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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Beast Master vol. 1 Impression

Innocent high-school girl; check. Potentially dangerous misunderstood youth; check. The two forming an odd but close relationship; check. Yup, stage is set for another Shoujo manga so what separates, or not, Beast Master volume 1 from Viz from the other manga with the same formula. Let’s take a look.

Yuiko Kubozuka is an interesting girl. She loves animals but they run from her for their lives. This love gets her in trouble a few times and soon she is rescued by classmate Leo Aoi, who is himself also very … unique. Leo has a look that just screams crazy guy and it keeps many away from him, a fact he does not seem to mind. Leo keeps to himself and has a very unique connection with animals, they love him. Yuiko notices this and decides to get closer to Leo forming a friendship and showing others he’s not crazy. Well not all the time. See when Leo sees blood he goes crazy attacking anything in sight. This is due to his being raised in the wilds of Africa (something his handler tells Yuiko) but in a twist of fate she is the only one who can calm down Leo. As the two learn more about each other the boundaries of normal and crazy begin to blur. Will Leo be able to conquer his blood seeing induced craziness and will animals ever go near Yuiko? Time will tell in Beast Master.

So what sets Beast Master apart from other shoujo manga? It’s not the art as the character design and action is very shoujo. It reflects the genre perfectly and I would say is middle-ground in the genre. Not top level, not horrible but gets the job done. The backgrounds and non-character design, well guess there would need to be more to comment so I just won’t. Ok, so no to the art but how about the story? The odd girl and strange guy connecting with each other is not so new but Leo’s origins are. A boy raised in the wild introduced into society; good concept and similar to tales such as Tarzan and even Jungle Book. So there it is, not the art, not the relationship but the background for Leo, that makes Beast Master worth a read.

It’s not the best, not the most original but there is enough mystery about Leo and his budding relationship with Yuiko to make Beast Master a worthy purchase by shoujo fans.

Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep Impression

How can a game with its last truly relevant release back on the PlayStation 2 still warrant gamer’s attention especially when released on the PSP? Easy, it’s the magic of Disney … mixed with the excellence of Square Enix. Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep is the latest entry in the Kingdom Hearts franchise which has seen release on the PS2, Game Boy, DS and now PSP. The mixture of Disney characters and settings with new and old Square Enix characters seemed odd but worked beautifully. The chronicling of Sora’s adventures with Donald and Goofy is a tale as touching and deep as any Disney feature film. It’s magical on so many levels and that magic has been recreated in what is a prequel to the franchise, one taking place years before Sora, one that shows the origins of Keyblade Masters and so much more. What else does this chapter bring, let’s take a look.

Gameplay – Fill in the background and story gaps from Kingdom Hearts I and II in this prequel tale of Keyblade Masters. Three friends, Ventus, Aqua and Terra have their own tale to weave and these three paths will take from 9-10 hours to complete. Journey to various Disney worlds and unravel the mystery while leveling up each character and unlocking their full potential and abilities. All three adventures are needed to fulfill the full story and while the third play through can feel a bit ‘been there, done that’ the end result is worth it … for fans of the franchise that is. The multiplayer is enjoyable but requires a buddy to have the cart also.

Graphics – First install everything on the PSP memory card for faster, smoother looks and loading. What this gives gamers is PS2 quality looks that run seamlessly. The new trio of Ventus, Aqua and Terra are original yet familiar. They retain the look of the franchise which Sora, Rikku and Kairi began. The worlds of Disney come to life, look beautiful and show off the power of the PSP. Sadly Square Enix is one of the rare companies to pull off such excellence on the PSP. The cut scenes are as gorgeous as ever with action to match in-game. Just a truly gorgeous game.

Sound – It may be the same opening song but it creates a connection to the original Kingdom Hearts that gets fans hearts racing. The background music utilizes many of the same tunes from the franchise but it‘s so awesome it works all over again. Voice work is freaking spectacular and brings each character to life. Few games can match the audio offerings of Kingdom Hearts.

Design – Character design rocks and weaving new Disney worlds into game form is done plain sweetly. The games design carries on the tradition of Kingdom Hearts I and II with some nice new wrinkles such as the ability unlocking Command Board.

Miscellaneous – Three characters each with their own 9-10 hour adventures, all needed to complete the full story. Where Sora was the main focus sporting Donald and Goofy in support this tale sees all three of Terra, Aqua and Ventus journeying to the same locations with different objects and access. They create a trinity that’s unique and a prequel setting Star Wars should be very envious of. This is how you do a prequel.

Overall fans of Kingdom Hearts should already be playing Birth by Sleep while PSP owners have zero excuse for not jumping into one of the smoothest, most beautiful adventures the system has to offer. From a gaming standpoint Kingdom Hearts may be a bit long in the tooth but this is one beauty that is aging so well

Monday, September 27, 2010

Arc Rise Fantasia on Wii Impression

Fantasy Japanese role-playing comes to Wii in all it’s glory with Arc Rise Fantasia from Ignition Entertainment. Gamers in the States will know of these type for RPG’s when hearing a name like Final Fantasy or to a lesser extent Sukoden and yes, even Pokémon. The model for many of these games is a young hero must take on a quest to become stronger and get wrapped up into a world saving, princess saving plot that sees him become the true legendary hero. In order to accomplish this the hero must level up their skills and stats, take on quest to get stronger, meet many companions along the way and look cool doing it. This means hours of leveling up all wrapped around an engaging (hopefully) story. There is much more to the genre but fans know what to expect; so how does Arc Rise Fantasia stack up? Lets take a look.

Gameplay – Take on the role of young mercenary L’Arc as he battles Feldragons in a fantasy adventure spanning 30+ hours. This is a traditional Japanese role-playing game so expect to spend plenty of time in menus and conversations moving the story along, taking on quest and getting to the next turn-based battle. L’Arc will encounter many other characters who will impede his adventure or fight alongside him. Gamers will fight, gain experience, level up, upgrade weapons, gain access to new locations, move the story along and repeat. This is what J-RPG’s are about; hours of gameplay to make characters stronger and advance the story … nuff said.

Graphics – For the Wii this is a solid graphical adventure. The environments at times look a bit soft, have a glow about them but in-battle graphics blend into the background as the characters and their animations take center stage. The special attacks and lighting are very solid, look great and won’t disappoint. Arc Rise may not sport the photo realistic looks of the latest RPG’s but it does offer some of the best looking level grinding available on the Wii.

Sound – While there is a ton of reading to be done the voiced sequences are executed with … well, they’re executed. Through no fault of their own there is over and under acting on voice work but the worst is how voices sync with lip movements. Dealing with bad voice work is easy, but lip sync issues, that’s not cool. The soundtrack has it’s moments with some memorable tracks but overall offers up standard if not solid RPG fare. Battle and interaction sounds do the job. Not too much epic about the ear candy from Arc Rise Fantasia.

