June 2010

Risk: Factions is almost exactly what you would expect it to be. It has the classic game of Risk in it, but it adds a new game mode, Factions, to the mix. Factions is a new twist on the objective based ‘Missions’ game type from the classic Risk board game. Unfortunately, missed opportunities and a couple bad bugs take away from what could have added greatly to the lackluster strategy game sampling available on the Xbox Live Arcade.

The first thing you’ll do when playing Risk: Factions is go through the campaign. Though calling it a campaign is rather farfetched. The campaign consists of 5 games, the first of which is a tutorial, that introduce you to the ‘backstory’ behind each of the five factions in Risk: Factions– humans, cats, robots, zombies, and yetis. The backstory behind each faction is relegated to a single cutscene each, in which the humans essentially create this world war in an attempt to stave off peace. 

Unfortunately, despite promises to the contrary, there are no discernable differences between the various factions. They are all identical, save the appearance of the dice they roll. Additionally, the map elements that were added either do nothing to change the strategy of the game, or are too overpowering. Despite all of this, the core gameplay is just as solid as the board game it tries to expand upon. 

The best part of Risk: Factions is definitely taking the game online against other players. It is just that much more satisfying to destroy another person instead of a computer. You can even play classic Risk online, if you get tired of the objective based Factions variety of Risk.

Unfortunately, a few bugs can hamper or destroy the experience. In the tutorial, I conquered the computer without completing the required objectives. Rather than going ahead and giving me the victory, it sat there waiting for me to complete another objective. I had to restart in order to get out of it. A different time, while playing online, the game itself kept going, but the communication between consoles and the server just stopped working. I had finished my turn, and could interact with the gameboard, but as far as everyone else could see, I was taking forever to finish my turn. Additionally, despite each turn having a time limit before it gets skipped, that mechanism never kicked in. So unfortunately, that game had to be abandoned.

If you love Risk, you can probably overlook the shortcomings of Risk: Factions because the core gameplay is intact and enjoyable. If you were wanting more than that though, you’ll be disappointed.

Plays Like: Risk

Pros: Risk is fun; Robots and Zombies and Yetis, oh my!

Cons: Campaign doesn’t deserve the name; Bugs can ruin a game; Factions are identical


Trauma Team

June 30, 2010

Atlus is handing over the scalpel again with another installment in their medical treatment simulator series, but this time there’s more to it than just surgery. Trauma Team is the fifth game in the Trauma Center series, but it takes big leaps beyond its predecessors by offering up several different kinds of gameplay to complement the traditional surgery mechanics. Anyone familiar with the previous Trauma Center titles might be surprised by the variety of new gameplay modes in Trauma Team, but not by its presentation or the basics of the game. Trauma Team is a lengthy title that makes good use of the Wii’s controller options, though it does tend to drag on a bit during story cutscenes and in some of the slower gameplay modes.

Trauma Team features six playable doctors, all with their own unique style of gameplay. These styles are surgery, emergency care, orthopedics, endoscopy, forensics, and diagnosis. For the most part, each style of gameplay is different, though there is some overlap between surgery and emergency care in particular. Diagnosis and forensics are furthest from the traditional Trauma Center formula, as they deal with patients and crime scenes outside of the emergency room. Fans of the previous Trauma Center games may be a bit disappointed that the surgery aspect of the title isn’t as difficult or evolved as it could be, but the sheer variety of gameplay modes on tap should be more than enough to offset this feeling. I did not find all of the modes equally engaging, but they all have their moments. Playing as the amnesia-stricken genius surgeon who is also an alleged mass murderer was my personal favorite.

Many games do not make full use of the Wii controller, but Trauma Team definitely does—you will be making incisions, drilling, twisting, setting bones, and shoving cameras down throats like a pro, and it all feels great. Thanks to the magical stat-boosting injection available for most surgery segments, you probably won’t be losing many patients, but there can be some moments of frustration despite that. For the most part you will be trying your best to be speedy but accurate, in hopes of garnering a good score at the end of the operation.

