Kat Ingersoll

Endless Ocean

February 21, 2008

Endless Ocean is best summarized as the simplicity of Animal Crossing combined with a gorgeous National Geographic documentary about fish.

As a freelance scuba diver, you (or your somewhat customizable character) drift around in the waters off the fictional Monoa Lai island. You explore the region’s waters, learn about the various fauna that live there, collect sunken treasure, guide clients around the coral reefs, populate the local aquarium and teach your diving partner (a dolphin) tricks.


That’s about it. There’s no ultimate goal or way to “win” or “lose” the game. Much like Animal Crossing, there is no required order in which to accomplish the goals you encounter. And the fish you encounter seem to live in perfect harmony without trying to eat each other or your diver.

The controls are simplistic and well-suited to the Wii’s unique control scheme. B swims, A interacts with fauna and objects, + zooms in, and – does “auto swim”. Tilting the remote makes the diver turn or go deeper. Young children and casual gamers will have no problem mastering the controls as they swim around in their waterlogged sandbox.

The sound is… non-offensive. The sounds of the bubbles escaping the scuba gear, the diver kicking to go deeper, dolphins whistling and the radio crackling to life are all very nice touches that increase the game’s immersive feeling. However, the soundtrack is full of snore-inducing music. While the music is appropriate for the environments, it’s not something I would actively seek out for listening pleasure. Luckily, Arika takes mercy on people with more varied tastes and allows you to play your own MP3’s off an SD card.

The real gem of this game is in its graphic representation of the water and fauna. While the image of the human characters (usually on the boat) looks very similar to those in the Sims series, the sea bed and its fauna look like it came from National Geographic or Discovery Channel. Many of the fish act like they would in the wild when you interact with them. Moving to different areas is seamless, with no discernible transition period. Even general caves and walls look gorgeous. I half-expect to hear the voice of Jacques Cousteau to come out of my surround sound as my diver swims around.

The only real gripe I can think of is that the immersive experience may cause nausea in those prone to motion sickness. Even though I don’t generally get sick, I still felt a minor touch of queasiness after my first session. That went away once I got used to the controls and environment. Your mileage may vary.

All in all, Endless Ocean is a fascinating addition to the “sandbox” and “edutainment” genre of games. Small children will enjoy moving the diver around to explore the rich sea life (that strangely never eats or attacks each other). Adults will enjoy learning new stuff and meeting the small goals. There is a lot to do and discover, and players may even learn something.

Guitar Hero 3

February 8, 2008

Since its release last year, Nintendo has been finding new and interesting ways to use the Wii console and its innovative remote system. The Wii’s first music rhythm game, Guitar Hero III, is no different in this respect.

This offering from Red Octane and Activision requires the use of a specialized guitar controller, like its predecessors in the Guitar Hero series. However, unlike its PS2, PS3 and Xbox 360 brethren, the Wii’s version requires the use of the Wii-mote, which plugs into the guitar controller body. The feature is awesome in that it gives players the advantage of a wireless controller without the drawback of the controller eating up batteries. Also, the Wii-mote is set slightly in, so there’s little risk of hitting the Wii-mote buttons while furiously hitting the strum bar. Another cool feature is that missed notes come out from the Wii-mote’s speakers, giving the player a slightly more immersive experience.

Another great advantage is the guitar controller’s ability to be broken down into two major parts, making it able to fit in a suitcase or large backpack. This is a handy feature when you inevitably take this to grandma’s house for the holidays or on a trip. Another nice feature is interchangeable faceplates, allowing you to personalize your guitar controller with something other than stickers.

The game hasn’t changed much from its predecessors. There are still the five-colored approaching circles. You still press the fret buttons and strum bar in time to the circles. You still use start power to max out your score. You still rock out to an awesome set list featuring Kiss, Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, The Scorpions, Santana, and Pat Benatar.

However, there have been changes, which only improve the game. They have added a Battle Mode, where your Star Power is replaced by weapons that you use to “attack”? your opponent and throw him/her completely off. Some weapons are easy to deal with, like Broken String (hit the affected button to repair the string). Some are hideous, like the Lefty Flip (flips the frets on you). While it’s a fun addition, I don’t think it is necessary to include it in the Career Mode. Or, if they insisted, they should have included a battle on each set, allowing a wider berth of guitar legends to battle.

