Eureka Seven Vol. 1: The New Wave (PS2) Review

Developer: Bandai Entertainment Company / Publisher: Namco Bandai Games || Overall: 3.5/10

I tend to stay away from bad games. It’s not that I have anything against them — it’s just that I’d rather not play them. Actually, let me take that back. When I happen upon a bad game, I take personal offense to it. Not only because of its lack of significance as a video game itself, but because I have to waste my precious time playing it in lieu of having better games to play instead. Eureka Seven Vol. 1: The New Wave is one such game. I literally became sick of playing. The amount of gameplay and story is ridiculously sloppy and unbalanced in its delivery. To complete the trinity, gameplay is horrid, and the story is appallingly boring. Based on the anime Eureka Seven, the game will most definitely fool its fans into possibly making a decision to play the game – a folly one at that.

Eureka Seven Vol. 1: The New Wave is lame. Super lame. There’s no way around it. It’s no joke when I say that this is a serious contender for worst game of the year. But besides all the daintiness associated with calling it the worst game ever without getting much more specific, there could be one or two redeeming qualities about the game. One is that I got to replace a broken case by switching the cover slip and manuals with Eureka Seven’s box, and the thought of the developers sitting in a room chortling over how they made the crappiest game possible out of a respectable anime’s IP.

Not having seen any of the anime, I took the dive into the game after playing another anime-based game, .hack//G.U. While I enjoyed .hack//G.U., which was from the Bandai side of Namco Bandai, I actually had some sparse hope that Eureka Seven would at least be on the same level. Unfortunately for me, that wasn’t the case. Eureka Seven Vol. 1: The New Wave is an action fighting mech game, not so different in concept from something like, say, Zone of the Enders. Except the mechs in Eureka Seven mainly just skate around on the floor and transform into vehicles. Don’t get the wrong impression when I make a parallel to ZOE, however; Eureka Seven Vol. 1: The New Wave quite literally blows in the gameplay department. There is nothing that makes you want to keep playing, as mediocrity spreads from your fingertips, up your arms and into your brain.

While the fighting can get somewhat hectic, and a more or less stable frame rate is apparent, you can’t get past the fact that what is happening during gameplay is that seemingly ice-skating robots are dancing around and smacking each other unrelentingly. With the occasional long range weapon being fired, the robotic combat is very uninteresting, to say the least. It doesn’t stop there, however. Things get from bad to worse, as there is even weaker “hand-to-hand” combat gameplay involved as well. Fighting in robots seems all too sleek when in comparison to this poorly construed concept tossed into the game. To make matters worse, there is also a crappy air-boarding sport called “lifting” that has the most wonky controls of all – not to mention it’s completely pointless in the grand scheme of the game.

There are two ways to play the game: a story mode and a “situation” mode. The story mode is the prequel to the start of the anime series and explains a little bit about the origins of all the main characters of the series and how they all came together, even if it is a bit sparse on the details and reasoning behind some of the events that actually happen. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these reasonless plot directions are made just so that it could get in line with the actual storyline of the anime without wasting more time with actually explaining it, even if that is the point of the game from a story-based point of view. The other mode is called Situation, in which you are thrust into a predicament and you fight your way out, no story attached. Had the gameplay actually been interesting, this would be a worthy mode to have. But alas, it’s not.

My scathing disappointment mainly comes from the main mode, the story mode. The story mode is broken up into episodes, similar to how a television show would be; a series of events happen in a short period of time, and after the episode ends, a period of time passes before the next episode begins. This wouldn’t be so bad except for the fact that the opening theme and animation for the anime plays each time a new episode starts. I get it. I’m playing Eureka Seven — why do I have to see the same thing more than once? The story mode’s biggest fault comes when most of the actual game is spent watching cutscenes and dialogue scroll by. This. Is. Crap. Consistency also plays a part in it, since the cutscenes are voiced while most of the storyline dialogue that doesn’t take place in a cutscene is not. I say most, because randomly they will toss in some of the voice actors whenever they feel like it. I don’t understand why all the lines aren’t voiced, especially when I’m not able to read the text fast enough before it goes away – the dialogue scrolls by itself, and I miss out reading things, even though I shouldn’t be acting like what I’m missing reading is important in the first place.

Not to mention after each little segment of story there are about four or five seconds of loading (as well as four or five different kinds of “loading” notifications, which is another charming aspect of the game’s consistency) before even more story is delivered and even more loading is given. This is constant throughout. There is barely any gameplay, and when there is, it lasts for about five minutes or so (depending on how many tries it might take you) before you go back to watching more story. I understand that the game is based off an anime, but they probably should have just made the story elements into some sort of anime film so that fans don’t have to wade through this unmitigated crap that they call a game.

The graphics are also underwhelming in their own right. Seemingly straight out of the year 2001, you’re not going to find much to appreciate in this department. The robots, called LFOs, aren’t that bad looking per se — it’s just that you don’t play with them nearly long enough to take notice to them all that much. Frame rate is a shot in the dark. During robot combat, it can be satisfactory, but during on-foot scenes the frame rate drops randomly like no other. The robot animations aren’t anything special — they just do their job. The running animation for the actual characters sucks, however, and it doesn’t look like they’re making any contact with the floor they’re on at all. I’d like to say that the designs are cool, but it’s just dumb seeing robots skate around on the ground. If they have the technology to make robots in the first place, why can’t they just make them all fly by default?

Sound is also another failure. Voice acting isn’t completely horrible, as I expect that at least most of the voice actors are from the anime. The lack of consistent voice acting throughout does take a very big effect on the game, though, especially given that it’s supposed to appease fans of the anime, who are accustomed to hearing the characters speak rather than having to read the dialogue they are delivering. Music is also generic at best. The same annoying tunes are used constantly and rarely ever properly reflect the mood that should be created at that specific point of time. Sound effects could be better, but since most of what you do is sit and watch story scenes, it’s not something really worth dwelling on.

Quite frankly, stay away from Eureka Seven Vol. 1: The New Wave. I don’t know if I could even dream of recommending this game to anyone except the most diehard fan of the Eureka Seven anime that wants more and can’t get it anywhere else. It’s really a tragedy that a game concept that seems like it should work well ends up turning into one of the worst experiences I could ever endure when it comes to a video game. A big sticker saying “pass” should be mandatory on every copy of this game.

 

Kim Possible: What’s The Switch (PS2) Review

Developer: Artificial Mind and Movement / Publisher: Buena Vista Games || Overall: 7.0/10

Kim Possible has overcome yet another impossible feat – having her own home console game. Having only seen iterations of her persona featured on the Game Boy Advance and DS, Kim Possible is ready for the big time along with her nemesis Shego. But unfortunately for Kim, Kim Possible: What’s the Switch for the PlayStation 2 is a side-scrolling platformer that might end up with you asking “What’s the point?”

First off, Kim Possible: What’s the Switch is a solid platformer. It has the basic vital function a side-scrolling platformer game needs: jumping. Toss in a few extra gameplay elements like doors, levers, and flagpoles to swing on and you’re in business! While it’s easy to learn how to play What’s the Switch, the game is unmerciful when it begins to ramp up its difficulty as you get used to the controls. If it can be frustrating to a seasoned veteran, I can only imagine the type of aneurysms that will be forming in the pre-teen demographic the game’s show appeals to.

The main gimmick of What’s the Switch comes from the actual switching of the characters you play constantly throughout. The game is nearly split in half between Kim and one of her archenemies, Shego, a super strong lady with a magically brash attitude. Even though Kim’s name is plastered on the front of the box, don’t let it fool you into thinking you’re going to be playing as Kim the majority of the time. Occasionally you’ll control Rufus the Naked Mole Rat who pops out of Kim’s pants pocket for no apparent reason other than to confuse me and say “When can I save?!” Although Shego and Kim pretty much play exactly the same, Rufus has the uncanny ability to cling to the ceiling, which gives the levels a little more variety.

A great game design choice is that there is no strict tutorial mode. It is seamlessly woven into the actual gameplay, and the game will teach you how to overcome an obstacle when you need to use a new ability. It is a nice way to learn even though it might take a few levels before the game really ramps up into playing the “real game” you were meant to play.

The game’s set up involves the novel concept of the old “mind-switching” situation. In the beginning story scenes, Kim Possible and her partner Ron Stoppable are on a mission to recover a mystical monkey idol before Drakken, an evil mastermind who is inadvertently Shego’s boss, from stealing the idol. No one knows what the idol does until some other random evil guy named Dementor steals it first, before they even get there, and uses it on Drakken and Ron Stoppable. Lo and behold, Drakken is in Ron’s body and Ron is in Drakken’s body. Haha. Hilarious. Kim and Shego resolve to get back the monkey idol from Dementor so they can switch Ron and Drakken back into their respective bodies by chasing him through fairly elaborate constructs that seemingly shouldn’t exist – such as a mile-long plane.

What is disappointing about the story is that there is a missed opportunity for some actual laughs. Even though the story is based on Ron and Drakken having their minds switched between each other, you never see them except for in still concept art that is integrated into one of the dozens of loading screens that come up. While you don’t have to watch the show to really enjoy or understand what’s going on, it would have been nice to get a little more feeling of what the show was actually about than what was presented. The whole game’s story ends up being a wasted concept that would have been better executed as an episode in the television show. The curious lack of any humorous story scenes with Ron and Drakken voids the game from replicating the feeling of playing through an episode of a lighthearted cartoon — it’s all about “getting down to business” and going on a long adventure beating up Dementor’s cohorts and running through his oddly non-usable buildings that seem to spring up in random places. I’ll tell you right now that if I hired an architect to make a building and he gave me any one of the buildings that are seen in this game, I would sue him for not putting any bathrooms or stairs anywhere.