Design – Very close to being J-RPG design 101 with a young hero and heroine in a fantasy work with dragons and the prerequisite anime character design. While the story is nothing super original the character design is solid and characters unique with some very creative boss and monster designs. Fans of the genre will feel right at home but even for them the amount of menus can be a bit annoying. Love the characters and the game moves at a very standard J-RPG pace.

Miscellaneous – Best RPG on the Wii … yes and no. Arc Rise Fantasia is one of the best J-RPG experience on the Wii and owners of only the Wii will enjoy this romp but it’s not a shining example of the genre. This is the pretty girl who always catches your eye but who never quite sticks out as that true love of your life. Yeah you dated but beyond that, twas ok.

Overall Arc Rise Fantasia is not the best the genre has ever seen but it is one of the best on the Wii. It offers hours of enjoyable gameplay but won’t redefine the genre nor will it stick in gamers hearts as truly wonderful stories do. For a system starving for the genre Arc Rise is a solid entry that will eat hours but not too many. Sadly the story won’t stick with gamers as some of the best RPG’s have a habit of doing.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mikansei No. 1 Manga Impression

Two volumes, one enjoyable story. Mikansei No. 1, volumes 1 and 2 from Tokyopop combine time travel with pop idol-ism. A unique combination but one that works. Created by Majikoi, known for the art of Code Geass, this is a good looking manga but what about the story, let’s take a peek.

Living in the 23rd-century is a drag for Vivacious Neo. Short skirts and singing are just two items not accepted by society and being a short skirt sporting idol-wanna-be, well it just does not work for Neo. While escaping school disciplinarians for her latest performance, Neo stumbles upon a container with a mist in it, one which when opened transports her back to the 21st-century. Quickly Neo finds herself in the middle of a stand-in performance for the very popular P-Shock, a performance which catches a certain producer’s eye. Soon she’s teamed with Saya, a boy hoping for his own break. In order to get signed to a record deal the two must learn to perform together and produce a specific turnout at a park performance. Challenges from other groups, personality conflicts and request to return to the future are just a few of the hurdles Clap= must face. Will they succeed? Will Neo return to the future before the big performance? Will Saya and Neo build the chemistry needed to be a successful duo? So many questions and the clock is ticking down to performance time.

Ok fans, those familiar with Code Geass will see the similarities but this is a much more playful story which the art reflects. There is no lack of detail and personality in each character or setting. I love the art, love the cover art and the characters are fun. Both the art and story mesh to deliver a story that is as enjoyable to read as look at. The issue is it’s over too soon. Two volumes of this idol singing, time traveling story is not enough. There are mysteries (no spoilers) about Neo’s past, friends and possibly other time travelers that are never fully answered. That being said these teasers are the one drawback as just when readers are getting hooked … boom, it’s over. The relationship building between Saya and Neo is enjoyable, seeing their past, why Saya is so driven; it really does build a good story.

So here is what Mikansei No. 1 does. It delivers great art, uniquely designed characters in a story that unique in its concepts of time travel, idol singing but familiar in its relationship building. Two volumes is a decent investment but it’s over way too soon. A third volume would have been welcomed to flesh out some of the past detail but now I’m just nitpicking. A nice diversion from all the action, fighting, long, long, long manga series. Check it out for the art but keep it for the story, good times.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Online Gaming and Gigaspaces

What’s under the hood? A good engine can make the gaming experience all the smoother. Just check out the power of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 to see what their ‘under the hood’ action can bring gamers. But what about online gaming? No matter how powerful a PC gamer’s machine is, if the backend infrastructure and gaming cloud is not solid and able to withstand fluctuations in users, scale to meet the gamers needs, well then the gaming experience will suffer, the game will suffer and everyone loses. Recently we had the chance to chat with some of the folks in this business, the business of the backend, and they, Gigaspaces, were more than happy to shed light on how their product and the overall online gaming experience can be better from a solid backend that’s scalable and fast.

What is Gigaspaces? Without the nitty gritty Gigaspaces offers all the backend system tiers in one convenient package. Message tier, application tier and database tier all tied together. They pull all the pieces together so companies don’t need to shop around for separate pieces of the same desired environmental outcome. All transactions are done in memory as are updates to the system, it’s all seamless. What??? Ok, in simple terms they handle all the backend setup, support and updates so companies can focus on making great games and it runs smooth allowing for fluctuations in user rates with no slowdown in service. Scaling to meet larger numbers of gamers … so simple yet they pull it off where many fail.

They are global with offices everywhere and support everywhere. They utilize a cloud environment, using what systems are needed when needed (scaling folks, see a trend). Gigaspaces scales up while keeping latency down. Push out a Facebook game with promo, no issues with Gigaspaces supporting the backend. This is a simplification folks but the point is they handle it all under the hood. Let’s look at some real benefits and examples, check out the Gigaspaces site if you want geeky detail.

Benefit to game companies – Originally created to meet the needs of an Israeli Military Defense project, Gigaspaces knows how to upscale while keeping latency down. No small feat and one that, when applied online, can greatly enhance the cost and experience companies see. IPhone launches in US, demand is amazing and the site goes down due to traffic while in the UK demand is also great but thanks to Gigaspaces scalable backend the site runs with no issues. One example but the fact remains a gaming company can concentrate on gaming and not the backend issues, Gigaspaces takes care of updates, scaling … the whole kit and caboodle.

Benefit to gamers – First is the quality in gameplay experience. Don’t get caught with slowdown and latency that ruins the gaming experience. If the technology can support the UK iPhone launch with none of the issues the US faced, that’s something to take note of. There is also the face companies can spend more time working on their games and not worrying about the backend.

Overall this is one look at one company that handles the backend of the games we love. Know what’s under the hood; is it Gigaspaces or someone else? Seeing slowdown in your favorite game or online application? What’s under the hood? Just like knowing the engine of a car, knowing the engine of an online game can greatly enhance the experience of driving and gaming. Education is key and this is one gamer who’s doing more research.

About Gigaspaces:
“GigaSpaces Technologies is a leading provider of a new generation of application platforms for Java and .Net environments that offers an alternative to traditional application servers. Its flagship product, XAP, is an enterprise-grade application server for deploying and dynamically scaling distributed applications under any requirement.

GigaSpaces customers depending on our reliability and millisecond latency include dozens of Global Fortune 100/500 companies, including Société Générale and British American Tobacco; six of the world's top 10 investment banks and financial services companies like Dow Jones; leading telecommunications carriers and eCommerce companies like eBay; and five of the world's top online gaming companies and Internet media organizations.

GigaSpaces was founded in 2000 and has offices in the United States, Europe, and Asia.”