They didn’t seem to have enough room to make all the guitar legends unlockable. Making them selectable characters (after unlocking and then buying them in the shop) seems rather unnecessary, since most players don’t care about being Tom Morello or Slash. Other selections don’t seem to make sense either, like cutting out GH favorite Pandora to make room for Midori, a J-Rock guitarist that looks severely out of place in a decidedly non-Japanese band.

Another interesting tweak is adding a Co-op Career Mode, allowing you and a friend to join forces and tour together. You get five or six extra songs for completing this mode, but the set list is shorter and you don’t get to gang up on the handful of guitar legends that you face in the Single Career Mode. Since a separate controller isn’t available at the time of this review, I’ve been unable to check it out.

The sound is in mono instead of stereo, which makes the sounds seem a little “light”? on a surround sound system. (Editor’s Note: This is being addressed by Activision via new game discs or a patch) The music only comes to full volume when I activate Star Power. It’s an irritation, but it doesn’t affect the enjoyment of the game. I’m more affected by the fact that I can’t play “Devil Went Down to Georgia”? unless I want to battle Lou again in Career Mode.

I only have a few gripes about this game. Graphically the game is gorgeous, but the band members are still very generic-looking, including a male lead singer with the most epic chin I’ve ever seen. It would have been much better for each guitarist to have a band to complement it, especially if they are going to include such “out there”? choices as Midori and Lou. Also the cell-shaded cut-scenes between each set in Career Mode never includes the guitarist, just the band, which looks a little sad.

All in all, Activision took Harmonix’s ball and ran with it. With over 70 songs, both licensed and un-known, you will have no problem getting hours of enjoyment from this game and controller. The Battle Mode only increases its re-play value and makes the game’s Wi-Fi capabilities all the more appealing. If you own a Wii, this game is a must-have for your library.

[i][b]”If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”[/b][/i]

For the most part, Konami didn’t do much “fixing” for [i]SuperNova[/i]. As with every [i]DDR[/i] installation, Konami continues with its winning formula of simple game mechanics, catchy pop tunes, and bright graphics.

The only thing that really needed fixing was the “mission mode,” which was the primary mode of play in Extreme 2 and continues to be the case in this game. In the previous version, you had a disorganized mess of a map that got more nightmarish and convoluted as you progressed. This time around, you get “Stellar Joints,” each having a nice list of objectives to complete, and you are allowed to choose which songs with which to complete them.

My only gripe with the mission mode has to do with those requiring completion with a certain character. Since the mission mode assigns you a random character with each song, you could play for quite a long time before you are able to complete that particular mission. These missions are supposed to be about skill, not luck.

After completing a number of objectives, you unlock one of three “Stellar Master Modes,” a kind of nonstop stage with a unique set of challenges that build upon and are slightly more difficult than the missions. This, in turn, unlocks songs, characters, and nonstop stages upon completion. You then buy them with your points (accumulated during play) in the shop for free play. I was able to unlock all the songs before things got too difficult for me to continue, but not without a little cheating via use of the regular handheld controller.

I royally hated the mission mode in [i]Extreme 2[/i], but if Konami continues with the set-up they have here, it could be something I will grow to enjoy.

The songs are the usual Konami fare. American pop songs, techno, electronica, trance, and Konami’s usual J-pop contributors (such as Naoki and Be For U) are all present and accounted for. What I found amusing was that a good portion of the American pop songs was from the early A

[i][b]”Some mountains are scaled. Others are slain.”[/b][/i]

And you’ll be slaying quite a few mountains here in 16 boss-style fights. That’s what makes [i]Shadow of the Colossus[/i] so unique.

Canon-wise, [i]SotC[/i] is a prequel to the events of [i]Ico[/i], another interesting platform game released four years prior to the release of [i]SotC[/i]. The nameless hero in the story has stolen a special sword and brought his dead wife/girlfriend/lover/unrequited object of affection (the game isn’t really clear on their relationship) Mono to a forbidden temple in a desperate attempt to revive her. The ancient god of the temple is all too happy to do the task, but the hero must first destroy all 16 idols in the temple to prove his worth.