Story-wise, Trauma Team isn’t too commendable. While each playable character has a distinct personality and (occasionally goofy) storyline, the barely animated cut scenes themselves are often on the boring side. You can opt to skip any of these scenes, but that will usually result in going into surgery without knowing the whole story, and that isn’t terribly satisfying either.  Voice acting is fairly well done, on par with what you might find in your typical dubbed anime series. Normally I wouldn’t care too much about the story, but in this case sometimes it actually seemed to get in the way of my enjoyment of the game, simply because I had to sit through a good five or so minutes of minimally animated melodrama if I wanted to know why I was about to begin operating on a patient.

Trauma Team’s graphics are about on par with what you would expect from a game in this franchise. The cutscenes are drawn anime-style, but the actual gameplay segments of the game are of course modeled in 3D. For the most part, different parts of the human anatomy are presented in a simplified, not-terribly-realistic manner, and I am glad for this—if I had to operate on a photorealistic depiction of human intestines, I don’t think I would be able to stomach it. There are some parts of this game that do look quite nice though, especially the endoscopy segments.

If you are a fan of previous Trauma Center games, Trauma Team is definitely going to make you one happy doctor. It is a game that shines when the scalpel is in your hand. Outside of the operating room, things aren’t quite as enjoyable. Diagnosing patients can be interesting, but it often drags on too long, just like the story scenes. Thankfully, there is a lot of stuff to do in this game thanks to its holistic approach, so even if there are certain segments you don’t particularly like, there’s bound to be plenty of stuff that does tickle your femur, er, fancy, and that is the game’s true strength. 

Pros: Gameplay variety, operating room segments, controls

Cons: Frequent barely animated cutscenes, tedious diagnosis segments

Plays like: Other Trauma Center games


Thanks to E3, we have lots of rumors confirmed true, a few confirmed false, and even some new ones to ponder.

Current score

Andrew Passafiume: +230

Graham Russell: +144

Eric Schabel: +70

Shawn Vermette: +205


Microsoft to package Natal with Xbox 360

While no longer Natal, Microsoft has announced that they will be offering a Kinect bundle to purchasers of new Xbox 360s when it is released in November

Andrew 100% = +50

Graham 90% = +40

Shawn 100% = +50

Nintendo to announce U.S. release of The Last Story at E3

Despite mentioning The Last Story earlier in the year, it was absent from E3. Only time will tell if that was because Nintendo had so much more going on or if they decided not to release it here.

Andrew 80% = -30

Graham 75% = -25

Shawn 60% = -10

Nintendo to announce U.S. release of Xenoblade at E3

Despite mentioning Xenoblade earlier in the year, it was absent from E3. Only time will tell if that was because Nintendo had so much more going on or if they decided not to release it here.

Andrew 80% = -30

Graham 80% = -30

Shawn 65% = -15

Gran Turismo 5 delayed until fall

Gran Turismo 5 quietly missed its spring window for release and was finally given a solid release date of November 2, 2010 during Sony’s E3 press conference.

Andrew 95% = +45

Graham 64% = +14

Shawn 65% = +15

Halo: Reach to be released September 21, 2010

Fortunately for Halo fans, and unfortunately for two of our panelists, Halo: Reach will be coming out a week earlier than we predicted, September 14, 2010.

Andrew 90% = -40

Graham 1% = -+49

Shawn 100% = -50

New Legend of Zelda to come out in U.S. in 2010

No, Zelda fans, Skyward Sword will not be coming out in 2010. However, Nintendo luckily provided us with a glut of other first-party games that should fill in the void for you.

Andrew 90% = -40

Graham 80% = -30

Shawn 85% = -35

Project Natal to launch before PlayStation Move

Both Microsoft and Sony announced the release dates for Kinect(formerly Project Natal) and Move as November 4 and September 17th, respectively, during E3.

Andrew 50% = 0

Graham 75% = -25

Shawn 70% = -20

ESPN to start streaming sporting events over the 360

This rumor had almost disappeared off our radar when Microsoft announced it during E3. Presumably showing up during the fall update, ESPN will be free to Xbox Live Gold members and feature over 3500 live events.

Andrew 85% = +35

Graham 85% = +35

Shawn 80% = +30

‘DS2’ will have GameCube-level graphics; otherwise be similar to DS

The star of E3, the 3DS, will indeed have at least GameCube-level graphics and be similar to the DS. In addition to having a touchscreen and dual screen support, it will add 3D graphics, without the need for glasses, and a motion sensor.

