January 2010

We’re back with another edition of Snackbar Speculator.  This week’s topics: The DS2 and lots of internal politics. 

Current scores:

Andrew Passafiume: -35

Graham Russell: 0

Shawn Vermette: 5

Nintendo readying ‘DS2’ for mid-2011 release

The Game Boy Color was released in 1998. The Game Boy Advance was released in 2001. The Nintendo DS was released in 2004. It has now been almost 6 years since the release of the DS, and history tells us that a new handheld system should be on the verge of being released. Nintendo still refuses to discuss the possibility, but there are rumors swirling now that not only is Nintendo readying a new handheld, but it is aimed for a June 2011 release, with information on it to be released at E3 and the Tokyo Game Show this year. There’s no question that the DS is starting to show its age, but is Nintendo ready to move on considering how much of a cash cow the DS has been for them?

Andrew: Knowing Nintendo, this seems like a pretty good possibility. But what else could they do with the DS aside from simple upgrades that we’ve seen? That is uncertain, but people would buy the system nonetheless. I can definitely see this happening. 75%

Graham: If you look at the GBC, GBA and DS, it seems like it’s time.  We have to remember, however, that the original Game Boy lasted for nine years.  After the GBA, the company was so nervous about the short lifespan that it came up with the whole “third pillar” spiel to cover for it.  Is Nintendo working on a successor?  Of course.  It’s not inconceivable that it won’t come out until 2012, though, since they might want to give the DSi more time. 50%

Shawn: The only advantages the PSP seems to have over the DS are its graphics and multimedia capabilities. I can definitely see Nintendo announcing a new system that has all the abilities of the DS and the connectivity and graphics (or better graphics) of the PSP. And, following standard Nintendo policy for handhelds, it would not be launched during the holidays so mid-2011 is as good a time as any to predict. 75%

Modern Warfare 3 not on Infinity Ward’s plate

After creating the Call of Duty series and then rejuvenating it with the Modern Warfare sub-brand, word is that Infinity Ward won’t be working on the next installment in the Modern Warfare series. For a while, Infinity Ward has wanted to get away from working solely on Call of Duty, but they’ve never had a chance due to the lack of another high-profile studio that could take over for them. Reports are now surfacing though that Infinity Ward is working on an all-new IP rather than beginning preparations on Modern Warfare 3. Activision has a new studio headed by the men behind Dead Space, but would Infinity Ward be willing to hand over the reins to a new studio, regardless of its pedigree?

Andrew: I can see this happening, and I think Infinity Ward would want to get away and work on something new. Activision knows any future Call of Duty game will be successful either way, no matter what developer is behind it, so either way Modern Warfare 3 is bound to be successful. Whether or not Infinity Ward will allow another studio to take over is hard to figure out, but I could see it happening. 60% 

Graham: Bungie wanted to escape Halo.  Infinity Ward wants to escape Modern Warfare.  This is the kind of craziness we have in the games industry.  What other developer out there wouldn’t want to be at the helm of an incredibly successful franchise?  But people get restless, and Infinity Ward has only been partially responsible for the series.  (Their installments are generally accepted as better, but still.) Bottom line: it’s possible.  It’s stupid too. 40%

Shawn: I can definitely see Infinity Ward being tired of working on nothing but Call of Duty. After all, that’s all they’ve worked on for nearly a decade. However, considering the lack of success Treyarch has had living up to the quality and reputation of Infinity Ward developed CoD games, I can see how Infinity Ward would have trepidation over giving it over completely for a cycle. Given the amount of money and effort Activision has put into building this new studio, however; I believe it is likely that there’s faith in that studio to at least do as good a job as Treyarch. Due to this, I find this rumor entirely believable. 75%

Midnight Club canceled by Rockstar after internal studio strife

The game industry was hit years ago with a work scandal at EA in the now-infamous incident over unpaid overtime that resulted in millions paid out in class-action lawsuits. Now that same scene is repeating over at Rockstar San Diego. Accusations of the same treatment and unpaid vacation/overtime have been leveled at the management of Rockstar San Diego by numerous spouses and former employees. The key to this rumor though is the accusation that the Midnight Club development team has been dismantled and everyone either fired or farmed onto game projects that have been struggling for years. That there is strife and disarray is unmistakable, but would Rockstar have really allowed such a profitable series to fall by the wayside?

