Stupid Note #7619

names have been changed to farm animals, to protect the stupid…

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Hey wassup,

Okay, right now we’re doing world history group projects. its very interesting. we have to write an article on Charlie Chaplin and radios. you can see with my little doodle down there. (in the middle of the page there is a blob that is smudged) = P wellps i hate this stupid class so much and ive got lak on my hand. hey, pretty interesting pics of mine eh? ive got a funny game i hear in wh – ill tell you, unless i told you all ready. it’s pretty cool. haha…i’m bored as hell. okay, i’m in spanish right now. you’re in spanish right now. well, i feel so stupid because i didnt see you guys and stuff. i think Cow feels wierd around me because whenever im around she’s really quiet and she never looks my direction and stuff. i dont know – maybe my dream will become part true. hey lunch was still cool. = ) They’re like getting funnier and funnier our little “talking” or “going to the lockers” talk. haha. ooo. descanso 5 minutes. but i have to go in like 10. hey sorry this is short. i have to go. i’ll pg you. i love you. Love always, Mule

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HEY WASSUP~

So you’re probably in Spanish right now. Sorry im not there to talk to you. i have to play supid tennis. hey – that’d be cool if you came – and you/we went “jogging” haha- anyways. omg- you are soooo good. like what you did was….i feel really embarrassed saying this but – it like felt so good i like….omg-i am soooooooo embarrassed…omg you know- i just dont know how to say it. okies well- i could – no i seriously like wanted to-omg-gaaaahh- i dont but do want to say it. okie. take a deep breath. okie- i like seriously felt like, you know, moan or something. omg i feel sooo love now…anyways – like what you did-it felt good cause like it was new and stuff. and if you don’t want to it’s totally cool w/me. but whatever you want. that’s why i dont really “guide” you, im not sure what you want. well, ps me shoe wel ill call you tonight. i love you soooo much-don’t forget and thanks about me. = ) eur i’ll think about you.

 

Love Always,

Mule

 

The Boy Bands

This was written a long time ago when boy bands were at their prime, and dave was in 8th grade, so that’s why its really dumb

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First, it was Hanson. They gave a bad name to the bands of the 90s. At least they played instruments, even though it didn’t look like it. Then for a very short time it was Leonardo Dickaprio. That was for a pretty short time, but we’re not here to discuss him. Then they came. It was the Backstreet Boys, N’Sync, 98 Degrees, and 5ive. This just makes me sick. Why do they even call them “bands,” anyway? They just sing songs that they didn’t write at all and take all the credit for it when they say stuff like, “Oh, yes, I felt so much love when I was making this song.” It just plain PISSES ME OFF!!!! The only reason they have their success is because they are “hot.” No one gives a crap about how they sound, just how they look. This is also a nation-wide problem.

A lot of girls around here have loved the bsb since 6th grade. Now, we’re in 8th grade. That’s 3 years. 3 years of wasting money on stupid little cds made by these stupid boy bands. Some of them don’t like them anymore. I bet some of them are still jacking off for them too, i bet. I think that most of these immature, screechy, empty-headed girls probably buy one of these boy band’s cds then, throw the cd out and save the pictures.

I myself, being a victim of the backstreet boys, now hate them with all my heart. I wish that i can get all of that dumbass music out of my brain, but some of my mind is still poisoned by these bands. Having a sister that is obsessed with these bands and other little corny solo artists (namely, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera) is not helping at all. Whenever i hear one of these songs, they stick in my mind, and the little part of my mind that is still poisoned, seems to take over.

They whine. They whine so much, that’s half the reason that I get pissed off. They dont even play their instruments, that pisses me off too. Oh, excuse me, like one of those guys from bsb plays a piano. A PIANO! COME ON PEOPLE! A band sucks when it has a piano in it. Look how Ben Folds Five turned out. They have a piano player, and they aren’t popular. Either that, or because the piano player guy isn’t “hot enough” or whatever. Anyway, some people say that bsb plays instruments. They don’t. Belive me. If they did, wouldn’t you think they would be playing it in their videos or at concerts, like normal bands? In case you haven’t noticed during their stupid little performance at the MTV Video Music Awards, there was a bunch of people in the back while they were dancing their stupid little brains out, while people are screaming things like, “KEVIN! I LOVE YOU, MARRY ME!” or “YOU ARE SO HOT! MARRY ME!” MY G-O-D people. That is just plain screwed up. These misguided “bands” are misguiding misguided souls in this misguided world.