Friday, September 24, 2010

Dr. Seuss iPhone Games Impressions

Dr. Seuss on the iPhone has been largely reserved to interactive versions of some of the more beloved titles. While these virtual books are enjoyable and a great distraction for kids they are not the only trick up developer Oceanhouse Media sleeve. In addition to these books there are three games to mention; three games which add to the story or continue the tale. What do these games offer iPhone owners and their kids, let’s take a look.

Grinchmas! – The Grinch, first bad then good, loving Christmas and all its wonderful offerings. For those who see the Grinch a bad this is the game for you. Two play modes are offered in this snowball/present throwing romp. First is Mean Grinch where gamers throw snowballs at houses to quite the noise and second is the Merry Grinch mode where gamers are tasked with throwing like colored presents to the proper colored houses in a certain timeframe.

Both modes carry the same basic controls of using a finger to sling objects, but game concepts, objectives vary enough that they are different experiences. There are also three difficulty settings and a number of challenge modes so this is a game that kids will enjoy but adults will get addicted to when it comes to challenges. The sounds are just south of too annoying and bring to life the world of the Grinch. Recommended for both young and old, nice looking game.

Up with a Fish – The Cat in the Hat, what a great story and the game retains the frantic pace of the book. Gamers must catch various objects; stack them on top of each other, including the family fish. The more items stacked, the better the score. Watch out for Thing 1 and Thing 2 as they’ll smash all the stacked items.

Great use of the iPhone as the main controls have gamers tilting the phone to either side to catch objects and as speed picks up it gets pretty frantic especially when Thing 1 and Thing 2 make an appearance. The background music is ok but gets annoying after a few plays but the look is pure Dr. Seuss in every objects design. Sadly there is only one play mode and not much more. Recommended for the whole family but note the limited gameplay
Lorax Garden – When it comes to a sad yet hopeful ending nothing beats The Lorax. The book ends with just one Truffula tree seed left and this is where the game begins. Gamers need to plant and grow more Truffula trees, flowers and use them to repopulate the land. Pick the color, leaf shape, trunk shape for each tree while watering the plants, pulling weeds and getting rid of insects. It’s a plant growing simulation built around the world of the Lorax.

What a great game. This is The Lorax 2: The Growth as gamers and fans of the book finally get to re-grow the land the Onceler destroyed. Cultivating plants, picking how they look and sharing this with friends via postcard emails are a lot of fun. The art style carries on the heritage of the book while the sounds are soothing and perfect for the settings. The challenge ramps up as gamers move from level to level so this is a pony with many tricks. Recommended for older kids but also parents who love to grow plants.

So there you go, three games built around the works of Dr. Seuss. Up with a Fish is the most basic while Grinchmas! offers a deeper gameplay experience with challenges and it’s capped off with Lorax Garden which can be very addictive with deep gameplay built around re-growing the Lorax forest. Great games, all three, but not for every age, some are for you, some are for me.

Evil Controllers Custom FIFA Jersey Contest

Looking to score some sweet gaming swag? Check out Evil controllers for their contest around the September 28th FIFA 2011 release. They’ll be hosting a FIFA ’11 Custom Jersey Contest and the top 20 entrants receive free (love free) Evil Thumbstick kits with the grand prize winner receiving an Evil Controller with imaging, LED design and Evil Thumbsticks. Pretty slick prize but what to do to win … how about keep reading to start.

Create a jersey; any design related to FIFA from your favorite team, screenshot … anything. Evil Thumbstick is touting the freedom of choice here so keep the flopping clean and go nuts with headers, head-butts, jersey pulling, whatever tickles your inner soccer hooligan designer. Just incorporate Evil Controllers into the design and check out the Evil Controllers Facebook page for official rules and submission guidelines.

Get started and submit from September 28th through October 12th at 11:59 P.M. and of course certain restriction apply (check the site folks).

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Transformers: War for Cybertron on PS3 Impression

A fans dream and gamers delight. Transformers: The War for Cybertron on PlayStation 3 is as much for gamers who grew with the franchise as it is for gamers looking for a solid single and multi-player experience different than other titles on the market. A deep knowledge of Transformers will enhance the gaming experience but is not mandatory as the narrative is clear and moves at a fevered pitch putting gamers into both Autobot and Decepticon roles while offering up faceless, class based bots online full of upgradable goodness. Is this it? Impression over? Nope, let’s take a deeper look.

Gameplay – Play through a third-person adventure as both Autobots and Decepticons from the rise of Megatron to the acceptance of leadership from Optimus Prime. The single player campaign puts gamers into the blossoming civil war and takes them all over Cybertron and its moons running and gunning and of course transforming to accomplish objectives. It’s a fan-service filled single-player adventure with a robust multiplayer, online mode piled on top. Deathmatch, Power Struggle, Conquest, Cod of Power and Countdown to Extinction are the modes of play (team deathmatch also) and while multiplayer won’t rewrite the Halo and CoD’s of the gaming landscape it’s well executed and fun. Gamers can choose a specific class of robot, level them up and take the action online with gameplay that offers up transformations on the fly. Every class of character is unique with unique skills, a nice, deep online experience awaits.

Graphics – The characters look great and transformations are fluid. Some of the cutscenes and up close shots show pretty plain details but the in-game look more than makes up for it. Cybertron and its moons feel connected but sport a look that separates each level. The cinematic scenes will get fans juices flowing like no Transformers game before it. The grunt transformers also look rock solid and well designed. The best looking Transformers title yet.

Sound – It starts with the legendary Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime and never slows down. The voice work rocks, sound effects are true to the animated heritage and the background music delivers to fit the pace. Transformers delivers in the sound department.

Design – Mixing design elements from both the prequel stories on the new movies and the original comics and cartoon. The design of not only mainstream characters but secondary grunts shows a familiarization with the source material, fans folks, this game was made by fans and the design shows in each bot. The planet of Cybertron is a well designed character with levels requiring transformations to advance and a different feel to each setting. Using a Decepticon based beginning leading into Autobot based moves the story along wonderfully.

Miscellaneous – Fan-service galore. This is not a Fallen driven story, it’s one based on the mythology of the Transformers franchise pulling in plenty of characters and references to the cartoon and comics. It does not hurt this is a rock solid action game but when it’s wrapped in so much fans will dig, it’s simple a game not to be missed.

Overall Transformer fans should already own War for Cybertron on whichever system they own. It’s packed with great fan-service, a worthy story driven narrative that puts gamers in the driver’s seat. Seeing so many characters in their original Cybertronian forms is a joy and the voice work is rock solid. Level design can feel familiar but gamers won’t notice when Trypticon is bearing down on you. Fans looking for a fun, different, online experience should also take a look as this is a surprising deep online experience that requires more than plain-ol-fragging. Who knew transforming into a jet could cause so many lock-on issues?