Andrew 60% = +10

Graham 85% = +35

Shawn 75% = +25

Sony debuting a premium PSN membership at E3

Sony did in fact announce a premium PSN membership, PlayStation Plus, at E3. It will be $20 for 3 months or $50 for 12 months and give you exclusive access to early betas, DLC, and demos. Additionally, it will give you free PSN and PSP games each month. The catch? You lose all those free games if you ever discontinue your membership.

Andrew 80% = +30

Graham 55% = +5

Eric 65% = +15

Announced 3DS launch lineup at E3 to include a core Mario or Zelda game

There has already been a huge list of launch games revealed for the 3DS, despite the fact that we do not yet know when it will come out. Among those? A 3D remake of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

Andrew 85% = +35

Graham 80% = +30

Eric 45% = -5

New hardware besides 3DS, Natal, Move, Vitality Sensor to debut at E3

Microsoft announced their new Xbox 360 Slim at their press conference. Just as the PSP Go was considered new hardware last year, the 360 Slim is considered this year’s surprise new hardware.

Andrew 5% = -45

Graham 30% = -20

Eric 20% = -30

Joy Ride to not be released in 2010

Joy Ride has been revamped to work with Kinect, and is expected to be part of the Kinect launch lineup in early November.

Andrew 5% = +45

Graham 10% = +40

Eric 5% = +45

Richard Branson to make an announcement at E3

As unlikely and out of left field as this rumor may have seemed, Richard Branson did indeed make an announcement at E3. He announced a new social gaming service that will be embedded into select games in the upcoming months.

Andrew 50% = 0

Graham 1% = -49

Eric 50% = 0

Shawn 35% = -15

Infamous 2 to be shown at E3

Infamous 2 almost seemed like a throw-in for Sony. It made one small appearance at the end of Sony’s press conference, with no mention other than to show a trailer. Despite this, it did indeed make an appearance, and that’s what this rumor was about.

Andrew 100% = +50

Graham 100% = +50

Eric 95% = +45

Shawn 95% = +45

Dead Space: Extraction to be ported to the Xbox 360

Oops. Dead Space: Extraction will not be ported to the Xbox 360, it will instead be ported to the PS3, made to work with the Move, and sold for free with the PS3 version of Dead Space 2. The good news is that is quite a deal for PS3 owners.

Andrew 80% = -30

Graham 70% = -20

Shawn 75% = -25

New James Bond game to be shown at E3

It may not be what people were expecting, but it was definitely something people have been wanting. Nintendo showed off a remake of Goldeneye at their press conference, finally giving people what they’ve been asking to see for years.

Andrew 70% = +20

Graham 75% = +25

Shawn 75% = +25

Portal 2 to open on PS3 after all

True to the rumors, Portal 2 was shown during Sony’s E3 press conference. It will be a full-length game, much to everyone’s delight, and it will indeed be showing up on both the 360 and the PS3.

Andrew 10% = -40

Graham 5% = -45

Shawn 75% = +25

Microsoft to announce Xbox 360 ‘Slim’ at E3

You heard it here first. Well, maybe you did. Microsoft announced their new 250GB Slimline 360 during their E3 press conference. Not only that, but it is already available in stores everywhere.

Andrew 70% = +20

Graham 70% = +20

Shawn 85% = +35

F.E.A.R. 3 to be released in 2010

At the Warner Brothers booth, F.E.A.R. 3 was put through its paces. It was also given a release date of October 1, 2010. Barring any delays, which we had plenty of last year, F.E.A.R. 3 should be scaring gamers everywhere come Halloween.

Andrew 40% = -10

Graham 50% = 0

Shawn 30% = -20


Queen to star in next band-specific Rock Band game

For the last couple years, MTV Games has gotten into the habit of releasing band specific games, starting with the Beatles: Rock Band and continuing with the just released Green Day: Rock Band. Though Green Day: Rock Band was just released, rumor has it that MTV Games is already hard at work wooing the next band they want to focus on- Queen.