This problem that the USA has, has got to be fixed, and fixed fast. They have been taking too much space on MTV’s TRL for too long. If you look at all the requests and the stupid annoying people that talk during the video, they say something about how they look. The countries outside the USA are getting over these stupid bands. They are lucky. Why can’t the same thing happen here? Because they are just too “hot” for girls to hate most likely. Here’s what you can do. If you know someone who loves bsb or nsync or 98 degrees or 5ive or whatever da hell else is out there, go up to them and ask them why they like these stupid little dumbasses, and i bet that 4/5 will say that they think they’re hot. Try it.

 

Jeanne D’Arc (PSP) Review

Developer: Level 5 / Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment || Overall: 9.0/10

Traditional strategy RPG games were epitomized by the original Final Fantasy Tactics – it’s become my own personal bar for comparing against new games in the genre. Not every strategy game is totally comparable, but when a game comes along that can be, it has a lot to accomplish before it can be considered a worthy play. Jeanne D’Arc is one of those rare games that capture a piece of what made Final Fantasy Tactics such a great strategy RPG.

One of the most important parts of any RPG is, of course, the story. Jeanne D’Arc is a fantasy-based retelling of the old story of Joan of Arc. In case you don’t know who she is, Joan of Arc was the savior of the Hundred Years War between Great Britain and France. Joan of Arc was believed to be a divine messenger of God, fighting for the preservation of France. With some additional characters that have their own smaller stories, you’ll basically go around and battle against the British and the monsters they control. This may or may not rub you in the wrong way, however. Personally, I find it kind of hokey that you are fighting the British. Granted, it is within the context of the story they are trying to tell, I just find it sort of silly, since they’re not exactly the most evil antagonists ever constructed in a video game. There’s also the awkward placement of talking Furries (such as Lion-men) that add to the fantasy element of the game, but clashes with the apparent historical accuracy of the game.

Many of the story scenes are displayed through anime videos. The anime videos are high quality and have great production values. When compared to in-game moments, these cinemas make the story. They are interesting to watch and feel like an 80s cartoon, rather than a traditional anime you’d see on TV today. The videos will also be the only time you’ll hear voice acting. The lack of voice acting hurts the rest of the game, and effecting your immersion in the storyline.

Despite flaws in the story, the gameplay is solid. This is perhaps the most polished strategy game on the PSP. Jeanne D’Arc will be a pleasant game to moderate to casual strategy gamers, but gamers that play lots of strategy games may find less to be impressed with. However, as always, it depends on what you’re looking for. For those looking for a simpler strategy game, Jeanne D’Arc will be perfect; for someone who enjoys more options (read: lots of menus) and complexity in their strategy games, it will probably be underwhelming. Even so, almost any type of strategy gamer will be finding enjoyment at some level in this title since it’s so well designed.

The most unique element of the gameplay is the Transformations certain characters use to power-up. When a character attains a certain amount of Spirit Power (SP) charge they will be able to transform into a divine knight that has a great amount of power, at which point they’ll easily plow through your foes. Defeating an enemy when transformed allows you to take an extra turn. Theoretically, you could keep taking turns forever, as long as you are able to defeat an enemy during each turn. Characters will be transformed for a certain amount of turns, so you’ll have to plan accordingly. Also, you can only transform once per battle (per gem), so you’ll have to make sure you use that power strategically.

Besides all the normal aspects of a strategy game, Jeanne D’Arc has other quirks as well. Power-ups called Burning Auras will appear one square behind an enemy you strike with a non-ranged weapon. What this basically means, is if you gang up on one enemy, each character will be able to utilize the Burning Aura to inflict major pain on your enemy. Another is Unified Guard. Unified Guard is used automatically when you have more than one ally grouped near another ally, and ups the attacked ally’s defensive stats for that action. Supposedly Unified Guard is supposed to help you, but I have not found much of a difference between not having it used and having it used. Either way, you can’t turn it off. The number of units you can have on screen at one time ranges from 4 to 7 or so, depending on the situation. Enemies can appear up to 10 or so on screen at the same time, as well.

Equipment management is a simple process. Each character has their own class of armor or weapons that they can equip, and as long as you have enough money for them, you can buy it and equip them. Shields can be equipped to any character that doesn’t use a two-handed weapon. Skills can be equipped as long as a character has an empty slot for them. They can easily be switched out between battles, and you can have up to 8 slots for skills. If you equip skills in an effective way, you’ll be able to get yourself out of tight situations more often. Skill stones (the items which hold skills) require a character to be at a certain level before they can be equipped, however. Skill stones can be sold for money as well, which helps in buying other equipment you may need. Excess skill stones can also be combined to create new skill stones by “binding” them. Binding skill stones allows you to “create” skills using two skill stones, and once you’ve found the recipe to creating that skill, you’ll always know the outcome (if you’ve done it once already) of binding two skill stones.

