December 2007

The WWE feels as though it’s designed for a game. Over-the-top action, crazy characters, flashy movesA

Silent Hill: Origins

December 28, 2007

Travis Grady is an introverted truck driver who doesn’t care that he can’t remember his past. While taking a detour past the town of Silent Hill, he swerves to avoid a child in the road, but then she vanishes. Close by, a house burns with a voice asking for help emanating from the flames. Thus Travis is drawn in to Silent Hill, where reality and nightmares mix with the thick fog.

Silent Hill: Origins is the fifth game in this long running series which spanned back to the original Playstation; this first PSP release in the series accurately continues the action, puzzles and aura so successfully established in the previous titles. Wandering the deserted streets of the eponymous town in search of clues is still eerily creepy as shambling horrors wait around every corner. This time around Travis is more adept with his hands.

Changes to the fighting system are the biggest difference that die hard fans will first notice. Before getting to the firearms later in the game, the first part is spent with common weapons ranging from scalpels and knives to IV stands and portable televisions. In previous editions of the game these would be permanently attached to you as you progressed through the game, here they can only be used so much until they break. And for the throwable items, such as the aforementioned TV, these one-hit killers take longer to use opening up Travis for injury. When all other items have been used, you could always rely upon Travis’ own fists to beat down the oncoming enemies. But prudence should always be used, as sometimes the best method of handling the enemies is just simply running away from them. Once guns become available a slightly tweaked auto-aim function ensures that shots are not wasted. Generally the fights tend to be a rinse-repeat process that will have many people happy when a new enemy presents itself so they can experience a different type of attack.

While fighting is definitely a part of the game, exploration and puzzles are an equal portion, if not more of how you spend your time in Silent Hill. Here one must navigate the streets from Point A to Point B, going through buildings and overcoming disturbing H. R. Giger-style obstacles to get that key or missing puzzle piece to continue. Another difference with this game in the series is the way in which mirrors are used to enter the demented other world. Here these portals can be used to backtrack to inaccessible areas in the real world, and cause you to have to think outside the box to get to your next destination.

Graphically the game looks gorgeous on the PSP; lighting and shading add to the ominous aura of the world and the persistent fog captures the look and feel so well-established in earlier Silent Hill games. Sound plays a subtly large part in the game with ambient noises defining the impending sense of doom; even the lack of sound adds to the dread on the virtually empty streets. Historically the camera used throughout the SH series is hit-or-miss, with no difference here. Many times the view locks into a fixed position to add to the disturbing feel, but when you are in the middle of a fight, these prove to be a pain while you try to adjust to the angle. Add to that moving out of the trigger zone for such camera shots and I constantly moved in an unexpected direction as I compensated for the new angle, missing my enemy completely.

SH:O is placed firmly in the well-established series and will leave a lot of die-hard fans happy. People new to Silent Hill will gain a greater appreciation for what has made the series successful without having to look up footnotes to understand what is going on. Beyond some minor nits against the game, this is a worthy addition to the PSP and a great gaming experience.

Cooking Mama 2: Cooking with Friends is, almost motion for motion, the exact same game as the original Cooking Mama. Recipes are different, but the visuals, minigames, and motions used to prepare dishes are exactly the same. There’s something to be said for not fixing what isn’t broken, but the new content here is so insignificant that Nintendo really should have offered new recipes via Wii download to the DS.

Cooking Mama 2 is, without a doubt, aimed at aspiring chefs that never played the original title, and for that audience it is a good game, but those that played the original would do better to save some cash and fire up the original again. Like its predecessor, Cooking Mama 2 has players chopping and sautA

Godzilla Unleashed

December 26, 2007

The GameCube release Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee was a surprise hit on a system light on fighting games. As a result, there was a decent amount of buzz for the Wii edition of Godzilla Unleashed. Simply put, people are going to be disappointed.

New to the game is a Wii-based motion control system. It’s painful. The movements seem arbitrary and unresponsive, which is compounded by the monsters’ slow movements. The large health bars make for long, tedious fights that seem like more of a chore than entertainment.

The story is based around simplistic comic-book cutscenes that feel more campy than anything else. Much like the movies, the focus is on big monster battles, so the plot is secondary to say the least.

Atari tried to add in elements of strategy to make the game more fun, but it largely failed. Monsters now have specific elemental weaknesses and strengths, but they rarely come up in gameplay, being heavily overshadowed by the base stats of each monster.

There are some redeeming features for Godzilla fans. Playing through the game unlocks obscure creatures and concept art. There are over twenty characters eventually available. The problem is that the game is so slow-paced that it takes hours to unlock a decent roster of monsters. The design seems to be based around the core experience being fun, and it just isn’t. It matters little that Atari did the little things right when the big thing is flawed.

Wii players may have been looking forward to Godzilla Unleashed as a good Smash Bros. replacement until Brawl hits in February, but it just isn’t the solid title we expected. Pass on this one.

The Dragon Ball Z series of games is a surprisingly long one given the length of the source story by Akira Toriyama. Thus, by the time publisher Atari released Budokai Tenkaichi 3, there’s very little that hadn’t been done.

The game’s roster of fighters numbers over 150, and though the comprehensive nature is nice, it seems a bit much to handle, and most control similarly. There are multiple versions of major characters, so fans of the series should be pleased.

The actual gameplay is nice too. It definitely isn’t a standard fighter; the aerial controls feel more like a flight combat game than a 2-D brawler. Though the two main attack buttons are fairly bland, the fun comes in the ability to outmaneuver the opponent, hide, charge up and execute flashy special moves. It feels much like the battles on the show, and for that Atari should be commended.

The control schemes are not the most Wii-intensive, but the special moves at least provide some sort of motion control for immersion’s sake. However, purists can play with the Classic Controller or a GameCube pad.

The story itself has been played out in the previous games, as well as the anime. It’s not the best writing in the world, so normal gamers won’t find it captivating, but the fans the game is marketed towards will enjoy the immersion in the story. The graphics are fairly average, but the cel-shaded style and effects are enough to make the game feel polished.

The single player modes vary from a straight event-by-event recreation of the series to special scenarios and tournaments. The multiplayer allows for one-on-one fights and team battles, as well as an intriguing point-buy team mode that makes players pay a premium for stronger fighters. This edition also features online play. It feels fairly barebones, but it works, and playing against a person on-demand helps with those who have mastered fighting the somewhat predictable AI.

All in all, this is a competent fighter with a unique combat style and a large amount of replay value. There might not be enough to entice the general public, but fans can’t help but love it. It may not have too much more than its predecessor, but if you skipped out on that one, this one is worth it.