May 2006

Fox News is now running its own video games news section. Not my favorite source for news, but it’s interesting to see a mainstream media site pick up on this.

Yo, Wired is not a mainstream media site. Cut that out.

[url=]Fox News for Videogames[/url]

Source: [url=]Kotaku[/url]

Several sites are reporting that you can possibly get your DS [b]now[/b]. So go get them! I need one because I broke my original DS.

Source: [url=]Engadget[/url], [url=]Kotaku[/url], [url=]Joystiq[/url]

Nintendo fans have been waiting for so long for a new side scrolling Mario game that they’d probably take anything at this point. However, the fine folks at Nintendo have seen fit to not only deliver a new proper [i]Super Mario Bros[/i] game, they delivered one that is absolutely amazing. The game screams old school from its 2D gameplay to its multitude of throwbacks to the Marios of yesteryear. This game is easily one of the best the DS has seen, and one of the most enjoyable handheld titles in years.

So what is [i]New Super Mario Bros[/i]? It’s a whole bunch of what’s old with a pinch of the new. You take your classic [i]Super Mario[/i] gameplay with elements from every iteration of the series and add a few new tricks. You got your running, your jumping, and your fireflowers. Mario also learned a whole bunch of new skills while in the third dimension. Now you can jump off of walls, butt-stomp, and even do the triple jumps from [i]Mario 64[/i] and [i]Sunshine[/i]. These new elements blend seamlessly with the old. On top of the new moves, there are a few new items too; the ability to turn super small, super huge, as well as become a Mario-Troopa as it were with a shell of your own blend just as well as the new moves.

It is this blending that makes the game truly a delight. The 3D graphics don’t look out of place at all, and allow Mario to be a lot more expressive in his movements than when he was 2D. The game is simply a delight to look upon with the controls being spot-on. I’ve heard a lot of mention of Mario being too ‘floaty’ in this iteration, but I played all the previous Mario games just to check, and the difference is not even worth noting. Mario moves with a weight to him, which is exactly how the control has always been and should always remain.

The level design in previous Mario games was an absolute joy. Everything was deliberate, with no cheap tricks to try to throw you off. It is in this way that [i]New Super Mario Bros[/i]. is a breath of fresh air. After playing [i]NSMB[/i], I realized how spoiled we were by the Mario games. Coins aren’t hidden in out of the way places where you have to check every nook and cranny. No, there’s a deliberate flow to each level. If you’re a clever gamer, you’ll see the way to go immediately. The levels are also highly varied. There are periods of the game where you get a new type of enemy in every level. The designs go from absolutely clever to downright difficult and each are a joy to play.

You might be concerned with difficulty and I can say with a level of certainty that [i]New Super Mario Bros[/i]. is exactly on par difficulty-wise to the other games in the series. You will die; A lot. But you will probably never run out of lives. The game is very generous with lives. This is not a change to the formula, nor is it a bad thing. The challenge lies in figuring out how to beat levels, not having to repeat section you’ve already beaten.

With brilliant graphics, gameplay, and level design, [i]New Super Mario Bros[/i]. drops a gigantic POW on the handheld gaming world. The issues with it are small. The save system is sometimes inconvenient as you can’t save whenever you want but only at certain check points like opening a coin-path or beating a castle, but was never an issue when I played through. The DS’ sleep mode comes into play here. The DS’ other features are used very sparingly. You get a nice progress bar to tell you how far you are in a level and you can use the touch screen to drop a stored item onto Mario. These gripes are very very minor and should not stop every single human being from playing this game. It is an instant classic and no gamer should be without [i]New Super Mario Bros[/i].

Since the first game for the Super Nintendo, the [i]Harvest Moon[/i] series has grown in popularity. You either know it as a classic favorite or as that one game where you plant vegetables. The series is back for another go with [i]Harvest Moon: Magical Melody[/i]. [i]Magical Melody[/i] hopes to take the series back to its roots after [i]A Wonderful Life[/i] bored fans to tears, while adding in a few new things along the way. Fans will appreciate a lot of the things added into the old formula and still have fun the same way that they did with previous titles in the series. The repetitive nature of the series will continue to drive away most gamers, but fans can expect one of the best games in the series yet.

[i]Magical Melody[/i] begins with your character moving into town to take part in a farming program. After purchasing a plot of land, you are greeted by three little elf creatures, who take you to a petrified statue of the Harvest Goddess, turned to stone because people no longer believe in her. It’s up to you, as well as your rival, to collect as many Happiness Notes in order to revive her. While this is the overall main goal of the game, you are still charged with building up a successful farm, marrying one of the many men or women in the town, and generally leading a successful life. Notes are gathered by doing general tasks within the game, so collecting almost comes naturally (or sometimes by accident) and doesn’t really hinder the main focus the series is known for.