The game looks about as good as a PS2 game should, which is quite a feat considering it’s on the PSP. The PSP’s screen allows for wide view of the battlefield, and the resolution helps in the presentation quality of the cel-shading. The audio is also top notch, but the lack of voice acting in anything except the anime movies is a disappointing omission, at least as far as I’m concerned.

With around 40 stages, you’ll probably sink quite a bit of time into this game –
you’ll get your money’s worth and then some. Most of the stages will be in unique areas, in addition to there being a few “free stages” for you to level up at during the course of the game.

Jeanne D’Arc is a great little strategy game. Although the real-world historical aspects of the game come out a little corny in the context of the game, it doesn’t stop it from being a solid strategy game experience that will satiate PSP strategy gamers. Jeanne D’Arc is a good PSP game to have if you’re trapped under the death grip of boredom, especially at the lower-than-usual price of $29.99.

 

Essay of Definition – Peace

Definition of peace is no violence and argument. Everybody would be appreciated if they had peace in their lives. But why can’t they enjoy a peaceful life? Violence and disruption between many nations and terrorists are the answer. Nations and terrorists seek power. When they seek power, they look up to weapons of mass destruction. In order to obtain peace, the world must get rid of threats and weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq was supposed to dispose and seize making weapons of mass destruction. Because of their act of continuous development of biological and nuclear weapons, the United States feared Iraq. President Bush wanted peace between every nation, but it seemed some countries like Iraq wanted to disturb many other nations’ peace. President Bush wanted to end any act of terrorism so he issued his army to assault Iraq. Surely using force may get rid of threats and weapons of mass destruction, UN (United Nation) tries to resolve this matter with negotiation. Negotiating with words is better than using force. Force just disturbs the surrounding environment. It involves lives and it takes away lives. Negotiating terminates the use of force. President’s decision of using force just to end threats is wrong. For it brings more uproar to middle east. If war should be fought, war must be fought against terrorists.

 

Oatmeal

Oatmeal is really pointless. When you eat oatmeal, you don’t actually EAT it. You just move around your teeth, pretending like you’re actually doing something with the oats, when you’re not, and just pretty much swallow it the way you put it in your mouth. There’s no point in chewing, had it not been for the way oatmeal sticks together. Oatmeal is dumb. You put sugar on it, but it really doesn’t do much good even then. Ooh, wow. A sugary taste. Wheee!

 

The Carnival Person That Guesses Your Weight For A Buck…

The job is easy to do…and you get tips…I think. You’re “strategically placed” in Six Flags and they have the aid of a weighing machine, so they know what your weight is, because they have microphones in their ears too, (did you notice that?) and someone tells them what it is through it. Someone tells them how much you weigh so you dont get prizes! And once in a while, they guess wrong, just because, so no one gets suspicious.

 

Gunpey (PSP) Review

Developer: Q Entertainment / Publisher: Namco Bandai Games || Overall: 8.5/10

Q Entertainment kindled a puzzle-loving flame that was deep inside me. For some reason, combining puzzle action with electronic music made me a puzzle fan in short manner after years of being very impartial towards them. After getting my fill of Lumines and Lumines II, something new needed to fill up the large gaps in my life with no puzzle game to play. That’s where Gunpey stepped in. Based on Gunpei Yokoi’s original Gunpey on the WonderSwan, Q has taken the liberty of enhancing the formula to integrate its crazy backgrounds and electronic music that is seemingly trademark of the company’s puzzle games.

The basic concept of Gunpey is quite simple. The goal is to clear lines that appear on the grid by connecting them from the left side of the grid to the right side. Pieces at the bottom of the screen randomly appear at varying speeds and quantities that can and will throw kinks into your plans of obtaining all forty skins that are included in the game. You’re not restricted to just making lines, however. From the four different lines that make up the Gunpey puzzle, you can create shapes, long zig-zagging lines, and anything else that you can think of.