Not to mention, the game is a collect-athon. You’ll be looking in every nook and cranny you can find to retrieve blue circles called “Kimmunicators” for no other reason than to unlock concept art and music in the extras menu. While I’m glad it isn’t required to collect every single Kimmunicator in the level, there’s an odd sense of responsibility to collect them as you go through the levels so that you never have to go back again – just in case, down the line. There are also different costumes to collect, and through each segment, Kim and Shego must find three of their own costume collectibles to earn a costume to use later on if you so desired. The costume collectibles will be in hard-to-reach places, so they will definitely take some extra time to find. There are also healing and life collectibles, which are very rare. There are not nearly enough of the healing collectibles or extra life collectibles to alleviate the game’s frustrating difficulty in later levels, though.

What’s the Switch is very unforgiving when it comes to starting over after lives run out. Instead of starting from the beginning of a level, you start from your last save. This is crap, plain and simple. I wasted quite a few hours on this game for nothing, only to be reverted back to the original place I started at when I first started playing. Throw me a bone here — I completed the levels I already went through, so why the hell do I want to play them AGAIN? Although it says Kim Possible on the front of the box, don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking this game is easy. In my experience, this game is harder than Ultimate Ghosts ’n Goblins. At least in UGnG it restarted you at the beginning of the level you lost in instead of three levels back! This aspect alone will very much ruin the experience if you even had an inkling of enjoyment with the game to begin with. The only way that you can save is through an Auto-Save function at certain points throughout the game, meaning you can’t save by yourself whenever you want to. Even if you turn the Auto-Save off, it will only let you save at certain checkpoints. The combat is also very lacking, and it’s not very fun to actually fight against any enemies. Most of the combat is hand-to-hand, so the game will get more boring before it gets exciting in this regard.

You’ll also have some gadgets at your disposal which can be used without worrying about any ammunition levels, since they reload practically unlimitedly. Kim and Shego mainly differ when it comes to the gadgets that they have. They both have a “grappling hook” mechanism which will allow them to swing along the ceiling. Kim has extra-sticky wads of already chewed bubble gum just chilling in another pocket, and Shego can “magnetically” pull enemies and items towards her. Different gadgets are acquired as you go along in the game, which add to the complexity of the already challenging game, even though the concepts are quite easy to understand.

Jumping itself is a bit slow, and has an unrefined feeling. Collision with platforms usually results in a “falling” animation that probably shouldn’t be happening as often as it is. It is also a shot in the dark sometimes as far as being able to hang onto a ledge when you’re “supposed” to at times. There definitely could have been improvements made, which seemed to have been passed over. A multiplayer mode is also available with different mini-games to play with a friend. No online multiplayer will make it important for you to have an actual friend who will want to play a Kim Possible game with you. If you have someone like that, then he or she really is a true friend.

On the plus side, the game does feature the voice actors from the show, and a lot of the music and sound effects will also remind you of the show as well. The graphics are cel-shaded to give the game a “cartoony” feel. The graphics are accomplished very well in this regard, and definitely should be counted as one of the game’s strong points. Unfortunately the characters are small, relative to the screen. It feels less like you’re a part of the action and more like you’re watching it from afar. Sometimes through the game it would have been nice to be able to have some control over a camera to zoom in and out or see what’s ahead of you a little bit. If you haven’t guessed already, the right analog stick isn’t used to any recognizable degree.

Kim Possible’s first foray into the home console territory has laid a foundation for what could come in the franchise, and it is definitely a good start. However the execution just does not cement What’s the Switch as a good game in its own right. If you’re looking for some good old side-scrolling challenge in 2.5D, Kim Possible: What’s the Switch should be a game on your list to play. If you’re easily frustrated and greatly dislike playing through parts of a game you’ve already played, you might want to just give it a rental.

 

Lumines II (PSP) Review

Developer: Q Entertainment / Publisher: Buena Vista Games || Overall: 8.5/10

Q Entertainment’s Lumines has become one of the PSP’s staple games. Even as a launch title, the first Lumines still holds up well, even in the wake of its sequel, Lumines II. Lumines II expands upon the great puzzle fun that was to be had with Lumines in the form of new challenges, and a ton of new skins. However, Lumines II delivers a completely different experience from the first Lumines, even though it includes “remixed” versions of songs that were included in the original.

The main distinguishing factor between Lumines and Lumines II is the streamlining of the menu system. Lumines II has a very slick menu system that makes cycling through the various modes offered easy. Not to mention, it is oddly fun in its own right. This time around there’s a lot more to do, and a lot more skins to acquire. In Challenge mode, you are able to take on three different “classes.” Class B, Class A, and Class S all include their own unique skins to play through. In reality, the different classes are actually just shortcuts to a certain point in a full Lumines II lap, as you will be able to play Class S skins if you start in Class B. That is, if you’re good enough to not lose before you get there. In fact, if you’re able to beat each class, a new class will be unlocked that let’s you play through a whole lap including all the skins of Lumines II.

A very important part of the Lumines formula is the music. Lumines fans might be surprised by the music selection in Lumines II because there is quite a bit of licensed popular music, which may or may not be to your fancy. Whether or not you like Fat Boy Slim, Beck, Gwen Stefani, or Missy Elliott, among others, may be a testament to your resolve for how much you like to play the game and unlock new skins through the challenge mode. There are still independent electronic tracks akin to the first Lumines, and a few that are actually very catchy. For most of the licensed tracks, the music video will play in the background as you’re deleting the magical squares. It’s a new level of distraction to see an actual music video playing behind the game, which is quite unlike most of the regular, less noticeable skins. A music video created by Q Entertainment, Genki Rockets’ “Heavenly Star,” is probably the only music video that really proves its worth to be in the game because of how it looks and sounds. Most of the other songs don’t really mend well with the overall electronic soundtrack. When it comes down to it, it really seems like they could have done a better job in the choice of music. For example, I don’t totally loathe Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl,” but they could have picked something by her that had a little more music to it. A delightful addition to the formula is the Skin Edit Mode, which allows you to build a custom playlist full of the songs you like and leave out the songs you don’t. The only bad thing about this is that it might be a little hard to remember which skin was which, since there is no way to preview skins as you’re selecting them.

All of the modes that were introduced in the first Lumines have been carried over to Lumines II. The modes include VS CPU, Time Attack Mode, and Puzzle Mode. All except Time Attack Mod have been beefed up in terms of content. Time Attack still offers the separate 60/180/300/600 second modes, which allows you to play for a distinct amount of time rather than the variable amount you may play in Challenge mode. VS CPU is no different from what’s found in the first game, which is unfortunate since it would have been nice if they balanced it out a little bit, or reworked the idea completely. Puzzle mode includes all of the puzzles from the first game, so if you blew a vein the first time around, get ready to lose another one since you’ll have to do them all again from the beginning. A new mode, called Mission Mode, gives you specific challenges to complete which are unlike puzzles. Missions usually include having to clear all the blocks in a certain amount of “steps.” Another kind of challenge presented is to fill up the entire game screen with blocks — which will be harder than you think it might be.

An ad hoc multiplayer and data exchange mode (for comparing scores) is included if you have a friend who has a copy of Lumines II. Game sharing allows you to share a demo of Lumines II with a friend. More avatar characters are available to choose from, replay files are able to be saved and loaded, a tutorial mode full of helpful tips, and a free trial of Every Extend Extra are all the different extras that come with Lumines II. A new Song Editor mode allows you to make your own songs with the in-game sequencer. It might be a little hard to get a good song going, but it’s technically possible to make some neat tunes. There are only four slots for custom songs, however. You can load songs from your memory stick, so it is possible to share songs, in some capacity, with others.

Unfortunately Lumines II isn’t the perfect sequel, which is surprising after one looks at how much it falls back on the “more Lumines” forumla. A curious exclusion is the auto-save, which is non-existent as an option. For some reason, Q Entertainment thought it would be better to let us choose when to save everything (which is basically at the end of every game we are playing). Another potential feature that was disappointingly left out is the ability to have individual scoreboards for each skin. It would have been nice to be able to try and beat your best score on a particular skin rather than the oddly non-specific “Skin Edit-Single Lap” score board, since you can add as many skins as you’d like in a single lap, and it doesn’t make any notation to how many skins were used in a “single lap.” A disheartening factor that really made getting into Lumines II feel stale was that there wasn’t much of a “theme song” to get you into the game for the first time. Similar to how “Shinin’” was the theme song for the first Lumines, the only “theme song” I could imagine for Lumines II was “Heavenly Star,” which is placed too far into the game to really meet theme song qualifications.

Even with its faults, Lumines II is a valuable puzzle experience because it offers many different things to do. You will probably get more mileage here when compared to the original, but since the first edition is cheaper it could be hard to recommend Lumines II over it at full price. What both games have going for them is that they deliver separate experiences while fundamentally being the same game, but if it came down to it, Lumines II would be the better long-term purchase due to its sheer amount of skins and content.

 

MotorStorm (PS3) Review

Developer: Evolution Studios / Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment || Overall: 9.0/10

MotorStorm is the greatest dirt racing festival to ever be conceived. You’ll race in Monument Valley — the middle of the desert — and take on all who challenge you. You’ll use practically any type of vehicle that can be used in a dirt race: Motocross Bikes, ATVs, Buggies, Rally Cars, Racing Trucks, Mudpluggers, and Big Rigs through the course of the single player festival. Each vehicle has its own advantages and disadvantages, and using both sides of the coin intelligently will help immensely in winning a race.

To control your vehicle, you’ll use the R2 trigger to gas. If you haven’t already gotten used to the PS3’s new trigger yet, MotorStorm will train you how to use it. You’ll be pressing it down almost non-stop during gameplay, and just like any other trigger, the further you push it down, the more your vehicle will gas. Each vehicle also utilizes boost. Boost is a very important tool to use in MotorStorm and, when it comes down to the wire, will make the difference whether or not you take that qualifying position or are left in the dirt, literally. A boost gauge in the lower left-hand corner will show you how much time you can use your boost for before you overheat your engine and blow it up.