Monster Hunter Tri Impression

Crazy addictive and popular over in Japan, but not getting that same solid foothold and love here in the States. The Monster Hunter franchise one could say was ahead of its time on the PlayStation 2 with limited online capabilities and footprint while the PSP just never took off enough. This known Japanese gem is now looking to remedy these issues with a solid, very solid US release with one major issue. What is the issue facing Monster Hunter Tri for Nintendo Wii, let’s take a look.

Gameplay – An action RPG that puts gamers in the role of (wait for it) a monster hunter. Hunt monsters, harvest them and build new, more powerful equipment to take on the next big ol’ bad monster. There is a main beastie in the game to drive the story but the star is just monster hunting solo or with friends (4) via Wi-Fi. One central town puts all the shops and upgrade centers front and center so it’s all about third person hacking and slashing but with strategy needed as the monsters get stronger, bigger and smarter. There are patterns to learn but these wild beasts feel real in their movement and random patterns. Gamers can pattern their hunters to suit a certain style from ranged to up close melee, there is no one way to play. The multi-player is a stand alone, non-friend code based system that makes getting online and gaming with buddies all the easier.

Graphics – Solid looking for a Wii title. The overall look feels a bit soft with great color usage and very detailed weapons and armor, all customized and looking good. The different settings from volcanic to under water look unique and there are some impressive settings to carry the great action. This is a very good looking game from customized characters to towns, NPC’s, settings and of course the monsters.

Sound – Monsters are scary sounding, sometimes. Sounds in distance help build the anticipation of a hunt while each custom weapon is fairly unique sounding. The musical score moves along the action and there are a few noteworthy tunes but in the heat of battle music can wait. A quality sounding game.

Design – Unique monsters with different weak points and movements, patterns. Environmental settings suited for the monsters including underwater hunting. A weapons/equipment based creation system that’s deep and engaging. All of these are expected in Monster Hunter and each executed beautifully but it’s the learning curve design that makes this a game worth savoring. Designing challenge that frustrates in a good way is hard and taking down strong monsters, solo or with a team, with the right equipment and planning is just plain awesome. This is why Monster Hunter rocks and is so addictive. The challenge is there and very, very rewarding.

Miscellaneous – The sleek, included, controller rocks and gives gamers looking for a more classic gaming touch options that extend beyond just Monster Hunter. The design of the controller blows away the basic Wii classic controller (or maybe it’s the sleek black coloring?).

Overall, Monster Hunter Tri is for gamers, not casual Wii gamers, but real gamer gamers who have been asking for more traditional challenge for their Wii. The level of commitment is old-school in the hours needed to take on the steeper learning curve while equipping your hunter in the proper manner. There is a ton to do as a single player but the true brilliance of Monster Hunter comes out when playing online with friends in the best online Wii experience yet. Expect to fail, expect to ready tons of menus and expect to feel a deep, deep satisfaction that the monster of choice finally falls.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Babelgum on the MMO Lifestyle

Welcome to the second guest blog post this time taking a look at two very interesting gaming subjects. First up is Gamers which takes a look at the MMO lifestyle while The Battle for Our Minds takes on those who's live have been influenced by computer games. Enjoy, check out the links and give some impressions. 

Gamers takes a close look into the mysterious MMO (massively multiplayer online) lifestyle, revealing the lives of dedicated players across the country. Documenting his adventures to gaming conventions, basement lairs, and game companies, director Ben Gonyo talks to everyone from “Super Fans” at World of Warcraft conventions to staunch critics, game designers, and even gaming celebrities such as Red Sox star pitcher Curt Schilling, comedian Jay Mohr, and New York Times bestselling fantasy author RA Salvatore. 

The Battle for Our Minds tells the stories of people whose lives have been deeply influenced by computer games. Using the microcosm of game fans in the USA and Korea and game developers working for Microsoft as a magnifying glass to reflect upon the broad social, moral, and political impact of this new medium, Halcort explores to what extent these games have impacted individuals identities and lives today.

Big Windup! Oofuri DVD Complete Series S.A.V.E. Impression

Great baseball action at a nice low price! Are we talking about cheap seats to a bad MLB team? Nope, we’re talking about Big Windup! Oofuri from FUNimation. This anime of an all freshman high school baseball team has received the S.A.V.E. (super amazing value edition) treatment and getting a full series for the price should not be missed. What’s the story all about? How’s the animation? Lots of questions so let’s get to it.

Middle school is over, time for high school baseball. For Mihashi this means a new school where is failings of the past, not to mention his family ties to the school, are in the rear view mirror and he can work to be the #1 pitcher he wishes to be. With splintered confidence but an array of solid pitches Mihashi must learn to trust his new catcher Abe and the new team behind him. The first challenge is building trust and a practice game against his old school Mihashi Academy. Conquering this challenge won’t be easy nor will the summer baseball tournament where Nishiura draws the defending champs Tosei full of seniors and experienced players. The challenges facing Mihashi and the players of Nishiura will be many but with an energetic female coach and faculty advisor full of off-field mental exercises the team will be in great shape to compete. Warm-ups are over, it’s time to play ball.

Sports anime are interesting. How do you recreate the love of a game in a story driven animation? Well for Big Windup! it’s all about the characters and setting. Mihashi is not the prototypical ‘hero’ athlete and his issues, failings are easy to connect with for many a viewer. The story introduces enough background to make the characters seem real and the two games (yes two games) played over the course of the series not only add drama but show growth in each player and teaches a bit about baseball. All this is accomplished by using humor and intensity at the right time and the outcome is never 100%. It’s a really, really well told story with great characters. The animation does not let down the action with good character design and moments of intensity that come across as any major moment in an ESPN highlight. The action and animation deliver to the point of feeling the nervousness and excitement of the game. Well done on all fronts.

Let me state this. I’m not a big sports anime fan. I’ve gotten into the manga Slam Dunk and really dug the anime for Bamboo Blade but this is the first American sport anime I’ve dove into and it was good, not what I expected. There are a few baseball lessons thrown in but I found myself liking these characters and their issues, even the bonus episode about a different group of players, it’s just fun. I will most definitely be grabbing a few more sport anime to check out and for the price of S.A.V.E. I’m not really sure how any anime fan can pass up this series.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Club Penguin Game Day! on Wii Impression

Club Penguin from Disney; a site targeted at youngsters with addictive activities and of course coin collecting … to buy stuff. With a strong online following the franchise made the move to the Nintendo DS with Club Penguin: Elite Penguin Force and Club Penguin: Herbert’s Revenge. These two handheld, mission based adventures retained the look and feel of what Club Penguin is known for and now it’s the Nintendo Wii’s turn. Club Penguin: Game Day! on Wii takes a different approach to the franchise yet still rewards fans. How, let’s take a gander.