While the concept of Gunpey is simple enough, the actual difficulty can go from a breeze to a hurricane in a matter of minutes. The main game’s Challenge mode progresses by changing skins – a combination of background and music – and by digression, unlocking the skins you play through. The ever-present goal that is presented in Challenge mode is to unlock all the skins and beat your previous high scores. Skins in Challenge mode have a very untraditional progression as far as difficulty goes. The first three skins are very easy to complete, but after a predetermined amount of skins, you’ll always hit a really obscurely hard skin that will kick your ass if you don’t pay enough attention to what’s happening on the grid. After you get through a “hard” skin, the game will slow down again, as if it’s giving you a rest from what just happened. This pattern of progression is similar to what happens throughout the game, except the little “breaks” you might have are very relative according to which level you’re on. This game is merciless when it comes down to it. If you don’t keep on your toes, a line you didn’t see could pass into the top squares and before you know it, you lose all your progress. It is very disconcerting when you’re eighteen skins in, and all of a sudden lose, knowing that you’re barely even halfway through while questioning your ability.

While Challenge mode is the “main” game, Gunpey offers many different types of modes that will keep the game’s formula fresh and challenging for quite a while. There are modes to play with two skins at the same time, an oversized Gunpey grid, and Ad Hoc multiplayer. The selection of different spins on Gunpey is a very nice addition to break up the frustration of Challenge mode.

While Gunpey is a very well put together title, there are a few grievances that affect the overall sentiment. For one, skins take way too long to complete. Compared to Lumines and Lumines II, Gunpey’s skins take at least twice as long to complete, typically around five minutes. It can be quite nerve-racking if you’re trying to power through and experience all the skins, which I’m still not able to do. Another annoying aspect is the absence of any option of auto-saving. Being a major proponent of auto-saving, I found it quite unfortunate that a game like Gunpey does not have it. A somewhat interesting, and very annoying, design choice occurs after you complete a line. If you’re moving a piece just as a line disappears, the game will stop responding to any of your button pushes for a small increment of time. When it comes to a fast-thinking game like Gunpey, it is a big oversight and needless restriction. Unless that’s part of the game’s intentional difficulty, which it doesn’t feel like, it’s just plain annoying.

Gunpey is definitely not the most complex puzzle game I’ve experienced, but it is certainly a great addition to the PSP’s library when all is said and done. Gunpey is another example of how well the PSP plays puzzle games, especially ones that are audio and visual-intensive. I can only hope that Q Entertainment keeps rolling with more unique puzzlers like Gunpey.

 

Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 2 (PS2) Review

Developer: CyberConnect2 Corp. / Publisher: Namco Bandai Games || Overall: 8.0/10

Crossover synergy licensing is one of Namco Bandai Games’ keys to success. Well, when they find the right key that is. In the case of Naruto, they’ve definitely unlocked one of those doors. The popular anime on Cartoon Network has garnered quite a large fan base, so much so that they have games coming out on every console from separate licensees. Namco Bandai has the exclusive PS2 license, and their fighting game sequel, Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 2, is a special sort of game that will definitely appeal to fans of the series. But if you’re an outsider to the series, unless you put some major resolve into it you might not find as much enjoyment as what was intended.

The simplest way that I can describe Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 2 is that it’s a Super Smash Bros. game with all Naruto characters. All the battles are one-on-one, however, only because it’s more of a traditional fighting game in that one sense. That is about all that is conventional about Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 2. It’s just one of those games that before you understand what could be going on, you’ll be screaming some words that shouldn’t be heard by anyone under the age of 12. I guess if you watch the TV show (I never have, personally) you’ll understand that the way battles go on are pretty crazy, with people just disappearing and reappearing right behind you, long “special” attacks, ninja stars, the works. This game is crazier than any DBZ game you may have played and then some. I understand a lot about DBZ, but Naruto left me completely perplexed for the first two hours of play time, just trying to get a hang of the battle system and the constant switching of characters through the single player mode.

There are multiple ways to play Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 2. There is the one-on-one Vs. Duel mode, where you can compete against a friend or against the computer. You’ll be on your way to an endless amount of battles if you choose to do so. The characters for that mode are unlocked in the other mode: a short single player story that felt like an episode of Naruto. I got to the credits in five hours, but there was still extra story afterwards. Your mileage may vary here, depending on how well you fight against the insane difficulty of the computer. I whined a lot while playing about ’How can they do that?’ Throughout the story you will fight as different characters from the show, not just Naruto, which is a mixed blessing. First, it’ll give you some variety, but also it can be hard to master any one character’s abilities. As you play through the single player mode, you’ll unlock more characters to play in the Vs. Duel mode, as well as gain the ability to customize characters to have higher attack, more speed, or what have you. There are also special missions where you can travel around town and find someone that needs help achieving a special goal. It can take anywhere from five minutes to an hour and be as simple as a normal battle or just fighting with your long range weaponry.

