November 2009

We’re human.  We don’t always get to every game before the end of its year of release.  This is our way of making amends: the best games we missed out on until 2009.  Because we can’t go back in time and honor it in a more timely fashion.

Chris Ingersoll: This one’s a no-brainer for me: The World Ends With You. I didn’t pick this up at launch due to my dislike of the “Square-Enix Tax” that somehow lets their new DS titles sell for $40 — I’ve picked up Wii titles that were as or less expensive. (Although apparently $35 is now the new price point for DS RPGs in general…) This game got a ton of hype and praise last year, and every ounce of it was well-deserved. Had I played it “on time” it would have easily cracked my Top 10, possibly as #2 or even #1. I already gushed about it in my review, but to summarize: this is the most original product S-E has put out in forever, and is one of the best examples of how to maximize all of the DS’s various unique capabilities without anything feeling tacked on or awkward.

Justin Last: Burnout Paradise. I tried the demo on 360 before release, but it wasn’t until I picked it via PSN for PS3 early this year that I really played Burnout Paradise. Paradise City is a blast to drive around in, there are tons of things to do, and Criterion whipped up enough DLC that I’ll still be playing it for a good, long while.

Andrew Passafiume: The best game I have played this year that was not released this year definitely has to be Opoona. It’s a quirky little RPG that was released for the Wii in early 2008 and was published by Koei (more famously known for the Dynasty Warriors series). This was a lengthy adventure with a charming title character, plenty of interesting side characters, and some of the best music I have heard in any game. It reminds of Earthbound in many ways, with a sense of humor that a lot of people might not expect from an RPG like this. The game has quite the fun battle system as well, and it definitely helped that the game has a unique art style that separated it from most RPGs. Wii owners need to check this title out, as I’m positive it is already becoming quite the cult classic among RPG lovers.

Graham Russell: Two PS3 gems battled it out for me, but I had to pick Valkyria Chronicles over LittleBigPlanet. VC has all the strategic depth of a Fire Emblem game with incredible graphics and a compelling combat system. The characters are interesting, and the game conveniently lets you leave behind any personalities you find grating. This game was so good, I re-bought a PSP in anticipation of next summer’s sequel. 

Shawn Vermette: I never played the Ratchet & Clank games on the PS2 because I’m not a big fan of action/platforming games, but I’ve heard lots of great things about this game ever since it came out. I also saw some trailers for it that featured some hilarious dialogue. Unfortunately, I never got a chance to play this game before now because I just got a PS3. I can definitely say though that Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction is one of the more enjoyable games I’ve played this year. The writing is great, the voice acting is spot on, the graphics are amazingly vibrant and detailed. I’d heard it felt like playing a Pixar movie, but I didnt really believe that until I played it. This is the funniest game I’ve played since Portal; and this is the first action/platforming game I’ve played in years that I’ve truly enjoyed.


What’s yours?  Let us know!

When the neighbors just can’t keep their darn dog off your lawn, there’s only one appropriate response — obviously you bust out the rocket launcher and take out their barbecue.

Reiner Knizia’s Escalation! is that humorous scenario applied to a light card game for 2-6 players. The deck of 56 cards consists of values from 1 through 13 in varying amounts, plus two special types of cards: “1-7″s which act as wilds for one of those values and “neighborhood watch” cards.

Each player is dealt a hand of six cards, and the player to the left of the dealer starts by playing any number of matching cards to the table and announcing their total; at the end of a player’s turn, they refill their hand to six cards (if any remain in the deck). The next player must then either play a set exceeding that total or collect all of the cards currently on the table (keeping them face-down in front of him) and start a new round. A player can match the current total rather than beating it if they also play a “neighborhood watch” card along with the matching total. Once the deck has been exhausted, game play will end once a player has played the last card from their hand; at this point the cards that are currently on the table are discarded while everyone else must add the cards remaining in their hand to the face-down cards they have accumulated. Scoring is simple: you count the number of face-down cards you have accumulated, and that is your score. The player with the lowest total is the winner.

While a game of Escalation! can typically be played in the space of fifteen minutes, you will probably want to play several games in succession. Since your score will be directly impacted by the player before you, turn order plays a significant role in a game’s outcome. My group usually lets each player deal once, to keep everything even. We then combine the scores to determine the ultimate victor.

Like many Z-man published card games, Escalation! can be picked up for around ten dollars. While the Knizia game play design is elegant, the art by Beth Trot really gives the game its quirky appeal. The various residents of Pleasantville depicted on the cards are hilarious, with amusing weaponry ranging from a high-pressure water gun loaded with HCl to the crazy cat lady whose little fuzzballs come packing missiles. This art is the only reason I can think of for the recommended age to be 10+, as otherwise there isn’t any reading required and not a ton of complex strategy involved. Escalation! stands alongside Fairy Tale and No Thanks! as inexpensive fillers from Z-man Games that can be enjoyed by anyone at any time. 

This week saw the release of the second full album for The Beatles: Rock Band. Although not as popular as Abbey Road, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is a nice addition to the game. And considering the price, it might not be worth it for some, but it definitely expands the game even more with a bigger focus on vocal harmonies than the previous release. READ MORE

NBA 2K10

November 16, 2009

The NBA 2K series is known for touting new features with each iteration giving players more reason than a roster update to pick up the current year’s title, and NBA 2K10 is no different. This year’s new gameplay features are My Player and NBA Today. Both are great additions for basketball fans, and both make you feel even more like a part of the NBA.

