May 2010

When the Green Day: Rock Band demo was released today, it carried with it a surprising tidbit about the next Rock Band game, Rock Band 3.

The last screen you see when exiting the demo is a teaser page for the upcoming Rock Band 3. This page shows the trademark icons of the Rock Band series in a line next to each other: guitar, drums, bass, three part vocals, and keyboard. Wait, keyboard? That’s right, it appears that Rock Band 3 will feature a keyboard as yet another instrument for your repertoire. READ MORE

Insomniac Games is best known for its incredible success as a third-party publisher working exclusively with Sony. Until today. The company has announced an agreement with EA Games to publish a new franchise on both the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. READ MORE

Dead to Rights is a series that started out with promise, but fell flat on its face with the second installment. The first game definitely was enjoyable while it lasted, and it combined some solid shooting mechanics with even better hand to hand combat. The two blended together rather seamlessly, but when the second game came around, everyone gave up on what could have been a rather successful action series. Here we are, five years later, with a reboot of the series that has the potential to live up to the original.

Just like the first two games, Retribution stars Detective Jack Slate and his canine companion Shadow. Although this is not connected to the original two games in anyway, and in the beginning, Jack does not even have Shadow at his side. The story in general is rather weak, and just barely pushes the player along from one grimy looking area to another to take wave after wave of bad guys.

This is not a good looking game by any means. Everything about this game from the character models to the environments just scream last generation, and the voice acting is rather weak as well. Everything about the game’s presentation really makes me believe that the developers did not feel the need to even try to hold up to today’s standards. 

The gameplay itself? It works, which is always a good thing, but it’s all an incredibly forgettable experience. The controls are fine, the shooting feels solid, but the execution of it all is nothing exciting. The game is not only a shooter, but like the first two games, it allows you to switch to hand to hand combat on the fly. The combat itself is well thought out, but the way you switch between the two is awkward, and when certain enemies have guns and others just want to beat you up all in the same area, it can just get frustrating. Shooting them all seems like the simple answer, but that does that not work as well as one would hope.  

And then there are the Shadow levels, in which you sneak around and stealth kill enemies. It seems neat at first, but when you realize you are playing as a dog and dragging bodies to try and hide them, it’s hard not to laugh. Plus, these levels are very short and lack the punch that some of the better action sequences do. There are some memorable moments in the game, but they do not last very long and they are overshadowed by the rest of the game, which does nothing to help it stand out among the wide array of other action games on the market. 

As soon as the achievement popped up for “performing a groin takedown” with Shadow, I thought this game might be something special. However, the design only helped to prove me wrong in every conceivable way. If this game were strictly a shooter, it would probably be a fun weekend rental. As it stands, the final product falls short of even generic shooter territory and becomes a rather abysmal game with some few minor (but enjoyable) action sequences. If there is any good reason to keep this series from coming back again, this game is it. 

Pros: Controls are solid; shooting mechanics work

Cons: Muddled, ugly graphics; forgettable story; Shadow stealth levels are laughably bad; the combination of gunplay and fighting does not work nearly as well as it should

Naruto has been turned into numerous video games, and the series is no stranger to being given the fighting game treatment. Ultimate Ninja Heroes 3 is an exclusive to the PSP, and I don’t really understand why. The point of the fighting game isn’t to sit on the bus and play by yourself – it’s to have friends over and battle all night or go online and see how you fare against others with the game. The PSP does a lot of things very well, but multiplayer isn’t one of them. You either need to know another person with a PSP and a copy of your game of choice or a wireless access point and the good fortune to find an opponent online. Sadly, I don’t know anybody else with Ultimate Ninja Heroes 3, and I couldn’t find anybody to fight with online.

Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Heroes 3 has you covered though. The single-player story is lengthy, and that’s great if you aren’t familiar with the Shippuden stories. If you are there isn’t any new content here. This bothers me for one reason, Naruto games are aimed squarely and Naruto fans, and if anybody is going to be familiar with the stories presented in the manga and anime it’s fans of the series.