Every time you fight, no matter which mode you’re in, you’ll get money based on all the moves and stuff you did in said fight if you win. The money will accumulate as you play through all the different fights. What you can spend money on is mostly stuff that you would only enjoy if you like the TV show. There are videos of all the special moves each character has to offer, model statues, Ninja cards (pictures of characters and such), and a few other things. Not only that, but most of what’s there is really freakin’ expensive, so you’ll be playing a long time before you have enough money to buy all of it. Couple that with some “overall game” goals, such as unlocking all characters, fighting each one three times in Duel mode, and so on, and you’ve got yourself a meaty game if you don’t get sick of playing by the time that all happens. At least each time you play, it will actually go towards something when all is said and done.

As far as graphics and sound go, they are pretty much in-line with how the TV show is (I’ve caught at least one episode on TV since I started playing the game). The game is in English, so if you don’t like the English Naruto voices, sorry. The graphics do their part in making the game seem exactly like the anime with cel-shading. It gives the game a sharp look and makes any jaggies essentially disappear, like most cel-shading games seem to do. Loading is not a huge problem, although there are load screens every time the disc is hit (no subtle background loading here). Speaking of not being exactly subtle, there is no auto-save which is bad for a fighting game since it breaks up the game in an unnecessary way. Since I played the game on the PlayStation 3, save times were very short, but if you’re on the PlayStation 2, it might take longer.

Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 2 is a great game for fans of the series, and fans of the first game. If you like the anime and fighting games, this could hold a special place in your heart, as it isn’t a bad anime to game conversion as I see it. The game itself is solid, and is through and through about the anime it is portraying. CyberConnect 2 did a fine job in the development of the game.

 

.hack//G.U. Vol. 1: Rebirth (PS2) Review

Developer: CyberConnect2 Corp. / Publisher: Namco Bandai Games || Overall: 9.0/10

The .hack franchise is back for more, and does it ever impress! Namco Bandai Games’ CyberConnect 2 has breathed new life into the faux-MMORPG series with .hack//G.U. Vol.1//Rebirth. More than simply being “reborn,” .hack//G.U. takes all the strengths of the experiences of .hack//Infection, Mutation, Outbreak, and Quarantine; it expands on their concept and rolls it all into a package that is one of the best RPG experiences I’ve had in a long time. The almost masterful retooling has reminded me what made the original .hack games so appealing.

As with the previous .hack games, you play a game within a game. Called “The World,” it is an MMORPG played by people in the relatively near future of 2015 when online gaming and the Internet rule everyday lives. As always, there is controversy awry about The World and its impact on its youth. Taking place seven years after the events of the originals, this time around the story follows a The World legend known as Haseo, The Terror of Death, known for killing player killers. Haseo is distraught by the loss of someone he grew very close to to the mysterious player known as Tri-Edge. Tri-Edge has the appearance of Kite from the first four games, but something is obviously not kosher with the way the character looks or acts. Is Tri-Edge a player or a computer program? “Who is Tri-Edge?” is a revolving theme in the first volume of .hack//G.U. The story is presented in more of a traditional mystery with less “weirdness” than what was seen in the previous four. Less symbolism and underlying meanings are required to be understood, and because of all this, the story progresses at a nice pace that is more similar to how an anime might play out rather than a game that has all the time in the world to explain things, especially with two sequels coming up right after it.

As you progress, new gameplay elements are slowly introduced at a somewhat consistent pace. There is quite a bit to learn about The World, and the way the game introduces it all is satisfactory. The Operating System, Altimit, is back again, and is a lot slicker than what was presented in the originals. Some news announcements about things happening in the real world have short newsreels lasting about fifteen seconds. There is also a humorous news magazine called Online Jack, where he investigates a sickness called Doll Syndrome, that seems to stem from playing The World. Though there isn’t that big of a bonus from loading saved data from any of the previous games (all you get is an email from BlackRose), its only worth it to know the gist of what happened before G.U. and the references you can catch. The World from the original games is referenced to as The World R:1, with the The World in G.U. being called The World R:2. The gameplay and story are different enough that I could see there being little problem with going back and playing the previous games after diving into G.U.

.hack//G.U.’s main improvement has been with the battle system that desperately needed to be revamped after playing through four full games. With no improvement at all to be seen between each of the previous games, there was a lot of time to pick out what needed to be improved and what annoyances had to be removed. Nearly all the complaints I had with the previous games in the series have vanished. And while I have not personally beaten all four of the originals at the time of writing, (I’m in the final hours of the third part) I can easily say that if you liked them, you will love G.U.

