap.

Multiplayer is also a huge disappointment on the PS3. There is no one to play with online, so that means you can’t even use the multiplayer mode. This severely diminishes the value of the game if you had ever intended on checking out the multiplayer portion. However, since I’m a big proponent of single player games, it’s not a huge dent to my overall opinion about the game, though it is still something to take into account when purchasing it. It is also worth mentioning that seven multiplayer maps are part of the additions to the game from the first edition. Even though on the box it says you can play multiplayer in split-screen, I couldn’t find the option to do so in the menu.

Overlord: Raising Hell is a fun title, especially if you can pick it up for cheap. Overlord: Raising Hell offers a unique combination of several genres that creates an enjoyable and humorous addition to any PS3 owner’s library.

 

WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 (Xbox 360) Event Preview

Developer: Yuke’s Media Creations | Publisher: THQ

I had the opportunity to go to THQ’s offices in Agoura Hills recently, braving three hours of traffic and the possibility of being burned alive (not really). Traveling from safe Orange County, into the middle of a triangulation of raging fires in the canyons, I was able to play an early build of WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2009 for about an hour.

After my somewhat scathing review of 2008, I am very glad to say that the game has been improved quite a bit, with nearly all of my concerns addressed. Personally, the ranking on the the fun-gauge has increased from “Annoying” to “Could Be Fun.”

If there was one thing that I’m most excited about, its that the loading times have been drastically cut down. Load times aren’t nearly as excruciating to wait through anymore. Not only that, there is a simple way to turn entrances off — right before each match you can select On or Off, resulting in even less possible load times, and more getting right into the action.

Unlike the former WWE 24/7 mode, the new Road to Wrestlemania tells scripted stories for particular superstars rather than a bunch of generic ones for your selected wrestler. As a result, you feel like you’re playing through an actual storyline, the likes of which you’d see in the actual TV show. This alone alleviates a majority of the problems I personally had with the WWE 24/7 mode, as this revamped mode will definitely be more appealing to play and finish. There is still a “career” mode in the game, but it’s a little different than what you may have seen before. Instead of going through the day-to-day aspects of WWE 24/7, you can have your wrestler fight his way up to a particular title that you select. You can also reassign titles to make the roster reflect the current WWE champions. However, even though there are many features being added, that doesn’t come without cuts, as Create-A-Championship mode will be left out this year.

Frame rate has also been stabilized, and the biggest improvement can be seen in matches with more than four wrestlers, which is a welcome improvement for those Battle Royale fans or six-man “Money-In-the-Bank” marathoners. The graphics are about the same, but since the frame rate has been improved upon, the game visually feels better for it.

There are a few new features that will be good additions, provided they don’t get dropped before the game’s release. The massively improved user interface allows you to get into the kind of match you want to play faster and easier, with at least as many options as have been offered before. The Inferno match will make its first appearance — the ring is lit on fire and the goal is to beat up your opponent and raise the temperature to 300 degrees and throw him out of the ring, setting him on fire. Some additions to Tag Team modes have also been made.

Controls remain mostly unchanged, but there are a couple of things to take note of. The most significant addition to the gameplay is the recovery button. When you take a hard hit and are about to come up, you can defend yourself by pressing a shoulder button and block any incoming attack from the other player, allowing you to get back on your feet and perhaps swing the match back in your favor. In the Wii version, opening entrances have also become a little more interactive, with the option of getting the fans riled up by doing certain expressions at the right time.

There were no online capabilities shown, but there will be a feature called the Highlight Reel that allows you to record certain matches and share them online in a YouTube-like fashion. The capability allows you to put reels together with a video-editing tool, and add in graphics or sound from the effects provided. The clips can be up to a minute long.

Another interesting addition is the Create-A-Finisher feature. A “Finisher” can consist of up to ten different parts. Depending on which move you input when doing the finisher, you are given yet another list of animations to continue it. You can have the resulting combo be one part or ten parts, its all up to you — on top of that, you can speed up or slow it down in certain parts. Something that I found humorous was if you picked up someone you could keep flipping them back and forth on top of your back over and over before you actually did anything harmful to them. You can assign your Finishers to any superstar or created wrestler.

Since this is Yuke’s second try at the game on the PS3, you can definitely notice the improvements. Toss in some user interface enhancements, as well as some new modes, and WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 aims to be the wrestling game you should own if you’re a fan of the WWE.