PlayStation 2

The PS2 is pretty much relegated to PSP ports these days, a reversal of roles from the early days of the PSP. This year’s MLB The Show is no exception.

Unlike with the PS3 version, Sony stuck with the button-only control schemes for the PS2, though that doesn’t really mean anything to me, as the buttons are a much more accurate and reliable control method anyway.

The franchise mode is pretty much the same as it always has been. That still means it is one of the better modes out there for franchise or sim nuts. It’s as deep as you would hope for from MLB The Show, though as usual, it lacks some of the depth of the PS3 version. 

The Road to the Show mode is back, though it is nowhere near the quality of the PS3 version. After being drafted by a team, you’ll get sent to AA, with the goal of improving both your in-game stats and your overall stats. After each at-bat, you’ll be given points based on how “good” your performance was. For a pitcher, you’ll want to either strike out the batter or get them out with as few pitches as possible for the best scores, while as a batter you want to make the pitcher throw as many pitches as possible, and preferably get on base. Additionally, your stats have changed to allow 60 days of not being worked on before they start declining instead of just 30.

They added a third commentator this year, Eric Karros. Unfortunately, his lines are very sparse, with nearly all the commentary recycled from last year. Graphically, it looks okay for a PS2 game, though its PSP roots show.

If you’re still sporting a PS2 as your system of choice, then this is pretty much your only option for baseball games. That said, it’s a pretty good option to have.

Pros: Franchise mode is deep and detailed; Road to the Show is as fun as ever  

Cons: Commentary is largely recycled


Better late than never, King of Fighters ’98 Ultimate Match is finally released for the Playstation 2, but can an eleven year old game with a bunch of bells and whistles added still satisfy the needs of the fighting masses of today?

King of Fighters ’98 was considered to be one of the best 2D fighters of its generation, so naturally it got the Ultimate Match treatment after it was released giving extra play to an already robust game. Now we finally get the game on our shores with even more enhancements thrown into the mix. For the first time in the series, you have access to every KoF character in your roster. That’s a total of 64 different characters each with their own particular fighting style, more than any other fighting game available on the market. And this is just the tip of the extras iceberg, beyond the inclusion of the original King of Fighters ’98 for historical purposes; the game boasts options galore to difficulty, presentation and modes of play.

Practice mode is quite helpful and essential for anyone not familiar with the fighting mechanics, and while the mechanics are straight forward, mastering each characters special attacks and combos is an awesome time sink. Arcade and Single Play modes are standard story games that pit 3×3 and 1×1 matches as you continue up the ranks to try to attain the title of King of Fighters. These have minimal story involved but are quite interesting as you can finally see different characters from the KoF series meet and interact with each other. Mulitplayer is limited to 2 person Vs mode, with no online functionality available, which isn’t too big of a surprise since that really wasn’t available when the game first came out. Challenge mode gives you specific criteria to complete such as blocking X amount of attacks or using aerial combat X amount of times. Completing these unlocks artwork extras that are really intended for the die-hard fans. Finally, endless mode was my favorite as you choose one character who has to survive the one on one fights with the remaining characters without health replenishment.

In addition to all of this you also have the option of mixing up the command system to tweak your characters to your hearts content. The previous KoF featured two separate command enhancement systems called Advanced and Extra with different skill sets to choose from, and while that scheme is still here, Ultimate has been added in which you can mix and match from both systems to create a highly specific command set for each character. This really gets deep fast and will probably only attacked by the true afficianado. And even if you don’t lean towards the hardcore mindframe, once matches are complete you can lower the bar by decreasing enemies health and difficulty while also giving yourself a full energy meter from the beginning to get an edge. Everything in this package is geared towards giving you the most content for a very inexpensive price of 20 bucks.

Graphics are where everything starts to fall apart. For 1998 graphics they are awesome, nice hand painted backgrounds and spectacular 2D animations, but unfortunately it is 2009, and the retro vibe just feels off for spending the dough. Sure they added 3D backgrounds which you can select from the options menu, but it doesn’t quite justify the option. Similarly the music feels dated, which is fine for the nostalgia, but doesn’t help the non-initiated. 

