October 2009

Fossil Fighters

October 30, 2009

Fossil Fighters is two-parts-Spectrobes, one-part-Pokemon with group battles, turn-based battles, and a narrower range of creatures.

Wish the review could be done now. So okay, what else? Instead of fighting Pokemon to level up and capturing the ones you want, you only fight other Pokemon trainers. I mean, Fossil Fighters. And instead of capturing Pokemon, you dig up dinosaur bones, like in Spectrobes. Had this also not been done before, it would be one of the more novel aspects of the game—as you go through the barebones story (“Someone stole my stuff! The villain!” “You can beat this guy! I know it! You’re the best around! To be an awesome Fossil Fighter is your destinnnyyyy”), you are permitted to explore other parts of Vivosaur Island to dig for higher level vivosaur (vivosaur = dead dinosaur you reanimate with a machine) fossils to add to your collection. You then take the fossils to a machine where you use a hammer and drill to get through the rock and to the bones without damaging them. The amount of damage will affect the vivosaur’s stats, so it’s important to do it well. This minigame will probably enthrall young kids, but will become a unique, skill-based kind of grind for anyone older, especially since you can only hold 8 fossils in your bag at once.

Fortunately, the game lets you save anywhere so you can simply reload it if you aren’t happy with the results. And your character moves lightning fast, meaning you won’t take a lot of time to travel around the island doing your errands and rushing from quest objective to quest objective. And if you find a bone you don’t need or get a duplicate that ends up with lesser stats than your best dinosaur, it ends up being a donation, and donations earn points that you can use to trade for better goods.

The game has an enjoyable challenge level to it, but is still easy, as would be expected considering its target audience. The battles are the bright spot, as it feels more like a strategy RPG than a regular one. Instead of switching out your dinosaurs in an extended 1v1 battle, you simply have one 3v3 battle with field position being a strategic choice. The front dinosaur can attack any of the dinosaurs save any resting in the back, while being able to be attacked by any dinosaur, while the supporting two play the exact opposite role. Each dinosaur has a small set of moves and has various roles. Each move also costs a certain number of points, meaning that not necessarily every dinosaur will be able to attack, so the using of moves has to be planned carefully. The front dinosaur can rotate to a back spot where it can’t attack or be attacked at all, resting for a couple of rounds. The concepts and selection of vivosaurs are easy enough to understand while still being complex enough to allow some creativity and challenge for younger players.

The world here is not as rich as Pokemon’s or even Spectrobes’. Kids may appreciate Fossil Fighters’ few unique qualities and improvements, but this is no stick of dynamite at the moment. Again, adults will find it too cutesy and easy; the writing is trite, the story is simple, and the whole thing doesn’t have much depth as many other strategy or RPG titles.

Section 8

October 30, 2009

A lot of FPS’s go for some sort of gimmick. The genre is so solidified, saturated, and standardized that to have any sort of success it has to do something different or unique, and to do it really well.

Section 8 is actually very much a lot like other shooters; the fact that you are a space marine with two health bars, one including shields, is the first clue. But it does have some quirks. The most noticeable difference is respawning, something you’d never think would change or become awesome in any way, but on this point they have done very well. When you respawn, you come in on a pod and it feels like you’re inside a meteor crashing towards earth. You have your minimap on while you’re crashing towards the battleground and can see just how close your enemies or allies will be. Just before you land, you have a chance to hit the brake and exercise some control over where you’ll hit the ground. Crashing next to allies to heal them or next enemies to get right into the fray is always enjoyable, and the need to pay attention while dead keeps you in the game, instead of in and out of it like when you die in most other shooters.
There are some other unique features too, but their execution is a bit more flawed. Section 8 bears the strongest resemblance to Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, where multiplayer consists of large group battles based around bases, checkpoints, vehicles, and deployable turrets. That game is good, though not spectacular, and one of its problems is that on many maps if you had no vehicle you had to either sit around waiting for one or you had to walk for 20-30 seconds, only to get sniped. Section 8 solves that problem by giving players the ability to run very, very fast, in fact, sometimes faster than many vehicles. You can get to where you want on large maps with ease. You’ve also got a short bursting jetpack that helps greatly with navigating around the large cliffs, boulders and buildings that are so frequent in the scenery.