The battle system has become much more action-oriented. No longer do you have to run right up to an enemy and be right next to them to use your weapon. The battle system allows for you to strike at an enemy even if they’re not in your range. Though in writing it may seem like it’s sort of a dumb thing to mention, in actual gameplay, it expands the amount of “freedom” one has during a battle, by not being restricted in their attacks. Though only the X button is used for every single attack, you can hold it down for a charge attack, or tap it repeatedly at the right time to inflict extra damage. Even though it would have been nice to toss in a second button for a different kind of attack, for instance a light or heavy attack, to increase the versatility of the battle system (as well as having more complex combos), it’s really the only thing to complain about when it comes down to it. The Circle button is used as defense, and the Square button is used for activating a special attack, which will be described later on. That is the battle system in a nutshell – but what makes it fun is how fast-paced it is and how hectic a battle can become, especially in the later stages of the game.

Battles are fought on the screen, just like before, but what is different in G.U. is that it treats battles in a little more traditional way; battle mode is started, and at the end, a dialog box displaying experience/items earned. When a battle is initiated, a circular boundary is created that you cannot escape from without using an item called a Smoke Screen. This forces you to stay within the confines that are created and not easily run away from enemies, which could be used to your advantage previously. The camera is a lot smarter this time around, and doesn’t rely so heavily on user input when in battle, as it will draw back away from your characters from the regular third person angle and take a more disconnected look at the battle playing out. By doing this, the action is easier to see unfold, not to mention easier to control your character since you don’t have to fidget around with the camera all the time.

Another big difference that is noticeable is the lack of on-the-fly party commands. In the previous installments, you were able to press the Square button and tell your party members to do something specific outside of their normal assigned strategy, such as healing or using magic. In G.U., your party members are much more independent, but are smarter in the sense that they will heal themselves (and you) when they need to within the constructs of one of the strategies you tell them to execute when in battle. Less control over your party members can be seen as a good and bad thing, as you can focus more on what your character is doing in the battle, but have less impact on the overall execution of it. The lock-on system is very effective, with little to no foul-ups. The only times the lock-on system can be faulty is when you’re facing against multiple flying enemies, but perhaps that’s just the difficulty of that particular enemy rather than a fault with the locking on.

A Morale Gauge is represented in the upper right hand corner of the screen during a battle. When you perform combos with regular attacks, or a critical combo called a “Ren Geki,” your party members will notice your effort and slightly fill up the gauge, the most being earned after a Ren Geki. Once the Morale Gauge is filled up, it will tell you to press the Square button. Pressing the Square button when the Morale Gauge is filled up all the way will activate an “Awakening.” Depending on the type of Awakening you’ve selected from the menu screens, you can either cast a magic spell with your party members that deplete absolutely no Skill Points or go into a “berserk” mode that increases your speed and strength tremendously as you beat the crap out of your enemies. Ren Gekis also add on a small amount of experience points on top of what is already earned from the battle, so while it is good to still do a Ren Geki whenever you can, if you do a Ren Geki that ends the battle, the Morale Gauge will not fill up, due to the couple of seconds it takes for the gauge to initiate its “filling up” after one is done. That amount of time is longer than what it takes for the battle to end after defeating the last enemy, which is very unfortunate.

Abilities and magic are also vastly different in their implementation. Instead of being reliant on what armaments you have equipped, magic will rely on simply buying a very expensive item that teaches you the ability. As money is hard to come by in G.U., you’ll have to spend your money wisely and consider which magic you really need or want, as well as which ones your party members should have as well. Arts, which are weapon-specific abilities, rely on the experience you have with a particular weapon. The more weapon levels you gain using a type of weapon, you’ll get more Arts. The big disadvantage is that Arts are not learned very often, and can only be attained through battle. In the beginning stages of the game, you’ll have only one Arts until about ten hours or so in the game – which is much too long. It would have been nice if they tossed in an Arts when you reached weapon level 2, but the game pulls no punches in that department. Every time you use a skill or magic ability, you will deplete a certain amount of SP (or Skill Points).

You don’t only fight game-created monsters this time around. With the new version of The World, named The World R:2, a gameplay system for Player Killing (or PK) has been added. Player-on-player battles occur now in The World, and practically everyone is fair game. When exploring areas, you will sometimes see a Battle Area that has a battle in progress inside. By choosing to enter the Battle Area, you can help whoever is being attacked. While you cannot initiate any PKing yourself, the addition of being able to fight other players is a nice change-up every once in a while. The concept is expanded with the player vs. player Arena battling, where much of the story in the first volume of G.U. takes place and revolves around.