This game has a lot of things going for it; mechanics, depth, nostalgia and price, but for the average gamer it may not be justified. What it amounts to is a decision: is it more valuable as a collection piece or should you save your money for the next-gen King of Fighters XII? Either way, 20 bucks isn’t too much to sink into a game with as much depth or playability that satisfies on many levels.

ESRB: T for Teen, featuring straight-forward arcade style over-the-top fighting

Plays Like: Arcade fighter

PROS: Tons of characters and play styles to choose from with plenty of fighting customization thrown in to boot

: Dated graphics and feel that only a KoF enthusiast could relish

Koei is nothing if not predictable. Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and Nobunaga’s Ambition are continually updated and serve to entertain existing fans of the series and not many others. Nobunaga’s Ambition, as always, is a complicated, deep, and rewarding strategy game. Iron Triangle improves on its predecessor in a couple key ways: a new 3D map and a user-controllable camera. Adding these things to the tried-and-true formula of real-time combat combined with thoughtful turn-based strategy makes for a deep and satisfying historical strategy game. Nobunaga’s Ambition has always had a steep learning curve, and Iron Triangle is no different. Those who are already familiar with the series mechanics and those who are willing to read the manual and learn the game mechanics are in for a treat. 

There are three game types in Iron Triangle: Unification, Local, and Challenge. Unification is far and away the largest of the three types (a couple of the unification scenarios can last as many as 50 hours). In unification you are charged with bringing all 60 territories on the map under your rule. Local mode is a miniature version of unification where your task is to unite all the territories in your little corner of the country, and challenge mode consists of you taking control of a clan and trying to fulfill a preset victory condition. 

Controls are generally well-done, but Iron Triangle falls victim to the traditional console RTS downfall – no matter what a developer does an analog stick will never be a good replacement for a mouse. Setting up commands for armies, officers, and cities is intuitive, and that makes the sloppy mouse movements forgivable. 

There is a lot to learn before really feeling like a proficient iron Triangle player. Should you spread rumors about one of your enemies? Or maybe you will raid an enemy army or steal one of their officers. You could also spend time recruiting additional troops and officers of your own. It’s also a viable move to build farms, train ninjas, research new technologies to upgrade your castles, and a staggering number of other options. Each option can be beneficial to your empire, and all the options can be overwhelming to the novice player. If you aren’t willing to read the manual you should definitely play through the tutorial – it is exceptionally well-done and serves as a great introduction to the game and its mechanics. 

Iron Triangle’s graphics are adequate. Cities and roads are easily identifiable, and seasons change on the pseudo-3D world map. Character portraits are good, and menu text is easy to read. There is no denying, however, that this is a game made for a ten year old system. It will look fuzzy on your HDTV, and the tight gameplay will leave you wishing that Koei would finally bring the game to either the PS3 or the 360. The gameplay is great, and there is no reason that the graphics should be lagging behind due to PS2 exclusivity. 

Replay value is through the roof. Players can choose to play as one of 1,000 or so premade characters or to make their own. Each character plays differently and the AI opponents act differently in each run through unification mode. With all of the scenarios available there are hundreds of hours of gameplay available in Iron Triangle. If you’re a strategy gamer then Nobunaga’a Ambition: Iron Triangle needs to be a part of your collection – even if it is exclusive to a last-gen system. 

Pros: Deep and satisfying strategy experience, great challenge mode

Cons: Steep learning curve, fuzzy visuals

Plays Like: Civilization, Romance of the Three Kingdoms

ESRB: E10+



October 22, 2008

Being the tie-in video game of a movie is tough. Add to that being the tie-in of a movie that doesn’t feature much action and you get mixed results, and WALL-E is no exception to the rule. Based off of the movie of the same name, you take control of the eponymous robot of the popular Pixar movie as you maneuver him around a garbage encrusted Earth. All is well until his life is changed by the arrival of another robot, EVE. Captivated by her, WALL-E follows EVE into space as they work together to bring proof of the healing Earth to the remaining humans.