Andrew: I really find this one hard to believe. Rockstar doesn’t seem like the kind of company to do this, their development studios definitely seem a lot more lax than most. I doubt they would let something like this happen, and I doubt a fairly popular game series would be canceled because of it. If the series is canceled, this reason seems highly unlikely. 5%

Graham: The bottom line of this is Midnight Club’s cancellation.  It’s certainly possible, since 2K seems to be impatient with any Rockstar series that isn’t GTA.  It’s a fairly popular series in a genre that was recently vacated by the other giant, EA’s Need for Speed. If it’s gone, it’s a tragedy. 30%

Shawn: I find this rumor somewhat unfathomable. After the turmoil and bad press the game industry received last time, I was sure no other major developer would do these things; however, apparently the IGDA has offered to step in and help with some conflict resolution at the studio, so there may be some truth to these rumors. That something is going on over there is obvious, but I doubt Rockstar will simply cancel the Midnight Club series because of it. 10%

Max Payne 3 to be delayed due to internal studio strife

Mirroring the strife at Rockstar San Diego, it appears Rockstar Vancouver has also had the same charges leveled at management there. Rumors are swirling of 14-16 hour workdays being enforced at Rockstar Vancouver for all employees working on Max Payne 3. Despite these long workdays, it appears the strife and discord brought on by working conditions there are having more of an impact than the increased workload, as its being rumored that Max Payne 3 will be delayed again because of it.

Andrew: This is a tough one, because I can see Max Payne 3 being delayed, but I very much doubt this reason is valid (for the same reasons I stated above). I can see the game being delayed though, and if it is, I can’t imagine us finding out why. I will say there is a good chance the game is delayed, but I doubt it’s for this reason. 50%

Graham: Man, Rockstar has some issues, doesn’t it? Yeah, games get delayed, and Max Payne 3 is no exception.  There’s no way to know whether this strife was the cause of the delay, because they won’t ever admit it.  Therefore I can’t say anything. 50%

Shawn: Considering the game is scheduled to come out in August, such long days and ‘crunch time’ management seems to be to be a bit far-fetched for the moment. I agree with Andrew on this one, the game will likely get delayed, but I doubt this will be the reason…if we ever even know the reason. 35%

WWE SmackDown vs. Raw is hands down the best-selling wrestling game on the market with the most licences under its belt to work with, but last year’s 2009 entry seemed to have hit a plateau making this year’s entry not entirely a necessesity. Yuke’s attempts to revamp the series by almost starting over from scratch, making minor tweaks across the board and some pretty significant updates to character customization and implementing the Road to Wrestlemania story mode. Can all these changes supercede last year’s entry in your collection though?

SvR 2010 is simply a complex game, there are more modes than ever and the available player moves are mind-boggling. Luckily the game acknowledges this by dropping you straight into the training module when you load the game. Even if you are intimately familiar with the series you should stop and get used to the involved controls. These controls are both complex to suit the myriad of moves available and intuitive once you get the initial sequences down which makes the intial tutorial even more important to master. That being said, the tutorial only helps you so much, I know that my introduction could have been faster had the training been clearer. 

You will notice some tweaks to the SvR formula immediately, starting off with the improved head’s up display that simplifies momentum to a yellow/blue bar combination and removed limb damage from the display opting instead to show bruising and scratches on the characters themselves. The last one is a brilliant move by the developers as it simultaneously informs of damage and increases the effect of the brilliantly rendered character models. Some of the other tweaks will be debated by hardcore fans, such as the improved single button reversal tweak; some may find this too easy, watering down the formula, while others may see it as absolutely necessary to effectively control the matches. Overall the controls feel more fluid and intuitive even if it takes a little investment in training.

Once you get that done though, you are free and clear to truly experience all this game has to offer, and that is plenty. All of the standard modes are present this interation, and 40 superstars are available to play through many of the modes. While each have their own signature moves, they are mapped to the same button sequences limiting any cross-character learning. The only differences you may notice are associated with their base stats which feel appropriate for each superstar. 