Ultimate Ninja Heroes 3 feels a lot like its predecessors. The fighting system is still criminally simple, and the graphics still convey the feeling of a living anime well. Hit circle to attack, and specials are executed by pressing triangle and then circle. There’s a balance to be struck when it comes to pulling off moves in a fighting game. You don’t need every move to be as difficult as the fatalities from Mortal Kombat nor do you want every move to be as simple to pull off as the standard light punch from Street Fighter 2. Unfortunately, Ultimate Ninja Heroes 3’s fighting system is that simple, and it hurts the game. There’s much less emphasis on deciding what you’d like to do and pulling it off well and more emphasis placed on mashing on the circle button until you win a la 1980s brawler arcade games. One new addition for Ultimate Ninja Heroes 3 is four-player battles. More fighting games need four-player battles. The more friends I can get in a room who can participate in a game the better.

For the Naruto fans there are a ton of unlockables and characters to choose from. In order to get the unlockables you’ll need to collect Ninja Points by completing missions (single player fights). The things available for purchase include character art and movies – if you like Naruto then you’ll dig unlocking the various goodies. 

Unless you’re a die-hard Naruto fan and need your fix on the road then pass on Ultimate Ninja Heroes 3 and pick up a copy of BlazBlue, Super Street Fighter IV, or Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom for one of the consoles. That way you’ll be playing a fighting game with a better combat system on a bigger screen against friends in your home or opponents online.

Plays Like: Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Heroes, Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Heroes 2: The Phantom Fortress

Pros: Lots of extras for fans to unlock

Cons: Shallow fighting system, familiar story to fans of the anime


There is nothing wrong with difficult games. There is, however, something wrong with games whose difficulty is created by a poor control scheme, and that is exactly what Last Raven Portable is – difficult because you have to fight the anemic control scheme in addition to the enemy mechs.

Last Raven started its life as a PS2 game, and when it released it was released only for existing fans of the Armored Core series. Just as Nintendo cultivated a generation of platform gamers to be able to pull off ridiculous wall-kicks and long-jumps in Super Mario 64, From Software had cultivated a group of mech action players that demanded a difficult but fair campaign in Last Raven. And that’s what they got – Last Raven, when it released on the PS2, was punishing difficult, but every time you died you knew it was your fault for wasting ammo or taking a risk that you shouldn’t have. This encouraged players to refine their strategies and get better acquainted with the controls.

Unfortunately, Last Raven Portable is a photocopy-perfect port of the PS2 original. None of the enemies have been rebalanced, and none of the mechanics have been changed. Ordinarily this would be a good thing. Nobody wants to play a version of Duke Nukem 3D where all of the secrets have big neon arrows pointing them out, after all. In the course of a day, you’ll fight a war against the very corporations that you used to serve. And if you can keep your wits about you you’ll be the last Raven left alive when it’s all over. As with the mechanics, the story is a photocopy of the original game’s so if you enjoyed it the first time you’ll enjoy it again here.

Here, however, the perfect translation serves to frustrate the player as the PSP just doesn’t have enough input to competently play the game. Last Raven was designed with the DualShock 2 in mind, and it shows. There are airborne enemies to track, but you’re short an analog stick. And in Last Raven you can’t afford to be fumbling with buttons to rotate the view because the enemy has already spotted you and now you’re dead. Same outcome as before, but now you can completely blame the control scheme for your failure. If you’d had a second nub panning your view would be easy, and it would be in line with how the game was originally designed.

The Last Raven that you remember fondly is present on your PSP, but playing it is akin to strumming a guitar one-handed or driving a manual transmission car without a clutch. It’ll get you where you’re going, but nobody will be happy by the time you get there. Sometimes, games need to be changed when ported from one platform to another, and this is one of those times. 

Plays Like: Armored Core: Last Raven with a broken controller

Pros: Competent port of the PS2 original to portable hardware

Cons: Exceptionally difficult to control, hard for all the wrong reasons