Bluntly, the game has amazing physics. Not only is this seen during regular racing, but during crashes as well. Crashes are a very important part of the visual experience in MotorStorm. You experience the aftermath of each of your crashes in slow motion. Even though you’ll never see the crashes that your opponents have because of you, the crashes are awesome. Depending on how you crash, thousands of pieces of your vehicle will fly every which way. If you’re on a bike or ATV, the driver will fly into the air and slam onto the ground. In most scenarios, you would be dead after having a crash at such high speed, but since this is a game, you respawn to the track to continue your race after a crash. Allowing your boost gauge to fill up will also create a slow-motion crash as the engine in your vehicle will blow up.

There are two ways to play MotorStorm: You can play offline single player or online multiplayer. The single player mode consists of 21 “tickets.” A ticket, when unlocked, gives you the chance to race one to four events. Qualifying in each of the events you have access to consists of placing in the top three, and the more events you qualify in, the more points you’ll gain in unlocking more tickets. Some tickets may only require a certain amount of points, but others will require you to get all bronze, silver, or gold in each of the events for a certain level before unlocking that particular ticket.

Each event will permit you to pick a certain type of vehicle. Sometimes that means you can pick any class of vehicle you want (the ticket will be denoted by a MotorStorm logo), or the game will tell you to race using a specific class of vehicle for the event. Each event will take place in one of the eight available tracks, either during the day or at night. The possible combinations that can comprise an event can create a very unique challenge considering each vehicle takes time to master, as well as learning about all the multiple routes a certain track may have and which would be the best way to go considering the type of vehicle you’re using at the time.

The AI in MotorStorm is the biggest challenge of all. Unlike many racers where it is easy to just pull out ahead of your opponents and win the game, you’ll have to fight to keep your place in line. Even if you’re in first place, making one stupid move could cause you to end up in nearly last place. Even when you’re in last place, you’ll be fighting to keep that spot. The game’s AI is that hard. You’ll have to pull out all the tricks you can to move up the ranks in a race, or be left in the loser’s circle. A really cool part about MotorStorm is that you can have nearly fifteen opponents to compete against in a single race.

It is almost assured that you will not win every race you enter the first time around because of how difficult the AI is. Thankfully, there are absolutely no load times to be considered when restarting a race. The beauty of this is that you could be playing the game for nearly thirty minutes without dealing with any load times at all because you’ll be retrying many times before you actually complete a race. The only real problem the game has with load times is when you are selecting vehicles. MotorStorm doesn’t use the hard drive to cache anything, so it takes a lot longer to select your vehicle since it’ll be loading off the disc each time you change it. This is a major oversight, considering the vehicle selection is the first thing you do for each race, and it can feel like it takes longer to pick your vehicle than it does to load the race you’re about to enter. After selecting the vehicle, you’ll experience about twenty to thirty seconds of loading for a race, which is not bad considering it’s a race that’s being loaded and not a vehicle model.

Online multiplayer nearly mimics the single player mode in gameplay, except that you’re racing against humans. Racing up to twelve players online through the PlayStation Network is a pleasant experience, to say the least. I’ve experienced almost no lag in twelve-player games, though it is possible to experience some every now and then. While the user interface could have been a bit better (I’m spoiled by Resistance’s online multiplayer mode), the main thing that counts is how well the game actually plays while online, and it works just as you should expect it to. There is also stat-tracking that shows which vehicles you like the best, as well as your win percentage.

There are grievances with online multiplayer, however. My main criticism comes with how long it can take to actually join a game. Since you’re able to join a game that is already in progress but not actually race in the game until the race has finished, you could be sitting down doing nothing for too long. Unless you want to hop around from game to game to see if there’s one that’s about to begin, there is no indication in the online game lobby to tell you whether a game is about to start or not until you’ve actually joined the game. This is a problem unless you host a game. Hosting a game gives you many options, such as selecting which vehicles players are able to choose, and which tracks you race on in each game. It is also unfortunate that private games cannot be created.

The biggest problem the game has is actually in its value. Even though I have found the game to be quite awesome, it’s just that there isn’t much to actually do in the game. Having only eight tracks is probably the biggest unfortunate aspect, and when making a parallel to a game series like Burnout, MotorStorm could have benefited from having one or two extra modes of play. I’d even go so far as to say that MotorStorm is what Burnout would be if it were in the dirt, but since there’s pretty much only one way to play the game, it undershoots that status.

The visuals and sound experiences are really top notch. I literally say “wow” during races because of the visual effects and beautiful desert imagery. The frame rate is very solid, with little to no slow down in a usual race. Vehicle models that start out clean show damage and get progressively dirtier as a race goes on. Track deformations are also shown and as each lap goes on, they appear as if cars had actually driven through them (because they have). The realism that is visually portrayed is quite astounding.

The sound effects drive the realism, as each vehicle actually sounds like its real-life counterpart. Although the ATV’s horn sounds like it’s a bus, the sound really helps in the experience hearing the skidding of vehicles driving through the dirt on a tight bend. The music is intense, going well with the chaotic nature of a typical race. If you dislike a song in particular, you can go to the sound options and check off a song you don’t want to hear anymore.

MotorStorm is a great addition to the PS3’s library, especially early on in its lifecycle. While there may not be so much to do in the game as the racing genre has seen in the past, the physics and visuals of the game are wholly impressive — the game is worth playing just to experience them. Single player mode will take a large investment of time to beat completely, and the online community is populated enough to have a new challenge present itself each time you enter a new game. MotorStorm is a solid racing title.

 

Platypus (PSP) Review

Developer/Publisher: MumboJumbo Games || Overall: 4.0/10

Shooters are usually a dime a dozen, especially since they’ve fallen out of favor in recent years. Not very many great games are in the genre nowadays, but once in a while a respectable game does come along that intrigues you to play it because of a style choice or just doing the genre justice in its own right. Platypus is one of these commendable games – well, the PC version is, at least. Unfortunately for the PSP port of the original PC game, it didn’t follow through.

No way around it – Platypus for PSP is borked. From the ground up, the game is a nearly unplayable mess of frustration that corrodes any interest you may have for its clay-animated graphic style. The biggest problem is the severely underpowered default weapon. There’s something wrong when you land consistent shots at a target, and as they leave the playing area (never to return) they’re still not dead. Furiously pounding on the X button doesn’t help either – it’s the simple problem of weapon balancing. The normal blaster should have been made twice as powerful. The regular weapon is such a game breaking aspect of the title that it makes experiencing the game a waste of time. It is to the point that if you genuinely wanted to try out the game with this in mind, I would shoo you away to an insane asylum. It’s that bad.

Yes, there are weapon power-ups, but due to the game’s horrid level design they are rendered useless, since they rely on a timer rather than ammo count. There will be sections of a level (usually after you acquire a power-up) where there will be absolutely no enemies to kill, wasting any sort of advantage you may have had acquiring the precious power-up. Power-ups include a rapid blaster, an underpowered soundwave weapon, and “the most powerful” missiles (which are also underpowered for what they are). Perhaps the game wouldn’t have been so bad if you could infinitely use one of the power-ups you got, or if they were actually acquirable more often, alas they are not. No amount of searches has resulted in finding cheats for the game either.

The saving grace of the game lies in its graphics and music. It’s very unique in its own right – even so far as to say that it’s the only reason to play the game in the first place – to use claymation in a shooter. Everything from the little red specks to the explosions is made in this fashion, and is pulled off fairly well. Extra levels and bosses also do appear in the PSP version, but they are made from Frankenstein-ing (for lack of a better term) other graphics together to create them. Music will also be a source of nostalgia for those that remember where certain songs came from. Many are re-makes of music from old Commodore 64 games.

Amidst some actual background controversy about the PSP version’s history, it’s very hard to recommend this game to anyone except for the most die-hard shoot-em-up fan that is in desperate need for a title to rejuvenate their life energy. There is no point to the game other than creating frustration, and helping in the development of a brain aneurysm. The game is playable, albeit hardly, so it might not be so bad if you could get it for around a dollar.

 

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner (PS2) Review

Developer/Publisher: Atlus || Overall: 8.5/10

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner is the newest RPG for the Playstation 2 from Atlus. While America doesn’t see nearly as many Shin Megami Tensei games as Japan does, recently there have been more games localized — SMT: Devil Summoner is actually the third game in the “Devil Summoner” spin-off series of SMT. Devil Summoner defines itself by mixing in real-time random battles with a mildly interesting detective story, all set in a large urban area in Japan during the 1920s.

As with any RPG, the story is the major factor that keeps the player going. Following a mute main character, Raidou Kuzunoha the Fourteenth, you are charged with protecting the “capital city” — a group of smaller cities in the same area of an early 1900’s Japan — from demons. Raidou’s job is to investigate any occurrences that happen in the city regarding demons, which are invisible to normal humans and live in a parallel dimension. The main story starts right off within the first half hour of play – Raidou’s detective agency gets a call from a girl asking for help, not saying much more than to meet her on the bridge. On the bridge, there is an encounter with a mysterious legion of red-cloaked soldiers who abduct the girl before anything can be found out. At this point, it’s up to Raidou to discover what happened to the girl, why she needed help, and who abducted her.

The story in Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner, while interesting, doesn’t do itself justice to the world that is created. In Devil Summoner, there are two “dimensions” – the regular world and the “dark” world. The dark world, inhabited by demons, occupies the same space as the regular world, and occasionally crossover occurs. This is where most of the conflict arises in the story, not to mention all the enemies you’ll encounter. The story is pretty simple, to say the least, with details slowly added to make the story more and more intriguing. The only problem with that is that it can take a long time to actually get into the story and, by extension, the game itself. The story also progresses through segmented episodes to show that a period of time passes between each of the main events of the game.

