June 2006

While I never managed to play [i]Project Gotham Racing[/i] on the original Xbox, [i]Project Gotham Racing 2[/i] quickly became once of my favorite racing games on the system with its stylish racing and great online integration. [i]Project Gotham Racing 3[/i] continues the series’ excellence, and is the definition of next-gen racing for the Xbox 360. [i]PGR3[/i] manages to improve upon the formula provided by its predecessors while coming packaged with some of the most amazing graphics ever seen in video gaming. There have been several racing games brought to the Xbox 360 since launch, but with its style and polish, [i]Project Gotham Racing 3[/i] is set to be the premier racing title for the Xbox 360.

In terms of change, there isn’t a whole lot that separates [i]PGR3[/i] from the previous titles in the series. Fans from the first two games already know the premise. While the Playstation’s flagship racing series Gran Turismo is known for having a simulated approach to racing, Microsoft’s flagship racing game takes on a more arcade-like feel with the Kudos system. While the basic idea of the series is still street racing in sleek supercars, [i]PGR3[/i] encourages the racer to perform flashy drifts, slides and jumps to earn points, connecting stunts together to multiply the score further. While earning Kudos isn’t required per se, it can be hard to progress further into the game without taking some risks on the track.

Speaking of tracks, there are several different game modes available in the game, taking place over five different cities. That’s right, there are only five cities to be had in [i]PGR3[/i], which is, admittedly, a scarce number. However, each track is split into several sections, so while you will be racing the same city multiple times, you’ll be doing so in different sections, which makes up for the small amount of cities available. At the same time, the cities and tracks included in the game are all based off of real life locales, including parts of New York, London, Tokyo, Las Vegas, and the famous NA


June 28, 2006

To say that I am really into puzzle and strategy games right now would be a huge understatement. I spend half my available gaming time working out my brain playing Sudoko. It seemed only fitting that I would give [i]Magnetica[/i] a try. Magentica began life as the arcade game [i]Puzz Loop[/i]. Not a very dynamic name and looking at the game, it was in dire need of a facelift. Nintendo grabbed the concept and released it for the DS under the Touch Generations brand. Touch Generations represents games that anyone, from hardcore gamers to the completely inexperienced, can pick up and enjoy.

In [i]Magnetica[/i], there is a chain of colored marbles. Your goal is to make the marbles explode before they reach the end of the line. It seems like a relatively easy concept, but easy concepts often lead to games that are impossible to master.

[i]Magnetica[/i] sports 3 single player modes: Challenge mode, Quest mode, and Puzzle mode. Each of the game modes has a different goal and number of levels to clear. Challenge mode simply has you clearing marbles to advance levels. Clear all 99 levels and you win. Quest mode mixes things up and has you playing through 50 unique missions which are cleared by destroying all the marbles that appear. Every 10th Quest mode level is a special boss or bonus mission. Puzzle mode changes things up considerably by making you use all the provided marbles to destroy all the marbles on the track. This takes careful planning and thought to achieve. [i]Magnetica[/i] also supports a WiFi Versus mode via DS Wireless Play or DS Download Play. In Versus mode you get to battle head to head with a friend and make use of attack items to wreak havoc on your opponent.

In the end, [i]Magnetica[/i] is a quick and fun puzzle game that will keep you busy for hours, depending on your attention span. The graphics are solid and playing on that bright DS Lite screen sure was a treat. [i]Magnetica[/i] is a definite must have, but only if you can find it on the cheap. $35 for this little gem is a bit steep and most of you hardcore folks will tire of this one after a few sessions.

[i]Dead or Alive 3[/i] was one of the Xbox’s defining launch titles back in 2001, and Tecmo went all out on presentation for it to show just how much power the Xbox was capable of. While it just missed the launch, the series is back for the Xbox 360 with [i]Dead or Alive 4[/i] to show gamers that Team Ninja knows how to use the power of Microsoft’s consoles. A technically beautiful game and qualified fighter, [i]DOA4[/i] brings a worthy update to the series and utilizes the capabilities of the Xbox 360 to their fullest. With flawless graphics, great usage of Xbox Live service, and an improved fighting engine, [i]Dead or Alive 4[/i] may be the most ambitious title in the series to date.

[i]DOA4[/i] follows the individual stories of several different fighters, all embroiled into the Dead or Alive tournament (honestly, the way each fighter stumbles onto one another and enter random fights, it doesn’t seem like much of a tournament). In my past experiences with the series, the presentation of the story has seemed pretty minimal, but [i]DOA4[/i] tries to expand the main storyline into the cut scenes more than its predecessors have. While each character has their own story to go through, the game obviously has a central storyline in the conflict with DOATEC and a number of fighters, including Ryu Hayabusa, Kasumi, Hayate, and some other select characters. Looking back on DOA3, I enjoyed the single player story of [i]DOA4[/i] much more with the expanded storyline, and liked the fact that the storylines of each individual characters intertwine with each other.

Much of the fighting engine has remained the same, with one key exception. Countering has been made much more challenging in [i]DOA4[/i]. Actually, when I said much of the fighting system hasn’t changed, I lied. With the improved countering system, the other areas of the fighting engine, while remaining the same in execution, must be utilized differently now. This changes much of the game from the fighting system seen in Dead or Alive: Ultimate, so even masters of the series may be in for a surprise. Meanwhile, casual fans of fighting games will probably have a bit of a hard time conforming to such an advanced and, admittedly, complex fighting engine, making [i]DOA4[/i] a challenge for all.