Well, if it was that easy, we would have a rather short, boring game. The only way to destroy the idols is to kill the colossi that wander the island. When a colossus is dead, its corresponding idol will be destroyed.

So that’s your task for the next 15 hours: The god gives you a hint about your next colossus. You use your sword to catch the sunlight and pinpoint its location. Then you somehow kill the monster.

Visually, the game is as gorgeous as its predecessor. The landscape ranges from deserts to lush forests, and all is beautifully rendered without the designs repeating or becoming boring. The buildings have the same architecture as [i]Ico[/i], albeit brighter and sunnier. And the characters have similar designs to the [i]Ico[/i] characters, all the way down to both heroes having horns on their heads. The colossi that you climb all over are amazing to look at as they rumble over the landscape. (Try not to get killed as you take a moment to gawk at them.)

The movements of the hero and his faithful steed are very fluid and realistic. The hero is not a superman by any means. If he runs too fast you will see him stumble over rocks in his path. He also tumbles and scrambles all over the colossus when it tries to shake you off. The horse also moves like a real life horse and is about as capricious as one.

Whether you are exploring the landscape or climbing on the colossi, the sound is always appropriate. You can hear birds chirp, the horse’s clops on the rocky terrain, and arrows hit things with a resounding thwack. The colossus fights bring in epic-sounding orchestral music that makes you truly feel as if you are attempting the impossible.

No. Really. At some points, you feel like you are attempting the impossible. Life isn’t too much of a concern, since it replenishes itself pretty quickly if you stay still long enough. However, you have to keep your eye on the circular grip strength meter, which slowly depletes over time the longer you cling for dear life on a colossus’s furry skin. As you explore the landscape, the game is kind enough to provide you with white-tailed lizards and fruit that you can shoot down and eat to help you with the later colossi.

While you A

Have you ever been so enamored with a game that you rabidly waited for the sequel, only to have your beloved franchise ripped to shreds and defecated upon right before your very eyes as you played it? That pretty much sums up my experience of [i]Prince of Persia: Warrior Within.[/i]

Once again, you are the beloved and sexy Prince of Persia — only much more morose, dark, tattooed and… [b]EDGY[/b]! You saved the Sultan, Farah, Daddy and your army from certain doom by killing that conniving Vizier before he could betray you. But there’s a small catch: you were supposed to die along with Daddy and all your buddies when you released the Sands of Time. By going back and stopping the Sands from ever being released, you screwed with the Timeline.

So now, a few years later, you’ve got something called the Dahaka, a dark, [b]EDGY[/b] monster that looks like something from a bad yaoi-themed hentai, chasing after you to ensure your quick tentacle-involved death so you can’t screw with the Timeline.

A brief pow-wow session with an old seer at the beginning of the game sends you on a quest to the Isle of Time, where the Sands were created. You didn’t Get the Girl in [i]SoT[/i], but you did get her pendant, which has special powers. Maybe you can somehow use it to travel back in time and prevent the Sands from ever being created. Then you can go home, wrangle an arranged marriage with the Girl and live happily ever after.

The plan seems to be going well until a storm and some baddies from the Isle of Time ambush the Prince’s ship, killing everyone except the Prince. The bad guys are captained by Shahdee, who has a penchant for shopping at the local Middle Eastern S&M store and making sure the camera catches her barely-covered ass as much as possible. (The other primary female in this game is Kaileena, who wears more fabric than Shahdee, but still manages to show just as much skin.)

Yeah. Like I said: [b]EDGY[/b]!

After you dispatch the enemies, the Prince’s ship sinks and he washes up on the shores of the Isle of Time. And the fun begins.

The problems with this game become evident early on with the battle on the ship. In [i]SoT[/i], you were eased into the action with relatively simple puzzles and enemies. Here, you are dropped right into the battle, without the benefit of getting used to the controls before kicking some ass or climbing around like a monkey.

