April 2008

Nanostray 2

April 30, 2008

The first Nanostray game started out as a little-known vertical scrolling shooter on the DS in 2005. The game’s developer, Shin’en, took influences from its Iridion games they developed for the Game Boy Advance. It was a sleeper hit and solid game; Nanostray 2 takes most of the first game’s flaws and corrects them, but adds a few more problems in the process.

Nanostray 2‘s menu is set up much like its predecessor: it has Adventure, Arcade, and Challenge modes, as well as offering co-op via multi-card and single card play. To unlock all the levels, you first have to go through the Adventure mode, which happens to be excruciatingly hard, even on the easiest setting. The game gives you five ships and three continues to work through all the levels. Once a level becomes available in Adventure mode, it unlocks in Arcade mode, allowing you the ability to replay a level you’re having trouble on.

The gameplay is standard shoot-em-up fare. Your ship progresses through the level and you destroy waves of enemies leading up to the boss of a level. Standard fire is the A button, and your special weapons are the B button, attached to a meter which drains after a few presses. Enemies drop yellow and blue coins which can be collected: yellow adds to your score while blue replenishes your special weapons meter. You don’t choose your ship, but you do choose your special weapon and, in addition, you can choose where your outermost lasers fire, which you can control through the trigger buttons. The special weapons you start out with include a high powered laser beam, seeker missiles, and an electric field that surrounds your ship. As you progress in Adventure mode, you gain new special weapons which will also become available in Arcade mode.

The game’s eight levels have varied settings and the game mixes up the gameplay by having your ship facing different ways. The first level, Teppeki Dock, scrolls horizontally from left to right while the one of the game’s second set of levels, Shinkai Bay, scrolls vertically from bottom to top and even rotates the screen at several points. The unpredictability is interesting, but can be frustrating at times and requires memorization. Challenge mode adds more to the game by setting different requirements, such as getting a high score on a level you’ve already completed, after you’ve unlocked those particular levels in Adventure mode.

Nanostray 2 seemingly improves on the first game in every way while keeping up with detailed, interesting levels and gameplay. The sheer difficulty of the game, however, is enough to recommend that only dedicated shooter fans pick up this title. While the game is fun, it’s also extremely hard, and will probably be a turn off for some gamers who don’t like replaying the same thing over and over again because their ship got shot up just before they finished a level. For everyone else, it’s a great time, and Challenge mode adds to the replay value after you finish the main story.

Nobunaga’s Ambition is a strategy title that feels more like the tabletop game Axis & Allies than the PC’s Starcraft. Everything that isn’t battle is turn-based, there is very little combat, and the rule set is immense. You’ll need to read the instruction book, play through the tutorial, and wish for more help because the learning curve is huge. Once mastered, Nobunaga’s Ambition is a great title, but most won’t have the patience to figure things out.

Nobunaga’s Ambition takes place in feudal Japan when Nobunaga Oda was trying to bring the entire country under his rule. There are multiple scenarios available, and each takes place during a different time period within the feudal era. Difficulty is relative to your chosen daimyo and the time. Choosing Nobunaga, for example, isn’t always a free pass to victory as he starts one scenario severely outmanned and outgunned.

Most strategy games today focus almost exclusively on combat. You won’t find a tactic like the Zerg or Zealot rush here. What you’ll find is one man counseling other men on how to best maintain his farm land, decide when to send out a spy who will be back in four turns with information about the neighboring daimyo, or negotiate with a rival warlord. Nobunaga’s Ambition is slow, but the game is complex enough that the time to think and strategize is a blessing.

The few times combat appears it is handled in real-time, but compared to the rest of the game it feels extremely sloppy and inexact. There is an autoresolve feature that streamlined combat and removes the Dynasty Warriors Light feel, and I heartily recommend using it. Every other aspect of Nobunaga’s Ambition feels like a chess or go match and automating the combat keeps that feeling alive through all aspects of the game.