World exploration consists of totally urban settings. As said before, you’ll go to all parts of a bustling city with random non-interactive people walking around to create the feeling of a populated city. While it can be fun running through the different parts of the city to find the next clue needed in your adventure, it can be quite a hassle, especially because of the random battles that seem to happen every fifteen seconds. I don’t know if it’s a theme in the SMT series, but out of the games I have played, there appears to be a lot of random battles happening in a short period of time.

SMT: Devil Summoner’s battle system is definitely a strong point, but is held back by its shortcomings. Being a real-time combat system lends itself to being able to have each battle be over quite quickly. There aren’t too many moves that can actually be done while in battle mode with the main character; a simple dash attack, charge attack, and normal strike are about as much as can be done by Raidou. He also has a gun that can shoot different types of bullets. As can be imagined, it doesn’t make battles too terribly exciting. The main variances that can make or break a battle is the type of demon that accompanies you into battle, and how you raise them.

The game’s demon system is definitely the most compelling element of Devil Summoner. Not unlike a Pokémon game, you can capture the enemy demons you go against during battle. Depending on the ever-present phase of the moon and Raidou’s current level, you can capture practically any demon, unless you’re told otherwise. You must use and maintain a stable of demons by leveling up, sacrificing, and combining them to fit your needs and increase their power, and in effect, yours. By combining two demons into one, you can create new demons, as well as free up another slot to fill with a new demon to use for your agenda. Demons also have extraneous skills that will help you during map exploration and solving puzzles, as well as getting vital information from a stubborn person not exactly willing to let go of the information you might need to progress.

The graphics in the game aren’t anything too special, but there are times that can still make you say, “Wow, the PS2 can do this?” The main agenda of Devil Summoner isn’t to dazzle with amazing graphics as it is to make an interesting world in itself to explore. The sound effects are nice, and every demon has their own little grunts or yelps, making it easy to identify a certain demon, if you ever needed to. The soundtrack is also very impressive, and captures the feeling of the areas you visit with accuracy. What is obviously most disappointing about the sound is that there is no voice acting. To me, it definitely leaves out a certain important feeling that a game like this really needs to immerse the player even more into the setting, especially when it’s one that is as unique as the early 1900s, as it’s hard for someone living today to really relate to how people may have talked or acted nearly a century ago. One thing that is very praiseworthy is the loading time. Battles take almost no time to load, which is a very good thing since they happen so often, but not only that, each part of the city that you’re in does not have to take time to load off the disc, as you can wander through a city with no pauses or ugly pop-ins.

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner is a more traditional RPG for the transitional state of the genre itself. Integrating real-time battles with random encounters makes the game feel like a stopgap between action and turn based RPGs. While the story isn’t all that intriguing or remarkable, Devil Summoner ends up being a quaint adventure mystery title set in an uncommon setting with lots of random battles. Be that as it may, it is a solid title that hardcore RPG fans will want to check out as one of the last RPGs to hit the PS2 before the next generation rears its full might.

 

Super Dragonball Z (PS2) Review

Developer: Crafts & Meister / Publisher: Atari || Overall: 8.0/10

Lots of Dragon Ball Z games have hit the market since the series burst into popularity, but Super Dragon Ball Z for the PS2 (an arcade conversion) takes the series in a different direction than what has been accomplished in the past. Super Dragon Ball Z is a much more simplistic and traditional fighter than what has been seen with the Budokai series. It accomplishes this by only offering three modes of play, Original, Survivor, and Versus modes. Furthering the idea of simplicity, gameplay is reliant on only four different buttons.

Developed by new studio Crafts & Meister, which happens to be headed by the producer of the Street Fighter Alpha series, the similarities between Super Dragon Ball Z and traditional fighters are very apparent. First of all are the types of ways to play the game. You can play a traditional arcade mode in which you go against different opponents all the way up to Cell in the final battle. It’s nothing that hasn’t been seen before, but the arenas you’ll fight in are multi-layered, as well as adequately capturing the feeling that you’re actually fighting in locations from the television show. In this mode, you’ll occasionally get a Dragon Ball from defeating an enemy. As all patrons of the TV show should know, there are seven Dragon Balls to collect, and once you have them all you can use them to wish for new characters or new abilities for your custom character.

A major part of Super Dragon Ball Z relies on having “Character Cards.” A character card is basically the way you build a customized character with the game. A customized character entails the somewhat unique combination of abilities that the initial character you chose out of the up-to-eighteen characters (five are unlockable) that are included in the game. As your character gains experience and collects more Dragon Balls, they will grow in strength and gain new abilities that are chosen from a skill tree that is unique to each character. Acquiring Dragon Balls also offers new abilities that would not be acquirable through the regular skill tree. There is also the possibility of “skill inheritance” in which you can learn a skill from another character card you have built up. With up to thirty character card slots, a large part of the game’s playability comes in building up all the different fighters that are actually in the game, and motivates you towards furthering your characters’ development. Character cards also store the “BP” that your character is, which is the “strength reading” of a particular character. Though BP seems like it’s important, I could not find a benefit to gaining more other than that it keeps building up.

The Z Survivor mode requires you create a Character Card before playing. Survivor mode is no different than other games in that you keep facing enemy after enemy with the existing amount of health that you had at the end of the last battle you had. Each match is only one round long, so if you beat your opponent, you’ll be right on to the next. An added bonus from playing this mode is that there is very little loading – all the matches take place in the same arena, so you can work your way through a lot of matches in a relatively short time as compared to the Original arcade mode, not to mention excel your character faster. After each match in Z Survivor a “Bonus Roulette” will appear, allowing you to choose a prize, which can be a Dragon Ball, a stat increase for defense/attack, HP healing, experience boost, or a BP boost. Versus mode allows for play against a friend in standard best-out-of-three matches. A Training mode will also give you the opportunity to get used to a character or try out a special move so you can memorize how to use it, just like in many other fighters. It’s unfortunate that there is no mode that mixes three round matches and Survivor mode to allow for regular versus matches in succession of one another for as long as you may want to play, similar to the Kumite mode in Virtua Fighter 4.

As for the actual fighting mechanics, I found them to be solid in its simplicity. Though attacks are lumped into “Light Attack” and “Heavy Attack” you can use them in different combinations along with the analog stick to use all of your characters abilities to defeat your enemy. Guarding is mapped to the X button while jumping and flying is set to the O button. If you tap the O button while you’re jumping, your character can start to fly. However, this will use up stamina, which is represented by a blue bar at the bottom of the screen. If you press O and X together (or L2), you can perform a dash, which will allow you to get closer to your enemy. You can also perform a throw attack on your enemies, which is best used when your enemy is vulnerable after being vigorously slammed into a wall. Ki (energy) attacks are also relatively easy to perform, as well as using a character’s signature move(s). When using one of your signature moves, you’ll decrease the green Ultimate Gauge by a third. You can build up your Ultimate Gauge by laying the hurt into your opponent. The AI is relentless as you work your way up, and you’ll have to pull out all the stops you can, even if it means being “cheap.” With some time, the game can grow on you, as a challenge is presented to you and like in any other fighting game, you’ll want to meet and exceed the challenge that is presented by getting better with the fight mechanics.

Though the complexity of this fighter would have improved (as well as with its gameplay) if one button was assigned to each part of the body, the game leaves room for improvement in its current configuration. Because you only have two buttons to work with when it comes to attacking, there isn’t a very huge discrepancy in the attacks you’ll be choosing to use. While it’s not exactly easy to win every battle, you’ll have an easier time choosing the attacks you should use. One thing I also noticed is that there isn’t much running – characters will always fly through the air or propel toward their enemies.

The graphics in the game are quite pleasing – the cel-shaded look the game has mimics the anime as well as it can. Personally, it is really cool to be able to interact with characters from my youth’s obsession in such a way. Sound doesn’t get pulled off as efficiently, however. While the voices of all the characters are voiced by the original voice actors from the English dubbed version, they don’t say much that makes you appreciate that they’re really there. The sound effects sound like they’re straight from the anime, which is a good thing. The music included is fairly odd, as it plays against the action and goes more along with the environment than what may be happening on screen. The music isn’t very noticeable unless you pause the game for a period of time, because most of your attention will be on trying to defeat your enemy rather than the music.

Super Dragon Ball Z is a great arcade game when it stands on its own feet, but when compared to the finest of the genre, such as Virtua Fighter, Tekken, and Street Fighter, it can be seen as a bit lacking. Though it’s nice to see the Dragon Ball Z series be taken in such a traditional direction, there is a lot of room for the game to grow, especially when it comes to the fight mechanics. More modes of play would also be a welcomed addition in any sort of sequel that the game may have, as well. Super Dragon Ball Z ends up being a game that can please fans of the anime series as well as the previous Dragon Ball Z games.

 

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 (PS2) Review

Developer: Neversoft / Publisher: Activision || Overall: 8.5/10

For those who have not played any of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games don’t waste your time with any except Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4. THPS 4 has all the improvements from its three predecessors, but this time there is no time limit involved in skating sessions. Basically, it’s free-skate all the time. The whole premise of THPS 4, is to complete particular challenges given to you by zany characters and other skaters you will come across in a particular level. THPS 4 features nine pre-made maps, two of which must be unlocked through excessive gameplay. You’re given the chance to skate at a college campus, San Francisco, Chicago, a shipyard, or even a zoo. On each of the maps you’ll find one or two mini-games. The extra challenges help you learn advanced tricks so that you can use them on your own free skate time.