It obviously assumes that you’ve played [i]SoT[/i], since it glosses over single-weapon combat and leaps into dual-weapon combat. (More on that later.) Also, the traps at the beginning in [i]SoT[/i] were mostly navigating ledges and poles and running along walls. In [i]WW[/i], they drop you straight into the balance beams and bladed traps. And they make the traps even more heinously difficult as the game progesses, adding such things as horizontal spinning logs, stationary spinning logs, retracting squishy blocks and floor buzzsaws. Thank Allah that they gave Slow Time more teeth, allowing you to slow the traps down and get around them more easily.

The dreaded in-game camera causes a multitude of problems and is my main gripe with the game. So enemies pop up seemingly from out of nowhere and it screws with you more than once when navigating the traps. Frequently, the camera switched angles while I was navigating a trap, causing me to screw up because I wasn’t expecting it and overcompensated. It also hid ledges and other ways out of traps in its attempt to be more cinematic and [b]EDGY[/b]. I made a lot more leaps of faith than I should have.

I applaud UbiSoft for making use of the GameCube’s highly underrated graphics engine, but the game’s graphics are so dark and [b]EDGY[/b] that I often missed the solution to a puzzle, a way out of a trap or the next step in a dungeon because I simply couldn’t find it. It was usually hidden in plain sight because it looked no different from the rest of the landscape or was hidden by foliage. I ended up having to consult a walkthrough for some of the puzzles as a result.

And will someone tell the character and background designers that there are other colors aside from red and black, please? Sure, there were a few dashes of color to break up the monotony, but a lot of the landscape just seemed to bleed together. And I don’t think it’s because you’ll be backtracking several times through the game.

A big part of the game is jumping back and forth between the Past (before the Sands were created) and Present (where the Dahaka is trying to kill you). Some areas, like the Central Hall, you have to go through up to five times. The designers were merciful enough to vary the traps and obstacles enough between the two timelines to keep it from getting stale. Plus you gain either a new combat trick, a Sand Power, or Sand Tank to fuel the former two every time you use a portal.

But if the constant backtracking isn’t irritating enough, the game has another trick up its sleeve to make you tear your hair out. Every time you jump to the Present, the Dahaka eventually finds you and starts chasing you again like some homoerotic stalker. And if he catches you, you’re dead. So you have to remain at least two seconds ahead of him as you navigate obstacles through an [b]EDGY[/b] ’50s noir-like haze to the [b]EDGY[/b] guitar riffs of Godsmack’s “I Stand Alone.” The chases provide an interesting challenge and the obstacles you have to navigate through aren’t particularly difficult. Thankfully, the designers weren’t ass enough to put bladed traps in your way. Which is good. Because one wrong step or moment of hesitation costs your life.

But that didn’t make the chases any less irritating. And I looked forward to finally beating the crap out of him at the end… provided that I remembered to pick up the sword at the end that gave me that ending.

Speaking of swords, let’s talk about the combat, which was the only consistently good thing about the game. Since the Prince no longer has the Dagger of Time (having given it to Farah at the end of [i]SoT[/i]), what are we going to do with that Y button? Enter the new [b]EDGY[/b] dual-weapon system! All the ultra-cool acrobatics are there, but you can also pick up, attack with and throw secondary weapons. The secondary weapons have a limited shelf-life, but that never became an issue with me because I chucked them at enemies more often than I used them. It wasn’t like they weren’t lying all over the place.

There are some new moves added to the system, such as swinging around columns and both throwing and strangling your enemies until they die. They made vaulting (towards enemy, A, B) over enemies more difficult, in my opinion, since I kept rebounding off of them more often than I vaulted over them. However, they made the ever vital wall jump (you only have to press B while pressing toward a wall) and the ultra-cool Haste function (tap L while blocking) much easier to execute.