The character creation has taken a huge leap forward this year. Along with the standard bag of customization tools, you are given the ability to script out and share a storyline of your creation. One of the better utilization of online capability now you can show your friends almost everything you create for your star and will definitely lead to a few matches between friends who think they have better stories. When it comes to multiplayer though, even the beefed up stats of a fictional creation still lose to the existing superstars you could take online. So don’t even think you could create someone better than John Cena. It’s not going to happen.

The Road to Wrestlemania allows a break from the standard career mission allowing you to play the real-life stories of some key superstars. I found this to be a mixed bag, as I am not all too familiar with the lore of Wrestlemania and I found it frustrating that I occasionally had to lose after seriously beating the heck out of my opponent. Similarly attempting to hit some of the precise objectives for some of the matches is a bit time consuming as I barely could hit them the first time through. This mode works for the most part, showing yet another way to play, while at the same time it doesn’t add too to an already mode saturated game.

Characters, environment and sound all help suck you into the game effectively. Graphically it is a beautiful title; with the addition of the bleed effects on characters the main stars of the game are becoming more and more realistic. Crowds still look cheesy though, as you really don’t want to focus on them at all, unless you want a good laugh. The music and sound are appropriate for the game; thankfully the ability to skip intro songs is still there so I don’t have to listen to all the bands I hate.  

SvR 2010 has succeeded in one-upping its predecessor; unfortunately it may only take a die-hard fan to notice all that this game has to offer. It’s a solid game that many people will want to go out and get, while the random fan may not be able to get past the complex controls with lack of tutorial to truly appreciate the game they are playing.

Plays Like: Action Wrestling

Pros: Very indepth controls that are intuitive to pick up and excellent create a superstar updates

Cons: Too complicated for the random wrestling fan, with little tutorial


Big Brain Wolf

January 17, 2010

Big Brain Wolf takes the adventure game, replaces inventory puzzles with logic puzzles, and places the whole thing in a fairy-tale world. The titular is studying to become a genie which makes it easy to accept the constant presence of his instructor who serves as a hint system, but before he can hope to become a wish-granted his mother is arrested for the murder of Red Riding Hood’s grandmother so proving her innocence takes priority.

Being an adventure game the way you go about attaining your goals is by clicking around on the screen to move and solve puzzles. Where you would combine your sword with fizzy root beer in Tales of Monkey Island you will place queens on a chessboard and arrange matchsticks in shapes in Big Brain Wolf. If you enjoyed Professor Layton then you’ll be right at home here.

There is no highlighting of interactable objects here which serves to make things frustrating as the cartoony graphics make it easy for objects to blend in with the background. Giving the player visual cues is never a bad thing – especially when those cues would only serve to initiate a puzzle instead of solve it for the player. Once you’ve found the puzzles, the controls work well. Mouse inputs all work intuitively, and with 60 puzzles available to you there’s plenty of content to work through. Not all puzzles are required though so it is possible to miss some by driving the plot forward. Those puzzles that you do solve are always available to be played again in the game’s central area by clicking on the genie’s lamp as well.

If a puzzle is too difficult for you there is a hint system available. You are allowed as many hints as you want, but in order to earn hints you’ll need to complete memory challenges. You’ll memorize sequences of colors, times shown on a series of clocks, and just plain committing lists of words to memory. It’s a novel idea, but if a puzzle is particularly challenging the repetition of these exercises results in frustration rather than appreciation as all you really want is to get back to the puzzle. Also similar to Professor Layton, there are three hints available per puzzle, and the first two are usually worthless so if you want any real help you’ll usually be spending three hints to get it. Puzzles do repeat a bit in theme, but the solution is either more involved or the rules are slightly different (i.e., your second Tower of Hanoi has more blocks that need to be transferred from one pole to another).

Big Brain Wolf is great for folks that enjoyed Professor Layton and want the same type of experience on the PC. The story isn’t anything to write home about, but the fairytale aesthetic and the breadth of puzzles available make it a great bet for logic puzzle fans.