Gameplay – A Wii mini-game extravaganza set to the Club Penguin license. Quick play allows gamers to jump right into the initial 6 unlocked games (12 total) while Tournament allows for some head-to-head action in the same games. The bulk of the single-player action happens with Story Mode which sees gamers picking 1 of 4 colors to conquer the island and all its games and challenges. To complete the game all four colors must unlock 100% of the island. The mini-games are a collection of a study in past Wii motion games as there are multiple uses from shooting segments to leaning/bob sled, hopping Java jump and snow ball fights with a throwing motion. Not a one trick pony. Collecting coins (more on that in Misc.) is a huge piece of gameplay and gamers can take their penguins with them to friend’s homes and gather/transfer more coins. While this is a kid targeted game the hard setting offers some decent challenge and random events really throw a monkey wrench into cocky gamer’s plans. The true fun is that these games can be enjoyed by all ages, yes something the marketing team would say, but true none the less.

Graphics – Look at Club Penguin online and that’s what gamers get. Bright and vivid colors and mini-game graphics that capture the essence of the family friendly franchise and look good. This is Club Pending, a known franchise with a known look and feel and it’s replicated nicely on the Wii.

Sound – Lost in the mix of action. Sound effects are fun and fitting to the settings but as for any music, nothing too really mention here as gamers will be wrapped up in the addictive gameplay.

Design – A study in Wii motion controls rewarding the advanced gamer with more advanced moves but keeping it simple for the kiddies. When a seasoned, grown gamer can jump into a vivid color, penguin infested party game and not complain, well then that’s something special.

Miscellaneous – Coins and exclusives. Club Penguin online gets visitors hooked by helping them gather coins in every event, coins which can then be used to buy items or transfer online to buy items on Club Penguin online. There are also 24 exclusive unlockable items in-game that can be won/purchased and transferred so this is a game that really rewards fanbase, not just another Wii mini-game collection.

Overall, the mini-games and story mode in Club Penguin: Game Day! will be a trip for kids with its variety and license. The license is the key as this title has an audience but did not just do a quick cash-in game. It’s fun and imaginative, great in groups and addictive in its new items to gather and coins to build. A nice first effort from the folks at Disney with a solid license behind it.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Death Note Collection on Blu-ray Impression

Looking for a Blu-ray double-feature with mystery, suspense and death gods? Look no further than Viz’s Death Note Collection on Blu-ray, a package that gives viewers both full length features Death Note and Death Note II. These movies are based on a very beautifully drawn, excellently told story and while it shrinks down the story the acting and plot points make it a worthy watch. What is a death note and why should gamers care, let’s take a look.

The Story – Ryuk is a Death God, a Shikigami who is bored. To sate his boredom Ryuk drops to Earth his ‘Death Note,’ a notebook with the power to kill. Writing a name in the notebook causes that person to die. There are many rules, rules which Light Yagami who finds the notebook learns and exploits. Light is brilliant, top of his class and looking to become a lawyer. He embraces the Death Note and strikes down criminals with its power. Assuming the alias Kira, Light should be hailed as a hero but is soon targeted by the police. Kira is a murderer no matter who he kills and the brilliant ‘L’ is brought in to help reveal who Kira is. A cat and mouse game begins where Light must work to outsmart ‘L’ and suspicions into his life as his father heads up the task force looking for Kira. Death Gods, death notes, brilliant investigators, more Death Gods and a Kira obsessed fan will make Lights life anything but boring.

The original manga story is longer, much more fleshed out and contains a different ending and characters but these movies do an excellent job of getting across what the death note is. Both movies are needed to appreciate and fulfill this edited down story so from that aspect the collection is perfect. The acting is well done as this is the cocky, smart and self assured Light known in the manga and the quirky ‘L.’ Ryuk looks perfect and blends in to a real world setting perfectly. A well done story faithful to the manga that can be enjoyed with no knowledge of said manga.

The Design & Art Direction – Characters look and act just as fans of the franchise would expect based on the manga. No major design changes or setting changes, it’s a real world, big screen translation of an excellent manga and story. Ryuk is a Shikigami but feels pretty real not full of cheesy effects. The star is the story and a star that really shines.

Why Gamers Should Care – Most Blu-ray, especially animated ones covered here are fairly easy to tie to a video game genre. Death Note Collection is a bit different as it’s got more in common with mystery games, the CSI, Trauma Center and detective stories out on consoles and handhelds. This is a chance to put down those particular games and see a mystery being solved when all the players and agendas are known. It’s also a well acted, executed film that is just enjoyable to watch. Don’t watch Death Note due to a game relationship but because it’s an enjoyable double-feature.

Overall the Death Note Collection on Blu-ray is a very solid manga based movie set that remains true to the manga while delivering a stand-alone ingestible entertainment experience. Fans of mystery and crime based video games that require thinking will enjoy this cat and mouse romp and just who is the mouse?

Dragonstorm #0 Impression

In my younger days I remember when Valiant comics was going strong and Image comics really raised the bar and took many a great artist from both DC and Marvel comics. The page quality went up, price went up, comic collection went way up. For these smaller publishers an artist was also the creator, story teller, something very familiar to manga fans where artist/creator are usually one in the same, but not here in the states. There is a reason Chris Claremont rocked X-Men way back with great stories and let the artist do their thing. Its hit and miss, just ask Rob Liefeld. The truly great aspect of these newer companies was the new characters, stories and settings getting more notice. Indy comics but with bigger names and top tier creative groups. Some good, some bad but all exciting to read and see.

While not quite getting the pub that Image did, Unstoppable Comics’ has offered me this feeling of nostalgia with Dragonstorm #0. A new hero, new story, new art but how original is it? How good is the art for the price? A cool title does not mean a good book and being a zero issue offers a glimpse of what Dragonstorm is all about. So let’s take a quick peek at the story and art (so far) and see if Dragonstorm is raging storm or just a sprinkle.

Issue #0: Dragonstorm is tracking his missing master, Okun and must walk into a trap in hopes of finding him. After taking on waves of mindless foes in an abandoned New York warehouse a deadly foe presents himself, one that will either crush Dragonstorm or bend to his will in the search for Master Okun. Series Plot: Dragonstorm is a hero, fighting for right but a twist of fate sees him raising the granddaughter, Lillian, of his greatest enemy. The villain, Balagron, tracks down Dragonstorm and he in turn must send Lillian away for her own safety. A storm rages within Lillian as she must balance the teachings of Dragonstorm against her very heritage, a battle which could tip in either direction. Dragonstorm must wrestle with this sad fact as he continues to train and protect Lillian.