With THPS 4, you can make your own skate park and create your own skater with even more items to customize. When you create a skater, you can make your skater short and fat, tall and fat, or just plain fat. A lot of the modifications are not that realistic, but its still fun to mess around with. Speaking of realism, if you’re planning on beating this game, you’re going to have to do tricks that are basically impossible to do in real life (like launching off a ramp, doing four varial heelflips, then doing a manual as soon as you hit the ground).

The gameplay will take a while to master if you are not a Tony Hawk veteran. The game is all about timing and getting used to the in-game physics, as well as getting used to your particular skater’s trick outfit. Tricks are basically split up into four different types: Grab tricks, Flip tricks, Grind/Lip tricks, and the newest addition, Flatland tricks. Grab tricks are tricks that are made while in the air. Flip tricks are also made while in the air, but can be executed a lot faster than a Grab trick. Grinds are made on rails or edges of a sidewalk. Lip tricks also make use of grind-able surfaces; they must be at the top of a half-pipe or on the edge of a bowl or similar surface. Flatland tricks are made while on the ground, and require nothing more than balance, exactly like a grind. Flatland tricks are new to the series with THPS 4, as they all stem out from the manual. Through the series, manuals have become more and more important, allowing you to string together tricks one after another. The developer has been able to take advantage of Flatland tricks and put together some fairly challenging situations throughout the game. It may take you a day or two just to complete one particular challenge, if you have the patience enough to actually do so.

You advance through the game by gaining Pro Points and Cash. The more Pro Points you have, the more levels you’ll have access to. The more Cash you have, the more extras you’ll be able to play around with, such as cheats, movies, skateboard decks and more things to customize your create-a-skater with. You have to spend your points carefully, as time goes on it’ll be harder to get more points.

The multiplayer aspect of this game was a HUGE part of the game. Before they took it down, it may have even be more important than the single player mode, because nothing was more fun than snubbing your five billion point score in other people’s faces when you’re declared the winner. While the network play option has become easy to configure with THPS 4, it really doesn’t matter anymore since the online portion of the game is no longer supported. Not until you play a Tony Hawk game online do you know how good you are compared to other people — you could have completed all the challenges in the single player mode, but still get wiped on the floor. It’s really a shock to see people reaching scores of 3 million, 5 million, or even 10 million plus. When online was active, all of the offline multiplayer games were available for online play. However, as with any online game, the better your internet connection, the better the game play. Also, having a keyboard helped when communicating with other players. Sadly, all this is for naught as THPS4’s online is down for good – you’ll have to play split screen multiplayer nowadays if you still stick with this version of the Tony Hawk series.

The graphics in THPS 4 are still pretty good. Compared to the previous games, everything in the game has been given the extra effort in being polished. There aren’t too many frame rates drops, unless you’re racking up points that are literally in the millions for just one string of tricks, because the calculating of the numbers can slow the game down. They’re good graphics, no more, no less. Each level is detailed very well and full of unique objects you’ll only see on that particular map. There are also unlockables in which you see the actual skaters doing tricks in compressed skateboard videos.

Like the other games in the series, THPS 4 also has an impressive soundtrack by a mix of rap/hip hop artists (NWA), punk bands (Offspring), and even a little bit of the classic rock (AC/DC, the Cult) and classic heavy metal (Iron Maiden). If you don’t like a particular song, you can easily stop it from playing ever again. There’s also voice acting for the people that give you challenges. It isn’t all too bad, but in the case of some characters like Ollie the Bum, you’ll either love it or hate it.

With a Greatest Hits price of $19.99 or even cheaper these days, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 is well worth an investment when it comes to skateboarding games. The THPS series has always been the best games of their particular genre, compared to other “extreme sports” games. In my mind, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 is the perfect skateboarding game that encompasses all of the best things from the series before they went in a new direction with the Underground series. There hasn’t been another “Pro Skater” title since. The value of the game has been diminished since the shutting down of the online servers, and it will be missed by the few who still held this game as the pinnacle of the series.

 

Ultimate Ghosts’n Goblins (PSP) Review

Developer/Publisher: Capcom || Overall: 8.5/10

A famous side-scrolling series from Capcom has made its way to the PSP in the form of Ultimate Ghosts ’n Goblins. Infamous for its difficulty, Ultimate Ghosts ’n Goblins is presented in beautiful 2.5D (2D in a 3D world). You take control of Arthur, a knight that must save a princess from the clutches of evil by battling through five hellish stages, collecting hidden golden rings along the way. Using the tools and weapons available along the way, UGnG has a very simple objective and requires little understanding in terms of how to play. Ultimate Ghosts ’n Goblins earns its rank of being one of the most difficult games to come out recently, capturing a retro feeling at the same time.

For new players to the series, Ultimate Ghosts ’n Goblins is flexible, but stays true to its objectives. When starting a new game, you are presented with three difficulty modes: Novice, Standard, and Ultimate. The game is basically the same through all of the settings, but how the game treats you dictates the difficulty. In Novice mode, you’ll start out with many lives, and after you die your weapons will remain powered up upon re-spawning. In Standard, you only start with two lives and no post-mortem powered-up weapons. In Ultimate mode, your armor is weak, breaking in only one hit, and when you die, you’ll restart at the beginning of the level (and with regular weapons) rather than re-spawning close to where you had died.

The frantic side-scrolling action that comes with the game might be hard to get used to at first, but when you learn what to expect from the game in terms of enemies materializing from thin air, it becomes more manageable. Crybabies will find no solace here — the whole point of the game is to be difficult. Enemies will pop out of nowhere, infinitely respawn, and attack you from all sides. Capcom pulled out all the stops to make the game as difficult as it can be, but they still managed to make it fun. While there aren’t many stages to work your way through, the difficulty and the randomness of the enemies and obstacles will work toward extending the game’s life. Not to mention there are quite a few items to collect and earn that will help extend the life of the title.

In a game like UGnG, story is not important — a basic “save the princess” scenario is laid out in the beginning of the game, and off you go destroying enemies. Many weapons, types of magic, and shields are available for use. Each weapon has its own advantage or disadvantage depending on what you need to accomplish. Some weapons can be used quickly while others take longer between each shot. Weapons include daggers, whips, arrows, and many more. Magic spells can also be used to your advantage and usually pack the punch needed to get through a tight spot. Shields also help with defense, but one shield in particular, the Dragon Shield, is an important one — it can be used to help you fly for a limited amount of time, helping you reach places that would otherwise be impossible to get to. Different kinds of armor are also available.

Throughout levels, random treasure chests of either a blue or red color will appear. Well, they seem like they’re “random” but in all actuality their appearances occur when you touch predetermined objects or areas. Within these chests are weapons, power-ups, or even new magic spells that can help you complete your journey.

The gameplay mechanics are tight and responsive. The game depends a lot on jumping over hazards or getting through an obstacle in a certain amount of time, both requiring a lot of skill from the player. Most of the game is played through the use of three buttons — Square for using weapons, X for Jumping, with circle being used to activate magic. Stage design is the absolute strong point of the title, even though it can be merciless at times. Many of the hardest parts of the game depend on timing and only having a limited amount of chances to make your way through obstacles. Boss battles, like the rest of the game, are challenging yet fun, and occur at right times to break up the pacing of the game.

Other shining aspects include the graphics and sound. Through and through, Ultimate Ghosts ’n Goblins is visually a great game to experience. Practically all the levels have at least some sort of eye candy, as can be seen in the screenshots. Sound effects and music are also of top quality. The soundtrack is very good as well. The full audiovisual package is quite amazing for a handheld, especially considering that load times don’t last much longer than one to three seconds at a time, and no loading or slowdown is seen at all when playing through a full stage. The game runs at a solid frame count, which lends itself greatly to the high action that UGnG prides itself with.

A number of things keep the game from being perfect, however. The most annoying of the flaws is not being able to control your double-jump while in mid-air. When you need to jump onto an exact spot, it is very hard to be accurate. For example, if you’re next to a gravestone and need to jump on top of it to activate something, you can’t go right up to it and then jump up on it. You have to go back a few steps and then jump onto it. It’s simply impossible to change direction while you’re doing a double-jump, enforcing the fact that you’ll have to look before your leap. Another disconcerting aspect of the game is the fact that there are quite a few elements not explained well, or even at all. For example, there is no explanation of what a shaking grave stone means or what to do with circular portal-looking things. Little things like this pull the final product down from being as enjoyable as it could be, because all it does is create more frustration (as if the regular gameplay didn’t do that enough as it is).

Gamers looking for a true challenge will find Ultimate Ghosts ’n Goblins to be one of the most enthralling side-scrolling experiences to come out for quite some time. As a throwback to the retro days of when the side-scroller was king, Ultimate Ghosts ’n Goblins is a game that shouldn’t be passed over. It’s a perfect portable game to have, with especially fast load times and quick starting gameplay that can easily kill time.

 

Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth (PSP) Review

Developer/Publisher: Square Enix || Overall: 9.0/10

Being a fan of pretty much any SquareSoft RPG from the PSOne era, it has always pained my heart that I was never able to experience the uniqueness that was encapsulated in the Tri-Ace-developed Valkyrie Profile, published by its future bedmate Enix. Square Enix answered my prayers with the re-release of Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth, a couple of months before the prequel Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria. Being a self-proclaimed hardcore fan of Final Fantasy games, I found VP: Lenneth to be a very jostling experience compared to the other products Squaresoft pushed back in the day. While the game could end up not delivering what you would expect after a full playthrough, it is a very fun 16-bit RPG nonetheless.

Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth’s setting is quite unique from what is usually seen for games based in mythology. It’s not uncommon to see Greek, Roman, or even medieval games, given that those are the most familiar mythologies American society has grown up with. Until VP: Lenneth, I had never heard of the lesser-known Norse Mythology, and that is what VP itself is based on. Without some background understanding about the words “Asgard,” “Valhalla,” and “Einherjar” I was simply perplexed by what any of the characters in the game were actually talking about, since it offers no explanation within itself (a theme in VP: Lenneth seems to be that it doesn’t explain itself on purpose).

