Ed Zitron

Dynasty Warriors (Import)

February 2, 2005

[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/dynastywarriorspspimport/cover.jpg[/floatleft]Pose a serious question to yourself. You are in the middle of a critical battle. You survey the soldiers from afar and see hundreds of soldiers clashing blades, gnashing teeth, and killing each other. What would you expect the music to be that would sound out over said battle? A rousing orchestral theme? A thunderous drum beat? Or, alternatively, a rocking rock jam? KOEI, in their infinite wisdom, opted for the latter option, took out any sense of realism from feudal Japan, miniaturized it, and has mailed it to retailers across the Far East. Forget the epic and serious combat of [i]Shogun[/i] or the honorable, realistic fighting of [i]Bushido Blade[/i]-if [i]Dynasty Warriors[/i] was attempting to be a blade-for-blade, word-for-word account of anything other than how silly and fun a game can be, then it failed.

[floatright]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/dynastywarriorspspimport/ss01_thumb.jpg[/floatright]You choose your combatant from one of the many clans, and then choose (a la the [i]Total War[/i] series) a place to attack. You are then transported to the battlefield, where you must deplete the ranks of the opposing army to steal their terrain. At first, this is a seemingly boring and pointless experience-apparently, the murder of 15 soldiers is enough to scare the first few armies into running away. The true hilarity of [i]Dynasty Warriors[/i] comes from the huge battles, taking their inspiration from Kurosawa battles, with the smallest dab of insanity.

At times, you will find 25 or 30 soldiers bearing down upon you and four of your closest allies. You will find that this is the equivalent to you being surrounded by blind mice with toothpicks, as you maniacally turn the analog stick, mashing the square button as you begin a celebration of calamity, cackling sadistically as you hear the generic “UUURGH!” of the opposing army’s men for the fiftieth time. Rather than attempting to create an authentic experience, KOEI has opted to take a page out of B.A. Baracus’ [i]Art of War[/i]. With your single soldier, you are able to rend armies asunder using simple slashing attacks on horseback or foot to ridiculous spinning feats that stab the silly out of anybody in the immediate vicinity.

Through your tour of war, you’ll gain experience, which affects your damage and HP. Sadly, that appears to be all it does-instead of allowing for a diversifying fighting ad skill system, KOEI has taken the series no further on the PSP and made what essentially is an unvaried, three-dimensional [i]Streets of Rage[/i].

[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/dynastywarriorspspimport/ss02_thumb.jpg[/floatleft]This is where the criticisms begin. While at times beautiful, and great for the PSP, some of the clipping harks back to the most awful of PS1 failures. How a company such as KOEI could completely fail to notice and deal with these problems is quite beyond me, and at times objects will appear out of nowhere the moment you walk into them. Not only this, but while your opponents easily block your attacks, you apparently lack the ability to do so yourself. To top it off, enemies can catapult you meters with a single strike at times-a strike you could have easily blocked. Mixed with the lack of a lock-on system, this destroys any hope of [i]Dynasty Warriors[/i] being a must-have game.

While good-looking and fun, this game is samey and shoddy at all the wrong times. It’s a crying shame that more effort wasn’t put in and that niggling errors summon dashed hopes upon us. Blast it all.

[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/puzzlebobblepocketimport/cover.jpg[/floatleft]They have returned. The vicious purveyors of the spined-sphere launching weapons of mass destruction have once again burrowed up from hell to dispense misery and genocide upon the bubble population of the world. [i]Cringe[/i] in mild discomfort as their bright, cartoonish visages dance at your misfortune; [i]grunt[/i] as a spring-mounted assailant delivers rounded punishment to your left-adjourned prison of doom. The addictive puzzle game has finally been delivered to our PlayStation Portables, and we may now quake in fear as Bub and Bob force us to take part in their sick circular circus.

Hyperbole aside, the game itself is much like every other version that has come before it-connect up chains of three or more similar-colored bubbles to explode them. See if you can connect them up in such a way that you will disconnect others from underneath them, and either A) get rid of the bubbles the fastest, or B) deliver a swift punishing shower of bubbles upon your opponent.

[floatright]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/puzzlebobblepocketimport/ss08_thumb.jpg[/floatright]As far as language barriers go, [i]Puzzle Bobble[/i] is somewhat of a godsend to the wily importer, with bright, colorful, and friendly letters telling us where to go, from the usual puzzle mode, to VS mode, to survival, to endless-a veritable cornucopia of bubble-popping fun for the entire family.

Graphically, the game uses the PSP to create a colorful, smooth, and vivid cartoon world. Bubbles pop in a Skittles-esque rainbow, as another avalanche collapses upon your foe, and your maniacal combatant squeals viciously in victory. Everything zips by at the expected unheeded frame rate and doesn’t seem to distract you with ridiculous light shows at the crucial moment of insertion.