Sadly, Nobunaga’s Ambition really shows just how old the PS2 is. Characters are small and undetailed, landscapes are muddy, and the remainder of the game’s graphics serve to transmit information to the player without taking any attention from the task at hand. As a lover of strategy games I can appreciate just how much information is packed on each screen, and how difficult it can be to communicate so much without resorting to walls of text. Sound, like graphics, are lackluster. If deep strategy won’t pull you in and keep you enthralled then there really isn’t a lot for you in Nobunaga’s Ambition: Rise to Power.

There’s a lot to do in Nobunaga’s Ambition: Rise to Power, and it will take a long time to learn. But if you love turn-based strategy and occasionally need a break from Civilization IV then Nobunaga’s Ambition: Rise to Power is the game for you.

Best of Tests

April 30, 2008

Although the Nintendo DS launched in November of 2004, one could argue that the Brain Age games brought the company into the mainstream light and did away with the notion that video games are simply for kids and young adults. Middle-aged and even senior citizens have picked up the DS and Brain Age for their intuitive nature and ease of use. With successful products come imitators looking to cash in on the latest trends, and that’s exactly what Conspiracy Entertainment’s Best of Tests DS has done. What Best of Tests hasn’t done, however, is captured what made Brain Age fun in the first place and the result is a shoddy piece of software which tries hard to be like its brain-teasing predecessors but falls flat on its face.

The back of the box claims that the game A

Nyko Charge Base 2

April 30, 2008

Rechargeable batteries for wireless game controllers are a god send. In some cases, 3rd party companies have stepped in to provide awesome solutions for gamers looking to streamline the recharging process. Nyko is one such company and they have a whole host of power solutions available for each of the consoles.

Nyko’s initial recharging station for the PS3 came in the form of the Charge Base PS3. It supported 4 simultaneous charge slots utilizing the SIXAXIS’ mini-usb port for connectivity. With the announcement of the Dual Shock 3’s imminent release, Nyko has released a revised version of the charging station that is compatible with the Dual Shock 3, this time named the Charge Base 2. This revised version of the initial product has cut the number of charging slots down to 2 and utilizes a special connector for charging connectivity. These charge adapters feature a mini-usb on one side and a few contact spots on the other. This change in design allows the controllers to lightly sit on the Charge Base as opposed to being firmly stuck to the Charge Base.

The Charge Base 2 features a pair of bright lights to indicate when a controller is charging or when it has reached a full charge.

I personally like the Charge Base 2 and have no issue with recommending it to friends and family, but the $30 price tag that the Charge Base 2 carries may be a deterrent for many gamers despite the added convenience. This is compounded by the fact that the only thing necessary for charging a PS3 controller is a $1 mini-usb cable that plugs in directly to one of the available USB ports on your PS3. The value that this device presents will vary widely due to that fact.

The Charge Base 2 differs from some of its other offerings since the PS3 natively supports a rechargeable controller. The device merely serves as a more convenient way to charge the devices. That said, the device’s construction is of a very high quality and the move to the USB charge adapters are evidence that Nyko is committed to improving their products.

LOST: Via Domus

April 30, 2008

There’s no denying that LOST is a television phenomenon. The characters are well-written, the story is intriguing, and at the end of each episode the viewer is given enough new information to see prior episodes in a new light and wonder what’s coming down the pipe next week. If ever a piece of intellectual property was ripe for the adventure game treatment it is LOST. Explore your surroundings? Check. Pick up every little thing you find? Check. Work toward solving a mystery without a focus on combat? Check. How, then, did Ubisoft manage to create such a poor excuse for a game? They ignored LOST’s strongest point (the characters and dialog) and replaced it with uninspired puzzles and frustrating mechanics.

LOST: Via Domus covers the first three seasons of the television show as told from the point of view of a new character. All your favorite characters and locales are present and accounted for. There’s the beach, the Swan Station, and your own flashbacks to explore. Along the way you’ll have brief conversations with Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Hurley, and Locke. It is, however, immediately obvious that the majority of the actors didn’t lend their voices to the game. The dialog also isn’t as sharp as that found in LOST’s weekly episodes. Sure, characters mention appropriate things, but they’re just as likely to say A