So that’s the story. Issue #0 offers up a nice look at the art by Nicholas Valente. It’s solid, not amazing, but a solid and well drawn hero story that feels more like ninja action than a super hero. The action is fast paced and well done. The only negative is the limited number of characters in this issue. Bad guys are generic, Dragonstorm wears a mask so can’t comment on detail here and only one unique character makes an appearance and he’s so-so looking. Need to see more characters, setting and environments to really judge the art but overall it’s not bad so far … so far.

The story is the intriguing aspect. Written by Jay Rosario this tale of a hero vs. villain is nothing new but the potential conflict in Lillian feels very Star Wars-ish. A dark heritage but light teachings. Potentially a good story of right, wrong and the gray between. Much potential but for now we shall have to wait and see how issue 1 turns out. That said if you’ve read and dig this issue then check out the series. If you’re a fan of something new, action stories with good art and cool looking heroes then give Dragonstorm a spin.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Batman: The Brave and the Bold the Videogame on Wii Impression

If Adam West’s Batman and the animated Justice League: Unlimited Batman had a love child it would be Batman: The Brave and the Bold. The art style, humor, voice work and flow of the latest Batman animated series combines old school characters and settings with updated humor in a side-scrolling adventure that fans will dig. Say hello to Batman: The Brave and the Bold the Videogame for the Nintendo Wii (also on the DS with some connectivity bonus).

Gameplay – An old-school 2D romp through locations from the animated show. Batman, Robin, Hawkman, Green Lantern, Blue Beetle … and so many more DC Universe heroes makes appearances either as fully playable or support characters so don’t be fooled into thinking Batman is all there is. The gameplay is very straightforward with the content the star so not much to learn. Run, punch, kick, jump while upgrading gadgets and powers. The controls work very well with the Wii controller integrating shake moves that are more than a gimmick. This game is about the fans but the gameplay rocks, is solid and fun to play. While this is a Wii game, The Brave and the Bold would be perfect, just perfect as downloadable content for both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, top notch idea.

Graphics – The Wii was made for this art style. The bright colors, bold lines and flat color scheme look great on the Wii. Each level contains a nice level of 2D depth and the game is true to the animated series in overall look and feel. The animated segments deliver a nice change of pace from the static talking heads that carry much of the story. A good looking game especially on an HD TV with proper cable connections.

Sound – Excellent background music, some pulled from the anime, moves the action along at the perfect pace while the banter between characters is perfectly delivered. For a Wii title, Brave and the Bold deliver the goods on the voice, music and sound effects front.

Design – Established from the animated series but superbly delivered in an action game format. Making a good Batman game was not possible, just not possible until Arkham Asylum hit and now The Brave and the Bold are keeping the good bat vibes going.

Miscellaneous – Bat-Mite connectivity through the Nintendo DS. The DS offers up a full heaping of Bats action but this nice reward for fans who invest in both titles, or have friends who have shows very nice use of the Wii and DS connectivity possibilities.

Overall, Batman: The Brave and the Bold the Videogame feel like a solid downloadable title in a retail body but it’s worth the purchase. There is a lot of game to entertain and drive gamers and fans. This is not a casual game as the Wii is known for but rather a shout back to solid gameplay from action games seen on the NES. Batman fans will enjoy and gamers will find there is more than fan service on this disc.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Crackdown 2 on Xbox 360 Impression

Welcome to Pacific City where there are no gangs to kill but a slew of zombie things. The city itself is more derelict, weapons about the same but say hello to some new abilities and vehicles. Yes folks, Crackdown 2 is very, very similar to the original in its look, feel and control which can be viewed as good and bad. Sequels are supposed to give more of what the original nailed but with improved looks (always) and some new feature sets so how did Crackdown 2 miss this memo? Does this oversight mean to avoid Crackdown 2, let’s take a look.

Gameplay – Third-person action in high gear as gamers assume the role of a very upgradeable super cop that dives into a city infested with nasty zombies and a villainous organization. It’s time to power-up, collect orbs, activate beacons, kill zombies, drive cars, shoot and run around some more. There’s an online experience that’s pretty much the same thing. No real boss encounters just tons of canned baddies that make the game feel like 3D Smash TV. Play the first Crackdown? Good, then you’ve got the basic experience.

Graphics – Decent graphics for a downloadable game but not one with full sticker price. Seeing the polish, power and graphics put out by other 360 titles makes Crackdown 2 seem blah on so many occasions. Nothing, nothing stands out from a graphics standpoint which is not acceptable for the price.

Sound – Ever dream of having a drill sergeant right in your ear telling you everything to do, you’re in luck. Nothing screams super badass mutha like an annoying voice in your ear telling you everything to do. What fun is a sandbox if told what to do? The soundtrack is forgettable and all the expected explosions, gun shots, engine sounds, zombie sounds and on and on are here. So sound and graphics are blah, what’s next?

Design – Ah, design is next and, well, it’s the same city just more crumbled and dark. No more gangs to take on, no more bosses but tons of beacons and zombie things swarming around. Crackdown 2 is more like an alternate skin on the first game, not a sequel which sucks because a game making you a Robocop on steroids and acid at same time should rock. Design just feels lazy.

Miscellaneous – There are some pretty cool Download Center clothes and accessories for Crackdown 2 … yeah I got nothing.

Overall, it’s funny with all the knocks above Crackdown 2 is still a blast to lose hours in. These are not memorable hours but like those spent on an iPhone game where unlocking achievements and posting to Facebook is the goal, not the memory or a great story or experience but rather a fun distraction. Controls, graphics, sound all need work and while it feels like a skinned Crackdown, Crackdown 2 is not broken … just not what one expects from a sequel.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Heroes 3 on PSP Impression

Hot and cold; incredible and mundane; taste great, less filling; Dan or Dave. When a license like Naruto is split between developers by system the results can be a mixed bag. Naruto titles on the DS deliver good old-school side-scrolling gameplay but wonky 3D titles while the Wii servers up good fighters with some of the better graphics on the system. The true gems are those delivered by Namco Bandai and Ubisoft on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 respectively. These titles look beautiful, play great and find the sweet spot balance between fighter, adventure and RPG that some of the PlayStation 2 titles missed. Then there’s the PSP. The latest title, Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Heroes 3, falls in-between the excellence of the PS3 Storm titles (Ninja Storm 2 still to be released) and the misses that were Uzumaki Chronicles on PS2. What does this mean for Naruto fans and PSP owners alike, let’s take a look.

Gameplay – See the ninja, be the ninja. At this point in the franchise fans know what to expect but for non-fans this is a PSP fighting game with a huge roster of characters from the mega popular Naruto anime series, now in the Shippuden seasons. Gamers can battle their way through the story in Master Road mode, take on friends and the computer in Free Battle or jump into practice. Ad-Hoc wireless battles are a blast but best to practice first. All the personality of the anime comes shining through but this won’t mean much to non-fans, but Ultimate Ninja heroes 3 is for fans, don’t even try to deny this. A good fighter with friends but built for the fans.

