February 2010

Tropico 3

February 28, 2010

Tropico 3 is what I always wanted SimCity to be – a game rather than a toy. It does feature a sandbox mode, but the goal-focused campaign mode really makes Tropico 3 a joy to play, and it gives me a reason to turn that church into a secret police headquarters. Objectives are varied, but they all ultimately revolve around keeping up a good economy and quelling rebellions before they begin. It doesn’t matter whether you’re courting tourists, exporting goods, or just trying to stay in power – money and governmental stability, along with intelligent city planning, will win the day.

After you select a mission to play you need to decide who you, as dictator, will be. Tropico 3 offers a big list of well-known dictators like Fidel Castro or Che Geuvara, but you can also create your own ruler. In addition to customizing your dictator’s look you’ll get to choose two positive and two negative traits. Positive traits will give you bonuses (pop star, for example, makes your relations with both the US and the USSR better) while negative traits like “pompous” will decrease your standing with various factions on the Tropico Island.

Factions are a new addition to the Tropico franchise, and it takes a skilled leader to keep them all happy (or since I’m not a skilled leader, to keep them all from staging a coup). The nationalists are happy when foreigners aren’t allowed in your land. This means you’ll need to build high schools and colleges to train advanced workers yourself instead of paying outsiders to immigrate to your little slice of paradise. The religious faction needs churches and cathedrals to be happy, and they’re not thrilled when you choose to base your secret police in their favorite place of worship. In addition to keeping factions satisfied with you, you’ll need to keep your population as a whole happy. You keep people happy by having a decent economy and an ample supply of food.

Tropico 3, when you aren’t dealing with deploying hit squads, cleaning up after hurricanes, and upgrading from shanties to apartment buildings, is beautiful – even on middle settings. Each of the 15 campaign islands has a unique look, and the whole thing looks a bit like a cartoon which fits the intended mood perfectly. Tropico 3 is not a game to be taken seriously – it’s a game to play with a smile on your face even as your government is overthrown and your reign as El Presidente draws to a premature close. The audio adds to the light-hearted mood as well. Tropico Island’s head DJ, Juanito, will regularly deliver updates on Tropico Island’s situation as well as updates on happenings all around the world. Juanito’s commentary is good, but he only has a few songs in his repertoire, and they all seem a bit too loud. This is easily fixed by turning down the music volume in the options screen, and you’ll be better able to hear the random moos and chirps from the local fauna. You’ll even hear the bell chime in that recently-built cathedral.

With its 15 campaign missions, a sandbox mode, and the ability to download scenarios created by other players Tropico 3 has no shortage of content. The tutorial is fairly bare-bones, but scenarios can always be replayed. Failure is a better teacher than text boxes anyhow. You’ll be up and running in no time ruling a tropical paradise with an iron fist. Or maybe not. It’s all up to you. 

Plays Like: Tropico, Tropico 2, SimCity

Pros: lengthy campaign, good visuals and sound, downloadable scenarios

Cons: short tutorial, music is too loud by default


One of the most fun gaming mechanics is the “press your luck” element; typically this involves one player continuing play until either they decide to stop or until some unfortunate outcome forces them to end their turn and lose all of their progress. The Sid Sackson design Can’t Stop! is that element distilled to its rawest form, which makes for fast and fun play.

On their turn, a player receives four six-sided dice and the three “runner” tokens. On their first roll, they have to generate two numbers by pairing the dice as they see fit. They place runners on the board in the columns indicated by those numbers. Then they can either stop or roll again. On each subsequent roll they have to be able to generate at least one of their previously-rolled numbers, at which point they advance the respective runner one space; the third runner is a one-time safety net that can be placed on an off result if — and when — one occurs.

When a player stops, he places his colored tokens on the last positions of the runners and passes the runners and dice to the next player. On that player’s next turn he can resume from those positions should those numbers come up again. Other players’ tokens on a column are ignored unless using one of the included variants. Of course, should a player fail to hit one of his three targets he ends his turn and removes the runners without gaining any ground.