However, a simple query online through one’s favorite search engine can answer the questions that may arise. Understanding the concepts of Norse Mythology might take a little more time, but you get my drift. Now, while saying that VP is “based” on Norse Mythology is true, it does not necessarily mean all of the concepts it introduces are exactly true to Norse Mythology itself. You’ll have to take the events that happen in the game as just that – events that happen in the game. It’s not a retelling of any particular story except the one that was fictionalized for the game, though it might be based on mythological figures.

The basis of the game’s actual story is that you are a Valkyrie named Lenneth. Valkyries are the female death servants of Lord Odin, ruler of the Æsir, who lives in a large palace named Valhalla. A Valkyrie’s purpose is to obtain human souls from Earth that exhibit a strong capability of helping fight the war in Asgard (Norse Heaven), which rages between the two rival groups of Gods known as the Æsir and the Vanir. Though in Norse Mythology Valkyries don’t exactly engage in combat directly as seen in the game, Lenneth is quite the badass when it comes down to her fighting skills. Lenneth also brings worthy human souls along with her into battle, who are called Einherjar. The term is used by the Gods to refer to the spirit of a warrior who died bravely in battle. For a religion thought up by Vikings who valued war, it’s not surprising that those who exhibit bravery in battle would be seen as special.

Lenneth, also referenced as just “Valkyrie,” must find enough Einherjar to help the Æsir before Ragnarok (the end of the world) comes about. You control Lenneth through all the different stories and dungeons that occur through the game’s progression in a Chapter/Period system. There are 24 periods in a “day,” known as a chapter, and eight days to go through before Ragnarok. So that means Valkyrie is on a tight schedule. Lucky enough for you, there is no traditional trekking through different parts of the world map before you get to the next event. Valkyrie can fly! So you can save lots of time by just flying to the next destination. You’ll also know exactly where to go, so there’s no guesswork involved in whether or not you should go to a certain town unless you feel the need to waste your allotted time. Even though the Chapter/Period system might seem a bit restrictive, when it comes down to it there just isn’t all that much extra stuff to do. Without intentionally wasting time visiting places you’ve already been to, you will be able to get through all the character’s mini-stories and dungeons within the confines of the given time. Still, you must transfer at least one (preferably two, since it’s the max) Einherjar to Asgard if you want to keep a good standing with Lord Odin.

Another unique aspect of the game is that it is almost exclusively in 2D. Save for the world map, there will be lots of platforming and running through doors on either side of a room. It is also multilayered – you can go to the “rear” or the “front” so there isn’t just one long string of rooms you progress through. The battle system is by far one of the most unique from the era and still is to this day. When in battle, each character is assigned to a face button, and when they are activated in a devastating-enough pattern, you are able to perform a special attack. Each character will have one unique special attack that they will use for the whole game, which can deal some very damaging blows that can make or break a battle in the desperate times. It is also important to note that special attacks can be strung together as long as a gauge in the bottom left of the screen fills up to 100 after any series of attacks.

Three kinds of items can pop out of an enemy as you fight them. There are purple orbs for using special attacks/magic more often, blue crystals giving 10% more experience each, and treasure chests symbolizing items you obtain after the battle is over. The way a battle progresses is in a combination of real-time and turn-based. When it is your turn, you can use all of your characters at the same time and get through your turn in a relatively short fashion if you choose to. It is a completely different system from the ATB system that was seen in FFVII/VIII/IX. The battle system is a very effective one, right up there with Xenogears’ implementation for non-ATB-based systems.

Another liberal idea that is executed in VP: Lenneth is the lack of any actual shops. That’s because Lenneth has the power to create items out of thin air by expending an amount of Materialize Points. As time goes on, stronger weapons and items will make themselves available for materialization. At the end of each chapter, you will be given another allotment of MP based on how well you did, which will have to go a long way considering that the next time you’ll get a significant amount of MP will be at the end of the next chapter. However, all is not lost, as you can convert items into MP if you’re just out of reach of a certain item’s price or simply don’t need a certain item. The whole item/weapon system is convenient, considering that you never have to hunt through a ton of different shops for a better weapon since you carry the shop with you. This Divine Item system, as it is known, can only be used on the world map or on save points.

Another interesting aspect of the game is that there are three different difficulty settings, as well as three different endings. The difficulty settings relate to how many dungeons you’ll be able to play and the level new characters start out with. Almost every help source I’ve seen suggests picking hard, for the fact that you can experience all of the dungeons that are in the game and see any of the three endings. The endings are referenced as “A,” “B,” and “C.” The “C” ending is the really bad ending, and is pretty easy to get. The “B” ending doesn’t explain anything that happened in the game, as you just get a pat on the back and off you go. The “A” ending is where the game should really be at, so do not play the game with the intention of getting any ending other than “A” if you don’t intend on playing this game more than once. Unfortunately for me, I knew nothing about which ending would be the most satisfying and ended up getting the “B” ending…resulting in a very underwhelming conclusion after pumping forty hours into the game. But I did have fun, and that’s the point, right?

When it comes to sound, it’s very cool to have a game from the PSOne era contain a decent amount of voiceovers in it. While it has become a de facto standard in my mind for most games I play now (especially dialogue-heavy games), I do have realistic expectations for games that were released nearly seven years ago. I found the voice work to be very satisfying, much like the graphics. Having a game that is entirely in animated 2D lends itself to having a sort of artistic beauty that is not hampered by a past generation’s typical look. There is nearly no frame rate slowdown in battles, as they play out with fluidity. Unfortunately, there is a noticeable slowdown in normal exploration as the camera scans left and right, not to mention the menu loading that is a bit longer than I would have liked, all of which can take away from the perceived quality of the emulation.

As for the portability of VP: Lenneth, I can say that it is the first and only portable RPG that I have sunk forty hours into. The record was previously held by Golden Sun, which I only spent around ten or fifteen hours with. Needless to say, VP: Lenneth works very well for portability, but if you’re looking for quick spurts of playing for five minutes, it might not be a great idea to play an RPG to begin with. If you’re away from a home console and have loads of time to kill, VP: Lenneth will be an excellent choice for RPG gamers. I know that I wouldn’t have been able to get through some of those long shifts at work without my PSP and VP: Lenneth.

VP: Lenneth is well worth the amount of money I spent to purchase the game the week it came out. I am glad that I am able to experience this game when it was nearly impossible to do such a thing for the past few years. For being one of the rarest PSOne games, it’s almost a steal to have it available at a normal price point.

 

WTF: Work Time Fun (PSP) Review

Developer: Sony Computer Entertainment / Publisher: D3 Publisher || Overall: 6.0/10

Jobs these days are too complex. Why can’t we be paid for simply adding numbers together, chopping wood or putting caps on septillion pens? Why aren’t there stupid jobs that would pay you in pennies rather than dollars? To that, I say WTF!!!! Not “what the fuck,” silly, I mean Work Time Fun, the game!

Known as “Byte Hell 2000” in Japan, WTF: Work Time Fun is a mini-game compilation published in North America by D3Publisher of America, and developed by Sony Computer Entertainment. It’s easy to tell how D3PA’s localization shapes the feel of the game, when it comes to what is being communicated to you through text or voice — however; those are the least important aspects of WTF. The real meat comes in the form of mini-games called jobs. The reason they’re called jobs is simple — many depict a form of labor or a task to be done rather than being an actual small game, so to speak.

Most of the jobs are very simple, requiring you to only use one or two buttons. Possibly the best thing about the game as a whole, is that it takes very little time to load each job, and you can get right into playing each game. Usually taking less than a few seconds to get from the top menu and right into it, you’ll only be inhibited by your patience at working any one particular job.

To start a game, you’ll have to go to the Job Placement Office. There, you’ll be able to select one of four jobs to get paid for at any given time. Meaning, even if you’re able to work at more than four jobs, you’ll only be able to choose one of the four that are available when you go into the Job Placement Office, which will force you to play games you don’t exactly want to play. As you complete jobs, you’ll earn money and earn rankings for how far you get within particular jobs; its not too complicated.

Other than putting caps on pens, chopping wood, and counting in your head, there are jobs like sorting chickens, catching baseballs, collecting mushrooms while avoiding traffic, counting people as they pass by, cliff racing and others. One notable game is 4 Fingers, in which you smack a sharp object into the table in between your fingers, and as you pass your hands the sharp object will go faster and faster forcing you to change the rhythm of your button presses. My personal favorite game is Demonstration Round Up, a game that is similar to PC and cell phone favorite Snake, in which you’ll incite a riot by emptying colorized buildings full of people. Once you collect the people that come out of the buildings, they will be added on to your large chain of people. You have to be careful because riot police will break up your line, and make a large part of your effort be for nothing. If Demonstration Roundup were fleshed out into a larger game, it would be quite enjoyable, despite its lack of graphical impressiveness. Other original games are included, and some can be aligned to classical arcade games with a spin on them, or simply be seen as some of the worst “games” to ever be conceived. It’s really a mixed bag when it comes to the selection of games.

When you earn money, you can take it to the vending machines. With the vending machines, you can take your chances at getting new jobs, trinkets, and tools. Jobs are rather rare, as are tools. Tools are simple little programs that will help you do something rather meaningless. There are things like a multi-colored flashlight, easy bill splitter, and a ramen timer. The ramen timer is quite humorous. Depending on which version you choose and for how long, you can either see a buff Japanese guy saying “muscle muscle muscle” for three minutes, or a cute Japanese girl saying “goody goody” for five minutes; it’s certainly helpful when you want to make ramen, I suppose. The interesting thing about the ramen timer’s video is that it uses the PSP the long way, so their full bodies will take up most of the screen rather than being squished or only seeing part of their body in the normal way.