Pros: good amount of puzzles, in-game hints 

Cons: No highlighting, permanently missable puzzles

Plays Like: Professor Layton and the Curious Village


Peggle Nights

January 17, 2010

Peggle Nights is exactly what I wanted out of it – more Peggle. There are more blocks and pegs to be hit, the board layouts are interesting, and there is a new character introduced whose power feels sufficiently different from those available in the base game.

For those that don’t know, Peggle is best described as Pinball crossed with Pachinko. Skill and luck (at least for me) play an equal part in my score at the end of any given level, but levels are short enough that retrying a failed one isn’t overly frustrating. The field is littered with blue and orange pegs and bricks, and the object of the game is to eliminate all of the orange objects from the board before running out of shots. Each character has a unique ability ranging from increased shot path visibility to pinball flippers to multiball. Each character’s ability is tailored to a different style of play, and some are more useful on a given board layout than others. As you work through the story your character will be locked but when you go back in quick play and attempt challenges (which use the same boards as single player) you will have your choice of character. 

The expansion content is a bit longer than the content in the base game so for half price you’re getting a lot of boards to play. I prefer the layouts in Nights to the original as they seem to be more tailored to the character ability that you’ll be using in the story, and they’re more whimsical because of the idea that you’re playing out each character’s dreams. There’s something special about playing out the firefighting dreams of a dragon and the rock and roll dreams of a psychic owl. The challenges are back as well, and they’re more varied and offer more challenge this time around as well so you’ll have plenty to shoot for if you want to clear them all.

The new character, Marina, is a good fit, and her power is interesting since it affects the field rather than the ball (similar to the alien’s power) by bringing down a lightning strike and counting each peg and brick in the way as “hit.” There is really nothing to complain about present in Peggle Nights. You get a load of content at a low price, and if you like the base game then you’ll certainly have fun with this expansion.

Pros: Great amount of content, new character, good board layout

Cons: Challenges are much more difficult than the base game

Plays Like: Peggle


The Dragon Ball series just is not the same as it used to be, mainly because it has been officially over for a few years now. And yet publishers still continue to push out games based on the once incredibly popular anime every so often. Here’s another example of one that, like Burst Limit before it, tries to recapture the fighting genre. And once again, we are left with a game that feels like it should have been released three or four years ago. 

Presentation wise, this game looks incredible. The developers are continuing to go for a cel-shaded look, and it only further impresses me each time I see this. Playing this game in HD is quite an experience, and it definitely seems like a game that will age incredibly well, graphically. Sound wise, the voice actors you know from the anime are all here, as campy and corny as ever. But if you’re already a fan, you won’t mind at all. The music on the other hand can get very old, very fast. 

The game follows the story of the Dragon Ball Z anime, and unless you are already a fan of the series (which at this point it is assumed you are), then you’re going to be incredibly confused. Of course, before you can even dive into the story, it is recommended you do training. It took me at least a good hour before I could get the hang of the controls. Even playing the training mode a couple of times, I just had a hard time getting the hang of everything. 

Another major problem is the camera, which constantly tries to get in your way during battles. Just when you think you’re about to win, the camera comes along to screw all of that up. You’ll be getting pummeled by the cheap A.I. as you try to find out where the hell you actually are. And by the time the camera is in a better position, you pretty much already lost. This is my experience with a lot of the battles in this game, and it never seems to get any better the more you play.

And finally, there just is not a whole lot of value here in this game. Once you get through the single player stuff, there is a nice online component, but you’ll just get bored of the game fast. And with its problems, including the always annoying camera, you won’t find yourself coming back to this one too much. Although the roster is full of 40+ characters, there isn’t much reason to keep coming back to this one.

Dragon Ball: Raging Blast feels like a regression of the series, and it seems to only continue regressing as time goes on. Developers just keep pumping these games out, despite how bland they seem at this point. There is not anything here that has not been done, and much better, even in the past console generation. Even if you’re a hardcore Dragon Ball Z fan, this game is only worth a rental at best. 

Pros: Amazing cel-shaded graphics; solid controls (once you get used to them)

Cons: Controls take a while to get the hang of; terrible camera; music gets old fast; not much content to keep you busy