Graham: Rock Band 3 is a masterpiece of a game, and this will be Harmonix’s focus for at least the rest of the year. It wouldn’t make much sense to have another band-specific announcement anytime soon, but then again, Green Day didn’t make much sense either. (The Beatles did, as they’re a juggernaut and the licensing worked out only as a standalone experience.) But didn’t Lego Rock Band already feature Queen? (The answer is yes. I wrote our review.) Add in SingStar: Queen, and I’m not sure there’s an untapped market here.   40%

Eric: Queen would be an excellent choice for a new Rock Band title, and with the huge number of hit songs the band produced it wouldn’t be hard to provide plenty of content (although quite a lot of Queen tracks have already been released for current Rock Band games). I’m not sure there are any sort of internal rumblings or anything of that nature to lend credence to this rumor, so I will have to throw it into the “good idea, but not sure” pile.  60%

Shawn: This is a rumor I really don’t care either way on, as I’ve never played any of the Rock Band games. [Editor’s note: Seriously? We must rectify this.] Queen does seem to fill the requisite requirements for their own Rock Band game though. Tons of great songs and a large following should ensure they get a game at some point. Whether it will be Rock Band or Guitar Hero though? I’ve no idea.65%

3DS to have a ‘simultaneous US-Japan launch’

With no release date given for the 3DS at E3, gamers were left wondering when exactly they would be able to get their hands on this exciting new handheld from Nintendo. Rumors have the 3DS launching anywhere from November 2010 to June 2011, but few have speculated on what we at Snackbar Games consider very important. Will we finally get a Nintendo handheld system at the same time as Japan? Well, we bring you this exclusive rumor that the US and Japan will have ‘simultaneous’ launches of the 3DS within 3 weeks of each other. Fact or fiction? Only Nintendo knows at this point.

Graham: It’s likely, but not guaranteed. Certainly we’ve gotten things pretty quickly lately, but I don’t think it would be a choice for Nintendo. More likely, it would be a matter of making sure one region has enough units at launch, and it could take a month or so before it hits other regions. If that happens, it’s going to be a tough month for me, as I’ll have to resist importing it. 70%

Eric: Nintendo has been doing a pretty good job of releasing most of their games simultaneously, or at least really close together, in Japan and North America. In addition, there was only a month or two delay between the releases of the both the Wii and the DS (in favor of North America). So if we are taking “simultaneous” to mean within three weeks, I think the chances are pretty good. I’m not quite sure why everyone expects the 3DS to launch in Japan first, anyway. 75%

Shawn: I would love for this rumor to be true. What’s more, I think it will be. Nintendo finally thinks enough of the US that they actually launched the Wii in the US before Japan. Because of this, I suspect we may actually see the 3DS a week or two before Japan. 85%


3DS to cost more than $200

The other important information Nintendo saw fit to keep quiet for now is how much the 3DS will actually set gamers back. To try to solve this riddle we look at Nintendo’s history of pricing their new hardware. The various incarnations of the DS have actually gotten more expensive as time has gone by. The DS launched at $150, the DSi launched at $170, and the DSi XL launched at $190. With that in mind, is it possible that the 3DS may actually break the $200 mark and launch at a higher price point than the Wii currently has?

Graham:  To me, there are two potential prices for the 3DS: $199 and $249. With the hints Reggie has been dropping about how the system costs more than the DSi XL and that they won’t sell at a loss, I’m leaning towards $249. That, and after the experience the company had with the Wii getting marked up so much on eBay last time, they’ll want a bigger slice from early adopters. And they’ll get it. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a price drop within the first year though, as demand normalizes. 70% 

Eric: We all know that Nintendo is very good at being fiscally conservative when they design their hardware, and Iwata has stated that they do not plan to sell the 3DS at a loss. I think that, given the technology and the increased development cost of the system, we are most likely going to see the 3DS launch at a pricepoint at or above $200. However, I do not think it will cost more than $250, so I expect the price to fall somewhere within that range. Either way the 3DS is definitely going to be Nintendo’s most expensive handheld ever. 90%

Shawn: I think it is very likely that the 3DS will break the $200 mark for a couple reasons. First, it is much more advanced than the DSi XL, which already goes for $190. Second, even if Nintendo prices it at $230 or $250, it will still be in the same price range as the PSP. Not that it really matters. The DS is still selling like hotcakes, and I expect the 3DS to do the same no matter what the price is. 90% 

Managing Editor Graham Russell got an in-depth look at Firaxis’ upcoming strategy game at E3. Here are his impressions.