If a player stops with a runner at the top of a number’s column, he has won that column and that number is no longer available for any player’s use; this is also true for the rest of that player’s turn while the runner is in that position. Each number requires a different number of hits to win, based on how likely those numbers are to come up. It takes thirteen hits to win column 7, but only three for both 2 and 12; each step in between is two additional hits. The first player to claim three numbers (or more in variants for less than four players) wins the game. 

Rolling a combination that allows you to only place one runner thanks to the other pair producing a “dead” result gives you an additional safety net on your subsequent rolls (another included variant does not allow this). Once all three runners are placed then the claimed columns become irrelevant for that player’s purposes. However, it is entirely possible for an initial roll to produce no viable results later in the game once two or three numbers (or even one in the case of 2 and/or 12 and a roll of all ones or sixes) have been claimed.

Naturally the only real strategy in the game comes from knowing when to pass the dice, although how you split up your initial roll(s) can affect your turn as well. Everything else is luck, obviously, but in a filler game like this that’s not too much of a hindrance. In theory it’s possible for the game to end on the first player’s first turn with a spectacular series of rolls! The far more likely scenario is a player slowly making progress along his three columns while the other players try to egg him on into making “just one more roll” and potentially missing, effectively wasting his entire turn.

Can’t Stop! supports up to four players; it suggests ages nine and up but really any kid capable of adding up to twelve should do fine. Technically the game can be played with nothing but four standard dice and a score pad, but the package offered by Face 2 Face Games is only $30 and features some solid plastic tokens and game board; the box is large, but only because of the 13 x 11 board (shaped like a stop sign). Like most filler-level games, it will quickly earn its worth in entertainment value in only a few sessions and is a nice casual game for all levels of experience.

Image by GamerChris


Nintendo’s Media Summit this week gave us ample rumor fodder for this week’s Speculator. Since that’s what we’re all talking about this week, here is an all-Nintendo edition.

Current scores:

Andrew Passafiume: 5 

Graham Russell: 5

Shawn Vermette: 40

New Legend of Zelda to come out in U.S. in 2010

According to remarks from Satoru Iwata and Cammie Dunaway, there’s a chance that the next Zelda will hit shelves this fall. Combine those off-the-cuff remarks with the fact that Nintendo just cleared out their entire inventory of big upcoming games, and this becomes a much more interesting rumor. Right now, Nintendo has no big projects announced for release after June. Could Zelda be the big one that props up their holiday lineup?

Andrew: This is a definite possibility, especially considering Nintendo’s biggest titles are all coming out before the second half of the year. Mario Galaxy 2 and Metroid: Other M both coming out in Q2? That is the biggest surprise of all. I think Nintendo needs a big title to launch for the Holidays, and Zelda seems like the best candidate. 90%

Graham: With clearing the fall of Galaxy 2 and Other M, they’ll have to announce some big stuff at E3. Zelda’s the only big title they’ve announced. My hesitation: they say it’s not ready, and they can be patient with Zelda. There’s always a chance of a New Super Mario Bros.-like announcement of a quick, surprising release.  80%

Shawn: I fully expect to see a new Zelda this year, probably during the holidays. It’s been 4 years since Twilight Princess came out, and most Zelda games have come out in roughly 4 year increments. That and the complete lack of anything resembling a holiday blockbuster on their current slate of games tells me they were clearing the way for a big announcement at E3. 85%

Nintendo to announce U.S. release of The Last Story at E3

Nintendo and Mistwalker, the studio behind Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey, are at work on a new RPG project . Unfortunately, little is known about it beyond the fact that it is scheduled to come out in 2010 in Japan and is the only project being worked on by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the famed creator of Final Fantasy. Dunaway was evasive when asked about localization of the game.