This standard platformer doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but the humor and charm of the movie are more matched to the game here than on the other next-generation systems. Levels consist of getting from point A to point B as WALL-E uses different garbage blocks to gather batteries used to open gates into the next area. Level designs are suitable for the younger audience this game strives to please; puzzles are simple and straightforward. Moving WALL-E around his environment proves to be the most difficult aspect of this title, as some areas require a certain precision that will have you falling off of the same beam over and over. For ample exploration you can find hidden objects that are worth finding for their humorous cut-scenes more than for the unlockable artwork.

Breaking up the monotony of the puzzle levels are random racing sections that have you ducking and jumping while you play as WALL-E or avoiding obstacles while playing as EVE. For as short as these levels are, they are a real blast and warrant multiple replays because they are done so well. Combat on the other hand is painful. Using blocks to throw, or your minimal laser to blast enemies, WALL-E must fight his way through security robots that seem to have a distinct advantage. The frustration becomes apparent when you have the garbage block knocked from your hands for the twelfth time and the enemies just keep coming.

Graphics are well executed on the PS2, better proportionally than either the PS3 or 360 versions for the price, and load times are significantly shorter as well. Rarely will an older generation console get the best of a multi-platform release, but here is the exception to the rule. If you like platformers that are good for younger gamers then the PS2 version of this game is the one you want to aim for, as all others don’t quite achieve the fun and charm this platform presents.

ESRB: E for Everyone
Plays Like: Any old action platformer
Pros: Easy fun that follows the movie of the same name
Cons: Weak Combat

Following closely in the footsteps of its predecessor Atelier Iris, Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis refines the item synthesis process into the leveling scheme, completely abandoning traditional experience gained systems. Light-hearted and quirky, this game never delves into serious themes which could have led to its downfall. Instead it relies upon tongue-in-cheek visuals and over-the-top voice acting to cover the meager graphics and story. Hidden beneath this fluff is a seriously fun combat system and even more addictive item synthesis that should have RPG fans clamoring for a look.

A lonely orphan by the name of Vayne is offered the chance of a lifetime by gaining admittance to the famed Al-Revis academy. Navigating from class to class, Vayne must complete assignments with his colorful lab-mates before time runs out or suffer poor marks and be subjected to harder remedial assignments. Along the way he gains more allies and friends as he delves deeper into his own past.

The crux of the game centers on the item synthesis. Instead of the traditional experience leveling scheme, you are powered up by the items that you equip and which are only made through alchemic means. By either gathering recipes or enough materials to muck with different combinations of items, further power enhancing item slots are opened up within your personal Grow Book. Rather than troublesome to negotiate, the Grow Book and item synthesis are addictive and fun to use, constantly generating powerful items and unlocking even more powerful attacks. Al-Revis serves as the basic hub of the game as you radiate outward completing assignments for different classes, most require going into new dungeons to collect recipes or ingredients to synthesize new and interesting items and upgrades. At the end of the day you always end up in your groups’ lab, turning in assignments or picking up odd jobs to gain additional materials. Having the layout this way almost made the game smaller than it actually was, as you are given a way to warp back any time, and if you are defeated within a dungeon you just end up in the campus infirmary with no consequences.

In the dungeons, you gather alchemy materials from the zone or from visible, avoidable enemies. Once in combat with a monster, the game switches to a standard turn-based system with fighting order visible in the top left. By consecutively attacking the same monster it is possible to knock them back in the order, giving a little bit of strategy to how you proceed. Mid-way through the game you are given extra team members who may be switched in for dying members or to execute a person specific combination to annihilate the enemies. This addition adds to the already easy (though fun) combat and makes the fighting virtually impossible to lose, unless it is night. Given a timer that has no relation to the world timer each dungeon goes through a day/night cycle where the night routine becomes significantly more difficult. While a nice idea, your assignment schedule has nothing to do with days or night, making nights simply an annoyance you can avoid by standing in one place until the day returns.

The graphics are based on two-dimensional Sprites that are colorful and vibrant but don’t achieve the retro feel that they are going for. Music is cute at first but quickly wears out its welcome, especially returning to the academy night after night. Voice acting is superb, and is aptly suited to the almost non-sensical plot and dialog.

Mana Khemia is not going to win any awards, but it does accomplish maintaining a fun experience without become too serious or too hard, making it a good offing for most RPGers new or old.