The graphics are mediocre at best. Practically all the games are in 2D, and look pretty bad to boot. WTF is not a game that tries to please the eyes, to say the least. The sound effects are quite annoying at times, and very little music is actually played through any of the games involved, usually letting you focus on the job at hand rather than anything else. The multiplayer options are quite nice. Game sharing can be a big part of the game if you let it be — any friend with a PSP can help you out with your jobs by having them “outsourced” and their earnings will be put into your pocket for use in the vending machines.

If you’re looking for a game to waste time with, WTF: Work Time Fun is not a bad choice. There is a sprinkling of humor, but as a game, it’s not that much fun. The main draw here is definitely the humor, but what you get out of it really depends on the amount of time you can sink into doing the monotonous tasks that are available; when there’s nothing to do at work, it probably can’t get any worse than this.

 

Micro Machines V4 (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Codemasters || Overall: 7.0/10

Micro Machines V4 from Codemasters is a follow-up to the somewhat popular mini-car racer Micro Machines V3. In a Micro Machines game, one races through courses that are a little bit unconventional to your regular racer, for the fact that you’re actually racing around on things like pool tables, kitchen counters, sand pits, gutters, and other locations of the sort. Quite simply being the best part about Micro Machines V4 itself, the courses are very interesting and arcade-like. However, an arcade racer wouldn’t be complete without power-ups and weapons, and Micro Machines V4 is no exception. There’s plenty of fun to be had with the game, but where it lacks is depth in the gameplay that will motivate you to keep playing the game. Not to mention it can get very frustrating.

Micro Machines V4 is a typical racing game in that you dive right in. Much of the game is focused on three different types of modes that can be played: Race, Checkpoint, and Battle. Race mode is your typical racing game; quite simply you beat your opponents doing whatever you can as you make it to the finish line after three laps. Checkpoint is more like a time-trial mode in that you try and get the best time you can going around a certain race track twice, except you have to make it to the next checkpoint before counter runs out. Battle is by far the most fun part about the game, and the goal is to simply beat the crap out of your opponents, laying traps, shooting missiles, and leaving them in your dust – you have to either eliminate your enemies or get far enough ahead of them in your race around the track to get a point. Once you get enough points in Battle mode, you’ll win. By playing through the game in a Tournament, you can unlock new modes, tracks, and collect more cars for your garage. The cars you keep in your garage can be used for trading with other people online so that you can get other kinds of cars. You can also play the game in an online multiplayer mode.

The graphics in the game aren’t too bad. In fact, the frame rate is almost a solid 60 FPS with very little slowdown. As you make your way through the track, the camera follows your car from far away and makes very smooth reframes, creating a cinematic sort of feel to the game. For some reason, the steady frame rate makes the game a lot more bearable than it probably should be, considering the gameplay itself is very unbalanced (even during the “Rookie” division!) and can be horribly frustrating, making the early stages of a race vital and requiring that you execute each race flawlessly. Though the game is on the PC, it’s clearly made for use with a controller, and can make things a lot easier, if not, more fun in the very least. Sound effects are quite annoying, there is always the high motor whine of the little Micro Machines as they zoom along the edge of the kitchen sink and get stuck in the blender, but with the sound off this problem will simply disappear. Music in the game isn’t very impressionable either.

There aren’t any “extras” that are actually included in the game right out of the box, the reason being that “microtransactions” do take their place in the game – at least in the PC version. To unlock certain bonuses in the PC version, you must go online and register your copy of the game with Codemasters, and proceed to pay a fee for the codes that are used to unlock the extras and different modes. Obviously, it’s kind of ridiculous to have to pay extra for things that are already on the disc, and clearly a way to squeeze the consumer’s wallet on this one. However, the extras that are available to be bought aren’t exactly vital, even though it would be nice to have them…hence their “extra” status.

Micro Machines V4 is a fun game to waste a few hours with every once in a while, but past that, there’s not much to enjoy. Balance issues make the game as a whole very disconcerting, giving a slant towards only wanting to play the Battle mode, as it is the more overly balanced mode in the game. Fans of the series might be a little bit disappointed, since not much in the formula was actually improved between each game. What MMV4 boils down to is your average arcade racer that has the unique status of being a game with miniature cars racing through everyday environments.

 

Spectrobes (DS) Preview

Developer: Jupiter Corporation | Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios

Spectrobes is a new action RPG from Disney for the Nintendo DS. Developed by the Jupiter Corporation in Kyoto, Japan, players assume the role of Rallen, a young officer in the Planetary Patrol. The Planetary Patrol keeps people in the galaxy safe from harm. Along with your fellow officer Jeena, you go from planet to planet keeping everything safe. When Rallen and Jeena find a capsule that encases an old soldier by the name of Aldus, that’s when they find there is more to the galaxy than it may seem.

World-eating creatures named the Kraul are coming towards Rallen and Jeena’s solar system, and the only way they can be defeated are by using the powers of dormant creatures named Spectrobes that are buried as fossils beneath planet surfaces. When used, the fossils create Spectrobes that can be raised into powerful allies. Rallen must go to each planet and excavate minerals to give them more power. To find fossils and minerals, Rallen uses a baby Spectrobe that is able to detect them. Moving around on the gameplay screen consists of using the D-pad, and when a Spectrobe finds something to dig out of the ground (you have to tell it to find something) you tap the screen where a sparkly little dot is and enter the digging mode. You use the stylus to “dig” by rubbing the touch screen. There are different tools for Rallen to use while digging for fossils and minerals, and using the right ones will end in a successful excavation.

Once you acquire a Spectrobe fossil, you’ll have to wake it up by using the microphone in the DS. The way you’ll wake it up is by singing or humming a tune at a sustained volume that is denoted on the screen. Once a Spectrobe is awakened, you put it in an incubator and feed it minerals until it becomes an adult. Once it becomes an adult, you can add it to your party as a battle Spectrobe. You can carry up to six at the same time, but only two can be used actively in battle with the remaining four supporting the two that are in battle. Eventually, Spectrobes will evolve into a more powerful form to further help in your battle against the Kraul. During battle, you can command the Spectrobes that are on either side of Rallen with the L and R shoulder buttons. You’ll have to use the Spectrobes in the correct order to get through battles, and as time goes on, the combos get more complicated.

While looking at the screenshots, the graphics aren’t anything to get too excited about. The art direction is very akin to Japanese RPGs, so if you like that kind of art style, the game should be up your alley. Controlling the menu screens were a little annoying to me since it was a combination of using the controls on the DS and the touch screen. An interesting aspect of the game is that you can acquire (buy?) physical cards that you can put on top of the DS’ touch screen and poke at the holes that are punched in the card to unlock a new Spectrobe. Kind of an interesting implementation of the touch screen, but I’m not sure if it’d be worth it if you have to buy these cards separately or whatever you have to do with them. Recently I had seen a GameStop advertisement about the game and it seems like they will give a card out for free, while supplies last, with a purchase of Spectrobes, but it also implied that there would be more cards to buy separately.

Spectrobes is due to be released this week in North America.

 

Red Jets (PC): The Editorial!

One Sunday afternoon about a month ago, I sat down at my computer to review a game called Red Jets. It’s a budget dogfighting game from Graffiti Entertainment, where you pilot Russian planes in mortal konflikt against fighter jets flown by people who are presumably not Russian. I’m a little fuzzy on the details, you see, because I never got to play Red Jets. I sort of skimmed through the manual and looked at the box art and then wrote a couple of paragraphs to review it. “But Dominic,” you say. “You are a game reviewer. How dare you review a game you did not play?” It’s actually pretty easy to do when you have an ego the size of a former Soviet Republic.

You see, Graffiti Entertainment shipped me a copy of Red Jets that was nigh-useless. The setup.exe file hard-locked my PC repeatedly, the copy protection accused me of using a duplicate disc, and not even a No-CD crack of dubious legality could help me break into Red Jets. I spent a few hours trying to get the game to run, until finally I gave up. I decided that if Graffiti Entertainment could not be bothered to send me a working game, I could not be bothered to review it.

However, Dear Reader, that would be too easy. I have received preview copies of games that chug along on my computer, or simply refuse to run. Europa Universalis III, for instance, was an unpolished gem in alpha form, when it first graced my hard drive. I don’t fault games or game companies that have less than perfect alphas. (Fun fact: EU3 cleaned up real nice, and is about to get a damn fine review from me.) But Red Jets arrived in a retail box, replete with UPC and MSRP. This was, officially, Graffiti Entertainment saying “all done!” They were going to charge you for trying to play this. My colleagues have pointed out that patches may be forthcoming, but I harbor an antiquated, Leave It To Beaver-esque belief that a man buys a game to play it, not to wait for it to be patched up to functionality. A game that arrives in a retail box is a sign to me from the publisher that I am free to take the kiddie gloves off.

So I did what any self-respecting journalist would do: I ripped Red Jets like an overweight gym teacher’s short-shorts when he bends over to pick up his clipboard. Let us be very clear: my original review did not make a single qualitative claim about Red Jets. The more educated among my readers will note that my “review” of Red Jets was an account of my attempts to install and subsequently run the game, during which I fail to state a single fact about Red Jets the game. I mentioned vomiting in a fictional white-water rafting game, I stated that I pounded nails into my thighbone, I “considered” burning down my apartment, and I professed to cursing so loudly that my dog now runs at the mere sight of me.

But I did not defame Red Jets. To do so without having played it would be irresponsible. The reader with even the most tenuous grasp on reality this side of a cult leader’s paper cup of Kool-aid will likely understand that none of those relate to Red Jets at all. The only parts of Red Jets I reviewed were the install CD crashing my computer, the license agreement, the copy protection refusing to let me play the game, and the No-CD crack not working. I explicitly stated on both pages of my review that I never played Red Jets. I felt secure in the knowledge that no one of sound mind and/or body could mistake my satire for a real review.