The running feature is good for traversing the map, but not much else. The most annoying thing about it is that it is doesn’t control well when you’re trying to stop from starting or trying to start stopping. To activate it, you must walk continuously without stopping, and it seems like every time I was walking nearby the length of walking I wanted to do was just over the amount needed to activate it, making me dash right before I got where I wanted to go. There is a cooldown too, and it’s annoying to have it continuously be wasted. The jetpack is a little better, but when the burst runs out and you have to wait for it to recharge, your jumps are so tiny and pathetic that you’re practically a sitting duck. And if you have no run or jetpack, you’re done. Unlike Halo or Gears of War, you can’t charge in and get a kill or two before you go down, and unlike Unreal Tournament or Quake, you can’t run for your life to go heal or powerup.

It gives the feel of  all your kills and deaths more a matter of being at the right place and right time rather than being good at shooting or dodging, and this even if you’re a skilled FPS player.

Of course, the thing to remember is that it’s a large-scale team game with vehicles, turret and supply depot summoning, and coordinated strategy. But getting the strategy coordinated is difficult. Players actually sometimes invited me to parties—when I could find people playing. The servers are frequently empty and already there are not many people playing the game, unfortunately. A trip over to various forums confirms this. Incidentally, the forum of the PC players is much more active, so one wonders if the game community is superior on that platform. Voice chat comes more easily over there, anyway.

As for the single player campaign, it’s hastily pushed together. It’s mostly pretty easy (on medium, anyway) except for a couple of levels. You can respawn infinitely, and though there is supposed to be some sort of storyline, it’s very sloppy and confusing. It’s basically about “us vs. them” and the drama and acting is a little cheesy. It’s clearly a primer to prepare you for multiplayer and to get you accustomed to the vast customization you can give to your 6 loadouts (there are 6 classes, but you can ultimately change every single about them, so they are more like save profiles than classes). But the multiplayer lacks a community—to find some good games you will have to get online and seek out the loyal core that schedules games together.

Section 8 is flashy and enticing at first, but the vehicles and deployable structures have been done before. The super sprint, jetpack, and respawn are unique and thoughtful additions, but they aren’t major achievements that redefine the genre, or, for that matter, make the rest of the game fun.

ESRB: M for violence and a few naughty words. This is M in the way that Halo is an M, not in the way Gears of War is an M.

Pros: Cool respawning, big maps don’t leave you out in the boonies, classes are highly customizable

Cons: Boring single player campaign, hard to find people who play when it’s a heavily team-based game, graphics and combat are derivative

Most of the time, when a game shows up at one of our many Snackbar Games offices worldwide, it’s just the game and a slip of paper with a bit of extra information.  Sometimes, though, companies go all out.  This is one of these times.  For Fairytale Fights, they threw a poster, some fake playing cards, candy with photos on them and a small art book all into a box made to look like an old book.  Thankfully, there were no Ron Jeremy references.

Check out a photo of the package after the break. READ MORE

Where’s Waldo? The Fantastic Journey is a game about the difference between digital and analog. In the book, you have a list of characters, scenes, and objects to look for, all while enjoying the sights and scenery.

This isn’t the place for a deep discussion, but the point is important: Where’s Waldo? in video game form turns looking into Waldo into a pass/fail test with a timer, with access to future content in the game being relegated only to those who pass. The book does not do this; if you are tired of searching for something in one picture, you can simply pick any of the pictures from any of your books that you want. This is the smallest microcosm in existence that one can point to illustrate how poorly or awkwardly video games often attempt translate other mediums.

It’s clear that I’m on the side of the books, since that’s what I grew up with, but it must be admitted that there are some people who have a sort of preference for this thing.

The point is salient because the content of this game is solely based on the pictures in the book. The exact pictures are all here, but with a twist: Waldo is not in the same spot. In fact, he has more than one spot. That number is finite, but at least it’s more than one. When Martin Handford was creating his pictures of crowds, he stuck in Waldo as an afterthought, and Waldo then ended up becoming the public’s main interest. In software, it is surprising how easily and consistently Waldo looks like he naturally belongs where he belongs, even though he was stuck there randomly by the computer.

