August 2008

I’ve been on this big XLA kick lately and with Bionic Commando: Rearmed and Galaga Legions both as new releases I couldn’t help but indulge.

Galaga Legions is not a simple remake of Galaga. Oh no. It’s completely redone and updated and it’s wild.

Gone are the simple streams of enemy fighters that make a simple formation and then proceed to dive bomb you. Now enemies come streaming in following swirling patterns that will make your head spin. Furthermore, you aren’t limited to side to side movements which makes Legions seem more like modern day shooter than it’s coin-op forefather.

I won’t give too much more away, but the visuals are stunning and the classic skin was a great touch. If you are on the fence, stop putting it off and just spend the 800 points for it.

TV Armor

August 19, 2008

As a long time gamer, I am no stranger to flying controllers. In fact, some games have driven me to the brink and that has occasionally resulted in purchasing additional controllers. When the Wii was released, controllers continued to be slung through the air, but for a different reason.

Replacing a $40 or $50 controller hurts, but not nearly as bad as replacing a $2000 television. The epidemic became so widespread that a website was launched to let everyone share in the pain of those that either didn’t heed Nintendo’s warning to use the wrist strap or were stung by the first generation straps that were apparently not strong enough to actually keep the remote from leaving your hand.

I recently felt that same pain as my 4yr old sent a matchbox car sailing through the front of my LCD. After doing some research, I found a product that would save us all the pain of experiencing this first hand, TV Armor.

TV Armor is a A

Guitar Hero On Tour

August 19, 2008

Guitar Hero has always been about two things – being a great party centerpiece and giving the player the feeling of really playing a guitar. Activision’s newest release, Guitar Hero: On Tour, has neither of these qualities. Does the gameplay still hold up?

It’s hard to say. The game certainly looks like Guitar Hero, though. The graphic engine created for the title looks as it should, though two-dimensional menus could have used a bit more polish.

The playlist is a bit limited compared to the console versions. On Tour packs less than 30 songs. Playing alone on the DS, as is often the case, songs become tired a lot faster than in a party situation. What songs are there, though, are solid and appeal to a large audience.

The controls were obviously the focus of the development team, and they almost pulled it off. The Guitar Grip almost feels like the top of the console guitar, and strumming on the touch screen does feel like strumming. Unfortunately, there are a few problems with this setup. Anyone with average-sized hands or larger will be uncomfortable holding the DS at the angle required, and playing more than one song at a time is basically impractical. Also, the Guitar Grip tends to slip out a little when gripping it, which makes players pay attention and keep it in while playing. At least Activision had the foresight to include an adapter to make it compatible with the original DS, but this setup makes for even less comfort.

Having a friend with the title gives it a bit more value. On Tour‘s multiplayer modes are similar to the console version, allowing for cooperative play or battles. The weapons are increasingly gimmicky, but when playing fake guitar on a tiny screen, maybe it shouldn’t be taken so seriously. This definitely doesn’t replace playing at home, but in a pinch it can be entertaining.

All in all, Guitar Hero: On Tour is a passable title, but the inflated $50 price tag makes it just not quite worth it. Once it hits a reasonable $35 or so, it might be worth a purchase.

Dragon Ball Z is a staple of action anime known all around the world, and has been the basis for many different fighting games over the years. The most recent evolution in the series of games is Burst Limit for the XBox 360, and it looks and plays spectacularly. It continues on in the tradition of the Budokai game series from the PS2 and PSP, with simple controls with very fun game play.

The game covers three of the major story arcs from the anime. There’s the Saiyan Saga in which Goku’s brother Raditz comes to Earth to try and make him join his evil cause, followed closely by Nappa and Vegeta. Next is the Frieza Saga where the heroes journey to the planet Namek to try and wish their fallen friends back to life while fending off the demonic Frieza and his goon squad the Ginyu Force. Finally comes the Cell Saga in which Dr. Gero’s androids numbered 16 through 18 terrorize the people of the earth, with 17 and 18 ending up as nourishment for the bio-android Cell.