It still takes 1000 exp to increase your level. Experience gained from defeating the same-leveled monsters goes down as your level increases. This keeps the player motivated to go to new places to increase their levels and acquire better items to help along the way. Since Haseo is an Adept Rogue, he is able to use multiple classes of weapons. The Twin Swords and Broad Sword are the two weapons that will be mainstay of the first volume. Unfortunately, you can’t easily switch weapons in battle; you must go to the menu and equip the weapon you want and wait for Haseo to put away and take out the weapons again. The battle system is less versatile and fun than it could have been if there was a way to easily change weapons.

A little while into the game, Avatar Battles will be introduced. Avatar Battles are basically Zone of the Enders-esque mini games, just not as fleshed out. Though the Avatar Battles have surprisingly responsive controls for being what they are, they aren’t as good as their obvious inspiration. These Avatar Battles are a nice change-up in the pace of the gameplay, but can ultimately be frustrating, especially during hard boss fights. This is really no surprise, as I have already experienced all of that with both Zone of the Enders games, and didn’t quite expect it to be integrated in an action RPG.

As a whole, equipment is much easier to understand now. Equipment are assigned levels, and once your character achieves or surpasses the level of the equipment, you are able to equip them. It’s much more simpler to understand, as levels now have some sort of meaning attached to them other than being a superficial number that told you how good the armor was, like in the originals. Since equipment do not have any abilities or magic assigned to them either, you need only to make a decision about what to have on by the stats they change. Different classes of armor also make it easier to know which classes can equip what, as before, a piece of armor would just say who couldn’t equip something. As a result, there are “barebones” equipment that will change their name when you customize them with a customization item. The customization item will change the equipment’s properties, and have it consistent to what you actually want out of a piece of equipment.

While the inclusion of guilds makes the story a little bit more interesting, you can’t add anyone to your guild unless the story allows for it. The main purpose of the guild is for storing and selling items. When your guild expands, its uses will expand as well. One such use is something called Alchemy. Alchemy allows you to enhance a weapon by combining one or more of the same exact weapon up to five times. Once the weapon hits an Alchemy combination of +5, it may be used in Alechmizing any other weapon in the class up to 10 levels difference. This allow you to use extra weapons to enhance your existing weaponry, until your level is high enough to equip the next best weapon you may have acquired that can’t be equipped due to your current level. Each weapon is also noticeably different.

The exploration of areas has also been slightly improved. Treasure chests are a lot easier to open, since Haseo just kicks anything open. There is now only on camera view, and you can’t pull back or zoom in like you were able to before. This decrease in the amount of camera control can prove to be a little annoying when you chase down Lucky Animals, because they may be fast enough to run outside of your camera’s view. Lucky Animals are basically little animals that will give your characters bonuses if caught. Haseo is a fast runner, so you can get to Point A and Point B relatively quickly. You also get a Steam Bike that allows you to go “faster.” I put faster in quotes because the bike sucks – it doesn’t go fast at all. I avoid it like the plague, quite frankly.

The area word system is much simpler to use. There aren’t any complex readings you have to make with what is being displayed by flashing lights – its all given to you in plain English, with a helpful description at the bottom of the screen to make you even more informed as to what kind of area you’re going into. There are three types of dungeons you will encounter: The Japanese house, cave, and grassy island field. The selection of different areas is nice, and it’s not as dreary as being inside of an actual dungeon all the time, which is where most of the gameplay was in the originals. At the end of the dungeon, there will be a Beast Statue and a treasure chest with a rare item in it. There is also an assortment of unique areas called “Lost Ground” where story takes place. Different quests and jobs are available every once in a while which gives you opportunity to increase your level in between parts of the story.

The graphics and sound are some of the best parts about .hack//G.U. The frame rate is very consistent, at about thirty frames per second. The only time the frame rate drops is when a lot of things happen on the screen at the same time. Cutscenes virtually never have any slow-down. The graphics themselves are very nice, and capture an anime feel, especially in the cutscenes, which are very stylistic in nature. The character designs are also very stylistic and look like they’re straight out of an anime, as well. Voice acting is also top notch. The main character, Haseo, has a very believable voice and an excellent voice actor behind him. Most of the characters in the game have very good voice actors, which really isn’t a surprise considering the first four games had the same quality of voice actors, with only a couple of annoying ones. Loading is also another positive. Loading is virtually non-existant – in one word, its perfect. Unless you were actually looking to see signs of where the game starts loading something, you will not notice it at all, since the developers devised a way of making the game seamless from one end to the next with no huge pauses like you would see in a normal Playstation 2 game. A commendable job goes to the developers for achieving this feat.