Graphics – Fights and character models look spot on from the anime along with the environments. Not much creative freedom for a developer but when it comes to a licensed property, one that follows a specific story-arc, nailing the established design is mandatory and its mission accomplished on this front. There are times the character models can look block but this is infrequent and not an issue. The side-scrolling platforming segments are a miss that feel more like the failures of Chronicles than what Storm delivered. The platforming would have been great in the DS style of old-school then jumping into the 3D battles but split license, nuff said. The use of 3D graphics in 2D battles is pulled off quite well.

Sound – Tons of canned vocals from the anime along with some familiar sounding tunes and battle music, nothing spectacular but it serves its purpose. Aren’t ninja supposed to be silent and deadly?

Design – Mixed bag with good fights containing main characters but limited moves sets and a platforming experience that feels very forced. The story mode is a great idea but needs a bit more refinement. Taking on filler characters is never fun, not when a series like SoulCalibur has managed to deliver a quest mode that’s fun and engaging.

Miscellaneous – Fans, 45+ characters, some say over 50 (have not seen/unlocked them all). A game most definitely built for fans, this huge roster and the amount of un-lockable content rocks.

Overall, the PSP may not sport a huge lineup of groundbreaking titles and yes there are even some very solid fighters out there (Tekken, SoulCalibur) to compete with Ultimate Ninja Heroes 3 but from a pure fan standpoint it does not get better than this on the PSP … really. There are two ways to take a licensed title, from the gamer’s perspective and the fans perspective. As a fan it’s rock solid with good gameplay, graphics and tons of content from the anime and manga. From a gamers perspective it’s a second tier fighter when compared to the other more mainstream titles above, but still a solid fighter in Ad-Hoc mode. The main drawback for regular, non-fan gamers is the ‘huh’ factor as events and attacks from the anime are pulled out and have no meaning. A game for fans that can be enjoyed wireless with regular gamers, good times.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Hyde and Closer vol. 1 Impression

Haro Aso, not an insult but the creator and artist of Hyde & Closer volume 1 from Viz’s Shonen Sunday line of manga. A story that may seem kid friendly with its stuffed animal bear but this story is a bit more grown up with tons of shamanic and sorcery to be had. Who is Hyde and why is he protecting Closer, let’s take a look.

Shunpei Closer is not the most confident or capable kid, He’s clumsy, timid, bad at sports and nothing like his adventurous grandfather whom he idolizes. Sadly Shunpei’s grandfather went missing 6 years ago while exploring the mysteries of Africa. His grandfather’s fate remains a mystery until a mysterious package arrive with a stuffed animal monkey inside. Soon the monkey comes alive and tries to kill Shunpei revealing much about his grandfather, the little nugget of him being King of Sorcerers. Seems with his grandfather missing any sorcerer willing to eat Shunpei’s heart will gain the power of the Sorcerer King. What’s a clumsy boy to do, well how about be saved by Hyde, a stuffed animal bear given to Shunpei by his grandfather years before. Wielding an insane chainsaw not only will Hyde protect Shunpei but he’ll also help him gain confidence and protect himself using sorcery from six sorcerers who are after his heart. How ill Shunpei cope, will he survive and what happened to his grandfather. The story is just beginning.

So a story about sorcery and the youthful grandson of the King of Sorcerers. The art does not set itself apart from most manga with the various dolls being the exception. From a design standpoint, not the exact art but overall design this story reminds me very much of Shaman King. No the art is not as polished or unique but the different sorcerers, three in this volume, and their dolls are all unique. In Shaman King each character had a unique look, global look with spirits to match while Hyde and Closer keeps this going with unique global characters and dolls to match. The art itself is not as polished as Shaman King and the cover does no justice to the detail inside. There is a solid style to each pen stroke, each character that shows much potential, a fine looking story. Environments are fairly detailed as they play a big role in the story and its spells.

The story also feels familiar as it follows the clumsy youth with hidden powers plotline. Shunpei is not as confident as the cover image suggest but he’s getting there and all thanks to the help of not only Hyde but lessons learned as a youth from his grandfather. Like Shaman King seeing new characters and battles is such a huge hook of this book and this genre in general but there is also mystery. What happened to Shunpei’s grandfather? It’s not a 100% original story but it’s well done, brings the reader along and pumps up the action and back-story in a nice flow. I see much potential in this series and would suggest it to fans of Shaman King and magic/sorcery based manga.

Persona 3 Portable PSP Impression

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Portable or P3P for short may be an update to a PlayStation 2 gem but it’s also one of the best, most stylish titles on the PSP full of new content. The action is outstanding but why should gamers care? Why take a shot at what could potentially be a dated RPG port? The answer is simple. P3P rocks and Atlus has provided enough new content to make fans return for another go-around while making noobs understand what all the hype was about.

Gameplay – This is a level grinding, Japanese RPG where gamers must navigate dungeons to take on baddies, level up and advance the story. Battles are carried out during the ‘Dark Hour’ a hidden time right at midnight. Characters awake during this time have inner abilities called Personas which come out and battle. Each Persona gained has unique abilities. There is also relationship building, word tree conversations that will determine the story and gameplay elements down the road. The dark tower known as Tartarus is where the majority of gameplay, battles, takes place. So it’s a dual personality game, JRPG at night with relationship/school simulation during the day but not separate. Social choices made during the day will affect gamers in Tartarus as much as any piece of equipment.

Graphics – The opening sequence is beautiful and each character model is cos-play fan drool inducing but the in-game graphics show their age. Persona 3 did not set new standards when it was first released and the in-game character models and environments can feel a big bland and ok, not great, just ok. The battle sequences also feel a bit off.

Sound – Voice work is outstanding and matches the static expressions for each character to a tee. This is some sweet voice talent at work folks and many voices will be recognized by anime fans. The soundtrack is still amazing with a number of catchy beats worthy of gamers preferred music device. The game is amazing after all these years from a sound perspective, beautiful.

Design – Sweet to put it simply. The characters look amazing and carry a nice amount of style and swagger. The static level backdrops look amazing also, this game has some great art design. The relationship trees, choices and interactions have been integrated nicely also. Including a new female lead option and the improvements seen in Persona 3 FES shows that Atlus took a good amount of time to improve the overall game design.

Miscellaneous – Missing the animated cut-scenes that screamed for an Persona anime (check out Persona Trinity). The static story points get the job done but having played the original gamers will notice this sadly missing component.