The game itself has changed very little from the first PlayStation version. However, introduced to this version is the noble rainbow bubble-a bubble of such ferocity that its powers make even the most ardent dinosaur quiver. Connect three or more bubbles near it, and it will convert any nearby bubbles to the [i]very same color[/i]. Aghast? You will be. As with enough converted bubbles and more rainbow bubbles connected to them, a chain reaction will be caused, and points will pour down upon you like rain.

[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/puzzlebobblepocketimport/ss03_thumb.jpg[/floatleft]As expected, Taito has introduced a new selection of characters, with different collections of bubbles that they can release upon their opponent once a combo is fired off. The characters themselves are the same unremarkable shade of quasi-Disney with such marvelous names as “Monsta.” Why must they dress their simple game with these ridiculous wardens of colorful carnage? I need no distractions-not with this game.

[i]Puzzle Bobble[/i] is both fiendishly hard and enormously addictive. While at first it may seem as if it has only occupied you quickly, hours will pass and it will be nearing the witching hour. It may even pass the witching hour-so potent is this puzzle bobbling. While nothing much has changed, the larger screen allows for gigantean towers of bubbles to be portrayed and epic bubble battles to be waged between multiple players over the wonder of wireless networks. While many will criticize its few changes, it is a sharp, colorful, and brilliantly fun game-and those same people probably own both this, [i]Puyo Pop Fever[/i], and [i]Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine[/i]. Be a sucker. Go on.

[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/mercenariespod/cover.jpg[/floatleft]In my life, I have not been an incredibly violent person. While harboring terrible, burning hatred towards certain things, I have not been known to take up arms against any one individual or individuals. However, I have been known to enjoy doing so in games. [i]Mercenaries[/i] is the equivalent of a large hot tub. You can do a lot while in it, but the occasional brief dip will be both fun and relaxing.

You take the role of one of three psychological train wrecks, an Anglo-Chinese stealth expert, a loner gunman from America, or a grenade-crazed Swede who constantly quips about his love of destruction. Your character is launched into the war zone when the Australians find a nuclear cache aboard a plane headed for a generic terrorist nation in the Middle East; the Allied Nations (and apparently everyone else) haul behind into North Korea. Part of ExOps, a predictably elite mercenary unit, your job is to collect the bounties on the deck of 52-one card for each member of General Song (The Ace of Spades) for money that you can spend upon ordinance of varying degrees.

[floatright]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/mercenariespod/ss10_thumb.jpg[/floatright]NK has been split apart by the warring factions of the North Koreans, the Chinese, the Allied Nations, the Russian Mafia, and the South Koreans. You work for them all, and the formula is reasonably linear-you do two missions for them, and a third leads you to one of the main cards of the suit, meaning the King, Queen, or Jack. These missions are reasonably varied, some requiring a stealthy, sniping approach (though no Solid Snake impressions, and for that I thank you, LucasArts.), others requiring an approach not dissimilar to a Steven Segal film. In the process, you will open up the opportunity to use various insanely powerful and awe-inspiring weapons. Nothing beats calling a fuel bomb upon the buildings of a North Korean base as they attempt to mobilize, seeing your bleached-blonde Mohawk just a little bit too late.

The freedom to cause destruction is something that adds considerably to the game’s atmosphere. Being able to take a situation as you see fit allows for a considerable amount of replay value. You’ve got to break into a base and destroy Song’s missiles and then capture the King of Clubs. Seconds after you enter, the radar is jammed. You’ve got one C4 and three missiles to destroy. You see a Frog-7 missile launcher. You attach it to the truck and drive it by the missiles. A jeep drives up by the missiles and a soldier begins to shoot at you. You pull the trigger. The resulting explosion removes three missiles, two cars, and two soldiers, and nets you a big bonus.

Every single vehicle you see is useable. Although this can be pointless when said vehicle is a radar-jamming device, when it is a heavily-armored Korean chopper filled to the brim with missiles and you’ve got a spade to fish out from deep within the mountains, sometimes those moments when you get lost summon from within the spirit of happenstance. Although many compare its freedom to GTA’s, it seems to me to be far more individual and more like a bizarre mixture of [i]24[/i], [i]Mad Max[/i], and [i]The A Team[/i]. Although the charismatic Australian Fiona lacks the punch of Murdock, the sometimes ridiculous action-packed nature of the game brings back memories of the cavalier soldiers of fortune.