.hack//G.U. Vol. 1: Rebirth is a very enjoyable game. If you like the original games, you’ll have a blast with .hack//G.U., just like I did. Unlike the first four, gameplay does not pull down the game, rather supports it very well with a nice foundation. With three games planned for the .hack//G.U. series, I hope that we can expect general improvements to the already solid formula put in place by Vol. 1: Rebirth. The first volume of G.U. is also quite a bit longer than a single part of the originals. If the next two games show little to no difference, it might prove to be another bad decision in the progression of .hack games in general.

 

Dynasty Warriors: Vol. 2 (PSP) Review

Developer: Omega Force / Publisher: Koei || Overall: 7.5/10

Koei’s Dynasty Warriors series has seen quite a few implementations since its conception in the late 90s. Based on Chinese history and the battles that surround its historical figures, the 3D action game has seen a second iteration on the PSP. While Dynasty Warriors: Vol. 2 will probably remind you of the same exact game seen on home consoles, there is something to be said for it being portable.

Dynasty Warriors: Vol. 2 is a sequel to Dynasty Warriors for PSP, which was released at launch. Vol. 2 is the first Dynasty Warriors game I’ve ever laid my hands on. While I wasn’t expecting much, I was satisfied with the experience that the game offers, and best of all it works pretty well for a portable.

The main mode of play is called the Musou Mode. In this mode, you select a character that is a part of one of the multiple Chinese kingdoms that existed at that time in history. Once selected, you will fight a series of five battles, unlocking different battles as you make your way through the game with your selected character. There are many characters to choose from, so this in itself will keep players busy for a long time to come if you want to increase each character’s stats.

Gameplay is exactly as seen before in the series – nothing should surprise you if you played a Dynasty Warriors game before. You go through the game and destroy all who stand in your way with your superhuman player character. While the gameplay basically stays the same between each of the different selectable characters, it differs ever so slightly by the special powers and weapons they have in their arsenal. You’ll be mowing through underlings but every once in a while you’ll fight a boss-like character. The boss characters are usually commanders of a particular group of soldiers, and once defeated, their army will retreat.

When you invade an area, you will enter a battle with the forces that occupy the area. Battles can change against and toward your favor if a new army invades the area you’re currently fighting in, which can change the outcome of the battle if you’re not fast enough. To win a battle, you’ll have to defeat all the enemy forces. To lose one, you’ll have to either retreat out of the battle, have your main character be defeated, or lose all your forces. There are other extraneous objectives that you’ll have to complete to actually defeat the whole stage you are on, but they vary from occupying a certain amount of areas to defeating an enemy general’s army.

Dynasty Warriors: Vol. 2 is a great title to waste time with, simply because it’s a fast game to play with almost no loading times. The only time you’ll see any noticeable loading is when you first start the game and when a stage is selected. Once you begin a stage, there is absolutely no loading between different areas. There is also a very solid frame rate that will not result in any ghosting on the PSP’s LCD screen, and one can enjoy the action as it happens with practically no slow down at all.

There are noticeable sacrifices to achieve the steady frame rate and excellent load time, however. Almost all the areas look exactly the same – very rarely will the map you’re fighting on actually change within the stage unless you’re on a special area like an enemy’s base, which obviously puts less strain on the game to have to load something new. To keep the frame rate steady, you’ll see that there will always be enemies popping in and out of nowhere. No doubt this is because there is a maximum amount of actual characters that will be shown on screen at the same time. Sometimes you’ll even kill an enemy you don’t even see, which means the game knows that there’s an enemy somewhere but they won’t actually show up until you kill another enemy.

The main control issue I have with the game is that there is no easy way to change your camera’s view. Dynasty Warriors: Vol. 2 begs for a right analog stick, as the chase camera that is almost always behind your character’s back does not do well against enemies that are hidden behind the camera itself. There is a quick way to turn the camera around, by using the L shoulder button it will refocus the camera to behind the character’s back again. So if you turn in the direction you want to look all the time, it will be fairly easy to manipulate the camera. Otherwise, the game is fairly solid in its 3D beat-em-up style, as the controls are very responsive, and you’ll have different special attacks to keep using throughout battles.

Dynasty Warriors: Vol. 2 is a recommendable PSP game if you want to take Dynasty Warriors out of the house with you. While the experience you’ll get isn’t exactly unique to the PSP, it is unique in the way that it is on the PSP. There is plenty of gameplay to be had if you want to put the time into it, which is important when looking for a game to waste time with on a portable.

 

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.