All of [i]Magical Melody[/i] is sort of a tribute to the entire [i]Harvest Moon[/i] series as a whole. You could probably look at the game as being fan service to those faithful enough who have played since the first game on the Super Nintendo. All of the characters within the game are composed directly from previous games in the series, although there are a few completely new characters and some seem like re-tooled versions. You are given a choice to play as a boy or a girl, but those who choose to play as a male will be able to choose from ten different guys, all of which are drawn directly from [i]Harvest Moon[/i] for the SNES or [i]Harvest Moon: Save the Homeland[/i]. Female players also have ten choices, and although some of them are technically new to the series, they all are obviously crafted after characters from [i]Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town[/i].

Some new things have been added that are drastically different from previous games. The most evident addition is the ability to build your farm in a number of different locations around town, each having different advantages and disadvantages. This leads the series into a kind of free-form feel, and takes away a bit of the linear game play the series is known for. Once you get enough money, you can essentially purchase much of the town’s land and build as many different farms as your feel, designating one area to animals, another to growing crops, or just setting up a vacation home up in the mountains. It is certainly one of the better updates the series has seen over the years, and actually adds in a bit more strategy into the game.

Of course, all of the staples of [i]Harvest Moon[/i] have made a return in [i]Magical Melody[/i]. The game returns to the traditional formula of days lasting a few real-time minutes, as opposed to [i]A Wonderful Life[/i]’s twenty-four real-time minutes to every day. Crops, animals, and just about everything else have reverted back to the traditional game play, and really, [i]Magical Melody[/i] seems like a completely different game from its predecessor, [i]A Wonderful Life[/i]. Fans will no doubt have few issues with what’s to be had in [i]Magical Melody[/i], but those who haven’t been turned on by the series so far will have little reason to try again with this game.

Another contributing factor to the fact that only fans will be attracted by this game is the graphics and art style, which, quite honestly, look to be straight out of a child’s picture book. To put it bluntly, the look of the game may very well turn off many people. Things look reminiscent of a more refined Animal Crossing, and characters take on the, what’s called in anime circles, chibi look (that is, they look like children with huge heads and very separated legs). Fans will probably not be phased by the looks of the game, or if they are, they probably will not think much of it. The game still remains the same as always, even with the quirky graphics style. Just don’t expect to get your friends hooked on the series when they take a look at [i]Magical Melody[/i]. It will probably only end in pain.

Overall, this is a perfect game for fans of the series. It takes everything from past games in the series and reinvents the formula to give us something new. Again, [i]Magical Melody[/i], combined with the graphical presentation of the game, will probably not convert those who look at the game with eyes rolling upward. Even so, if Natsume hasn’t gotten those people hooked on the series yet, they probably will never do so, and know that appeasing the fans will be enough. In the end, [i]Harvest Moon: Magical Melody[/i] is a game for the fans, and acts as a tribute for those fans. And those fans will no doubt find a lot to love in this new installment.

If there has been one game more anticipated than almost anything out there this year, it’s [i]The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion[/i]. Originally slated for a late 2005 release, many were disappointed when [i]Oblivion[/i] was held back from the Xbox 360’s launch, including PC users who suffered along with next-gen owners. The wait has been worth it, though. Stunning graphics, deep enriching storylines, and stellar game play make [i]Oblivion[/i] recommendable to nearly any play style. Not only will fans see a huge step up from its predecessor, [i]Morrowind[/i], but [i]Oblivion[/i] is an amazing experience open to almost anyone, fan or otherwise. [i]The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion[/i] is easily one of the best games of 2006, and may just be one of the best games in years.

[i]Oblivion[/i] continues [i]The Elder Scrolls[/i] story from [i]Morrowind[/i]. However, even if you haven’t played [i]Morrowind[/i] or any of [i]Oblivion[/i]’s other predecessors, the game is fairly accepting to new players (although some references will be lost). The story follows the player after being locked in prison and a sudden visit from Emperor Uriel Septim embroils you into a complex plot to destroy the empire of Tamriel, starting with the murder of the Emperor. Not long after, you are dumped out into the land of Cyrodill, intent on locating the heir to the throne. The story of [i]Oblivion[/i] is rich, detailed, and just as powerful as any movie you would see in theaters.

However, the truly beautiful thing about the game is the freedom given to do whatever you feel. Don’t feel like rescuing the heir to the throne? Then give one of the game’s numerous factions a try, like the Thieves Guild, which specializes in pickpocketing and pulling daring heists, or join the Dark Brotherhood to focus on your inner murderer. If those don’t appeal to you, then you can go about exploring over two-hundred dungeons strewn across the region. Even exploring the game’s impressive landscape can lose a player for hours. There is almost no limit to what you can do in [i]Oblivion[/i], and the fact that the game doesn’t confine you to one particular story lets you do it all at your own pace.