The game play is fairly straightforward. The player picks a scenario from the Z Chronicles menu and then a chapter to begin the story advancement. As stated before, the main arcs are the Saiyan, Frieza, and Cell sagas, with each one being unlocked in sequence upon completion of the prior. The battles in story mode, as well in the versus mode, are played out like in a typical fighting game, exchanging blows and special attacks until one player has their life depleted. The controls include a light “rush” attack which allows for long combos of quicker hits, or a harder “smash” attack to more quickly penetrate defense and knock opponents away.

In addition to physical attacks and combos are the staple “ki”, or energy attacks, that most people familiar with Dragon Ball Z have come to know. Normal ki blasts can be unleashed by pressing the button in quick succession to fire several small blasts, or by holding it down to let loose a larger one. By pressing back or forward on the stick or pad and pressing the ki button, the selected character will unleash a Special Attack. Holding down the ki button allows for the attack to build up more power and deal more damage. Pressing up on the stick or pad and hitting the ki button while the player’s ki gauge is full launches an Ultimate Attack, one that expends all of the player’s ki but is a great deal stronger than other attacks.

The game also has a number of advanced maneuvers like pursuit attacks which can be used to knock an opponent around the arena like a pinball, vanishing moves that are useful for evading the enemy and striking them from behind, the reflection of low-level ki blasts, the ability to dodge melee attacks and avoid all damage, ultimate guarding which blocks any damage except from throws, aura sparks to temporarily increase attack power, and transformations to augment the characters’ abilities and change their appearance. All of this sounds like quite a bit, but the game has a very in-depth tutorial that outlines each of these techniques, how they work, when it’s best to use them, and what the practicality of each technique is.

The fighting engine is quite fluid, and plays similarly to past entries in the Budokai series, chiefly the Shin Budokai series as mentioned before, with its simplified controls and easy to execute special moves. In that regard, once someone learn how to use one character, it’s fairly simple to learn the nuances of many of the others. The games includes the story mode called the Z Chronicles mode and covers the mentioned three major story arcs with two hidden stories, a survival mode to see if the player can last 100 fights, time trials, and a battle point mode where the player is scored depending on their skill. The one mode that fans have been waiting for for quite some time is the addition of the online mode. It’s a little on the laggy side, but still great for casual play with friends.

The story is where the game feels a little lackluster. Each battle is introduced and concluded with really well animated cut scenes that outline the story leading up to and out of the battle, but they leave out a large amount of detail. In lieu of longer cut scenes, Burst Limit uses a Drama Piece system. Depending on the conditions of a battle, a Drama Piece may be triggered and change the outcome of the fight. For starters, when fighting Raditz as Goku at the start of the game, try using a Kamehameha to see an example of such. Even with the Drama Pieces though, a lot of the plot begs to be filled in. Only longtime fans of the anime series will likely be able to readily piece the events of the story mode together.

Despite the laggy online play and skimping on story details, Burst Limit sports some amazing visuals and has a great soundtrack that helps keep the mood of battles fast-paced. The game’s roster might seem a bit underwhelming clocking in at 21 playable characters and five stages if you’ve just come from Budokai Tenkaichi 3‘s 150+ characters 20+ stages, but being that Burst Limit covers a little over half the DBZ storyline, there’s sure to be a sequel with more content in the works. Even if you haven’t played a Budokai or Shin Budokai game, it’s still relatively easy to pick up and play and is a blast to play through. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Robert Ludlum’s Bourne novels just begged for a movie adaptation – and they got three of them. So when Sierra picked up the Bourne license for a game, we knew it would be cinematic. But would it be fun?

Since it’s a spy game, The Bourne Conspiracy plays a lot like other spy games such as Splinter Cell, Metal Gear Solid and the James Bond franchise. You play as Jason Bourne, a secret government operative with a past even the player doesn’t know much about. For the most part, Bourne is dropped in the middle of a situation with little backstory and told to take out some specific person or retrieve information, avoiding or knocking out loads of henchmen along the way. The story includes the events depicted in The Bourne Identity, the first film, as well as flashbacks to preceding events. The episodic action isn’t well-connected unless you’ve read Ludlum’s novels, but each vignette is well-paced and fun.

For the most part, Bourne eschews the stealth tactics in favor of hand-to-hand combat. Three buttons are dedicated to close combat, and once he gets close enough, Bourne must take them down before moving on. This can be frustrating at times, and the hit combinations are basically button-mashing, but Sierra had a trick up its sleeve to combat this problem. Since Bourne is known for using A