November 2007

The upcoming Xbox 360 Dashboard update slated for a Dec. 4th release is by no means a secret at this point. News of parental controls and details on the Xbox Originals have been floating around for a few weeks already. Nevertheless, Microsoft issued a formal explanation of all the features that will be contained in this new update. Hit the jump for the full list.

1. Xbox Originals – Download original Xbox games for a mere 1200 MS points and play them from your console just like XLA titles.

2. Xbox LIVE Arcade Hits – Much like greatest hits or platinum hits, Microsoft is reducing the price of the top selling XBLA titles once they hit a certain sales figure. The first titles to achieve this notation are Bankshot Billiards 2 and Lumines LIVE which are dropping to 800 MS points and Marble Blast Ultra, Small Arms, and Zuma Deluxe which drop to 400 MS points. READ MORE

Last night I rolled out some new functionality in the form of photo galleries. While this may seem like nothing to get excited about, I included some features that are unique to our site. For an example, check out this news post, which has this photo gallery attached to it.

If you click on any of the images or the gallery title, you are taken to the actual photo gallery. The gallery itself functions just like any other gallery you have seen before. From the individual photo view if you click the image, you get a blown up full size version of the image. If you go back to the index of the gallery and scroll to the bottom you’ll see a nifty place that has a way for you to embed each gallery into your own website.

I hope you enjoy the new feature and feel free to start embedding our galleries wherever you’d like.

EA sent over a new set of images for the next gen version of NCAA March Madness 08. Hit the jump for the gallery.

Naruto is one of those Japanese phenomena that managed to make the leap to the United States successfully. While a blond ninja with bright orange clothing is hardly capable of stealth, he has regardless found enough of a following in America to warrant the localization of all his games.

However, in Japan, the series’ story has progressed years beyond the U.S., and developer Tomy didn’t want to spoil the plot. So, with Naruto: Clash of Ninja Revolution, the team took out the Japanese versions of the characters and slipped in the ones from the GameCube Clash of Ninja titles. This is done well, as it feels like a cohesive whole, but it also feels too recycled to be the true sequel the Japanese version was.

Revolution has four different control schemes. Though it presses the remote/nunchuk motion controls on the player as a way to deal more damage during special attacks, it still feels most comfortable when using the GameCube controller. Shaking the remote to attack seems cool at first, but ultimately is imprecise and tiring.

The roster of characters, even if it is transplanted from previous titles, is impressive. Most need to be unlocked, but that makes for a long and productive single-player experience. Usually such large rosters suffer from little differentiation, but Clash of Ninja manages to keep moves fresh.

The Clash of Ninja titles have frustrating two-player play, and Revolution is no different. However, it still shines when playing with four combatants. Besides Smash Bros., Clash of Ninja is as compelling a party fighting game as there is.

The presentation is a bit lacking. There is no widescreen support, and players are stuck with only the obnoxious English voices for the characters and menus. There are extra motion-controlled minigames, but these are hardly worth playing. As a result, the only polished parts of the game are the ones that existed in the GameCube games, and it’s hard to recommend a game that’s been mostly released before.

Clash of Ninja Revolution will appeal to fans of the anime, as well as party-starved fighting game lovers. For most, though, it really just serves as a stopgap solution until Super Smash Bros. Brawl hits.

Marking the latest in the Tony Hawk series is Proving Ground, an engaging foray into the street life of the common skater who is trying to make a name for himself through 3 career paths designed to improve his skating skills and eventually earn enough cred to hang with the legends.

Detail is the key to THPG. Right from the character creation menu you get a sense of the complex nature and nuance of the customization available throughout the game. Clothes, hair, boards and accessories are just the tip of the iceberg as you build your skill arsenal to fit your unique play style. Whether it is grinding, air, or grabs, the more you use your tricks the more you level and unlock increased stats associated to pulling off these feats.

THPG gives you three paths to explore through missions and skill boosting trick pull-offs; namely career, hardcore and rigger. The career lifestyle has you complete tasks designed around capturing video and photos for various magazines–the better the shots, the more you get paid, and the closer you get to becoming a brand name. The difficulty here is being able to set yourself up for a specific trick and then being swapped to a separate photo shot to capture your picture. Hardcore helps you develop certain skating techniques, such as the new agro aggro? kick, which you will use to prove your worth cleaning out skate parks of rival gangs. Lastly you can develop the DIY skater mentality through rigging your own ramps and rails to build your own dream skate park. This is hit-or-miss because of a clunky rigging editor that is irksome at best and downright annoying at worst as you attempt to rig specific elements together to complete goals.

Control mechanics can be a little daunting as you progress your way through the game, and while they are not impossible to master, they are not for the faint of heart either. Simple combinations required early on require extreme precision to pull off and may deter some casual gamers from progressing, but once you understand the controls, the intuitive nature of their design becomes second nature and a joy to nail the different combinations. How you grasp the controls will ultimately affect how you fare online, as the online community for the game tends towards the hardcore crowd. Still, online play provides another awesome outlet to truly measure your skills and given the seamless transition between the story mode to playing online. Other developers should take note and aim for this design.

The area maps are great for people like me who try to constantly explore; there are always these hidden nooks and crannies that seem virtually impossible to reach until you figure out the right jump or grind spot. If you get tired of playing the story or even the online sections you can always lounge in your personal skate area that you can build and populate with items you gain through the main game. And if that isn’t enough you can focus on editing all of your game footage together into a movie; this video editor is an interesting addition to the series and a worthy waste of your time. Needless to say there is plenty to do in the game and beyond the game making the price completely worth it.

Graphics were another one of those hit or miss items; a lot of times I felt the graphics were a worthy contender for the PS3, but then I would come across these blatant design flaws with environments and character creations. As good as the modeling was, it is almost a slap in the face that my character had an unmistakable line across the back of his neck, or the almost comic A