June 2007

Developer Gust’s Iris series, like most in the RPG genre, has a core group of fans that find the experience to be second-to-none. Usually it’s easy to understand the appeal: Baten Kaitos‘ deck system or Final Fantasy‘s magnificent 3-D graphics, for example. With the Atelier Iris 3, though, it’s a bit harder to find something. The game’s cover is generic, almost as if it were a placeholder for the real thing. In a way, this feels like the entire gameA

I’m not really a fan of The Godfather. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a good movie, just not one I care to watch over and over again. But when it comes to the reissued Godfather: Don’s Edition for the Playstation 3, I really start to understand what I’m missing.

Based on the classic Coppola movie, Don’s Edition takes a Grand Theft Auto base and adds an authentic mob look and feel to really create something special. The initial scenes paint the troubled life you belong to; when your father is ruthlessly gunned down by a rival gang in front of your eyes, Don Corleone lets you know your revenge will come in time. Now, as an adult, that time has come. But first you must prove yourself to the family and to the outside world.

Usually movie games are limited organisms that add minor levels between major movie plot points, but with The Godfather you really get the best of the movie in a solid game. The depth of the movie is all here, subplots are expanded and minor characters play major roles within the game. On top of that, beautifully executed voice talent and music really puts you at center stage of the drama; when the family has problems, you care. Unfortunately, it is pretty noticeable that Al Pacino is missing from the context, and anyone slightly familiar with the films, this may be a sore point throughout the game. As much of a bummer that is, it still doesn’t dampen the transition of action from the silver screen to the small screen. The game deserves kudos simply for not ruining a franchise, so the game lives up to its title and then some.

Game mechanics are very stylized. In trying to capture the brutal nature of the material, the game controls break from the norm to offer multiple ways of dealing with your environments, as well as your enemies. Standard fare is the control of guns: you can take someone down quick by showing them the business end of a shotgun, but if you need to be more subtle, there are a plethora of alternatives available to you. You can pistol whip someone, or attempt to shoot someone’s gun arm just to get them to back down or release a hostage. Many times I got too excited and just over-killed somebody (literally) when I should have been interrogating them, but thankfully the game has discreet checkpoints that I can use to try again.

If you really want to get someone’s attention, you can go hand-to-hand, or baseball bat-to-face. The controls get a little bit more complicated but the results are completely worth it; once you begin grappling with someone you have a variety of methods to knock them around. With the R3 knob you can wind up punches and jabs, or you could use the SIXAXIS controller to pick your opponent up, slam them against a wall, bash their head onto a desk or just throw them across the room. The last one is my favorite, just for the strategically placed electric boxes that prove to be awesome ways of quickly dispatching your enemies. Some of these animatics were reminiscent of God of War – fluid breaks from the norm that accentuate the larger game.

Playing in New York in the 1930’s, you are given the entire city to roam through, giving you plenty of opportunity to raise your respect, and persuade businesses that they need your protection. All of these sidequests are worthy distractions from the main line, but just don’t get too far ahead of yourself, as you are very vulnerable without a posse in the beginning. Because the world is so big, you do have to deal with a significant load time before you head out. As sucky as it was sitting through that, it was worth it to just be able to roam with out additional load screens as I delved into businesses and found their illicit goings on in the backrooms.

As solid as the game is, I still can’t help but look at it as a next-gen port. While the SIXAXIS controls and the additional missions are a bonus the graphics are sub-par for the PS3. Even the slight bump up from the PS2 graphics causes it to be heads below other PS3 titles. But like I said before, what is lacking in visual appeal is more than made up with ambiance in the form of music and voice acting.

If this game didn’t already exist on the last-gen consoles it would definitely be a purchase, but because it does and there isn’t a significant overhaul to design, The Godfather is really just a rental. Bottom line: if you already own the older version, you may want to think seriously about whether it is worth it to upgrade; for me the answer is no. But, if you already don’t own this game then you probably want to pick it up to enhance your PS3 collection as this genre is pretty absent on this console until GTA IV comes out later.