In addition to the non-linear play style, [i]Oblivion[/i] is also unique in that there are dozens of different ways to play the game. While the game is mainly an RPG at heart, you can choose to craft your character into a warrior and fight in Roman gladiator-style matches, or focus on stealth and make your living picking pockets. To many, [i]Oblivion[/i] may not feel like an RPG at all, and even those who are not particularly fond of traditional RPGs will probably find something to love. A lot of games try to pull off a number of different “sub-genres” within a certain genre, but whereas many of those games fail for not balancing out the game play between all the different modes, [i]Oblivion[/i] succeeds in incorporating action, stealth, exploration, and many other styles where others have been put to shame.

Certainly one of [i]Oblivion[/i]’s strongest points goes to the character creation system, which is just about as detailed as you can get. There are ten races to choose from, ranging from humans to humanoid leopards and lizards. What really sets [i]Oblivion[/i]’s character creator from other games’ is the amount of detail you can put into shaping and manipulating the face. There are so many options to choose from that, truthfully, some people may neglect the broad scope of it all and simply skip over any facial manipulation whatsoever. On the other hand, though, I’ve heard of people getting lost for hours developing the perfect character. Of course, one of the drawbacks of such a detailed creation system is that, since the game lacks online play, no one else will probably ever see your masterpiece (or abomination depending on your shaping abilities). Even so, how can you argue with such an advanced creation system?

Being an RPG, you’ve probably already guessed that your character levels and grows throughout the game. It’s in this area that [i]Oblivion[/i] shines once again. Where the character creator is ideal in deciding how and what abilities your character will have, it is in the field where you gain experience and advance in those abilities, shaping your character even further. Running constantly will raise the athletics category while battling with a sword or knife will raise your blade skill. Successfully picking locks will increase your security skills while using destruction and restoration magic is key to any starting mage raising their magic attributes. As these skills increase, they will also gain new ranks such as journeyman and master, giving your character even more benefits. Possibly one of the only complaints about the leveling system is that as you level, the world around you does so as well, although this may be essential to keep the game challenging in the long run.

Yet another bright spot on [i]Oblivion[/i]’s virtually spotless resume is the radiant A.I. possessed by the Non-Playable Characters (NPCs). As you pass by people, they turn to look at you, maybe even throwing in a “hello” or “get out of my way” while they’re at it. Conversations generally wear thin pretty quickly, but one of the amazing things about [i]Oblivion[/i] is that the NPCs react with one another, and you may even hear people talking about a heroic deeds of a certain individual (in other words, yourself). Every NPC has their own schedule, sleeping at night and walking around town during the daytime, making the scope of the game that much more impressive when considering how many thousand NPCs there many be strewn throughout the game. There are still some minor issues with the intelligence (since when are people happy to speak with you after waking them in the middle of the night?), but it is still one of the best examples of computer A.I. this side of video gaming.

Now let’s talk graphics, and you probably already know this game has got the goods. [i]Oblivion[/i] is a true artistic masterpiece both on the PC and Xbox 360, and everything is detailed to its fullest. The natural environment contains lush grass and great textures, while torches flicker with life in dim caves. The in-game clock allows you to see [i]Oblivion[/i]’s environment during all times of the day, and character models look fantastic, looking genuinely human with their shimmering eyes and lifelike facial movement. However, there are a few flaws to be had. While textures look terrific up close, the distant mountains and plains actually look pretty ugly; Crayola crayon ugly at times. Also, characters models may spasm out of control from time to time, which just looks plain awkward. These are generally unnoticeable, though, and really don’t hinder the game in the least.

You’ve no doubt heard the talk that this game is a beast on the PC. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that a great computer is going to be needed, and case in point: the system requirements are really quite hefty, and that’s not even getting into the recommended specifications. This is probably where the 360 version of [i]Oblivion[/i] wins out, as even the best PC systems may produce some issues and crashes. However, my computer contains an Nvidia GeForce 6600 GT video card, 1 Gigabyte of RAM, and a 2.0 Gigahertz AMD processor (all of which roughly meet the required system specs.) and the game runs pretty smoothly at medium settings. Most reports also say that a really spectacular computer will win out graphically against the 360, but still be ready for some bugs in the PC version. One thing the PC version does have a leg up on, though, is the modding community, which is already pumping out modifications that change some of the issues with the PC version (such as the complaint of a console-like interface), something the console version of [i]Oblivion[/i] just can’t do. Either way you go, however, [i]Oblivion[/i] is great on either system; just be sure you know what you’re getting into with the PC version.

When it all adds up, [i]Oblivion[/i] is a must-have game that will suit almost anyone’s tastes in gaming. The game is a thing to behold, whether it be on the PC or on the next-gen Xbox 360. There just isn’t a whole lot wrong with [i]Oblivion[/i], and everything you would think could go wrong is executed perfectly. The fluent presentation of different game play styles makes it accessible to all reaches of gaming, and the scope of the game will have you occupied for hours upon hours. [i]The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion[/i] lives up to every expectation the series has presented, and is simply one of the best titles to come out this year. I know it’s only May, but we could very well be looking at the next Game of the Year.