Fast forward to my receiving word that Gamer’s Mark is pulling my review at the behest of one Linda Shannon from Over the Moon Management; apparently, she takes exception to a negative review of a product she represents. Her claim revolves around the fact that I never played the game: she refuses to consider that I might be entitled to review other aspects of Red Jets beyond the graphics or controls or the sound or the adrenaline rush I get from engaging in thrilling air-to-air combat. You know, like the fact that it won’t do silly little things like “install” or “play.” The pluck of those kids at Gamer’s Mark!

I am disappointed that Graffiti Entertainment sent me a game that was unplayable. I am disappointed that Linda played the “how dare you” card about my review of their bargain-bin production. I am disappointed that Gamer’s Mark ultimately chose to react in the manner in which they did, and I am disappointed that this situation warrants this defense of a lackluster review of a lackluster video game.

So, in an effort to avoid this sort of e-drama in the future, here are some new ground rules from which I advise all publishers to take notes. Consider these words verily chiseled into stone hewn from the living rock of Mount Sinai’s bowels; such is their sacrosanctity and general awesomeness.

  1. Thou shalt not send me games that I have to try more than three times to install. This is because I have better things to do with my time than stare, slack of jaw, at a frozen setup program.
  2. Thou shalt recognize that everything you send me is fair game for review. This includes, but is not limited to the box art, game manual, poorly worded license agreements, the description on the back of the box, the screenshots in the manual, the way the box smells, the lame font on the CD, and the actual game itself. Attempts to apply this ex post facto have failed, but you may consider this fair warning.
  3. Thou shall not beget thy panties unto a bunched state if my review takes your game to task for its shortcomings. If your product isn’t very good, it will not get a very good review. This isn’t IGN.

In conclusion, I would like to announce my undiluted rage will be directed against the following people at a time and place of my choosing, but probably the next time a game company does something stupid like sending me coasters they plan to charge $20 for: these jerks. Also, maybe some of these people, too.

You can see the original review, re-posted, here:

http://squackle.com/24355/supchron/games/red-jets-pc-review/

 

 

Spectrobes (NDS) – My Fun Day at Disneyland!

09/19/15:

This is an article that got me in trouble.  I wrote a frank, very sarcastic description of what happened during the day.  This was, I think, my very first gaming press event (that wasn’t E3) and I was unsure of what to do the whole time.  In retrospect, I should have done more to get on the right track, but at the same time I was not informed by the PR company I was working with as to who I should meet with and what exactly was going on that day — I was operating on very little other than knowing I was to go to Disneyland.

Because of not knowing what to do, I was not able to get much exposure or learn anything about the game I was actually supposed to preview, so I wrote a paragraph about the Spectrobes itself that was inaccurate and not representative of the game.  I’ve left it in in this article (indented it), but please note that pretty much anything about the game is not the full picture, and only a small part of the game itself based on about 20 minutes of playing aimlessly.  Otherwise, the rest of the day is as I described it!  I was pretty frustrated with the day, but writing a sarcastic and assholey article was terrible in retrospect.

As to how I actually got in trouble, the PR company read my article, as I posted the whole thing on NeoGAF (a gaming forum I frequented).  I don’t think it lasted on GamersMark very long if it was there at all.  As a result of the PR company not liking my article at all, we were “reset” in our relationship with Buena Vista Games (Disney) and would have to rebuild our relationship — no more games to review, no invitations to press events, and whatever else came with it.  It wasn’t a big deal since Disney made mostly kids games (outside of our writer’s desired demographic for their writing) and they would eventually scale back their publishing almost entirely.

Adventures awaited me the morning of Friday, February 23rd at Disneyland. I was invited to a Spectrobes game event in Tomorrowland where they would have fourth graders come to play the game and do some things in front of the camera. But that’s at the end of my day. My day started at 6:30 am, as I woke up from a nice dream about Spectrobes and digging fossils because I was THAT excited for playing the game…and because I’d get into Disneyland for free.

So on the way, I follow the instructions to get to Disneyland. Having not been there in four years, I was mildly interested to see the park again.

First problem – I had to park in Downtown Disney.   No big deal… except when I went into the area where I thought the parking lot would be, it looked like it was all blocked off. So I freak out, make a U-turn, and go the opposite direction. Then, I called a person (who we were supposed to call in case of difficulties) and left her a message. She calls me back, not having listened to my message, so I just ask her about the parking situation. She said the parking lot should be open and she’d find out what was up. Fifteen minutes later of driving, I figured out I just hadn’t gone far enough down the road and found a parking space. I called her back and told her I was sorry, just hadn’t gone far enough. After which, I began the long trek through Downtown Disney into the rising sun feeling like an idiot because I already had to call this person twice.

About fifteen minutes later, I ended up at the Media Tent outside the main gates of Disneyland. At which point, I got a ticket, a media badge, and a fifteen dollar meal voucher. Score! …Or not, considering how bad the food is there. Should have just gotten fifteen dollars worth of ice cream bars instead. So, like 2?

Anyway, I get taken into a backroom VIP Lounge place in the “Innoventions” building where they have a continental breakfast set up. I get a few croissants and a coke and sit there. No one talks to me, I don’t know what’s happening, I see some Japanese dude (the game’s producer) talking in Japanese to a some other guy, a few annoying kids walking around… next I know its about 8:30 am or so. At this point, the event was going to start soon. But I don’t know where it is, or really what to expect. I suppose I could have tried talking to someone, but it was way too early in the morning for me to begin with.

Through the course of me reading through press materials that were laid out on the small table in the center of the room, I’m left alone with people who don’t know anything when I finally get the balls to ask someone what the fuck I do. I end up calling the same person I called earlier when I was trying to get to Disneyland, and basically told her I didn’t know what to do and was still in that room. She told me to just go outside where the event was, so I did, and watched what transpired. It should be noted: I never met this person on the phone.

Basically, all that happened was filmed by a crew from the Disney Channel. And guess who was there??? Jason Schooley!!!!! Actually, I never heard of the kid before today, so I didn’t understand why he was famous at all. He was signing lots of autographs for the kids and the camera. There was also a host for the Disney 365 thing they were doing. His name was Chester and he was so fake-happy it made me want to puke on him after beating his face in. But that’s Disney TV for ya, I guess. Not his fault that he has to act like a douche.

They had the game’s producer, Kentaro Hisai (the same dude that I saw earlier), talk about the game to the kids…in Japanese. So they had to have a translator, the quality assurance lead for the game, say what he said. I understood the things they were talking about, but I doubt any of the kids really did. Afterwards, Jason Schooley picked five kids out of the audience to open black bags with goodies in it. What was in the bags? A DS and a copy of Spectrobes. Turned out, all the 4th grader kids would get one of those bags when they left for the day. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get one of those goody bags.

So after they unleashed the 4th graders to play Spectrobes, I just waited around and watched Schooley sign autographs and get oogled by preteen girls standing outside the filming area taking pictures of him, and watch Chester jump around and smile from ear to ear like an idiot.

Eventually, the kids got bored of the game (it probably took less than ten minutes) and they started crowding around Schooley so the cameras could make it seem like he was really popular. During which, I got some time to play the game. What follows are my impressions of Spectrobes:

Spectrobes is a simple, yet fairly unique “action” RPG. I say “action” because there is no action in the classical sense of the word as it applies to RPGs. From what I gathered in the twenty minutes or so of play time I had, you dig fossils and gain experience for whatever you find. Spectrobes basically help you find these fossils/items to begin with, and you dig them out with your stylus as you rub the touch screen with it. There’s also a timer for each fossil digging, which may or may not affect your experience gained. I’m not sure, really. I don’t know what you do with the minerals/stones you find, but you can use fossils to get more Spectrobes.

When you Awaken a Spectrobe fossil from the Lab, you choose which fossil to wake up, and then say “wake up” (or maybe you can say other things, not sure here either) into the DS’ mic at the appropriate sound level and it will “wake up.” Unfortunately I didn’t really want to yell wake up into the DS in front of a bajillion 4th graders in front of a camera and ruin their shots, so I kept quiet. Moving around on the gameplay screen consisted of using the D-pad, and when a Spectrobe finds something to dig out of the ground (you have to tell it to find something) you tap the screen where a sparkly little dot thing is and enter the digging mode.

The graphics were bland at best, and there didn’t seem to be very much “exploring” to do at least in the areas I had access to. Even though I found the graphics to be unimpressive, considering it’s the DS I suppose they are decent. Controlling the menu screens were a little annoying to me since it was a combination of using the controls on the DS and the touch screen. As far as I could tell, the whole game is about going around and finding fossils and digging them out as you gain levels and get more Spectrobes in your party. An interesting aspect of the game is that you can get (buy?) physical cards that you can put on top of the DS’ touch screen and poke at the holes that are punched in the card to unlock a new Spectrobe. Kind of an interesting implementation of the touch screen, but I’m not sure if it’d be worth it if you have to buy these cards separately or whatever you have to do with them.

As I was playing, the camera crew, 4th graders, Chester, and Schooley made their way toward the booth I was at. I hadn’t noticed that happening until I heard Chester’s stupid-happy voice. I looked away from the DS and saw Schooley looking at me with a weird expression…probably wondering why a 21 year old (I’ve been told I look much older, though) wearing all black was playing a kid’s game. I acted like I didn’t care who he was (cause I didn’t), and looked back down to the DS. Eventually, I looked back up and he was looking at me again… this time he looked like he was scared of me or something. Whatever. Just hope he didn’t pee his pants or something. Wouldn’t want his huge belt buckle getting rusty.

So, afterwards I just left, and ate a crappy burger made by fake Jedis, and walked around Disneyland for a couple hours.

The end.