As we walked out of the Civilization V demo at 2K’s E3 booth, we were each handed a small button with “CivAnon” written on it.  For the uninitiated, CivAnon is the name of the fictional support group in advertisements for the game, where addicted gamers bemoan the loss of their lives to the strategic juggernaut that is Civ. 

You know, after seeing the innovations and enhancements the new Civ will bring, I think I may need some help myself. READ MORE

Standing in line for Donkey Kong Country Returns at Nintendo’s E3 booth, I heard the strangest thing. The guy in front of me was trying out a level, and the Nintendo rep was explaining the game’s new co-op mode.

“Wait, the original game didn’t have co-op?”

The guy was a fellow journalist, and explained that he played the previous games — all three of them. He said he remembered the game playing just as this demo did. The rep said that the original, while supporting two players, was alternating. It didn’t allow for simultaneous play.

Then he paused for a second.

“I guess you’re right,” he said. “It didn’t, did it?”

And that was it. For this man, Donkey Kong Country Returns hit the exact spot a retro revival needs to. It felt more like the original did than the original does now.

This year’s E3 was full of attempts at retro revivals. In addition to DKC Returns, there was a new Goldeneye, a new NBA Jam, a new Sonic and even a new Twisted Metal. And they’re just the latest batch of games trying to rekindle the excitement of days past. It’s important, because the excitement’s not there anymore.

“I’m not so sure about GoldenEye, man. That game isn’t as fun as people remember.”

I was standing in a local game store, as I do from time to time, talking about E3 with the store’s manager. He was excited about many things, but skeptical about the 007 revival, and he had a point. Just try going back to the N64 game now…it’s practically unplayable. The controls are clunky, the levels are uninspired and the multiplayer just doesn’t hold up by today’s standards. Everyone still has a warm, fuzzy feeling about it though.

Yet there I was, explaining how it was much better than this manager was expecting. “Oddjob, man. Oddjob.” The notoriously short character was the bane of my existence in multiplayer matches — unless, of course, I was playing him. The later Bond games, even those with Oddjob as a character, never really captured that feeling you got when taking on the little guy and the satisfaction that came when you took him down. “Remember how that felt? It’s back,” I said.

It’s all about the imperfection of memory. The challenge is not, as people think, recreating the original game as accurately as possible. It’s about recreating the experience while improving things as much as you can to meet the standards that, over time, grow even loftier.

NBA Jam is a game that holds a special place for me. I can never explain it; I can clearly tell that it’s not the best game ever, but for some reason if someone asks me what my favorite game of all time is, that’s the one. (The SNES Tournament Edition, specifically.) The series suffered over the years until its demise, and the announcement of a revival warmed my heart. I had my Super Nintendo with multitap at the ready, and I pulled it out for a few sessions before the expo. I knew it could be my last chance to enjoy the game as I once did, before the new title skewed my expectations. So it was fresh in my mind when I went hands-on at EA’s booth.

“It’s great that they brought the 2D heads back. They have so much personality! I missed that.”

I was going to correct my opponent on this. The original didn’t have these crazy faces, I thought. In fact, you could rarely, if ever, distinguish any faces at all. It didn’t seem the appropriate thing to do at the time, though, as his Clippers were crushing my Bobcats by a good fifteen points in the second quarter. (I get the feeling the home team won’t be my mainstay like it was with Mourning, Johnson and the ’94 Hornets.) But he was right in one way. The crazy heads, an addition that seemed strange in initial screenshots, just felt right in motion. So did the new dribble move, which certainly wasn’t there in the original.  

Contrast this to NBA Unrivaled, Tecmo’s 2009 attempt to bring back its basketball heritage. Or the new Tecmo Bowl. They don’t play like you remember. Which is admittedly strange, since they do play like the old ones. Exactly like the old ones. Even Sonic 4, the Mega Man 9-like revival of the beloved Genesis franchise, is experiencing a fairly lukewarm reception given the years of anticipation. It’s the same game. We want games that are just as good, and like it or not, standards change.

We have a deluge of games ahead of us that will try to scratch that nostalgic itch. Some, like the new Kid Icarus, aren’t at all like the originals, but that doesn’t seem to bother anyone. Others, like Twisted Metal, are maybe a bit too much like the old games — or at least, that’s what it seems. The art of the retro revival is upgrading a game without anyone noticing. It’s a tough one to master.