All of the characters from past Dead or Alive games make their reappearance in [i]DOA4[/i], even those who were left out of the recent DOA:Ultimate like Brad Wong and Christie. Some new additions make their way onto the roster, including Kokoro, a Japanese Geisha in-training, Eliot, a Xing Yi Quan master, and La Mariposa, who fans of [i]Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball[/i] will recognize as Lisa. And yes, the Spartan character is in there as well. Each character brings something different to the table, with some being geared towards beginning players while others being reserved for the experts. Almost any fighting style you can think of is used in the game, from Hitomi’s karate to Ryu Hayabusa’s ninjutsu, and maybe a few you’ve never heard of.

There are plenty of game modes to choose from, but most of them are staples of the series seen in past games, including survival, timed mode, and tag battles. Probably the best game mode addition, though, is DOA Online. While online play isn’t exactly new to the series, as [i]DOA: Ultimate[/i] showed us, it is certainly a welcome addition to [i]DOA4[/i] and makes the game that much more enjoyable. [i]DOA4[/i]’s online mode has been updated a bit, mainly to be more friendly to Xbox Live users by giving them avatar customization and allowing for the spectating of online matches. There have been some other upgrades to make finding matches and the like more easy, but the main fighting aspects of online play remain the same. Among the Xbox 360’s current library, [i]DOA4[/i] ranks high as one of the best Live enabled games on the system as of now.

You’ve no doubt caught on that [i]DOA4[/i] is one of the Xbox 360’s most graphically impressive titles. The surroundings on each level just look breath-taking, and it helps that almost all of the environments have interactive elements to them, whether it be crashing out of a window or being run down by passing traffic (drivers don’t stop for ninjas). While the lighting, textures and frame rate all meld beautifully with one another, one of the only complaints is that the characters themselves haven’t seen a lot of improvement, mainly due to the fact that all the females still have porcelain skin while all the males are still decked out in muscle. Even so, it’s the little things that sometimes impress, and when characters grapple each other, their hands actually grab onto the enemy rather than clipping into their body. Also, those veins that show up on Jann Lee’s forehead and arms show up like daylight.

There isn’t much to question about [i]Dead or Alive 4[/i]. It is, without a doubt, a perfect blend of everything the series has introduced over the past few years with enough new elements to reel both novice and expert players into the ring. It’s hard to call [i]DOA4[/i] the life work of Team Ninja, with the excellent Ninja Gaiden getting in the way, but it certainly isn’t far behind. Fans of fighters owe it to themselves to play [i]Dead or Alive 4[/i] on the 360, and while the difficulty may turn off some fans outside of the genre, the game is very much one of the best things to be had on the Xbox 360 right now.

Hexic HD

June 28, 2006

When Microsoft launched the Xbox 360, they launched a new version of Xbox Live. One of the key features of the new XBL was the Xbox Marketplace. The marketplace is built upon the concept of micro-payments/micro-transactions for inexpensive games or additional content for full blown console games. [i]Hexic HD[/i] is the one freebie that Microsoft throws in to get you hooked on the concept. Was it a marketing ploy or merely a move of generosity? Either way, I spend way too much time on this little puzzle game.

[i]Hexic HD[/i] is a very simple game at its core; Rotate the hexics to form clusters of like colored tiles and they disappear. Pretty simple right? The genius behind this game is none other than Alexey Pajitnov whom you might know for his work as the original creator of Tetris. The game’s complexity ramps up in the upper levels throwing bonus pieces, bombs, and starflowers into the mix. These can create huge scoring opportunities so watch out for them.

The free download has 3 single player modes available: Marathon, Timed, and Survival. They are all essentially the same game with a different name, but provide a nice change of pace.

There isn’t too much else to say about [i]Hexic HD[/i] other than beware. [i]Hexic HD[/i] is a very simple game that will suck you in and monopolize all your time. It’s a free download so why not?

After spending 10 minutes with the original Nintendo DS I could just tell that a redesign was already in the works. The technology aspects of the system were rock solid, but many of the cosmetic design elements were severely lacking. This month saw the release of the DS Lite which is the revamped and streamlined version of the DS that is now available less than 2 years after the platform’s initial launch. Some might see this as a sign that the platform is weak, but playing the Lite for 5 minutes is enough to make you forget all of that.

The DS Lite promised to be a lighter and more compact version of the new handheld. It was assumed that this re-issue would also carry a complete visual overhaul and boy did it ever. The Lite looks more like something you would expect from Apple as opposed to Nintendo, which I guess is a good thing since Apple products tend to be described as visually pleasing. The Lite comes in white or black variety and sports a paint job on the inside of a clear plastic casing (think 2nd design of the iBook). Visually it falls right in line with the Sony PSP.

The slightly smaller casing does make it a tiny bit more difficult to hold for those of you with big hands, but the larger stylus more than makes up for it. The reality is that it isn’t all that much smaller.

One of the other key ingredients to this re-release is the new brighter screens. Holy burning retinas are these screens bright. Crisp, sharp, and super bright are how I would describe them. As if there weren’t enough reasons already to buy this updated version of the DS, add this one to the top of the list.

The DS Lite may be perceived by some as Nintendo correcting the initial mistakes they made with the DS and others may see it as reinforcing the strength of the platform. However you see it, Nintendo gave a boost to an already thriving platform with this release. If you were waiting on this release before jumping into the DS platform, your wait is over and you have a lot of catching up to do. If you are an existing DS owner, get yourself down to a local game store and trade in that clunky silver, red, or cobalt DS and get yourself a Lite. This thing is the New Hotness (Yes, I just re-watched MIB2. So sue me.)