NBA 2K10’s My Player feature allows you to start a new player in the summer league, work on his skills, and eventually rise up through the various amateur and semi-pro leagues until you’ve created an NBA superstar. This is a long game mode, but the reward is great, and you’ll really get attached to your custom player as you hone his skills and advance through the ranks. For those of you who just want to play as the current year’s teams and players the My Player feature is completely optional, and 2K’s Living Roster will keep you constantly up-to-date. This is a wonderful addition to the series, and what’s even better is that 2K is providing this feature for free. Along with constantly updated rosters and stats, 2K is also introducing NBA Today. NBA Today allows you to play and view recent stats for the day’s scheduled NBA games. This is a great interactive way to keep track of the season and potentially alter the outcome of the day’s games in your favor.

NBA 2K10 does take a few missteps though, and none of them seem to make any sense. Dribbling controls have changed again, the timing for perfect shot is much shorter than in years past so you need to release the ball far before the apex of your jump,  and the right stick can’t be used for defense anymore even though it felt like a great extension of the shock stick functionality. On top of that, coaching settings like rotation changes and substitution methods, despite flashing up a save notification, don’t actually save to your profile. It is absolutely maddening to alter these settings every time the game is played, and I can’t believe that nobody caught this in testing.

NBA 2K10 excels where it always has though – in graphics. From across the room NBA 2K10 looks like a live basketball game. Character models are detailed, and player motions are accurate down to Steve Nash licking his fingers. You can really tell that the folks at 2K are writing love letters to basketball and not just slapping a fresh coat of paint on last year’s game to cash another paycheck. Sound is also top-notch with great commentary in the booth by Harlan and Kellogg who sound natural with one another and special event-specific lines (Halloween, in particular, prompted a unique line).

NBA 2K10 should be played online for a good long time as well with support for 10-player multiplayer over Xbox Live. Having five human players working together on the same team against five human players on the other team brings back memories of 2 on 2 games of NBA Jam on my Sega Genesis, and it’s just as much fun now to play with and against real people as it was then. NBA 2K10 isn’t perfect, but it makes great strides, and returning players will get used to the new controls. And when they do, they’re in for a treat when the take the game online.

Plays Like: NBA 2K9
: 5v5 online play, great audio and visual fidelity
Cons: Seemingly random control changes, no right stick for defense
ESRB: E – if they’re allowed to watch NBA on TV then 2K10 is perfectly appropriate

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has the potential of being the biggest game release of all time. The hype leading up to the release has been massive, and it is safe to say the game lives up to most of that hype.

The story picks up sometime after the events of the first Modern Warfare, although it is sadly a letdown compared to the original. The narrative in Call of Duty games has never been fantastic, but Modern Warfare changed that by introducing memorable characters and some truly intense events. Modern Warfare 2 has the intense events and set piece levels right, but the actual story (and how it is told) is rather incoherent. There are a couple of nice twists, but they are rather meaningless and add up to a conclusion that just screams “SEQUEL!”

In terms of presentation, the game is beautiful. It is hard to top visuals like this, and it only amplifies the intensity of combat. Although there is not much of a graphical leap from the original, it still looks amazing by these standards. The score of the game, composed by famous movie composer Hans Zimmer, is fantastic and fits the mood of the game perfectly. On a technical standpoint, Modern Warfare 2 is a masterpiece.

The gameplay is separated into three main components: the single player campaign, the Special Operatives (or Spec Ops) co-op mode, and the competitive multiplayer. All three contain enough content to fit into their own game, but together they make up one excellent package. And although a lot of people will be buying this game just for the multiplayer, the campaign and co-op mode both supply extra content for those who want to take a break from ranking up online.

The story itself is not that great, but the actual gameplay of the single player is as intense and as fun to play as the first (if not more so). Many of the events are scripted, and the game proceeds in a very linear fashion (maybe even more so than the original), but there is a lot more variety both in the environments and in the things you do in each mission. Some people may be put off by the game’s linearity, but others will find the incredible rush of the action packed missions to be enough to look past it. 

The newest mode, Spec Ops, is a one to two player cooperative mode in which you take on different challenges using areas and scenarios from the campaign (and even some from the first game’s campaign). There are a variety of mission types, including survival modes in which you must face off against hordes of bad guys, and even some where you have to make it from one end of the map to another. These levels are tough, so it is recommended to play with a friend (especially on the higher difficulties). But if you can find someone to play with, you will also find yourself spending hours playing this very addictive game mode.

The multiplayer is the main selling point for many people, as it still remains the best competitive multiplayer shooter you will find. With a large variety of game types (from old favorites such as team deathmatch and sabotage, to new modes to the series like capture the flag) and plenty of character customization, the multiplayer is as deep as ever. 

You still gain ranks for earning points based on kills and special challenges you can complete, and there are still tons of different weapon types and perks to add to your character. The perks are like special abilities, and you can equip three per character. They could do simple things, such as make you reload your gun faster, or do something like jamming enemy radars in a small radius. 

There are also killstreaks, which award you for getting a certain number of kills in a row without dying. They range from a UAV (which detects all of the enemies on the radar), to summoning a helicopter to help take out enemies, and even a tactical nuke which decimates everyone on the map (including yourself). There are also now deathstreaks, which are ways to help newer players get a better chance of surviving and ranking up in the very competitive world of Modern Warfare.

All three of these gameplay types combine to form a game that is well worth the $60. Even if multiplayer is not your thing, the added Spec Ops mode will give you and a friend a chance to try out several different cooperative modes without worrying about being frustrated with the competitive side of the game. Overall, this is a sequel that lives up to the hype and manages to surpass the original in just about every way. It’s not perfect, but you won’t be complaining when you find yourself still playing this game six months later.

Pros: Amazing presentation; fantastic score; single player campaign is more intense and fun than the original; Spec-Ops is a great addition to the game; multiplayer improvements are welcomed, and the mode is as addictive as ever

Cons: Somewhat incoherent story; linearity of the campaign may be a problem for some