Weaponry does not take a leap of faith from any other games, going for those that will be useful against the many, many different enemies you will have. You’ve got most of what you’d expect-the sniper rifle, the RPG, the AA missile launcher, and a veritable army of different kinds of machine guns. Coupled with these are your grenades ranging from concussive bombs to trusty M67 grenades, useful for toppling buggies and setting alight the fuel canisters near the various Korean bases.

The tone of the game is somewhat dark, with the mercenaries painted at times as taking advantage of the situation, and all of their efforts considered the victories of the Allied Forces. Sadly, the storyline is somewhat sparse, though not as sparse as many have made out-each mission has fully voiced objectives and some excellent set pieces. Although the abridged linearity of the mission system does detract from the realism of the game, in general [i]Mercenaries[/i] feels solid enough to immerse you in its world of sedition and destruction.

[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/mercenariespod/ss02_thumb.jpg[/floatleft][i]Mercenaries[/i] is a fun, solid, and varied game. The game is as open-ended as you like-you can treat it as if there are only missions, or you can create your own elaborate set pieces by flying a helicopter straight at the Black Gate of the Southern Province, or just calling an airstrike on a landmark that you don’t take a fancy to. You can also take on the various extra optional quests, such as destroying statues of General Song or collecting national treasures-twenty of which unlock the Han Solo costume just to remind you that LucasArts is still in control. The music is that of an epic action film, with rousing choral movements and orchestral flourishes; but sadly, there is no option of custom soundtracks.

It isn’t without its flaws. The beginning sequence is promising, but the game lacks cut scenes and story-building. Not only this, but every so often the controls on tanks will lead you to become ridiculously stuck between two trees or will just plainly block your vision as the camera swings into a forest. By randomly switching the controls between the left analog stick and the normal buttons for tanks and jeeps, the game can become a little frustrating as you fail a mission because your tank is so slow to move and gets stuck between a mountain and a wall. Some airstrikes cost a little too much for the payload-especially if you miss-and finding yourself out of ammo and C4 at the wrong time can be somewhat annoying. But at the same time, working your way out of desperate situations is an excellent feeling and reminds you of the stupid amounts of fun one can have with this game. Just try stealing a helicopter and taking on a North Korean tank battalion with the few missiles you have before hurtling towards them and jumping out at the last moment, exploding that last pesky general.

If you’re a fan of action, you’ve got to have [i]Mercenaries[/i]. It has come out of nowhere and made other games before it seem boring and uneventful. Graphically, it wows you with its lush explosions and doesn’t seem to have any slowdown. The freedom involved lets you have your own little adventures to bridge the missions or even in the middle of missions as you get sidetracked by an errant AA missile. Just like I wish you could in reality, it allows you to solve most problems through wildly setting things alight and quipping. I pity the fool who doesn’t own this game.

Lumines (Import)

January 10, 2005

[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/luminesimport/cover.jpg[/floatleft]One. Two. Three. Four. One. Two. Three. Four. [i]Lumines'[/i] beat will hum within you as you play, a living entity in your hands, pulsing away. In the tradition of [i]Rez[/i], [i]Lumines'[/i] music is archetypal to the entire experience, making each new level another joy to hear and play. You’ll scramble frantically, your brow furrowing, as the beat changes from an eased pop ballad to a thumping industrial tone, or to a frenetic techno fizz that jumps out at you from nowhere. Just when you think you’ve pinned a song down, it’s changed, and you’ve got another aural demon to exorcise.

The actual point of Lumines is to make chains of four-by-four blocks. With each cross of the screen-wide line (which moves at a speed dictated by the song), the connected blocks will disappear. With a one-square block (with a smaller square within it), you are able to eliminate any connected blocks of the same color in one swoop, causing a meltdown onscreen and making your character jump for joy. At first, this is a deeply demoralizing and pain-filled experience-[i]Lumines[/i] is tough, unforgiving, and at first, utterly confusing.

[floatright]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/luminesimport/ss03_thumb.jpg[/floatright]With a multitude of block games asking us to make lines, the need to make squares is a sudden, frightening change. Instantly, you are thrown into a world where your previous experiences do not matter-this is [i]Lumines[/i], get in line. Once you have attuned yourself to the world and realize what you are doing, affixing blocks becomes a slow process. Eventually, realizing the beat of the track, one is able to realize just what sort of speed of drops they are dealing with, and move accordingly.

And what wonderful, beautiful music you will make. Each combo and deletion of blocks makes a symphonic clash, each shift of the four-by-fours a blip or a bang in the song. From the haunting Depeche-Modian anthem of “Urbanization,” to the relaxing, spacey “Shinin,'” [i]Lumines[/i] engages the musical power of the PSP, willing the users to equip themselves with headphones. While the speakers are apt enough to deal with the task in a quiet room, on a journey you will want to hear the beat. You will need to hear it. Otherwise, you’ll fall behind, and on challenge mode that just won’t do.