While they seem to shop at the same S&M store as their mistresses, the enemies are pretty varied and there are vastly different strategies to defeating them. Some are a sucker for the wall-jump. Some buy it after you throw them over a ledge. You can chuck your secondary weapon at them. You can carve them up until they suicide bomb their buddies and you laugh maniacally from the ledge you managed to scramble over. Some are so slow that the Slow Time function ruins them. You can even throw or lure them into traps and laugh sadistically as they get murdered by their own convoluted security system. Or you can just become a human Cuisinart and carve up the entire board for eight seconds. Any way you choose, they are sure to die in a gruesome and [b]EDGY[/b] fashion.

While the combat is great, it still has flaws. For example, some points in the game require you to lure jihading wolves over to a crumbling door or wall, carve’em up and get out of the way as they blow said door or wall open. They give you a busticating sword later on. So why not give it to you before any busticating became necessary? I guess that just isn’t [b]EDGY[/b] enough.

Why does the whole screen have to turn red when you utilize the Haste function? I found it hard to fight enemies wearing red, which coincidentally the harlequins wore. They, along with their invisible and S&M cousins, were the ones I used Haste on the most.

And why did UbiSoft think it necessary to add blood and gore to this one? True, you can turn the blood off in the options menu, but [i]SoT[/i] seemed to do just fine without blood. The enemies just bled… sand.

Ah, yes, sand. How do we get the sand to fuel our cool time powers now that we don’t have the Dagger of Time to suck it up from enemies? That’s where Farah’s amulet, which is implanted on the Prince’s armor, comes in. Apparently, the enemies still have suckable sand, which the amulet absorbs after you defeat them. It makes the blood and gore thing seem even more unnecessary, in my opinion. You can also find it in barrels and jars. Combined with the secondary weapons you find in the racks, it gives you a reason to bust stuff up in the game.

Another change here is that [i]WW[/i] makes you work for your health upgrades. [i]SoT[/i] gave you a beautiful hallway with shiny, happy music that lead to a pretty fountain. [i]WW[/i] makes you navigate a hallway of gritty, nasty, [b]EDGY[/b] traps to get your upgrades, ensuring that you’ll burn through a few sand tanks to get there. Mercifully, the traps deactivate afterwards, but it’s still a chore to get through those nightmarish traps.

Other than the upgrades, the only unlockables you get are some secondary weapons with special abilities and “artwork chests” that you break open to unlock [b]EDGY[/b] pictures. Ooh.

Some more miscellaneous bitching before I’m done here: The voice acting is horrible! Many times, the lips don’t match the words. The dialog isn’t much better, so I didn’t care one bit about any of the characters aside from the Prince. I missed Farah and the funny dialog she shared with the Prince in [i]SoT[/i]. And the enemies didn’t need [b]EDGY[/b] dialog. Just grunt and scream while I’m kicking your ass. That’s all I ask.

Not you, Prince! I don’t need to have the hero of my game sound like he’s taking a crap after eating a dozen cheese pizzas while he’s fighting for his life.

I am also trying to wrap my mind around why UbiSoft decided to pepper the game’s soundtrack with heavy metal. This is supposed to take place in the Middle East during the feudal ages. So what’s with all the S&M and guitar riffs? Oh, I know! It’s [b]EDGY[/b] ! I’m gonna go slit my wrists now.

It’s obvious that UbiSoft rushed this, because there are glitches galore in this game. I’ve seen the floor spikes stay up after I’ve run through them. Kaileena’s outfit blurs out several times during her time on the screen. The sound goes out on several occasions. Occasionally, a glitch in the game caused me to fall to my death and burn a sand tank. And the big boss battle in the end featured sand tornadoes, which didn’t seem to go away when they should have. (The screen still blurred and the sound still went a full thirty seconds after they disappeared.)

I don’t know whether or not the glitches are unique to the GameCube version (the red-headed stepchild for multi-platform games), but that doesn’t make them any less annoying.

All in all, the game was a very disappointing experience for me. While it was a mildly amusing romp and is mercifully short at around 10-15 hours of gameplay, I don’t think I could make myself pick it up again. Unless you are a die-hard [i]PoP[/i] fan, I suggest passing this atrocity by and picking up [i]The Two Thrones[/i]. But if you absolutely have to play it and have a spare weekend to kill, do yourself a favor and rent it from the rental place of your choice.