Whether you add it to your collection or not, The Godfather: Don’s Edition is worthy of respect as a worthwhile licensed game that scratches a specific itch with satisfaction, albeit with a lot of blood. Welcome to the family.

When Microsoft launched the Xbox 360 over in Japan they knew they needed a regionally appealing title to move systems. While sales of the Japanese RPG were ok, they were nothing to write home about. What Microsoft didn’t anticipate was the interest that it would generate back home in North America.

After what seems like an eternity, Microsoft is finally bringing Blue Dragon to North America. Microsoft announced this morning that Blue Dragon would be released throughout North America on August 28th with the standard next gen price of $59.99. Some of the features that Microsoft is touting include realistic environments, anime-styled characters, and unique battles bound together by a deep compelling storyline.

For European gamers wondering when they can expect to get their Dragon on… you are in luck as the EU release of Blue Dragon is 4 days before the US release on August 24th. Don’t get too excited though, it’s going to cost you A

While Capcom may have ruled the 90s arcade fighting game scene with Street Fighter II and its armada of sequels and spin offs, the modern arcade has produced a number of successors to that throne, the most worthy arguably coming by way of Arc Systems Works’ Guilty Gear. Designed by Japanese game developer Daisuke Ishiwatari (Last Blade), Guilty Gear took 2D sprite based fighting to a more frenetic level than before, with high flying acrobatics and a grinding heavy metal score, which was also composed at the hands of Ishiwatari as well.

While the series’ freshman outing for the original PlayStation in 1998 garnered little more than a cult following, subsequent releases for both the home and arcade markets made Guilty Gear’s quasi-futuristic heroics a favorite among video game enthusiasts.

Numerous additions and enhancements have been added to the franchise over the last nine years, including the addition of a side scrolling brawler and even some rather manic four-player combat in 2004’s Guilty Gear Isuka. However, none of these alterations look to measure up to playing Guilty Gear using the Wii’s motion sensitive controls, something made possible by the series’ latest sequel, Guilty Gear XX Accent Core.

With Aksys Games (Hoshigami Remix) at the localization helm, the game, which will also be released for the PlayStation 2, will be available for North American audiences to play for the first time this coming weekend during the annual Anime Expo [AX] 2007 at California’s Long Beach Convention Center. In the days leading up to this event, Snackbar Games was able to speak with Aksys’ director of marketing Gail Salamanca about this game, the convention, and why Guity Gear on the Wii is a win for casual gamers.

First, I must say that obtaining the rights to Guilty Gear XX Accent Core seems like a substantial boon for such a young company. Was this a difficult license to obtain? Was is a challenge to convince Arc Systems’ that you were the right studio for the job?

Gail Salamanca: We have a great working relationship with Arc System Works which we’ve been cultivating for the past few months when we first licensed Hoshigami Remix, which will hit shelves on the 26th. So, I think it was only natural that we’d try to build upon what we’ve already done with them and help get GGXXAC published in the US.

And Accent Core will be available for players to try first hand at the Anime Expo?

GS: Yes, the first English version of the PS2 version of AC will be there for gamers to try out.

Why is this event important to you company?

GS: AX and the multitude of Anime conventions throughout the year are definitely a great way to spread the word about games especially ones like Hoshigami and Guilty Gear. There’s a lot of video game crossover with the anime demographic as evidenced by the number of video game cosplayers that can be found at any anime conventions. In general, it’s a great way to get the games in front of the very influential and outspoken and anime community.

Of course the big question about the game is how it will work on the Wii, especially since Guilty Gear‘s fighting can be complicated, but also fast and frantic. Which version of Accent Core do you feel offers the definitive experience, PS2 or Wii? Which do you prefer?

GS: Having only played a preliminary copy of the Wii version I can’t really say which one will give you the ultimate GG experience. It will most likely come down to your controller of choice, but there’s something about having the choice to play with the Wii Remote and nunchuk that’s intriguing to me. I think it would be great for casual gamers who aren’t used to complicated fighting games. They’ll be able to jump in, flail away, and be competitive with someone familiar with Guilty Gear using the same controls.