Overall, RPG fans need to pick up P3P now. The gameplay, mix of social aspects and new gameplay additions and characters make this a fresh and deep experience fans of the original will dig and those new to the franchise will enjoy. The music and design is outstanding and the changes to gameplay save time from more linear choices on movement to the quick save options. No, not a straight port but an upgrade to a gaming gem just perfect for the PSP audience.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Halo: The Fall of Reach Novel Impression

Halo: Reach for the Xbox 360 releasing this Fall will be an epic and monumental gaming experience that puts gamers on Reach as the Covenant move in. Take up the fight as a member of Spartan Noble Team and prepare for sadness. Sadness? Why, well that is where Tor’s release of Eric Nylund’s masterpiece Halo: The Fall of Reach comes into play. Why is the novel The Fall of Reach so important to the upcoming Halo: Reach video game? Let’s take a quick peek at the story then relay why.

The Story: Spartan 117, John. Not the fastest or strongest Spartan but one blessed with amazing luck and skill. Follow John’s tale as Dr. Halsey and a young pilot named Keyes; discover John on a playground, a scouting mission of children that are to become the hope for humanity. Entered into the Spartan II program with seventy four other children, John distinguishes himself and learns teamwork and how to command as well as follow order. Eventually these children undergo the genetic modifications that will make them physically amazing as they also are introduced to their MJOLNIR armor which only a Spartan can handle. Encounters with Insurrectionist and pirates soon earns John the honor of becoming Master Chief then the Covenant attack Harvest and the enemy changes as does the wars stakes. Master Chief is no put in charge of the remaining Spartans on a specially equipped ship The Pillar of Autumn commanded by Captain Keyes. Introduced to the Smart AI Cortana, Master Chief’s plans take a turn for the worse as the Covenant unleash 700 ships on Reach. In order to save the orbital guns Master Chief deploys all but three Spartans, himself included, surface side to save the reactors from the Covenant but will it be enough? Eventually Cortana, Master Chief and the Pillar of Autumn must flee the system only to find themselves face-to-face with a large ring structure in space. The story of Halo begins but what happened planet side to the Spartans left behind?

Why Gamers Should Care: Last sentence folks. It’s no secret that Reach fell to the Covenant but what happened planet side? The novel covers the action in space as Master Chief takes on swarms of Covenant on a space platform but the action, the fate of the remaining Spartans is not covered. Were they lost? Is Master Chief truly the last Spartan? Learning about Master Chief, John, how he and the other Spartans were recruited, trained and came to care for one another will allow gamers to create an emotional bond with the tragic members of Noble Team. While the overall outcome cannot be changed, Reach will fall; victories can still be won against the Covenant. Gamers should care about the Fall of Reach as no matter how amazing Spartans may be they are not faceless soldiers, they are human a fact Eric Nylund establishes for Master Chief and every member of the Spartan project.

Potential Plot Holes: Timing and personnel. How much time did Noble team have planet side? Where are the rest of the Spartans Master Chief sent planet side? Will Reach follow the events of The Fall of Reach? Will John, Master Chief, be mentioned by Noble Teams members? These are a few potential plot holes that one prays are avoided but just add to the intrigue of reading the novel then seeing how the game plays out.

Overall the title The Fall of Reach is a bit misleading. Yes it shows Master Chief’s role, his events while Reach fell but it does not touch on the planet side events or what happened as the Pillar of Autumn departed the system. Having a chance to experience these events in Halo: Reach makes reading, or re-reading Halo: The Fall of Reach all the more enjoyable. So many questions to be answered from both the game and novel. Can’t wait for Reach then pick up a copy of The Fall of Reach and make the wait all the more painful … in a good way.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Madden NFL 11 on PS3 Impression

A new year, a new Madden with online play and tournaments galore (including this one from GameStop). Gamers know this is the deepest football title on any console, that the graphics will be amazing and presentation top notch so why review? Why take a look at a game that gets better and better with age, takes chances on new features (quarterback sight cone) even when risk is not needed (hello exclusive NFL license)? That’s why we are here, to take a more casual gamer look at Madden NFL 11 on PlayStation 3 and what all the hubbub is about.

Gameplay – It’s football of the finest kind but accessible due to a number of new features that will please causal footballers while allowing vets the control they love. Modes include exhibition, getting right into a game, Super Bowl XLV which is another get in and play mode of the big game, AFL Mode with the original 8 AFL teams (and a fun retro look), Franchise mode spanning three decades as well as the ability to play online. There are levels to each of these modes like being able to import a Superstar created in NCAA Football 11 and the ability to assemble the ultimate Madden team. In-game features that make this arguable the most accessible Madden since the Genesis days. Audibles have been made as easy as push one button then select audible type. Gameflow is the best change in that gamers can avoid the playbook if they so choose shortening games from around an hour to 20-30 minutes. Great for getting in and playing a full schedule but there is still the ability to go with Madden choices on plays, pick from the playbook, customize the playbook and just get as geeky as desired. Another change made which will get a bit annoying after a few games but is very helpful for noobs is the CoachSpeak and Coach Tips which gives the gamer advice on plays based on situation. It’s not just a game but a way to learn real football. These features can be switched off but give them a try, nobody knows everything, the learning should never stop. Finally the last features, minor as it may seem, is the ability to point to the player gamers wish to control rather than cycle through every player. Don’t get stuck with a CB when the DL is what was desired.

Graphics – Player models look more amazing than last year and the menu structure is solid and vivid. The opening sequence with live video and a more HD feel to the opening menus is welcome and very well presented. The overall look screams to more than just a gaming experience but rather the event Madden has become. Solid on all fronts with no complaints here … looks great.

Sound – Soundtrack is a mix of number of music genres, decent but hearing Bush from the 90’s, really. The commentators and coach speak voices are well done and keep the action flowing. Gamers will choose to either listen or drown them out as white noise as with a real game. All the canned tackle sounds, player grunts and trash talking get the job done; it’s a great game day experience.

Design – Tweaked and tweaked well. Madden has no true competition yet it takes chances which can be great or just frustrating. The design is ever evolving and 11 is no exception with speedier gameplay and integrated tips to help noobs and vets alike. A game design that appeals to those wanting a fast exhibition, quick online match, franchise experience or total control of playbook and it’s all done in one game, one package that is seamless. Very well design tweaks to an already solid title.

Miscellaneous – Gameflow is outstanding for the casual football gamer. Get in, get plays picked and get to it in about 20-30 min. Being able to get a solid game of Madden in under an hour is outstanding.

Overall, this is video game football at its best simplified a bit for the more casual gamer. While hardcore Madden fans may not dig all the changes, sadly it does not matter. Madden junkies will come back every year and EA is not silly enough to wreck the game but they are insightful enough to try to pull in new gamers. A polished product worthy of the praise and events around its release.