Andrew: I think this has a higher chance of happening than one may think. The game is apparently almost finished, despite us seeing next to nothing on it. It probably would not take terribly long to localize it for Western audiences, so I would definitely expect to hear about it at E3. Whether or not we’ll actually get it this year is an entirely different story, but still a possibility. 80%

Graham: With the deck-clearing of the Summit, I think there will be some announcing of games that won’t be out by the end of the year. This seems to be one of those announcements, as the localization may take a while. This one is higher-profile, but also not as far along in the development process, so it’s a toss-up. 75%

Shawn: I don’t know how likely this is, but I really, really hope it happens. I loved Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey, and am really looking forward to this next RPG from them. However, their last game was never localized, so I’m left with hope versus history on this rumor. 60%

Nintendo to announce U.S. release of Xenoblade at E3

Similar to the above rumor, Xenoblade is the newest project from Monolith Soft, creators of Xenosaga. It was shown last year at E3 as Monado, but currently is only set for release in Japan. However, Cammie Dunaway also referred to it during the Nintendo Media Summit this week. Dunaway also tried to sidestep questioning about this one, but they’ve shown it before, so is it more likely?

Andrew: That’s the point, why mention it if it isn’t going to be localized? I feel the same exact way about this as I do about The Last Story. It’s fairly obvious we’ll hear about a U.S. release this E3, but once again, who knows when we’ll actually get it. 80% 

Graham: Since there was an announcement last year (albeit a small one with no demo space), this one’s a bit more likely. Still not convinced the release will be quick, but if we get one of these in 2010, we won’t get the other, as they both hit the same demographic. 80%

Shawn: RPGs are always something I’m interested in, so yet again I’m hoping for something to happen that I’m not sure will happen. I can’t think of any reason to mention a game in the US if you don’t plan on localizing it…but Nintendo has done it before (Mother 3 is one example). 65%


Nintendo’s 2010 Media Summit, held Wednesday morning in San Francisco, was packed full of dates and info for the next few months.  Want to know about the launch of Super Mario Galaxy 2, Metroid: Other M or the DSi XL? A full, long list is after the break. READ MORE

Vancouver 2010

February 23, 2010

You’ve all heard the expression “jack of all trades, master of none,” and no other string of words describes Vancouver 2010 better. Boasting a glut of events to participate in, Vancouver 2010 transports you to this year’s Winter Olympic Games by way of the quick time event. Feel the wind in your hair, take in the scenic vistas, and press buttons in time with the on-screen prompts.

There is a reason that sports carry individual games. They are complicated to simulate and exciting to play with precision. Vancouver 2010 simplifies its events so much that the final count feels like less than the sum of its parts. Luge, Skeleton, and Bobsled all feel the same visually (which makes sense as they all run the same course), but which control vastly differently for seemingly no reason. In one even you’ll mash A to run, tap B to get on your sled, and steer with the left stick. In another you’ll press A in time with on-screen prompts, tap B to get on your sled, and steer with the triggers. And in the third you’ll mash A to run, tap B to get on your sled, and then steer with both analog sticks. The muddle doesn’t end with sled events. There seems to be no real difference between Super G and Giant Slalom.

Think of the Winter Olympics. What sports immediately spring to mind? For me it’s hockey, curling, ice dancing, luge, and snowboarding. Only one and a half of those five events are represented in Vancouver 2010 – luge and snowboarding. Snowboarding only gets half a point because cross is included but not halfpipe. Hockey is complex enough to warrant its own game, but in a game comprised of quick time events where is the DDR-esque ice dancing? Where is curling? In the U.S. at least, Shaun White is a big celebrity – big enough that he represents an entire brand of snowboarding video games. So where is his signature event, the snowboard halfpipe? 

Ignoring gameplay for a moment, Vancouver 2010 is a very pretty game. The courses at Whistler are faithfully recreated, and that will surely be important to an Olympics fan. Another neat feature is the ability to switch into first-person mode at any time. First-person makes everything harder, but it also brings the experience home a little bit. Things are harder when they’re more realistic. I didn’t spend a whole lot of time in first-person mode because I like doing well in events, but it is certainly entertaining to ski in first-person looking through the orange-tinted goggles of an Olympic competitor.

Vancouver 2010 does feature multiplayer, but if an event can’t carry a single-player experience then it isn’t going to be fun in multiplayer either. I couldn’t find any opponents online to play against, and I don’t expect that any of you will have much better luck. Vancouver 2010 is a rental at best, and even then this one is only for true Olympic fanatics.

Plays Like: any other minigame compilation you care to name

Pros: Great recreation of Whistler

Cons: Not fun to play, lack of available events