You see, [i]Lumines[/i] is tough-as in over-cooked-steak-meets-rubber-tree tough. The challenge mode has no function for continuing, thus the constantly changing music demands a shift in the player’s style to which most will have trouble adjusting. Each playthrough of challenge will require seeing every track through to the end to reach and unlock the next. Yet, suffering a defeat at [i]Lumines'[/i] hands is not painful-it is sometimes the case of a joyous overwhelming feeling of understanding. You realize what you did wrong. You apply it next time and become better and better with each play. You adapt. Against the computer opponents, you will learn their individual styles that compliment the music and then use it against them. This is a game of skill, patience, and dedication that pays off in satisfaction.

[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/luminesimport/ss05_thumb.jpg[/floatleft][i]Lumines[/i] is a genuinely beautiful game. Though the graphical elements are definitely not the forte of the game, they are smooth, trailing, hypnotic waves of color that serve to play out the puzzle action and complement the musical side. The simplicity of them may fool the less cerebral into thinking that this is a child’s game, but no child will tackle this. Some adults will find it a bamboozling, frightening game that throws them into a corner and beats them without mercy. Others will, like a cornered wolf, recoil and attack the game tooth and nail, learning what they need to learn and dedicating hours to the sheer beauty of it.

Whether or not [i]Lumines[/i] receives a European or American release, it is a necessary title for you to own. Had it been released on the PS2, it would be somewhat as effective; however, the portable nature allows the user to become absorbed within the rainbow of colors and sounds that make up the game. With headphones and a quiet room, this will only become better. The difficulty means that it will take many hours to master and unlock the many tracks, but some players may be put off by the seemingly insane difficulty curve. Your first few tries will be staggering failures of your gaming ability, as you try and make lines disappear without victory.

But you will learn. You will learn, because within every defeat, there will be a glimmer of hope. A glimmer of slow, burning addiction and love for one of the most enjoyable, memorable games to come for many years. While [i]Rez[/i] felt slightly distant, even pointless at times, [i]Lumines[/i] burns with a purpose that threatens to set lesser titles alight in its presence. This is not only an excellent launch title, but an excellent title in itself.

Ridge Racers (Import)

January 7, 2005

[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/ridgeracersimport/cover.jpg[/floatleft]And lo’, another console was unleashed upon the masses of Japan, the Far East clamouring to receive the dark, black purveyor of portable power. With it came the generic titles of inevitability, be they a golfing simulator, or, in the case of this obtuse disk, [i]Ridge Racers[/i]. However, one must not become detained by the disappointment of the Nintendo DS’ sordid touch-screen-wheel-wrenching tomfoolery.

No, [i]Ridge Racers[/i] on the PSP is a rather different experience altogether. In fact, I would not be hard-pressed to say that [i]Ridge Racers[/i] on the PSP is one of the smoothest racing experiences in console history, let alone in the portable gaming war. It is truly the slick, gleaming yin to Nintendo’s clunky, almost depressing yang.

[floatright]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/ridgeracersimport/ss06_thumb.jpg[/floatright]This is justified by the satisfying control you seem to exert over the vehicle. With the use of the analog stick, easing around corners at high speeds is an experience no longer akin to extracting blood from a stone-and in this case, ease is the operative word. No longer is it the case that the portability of a game saps from its absorption, its depth, and its ability to produce a satisfactory driving experience. The handling of cars in [i]Ridge Racers[/i] is as enjoyable and enticing as [i]Burnout 3[/i], except without the unbearable screeching of our friend Stryker.

Graphically, [i]Ridge Racers[/i] is something to behold. In comparison to any other portable game seen before it, it is a visual treat from the outset-the FMV intro a marvellous precursor to the visual feast that you are treated to upon entering the game. Strengthened by the PSP’s wide screen, cars rocket past at 60 FPS, speeding through colorful urban environs and lush vistas as you hang on for dear life. Hurtling over a hill, turning slightly as you do, and landing perfectly to turn a corner at full speed never looked, or felt, as good on a portable console.

However, while the game is as stylish as one would expect from Namco, it has enough content to keep even the most ardent racer going for many, many hours. While at first the tracks seem somewhat repetitive as you deal with the first set of basic challenges, you will discover a veritable automotive cornucopia-more cars, races, and hilariously-named challenges.

[floatleft]http://www.snackbar-games.com/images/reviews/ridgeracersimport/ss03_thumb.jpg[/floatleft]Something that cannot go without mention is the quality of the music in the game. While not made up of our favorite rock and pop artists, A