So far, so good, but the DS imposes limitations from which the game can’t escape. In every case, you must use the stylus to pore over the image. The entire image can’t be done justice in such a tiny screen, so you must scroll. Again, it just doesn’t seem as good as the real thing.

Each picture has three levels, and it’s odd to go back and look for things you’ve already seen the first time through. The “spot the difference” levels are quite challenging and a nice exception; they are actually pretty challenging, changes being extremely small and difficult to detect. The Odlaw levels, on the other hand, are extremely easy or difficult (usually the latter) because of the different color tones each level has. He places 15 animals, all which have yellow and black stripes, throughout the scenes, and they are tiny and don’t fit in as well as Waldo or Wenda do. I once found a monkey in the middle of some rocks and a snake just sticking out of the ground and jutting into the air at an awkward angle.

There is barely an ending to the game, and with the exception of some occasional animation of Handford’s work, there really is nothing here you can’t see elsewhere. It’s clear the game is designed for kids and Waldo-lovers, and if those kids would love the digital version of a Waldo activity book, there is plenty to do, especially with highly different difficulty levels. Otherwise, stick with the books.

ESRB: E for Everyone. Do the Waldo books offend you? It’s straight out of those.

Pros: You can turn the annoying voices off, cool to see animated art from the world of Waldo, easy to replay, doesn’t stick everything in the same spot every time

Cons: Software limitations become obvious quickly, practically no ending, either too easy or too hard

A Witch’s Tale

October 26, 2009

A Witch’s Tale is for kids. Oh yes, it is for kids. Why is it for kids? Because it is the easiest RPG ever made. And how is it the easiest RPG ever made? You are invincible. The control scheme is completely 100% stylus, nothing else. Your party members are buff, you basically can’t die, and you simply plow through. If challenge or the puzzle of how to beat an annoying boss is your thing, look elsewhere. And you can run from random encounters. All of them. Every time.

So what else is there? There is that unique setting, theme, and art style, and A Witch’s Tale doesn’t pull punches with its flair. The lands are Halloween, Gothic, spooky and fairy-tale all in one, and the characters, combat, and story never stray in theme. Unlike other RPGs, there isn’t a multiplicity of worlds or a change of the cosmos or planet–just a romp through the woods, like a kid’s story should be.

But even as a kid’s story, A Witch’s Tale falls flat, and it’s a disappointment because the story is its best hope at being a quality original game. The main character, Liddell, skips school to snoop around a castle, hearing tales of untold power lying within. She wants to become the world’s most powerful witch and is willing to open a sealed tome that has held an evil witch for 1,000 years. A vampire, Loue, stood guard, but was asleep the whole time. So when Liddell opens this Pandora’s box, it’s like, the end of the freaking world right? Well, it should be, but Liddell also gains powers and becomes tutored by Loue, who tells her that she needs to fix her mistake in the tone a parent would tell a child to clean up spilled Kool-Aid.

The crazy thing is that a girl makes the mistake of releasing an evil entity that could destroy the world, but no one gets that upset, even though the kingdoms’ princesses will stay captured and the world will be conquered by a dark force, standard-RPG-doom-and- gloom stuff. But Liddell is a brat, the exact kind of child that makes you hate children, the kind that makes you wonder how loveable you yourself were as a child, the kind that makes you thankful you no longer attend the last school you attended. And she could be taught a lesson, many lessons in fact, and it could have been done with style and in a unique setting and in a video game instead of a movie or book. What attempts there are at lessons are shallow, and the twists are easily predictable to the adult mind.

The art’s fine, the world is unique, the characters are shallow and predictable (by RPG standards, if you can imagine that), the maps are extremely simple and squarish, and the combat is so simple (and protracted; why would your first random creature take 8 hits to kill?) that there is no fun in the grind. Kids who don’t know better will be enchanted by the world of A Witch’s Tale, but this is not one of those family-oriented title that will suck in adults.

ESRB: E. Only thing that might upset you is Liddell’s skanky getup, which you can see on the cover and in a screenshot.

Pros: Unique setting and theme, manages to not be too JRPGish

Cons: So easy it makes the grind even more grindy, shallow characters and writing, cheap lessons