The decision to also support GameCube controllers is exciting, but not all that common for the Wii. Why was the decision adopted?

GS: It’s really about giving end-users as many options as possible to control the game the way they want to.

Why do you feel that more companies don’t include this option with their Wii titles for those game that might play just as well with a conventional controller as opposed to the ‘waggle’ of the Wii remote?

GS: I think it’s because developers want to take advantage of the unique control schemes possible on the Wii. Whether they actually make the game better or worse is another question entirely. In the case of Guilty Gear, you definitely need a control pad or joystick to play the game how it was meant to be played in the arcade. So, I think in this case it was very necessary to give users the option of using a conventional controller.

What are the new gameplay systems and modes introduced by Accent Core and how do they work?

GS:The three new gameplay systems are as follows: Slash Back, Throw Break and Force Break. The Slash Back is a defensive move that allows your character to counter attack immediately by inputting the Slash Back command. However, this is a high risk / high reward move and if not done properly will leave you open to a combo. The Force Break is an enhancement of one of your character’s normal moves that uses 25% of your tension gauge. The Throw Break lets you escape from an opponent’s throw attempt. This is on top of all the new moves and gameplay adjustments to each character.

Accent Core features all the requisite Arcade, Versus, Survival and Training modes that are indicative of the GG series. Medal of Millionaire mode is a mode carried over from GG X2 #Reload where hitting opponents with combination moves increases the Medal Gauge and raises your Medal Level. The higher the Medal Level, the higher your score.

How many characters are in the game? Can players expect some new faces, as well as some old favorites?

GS:There are 23 characters selectable off the bat with EX versions of each. There are 2 characters that were introduced in GGXX Slash that didn’t make it to the US; Order Sol and ABA.

Who is your favorite character in the game?

GS: Well, being the total button masher that I am in any GG game… I’ve been playing Chipp ever since I worked on the original PSOne version. His fast moves and frantic style complement my erratic and noob play style.

Switching gears, Aksys also has Hoshigami Remix coming soon as well. This is a title that was not particularly warmly received by the player community and press when originally released for the PlayStation. Why is it an appropriate fit for the Nintendo DS?

GS: The main problems with the PSOne version were the insane difficulty and the clunky interface. Both of which have been addressed in the DS version not to mention all the other additions we’ve made to the game. The game is much more enjoyable and accessible, with the absence of load times and the different control options on the DS. There are few games on the DS now that will give you the amount of gameplay and replay value that Hoshigami has.

Aksys will be offering exclusive in-game items for players of Hoshigami Remix during the Anime Expo. How will these items be distributed? What sorts of items are we talking about?

GS: We’ll be using the trading function in the game to send these special weapons to gamers who bring their copy of Hoshigami to the show. Basically, these are weapons that you won’t be able to get through the course of the game and have crazy stats.

Finally, do you know if there plans to offer such items, maybe not these exactly, for download for other players at a later date?

GS: Hopefully, we’ll be able to do more events like AX where we can have the other items available for download.

Spider-Man 3

June 27, 2007

As multi-platform games go, Spider-Man 3 does a lot of things right, but just doesn’t completely feel comfortable on the PS3 with its sub-par graphics and weighty fighting. It helps that this version of the game was designed for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, rather than being built with the earlier generation’s hardware in mind, but the game still feels hamstrung by having to play to the strengths of two current generation consoles rather than simply embracing the strengths of one over the other. But as mass marketing dictates, Activation has to take a popular movie and make it as viable on all systems as possible; I’m just surprised they didn’t release an Atari Jaguar version as well.

Hey, it could have sold a couple of units.

By now, it’s almost rote to milk every market possible by mimicking blockbuster movie plotlines while actually just trying to sell an action/adventure game. Fortunately for this game, it isn’t based on Shrek the 3rd; instead, it’s based on a mature and action-packed thrill-ride which features a talented cast of actors who blessedly perform vocal duties in the game. Nothing beats Bruce Campbell as my humble narrator, navigating me through tutorials and giving hilarious color commentary to my less-than-perfect gameplay with pearls of wisdom like, A