PlayStation 2

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.

Iridium Runners has two things working against it right out of the gate. First, it’s a PS2 game. It takes a big, impressive title to make people consider stepping back a console generation and picking up a bargain bin game. Second, Iridium Runners is a piece of new intellectual property in a genre dominated by Nintendo’s Mario Kart: the arcade racer.

Iridium Runners doesn’t throw too many curve balls at you. There are multiple characters whose stats differ, and some characters are better suited to certain tracks than others. There are power-ups to be grabbed and launched at your opponents. Lastly, Iridium Runners features the standard laundry list of game modes that any kart racer has: single race, career, collect stuff on the track, elimination, and split-screen multiplayer.

Where Iridium Runners carves out a niche of its own though is its light platforming and mandatory iridium collection. Contestants need iridium to enable boost, but that’s not all it is used for. Iridium is also drained by the simple process of running so laps around IR’s tracks are an amalgamation of Mario Kart’s “shoot, drive, and slide your way across the line” and Gauntlet‘s “collect food if you want to live” gameplay concepts. Setting itself apart from the pack even further racers in Iridium Runners don’t have go-karts, bicycles, or futuristic cars to race around in; they’re all running around on foot. It’s just like gym class when you were a kid – except for the missiles, shields, pits, futuristic setting, and acceptability of punching an opponent to make him fall in one of the aforementioned pits. Most arcade racers feature weapons, but not since Road Rash and Bully have I been able to punch the jerk next to me as retaliation for trying to run me off the track.

Where Iridium Runners really shines though is the multiplayer. Sure, it’s funny to throw a blue shell up Bowser’s tail pipe and fly from fourth to first in a matter of seconds in Mario Kart, but the payoff of melee attacks combined with the risk of being in close proximity to fellow racers makes the combat in Iridium Runners different and refreshing. If you’ve got a multitap IR supports up to four players, and you’re missing out on the best part of the game if you’re playing alone.

Iridium Runners is great for what it is: a budget-priced racer on an aging console. If you’ve got a spare $15 and want a new game in your local versus rotation then Iridium Runners is a solid choice.

Metal Gear Solid is the quintessential spy game, so for anyone who missed out on the MGS phenomenon, this is a great chance to catch up on some great video game history. The Metal Gear Solid series has the subtitle of “Tactical Espionage Action,” and it’s an apt description.

For those not in the know, the Metal Gear Solid series involves the player taking on the role of a special operations agent named Solid Snake, in the cases of MGS1 and 2, and the CIA agent Naked Snake in the case of MGS3. The games revolve around stealth and infiltration. MGS1 finds Snake making his way into a nuclear weapons facility on a fictional island off the coast of Alaska; MGS2 involves nuclear weaponry again, but throws in the twist of Russian terrorists trying to get hold of said weapon. MGS3 takes a step back to the series origins and introduces Naked Snake, who would later go on to become the infamous Big Boss.

The games involve sneaking from location to location while the player tries to avoid being spotted by an enemy. When spotted, enemies send the game into “Alert” mode, where Snake has to evade enemies as long as possible and send them into “Caution” mode, where patrols a bit tighter and in greater numbers, and then until the patrols revert back to normal status where it’s easier to sneak around again. Between bouts of sneaking through bases and the wilds are boss fights. The most notable boss fights from each game, in a matter of opinion, are Revolver Ocelot in MGS1, the Harrier in MGS2, and The Boss in MGS3.

Now, it’s possible to just gush over how great Metal Gear Solid is, because, well, it is, but the Essential Collection has some fundamental flaws. It works best to address the shortcomings of each game on its own, so here goes.

The version of MGS1 included in the collection is the PS1 version, so it’s lacking a bit in the graphics department. It’s not that big of a deal that the game shows its age, but it would have been a lot nicer had it been a port of the GameCube version, The Twin Snakes, which is the original remade using the MGS2 engine. A number of years ago, the game was released in a special package called Metal Gear Solid Integral that never made it to the US, with an extra included disc with all kinds of VR missions, which were great fun. MGS VR Missions was released later on down the road in the US, and it’s sadly absent from this collection. It was easy to waste hours on end trying to best scores for sneaking times and enemy elimination training. Also, since the game is its original PS1 version, if you don’t own a PS1 memory cards or a PS3 with backwards compatibility, then it’s an impossibility to save the game. Strike one.

The version of MGS2 is the re-release Metal Gear Solid 2 Substance. It includes a slew of VR missions with a total of six playable characters, as well as the Snake Tales side story, which allows the plot between the Tanker Chapter and the Big Shell Chapter to be filled in. Also included is the popular skateboarding minigame where either Snake or Raiden shred their way across Big Shell racking up points from stunts and collecting different items. The drawbacks to this version of Substance are the inability to post high scores from the VR missions online, as Konami’s old Substance site has been down for quite a number of years now. The game also lacks the Document of Metal Gear Solid 2 which, while was not part of the original Substance, came out when MGS2‘s original installment Sons of Liberty was first available. It certainly would have added quite a bit to the collection. Strike two.

MGS3 consists of the first disc of its re-release Subsistence. The Subsistence disc includes a special mode with background information to better set up the plot of the game. It also includes a “Demo Theater” which allows access to any one of the game’s cutscenes at any time. The game entirely lacks the Persistence disc from the previous release of Subsistence, as well as the Existence disc from the Limited Edition. While the omission of the Existence disc can be overlooked due to the Subsistence disc’s Demo Theater, the lack of the Persistence disc is inexcusable. Persistence included the popular “Snake VS Monkey” minigame that crossed over with the Ape Escape franchise, the Duel mode which allowed the player to fight any of the bosses at any time, the ability to play the two original Metal Gear games, and other extras. The original Persistence disc granted access to Metal Gear Online. Last year in April, the MGO servers were taken down, rendering that game mode completely useless. Many fans believe the shutdown of MGO to be responsible for the Essential Collection‘s lack of the Persistence disc, which is no excuse at all. Strike three.

It’s hard to completely write off this collection because the games in it are so great, but it has so many shortcomings that just add up and make it difficult to say whether it’s worth owning. The Japanese version of the collection had some different extras such as the aforementioned lack of the original two Metal Gear games and the Document of Metal Gear Solid 2, as well as the very informative and interesting Metal Gear Saga DVD, and MGS Portable Ops for the PSP. With the exception of PSP games being an entirely different media, it’s hard to imagine that this collection would likely have worked better as a PS3 release on a single Blu-Ray disc.

So should you get this collection? A diehard fan would likely say no, as it exhibits a serious lack of time and effort on Konami’s part. For those who’ve not really experienced the Metal Gear franchise, this would be a great way to get into the series if you’re looking for a basic package.

Collectible card games are a tried and true genre that have become essential in the world of table top and video games alike. Konami’s latest entry into the Yu-Gi-Oh franchise is no exception, as evidenced by Yu-Gi-Oh! GX The Beginning of Destiny.

This review will spare all the dirty details of the gameplay, being that the core mechanics of all recent Yu-Gi-Oh games have been the standard tabletop simulation of the game. Essentially, if you’ve played a previous game in the series or played the actual card game, you’ll be able to jump right into it without any trouble. For those who are new to the game, there is a nice tutorial mode that outlines the game’s rules in great detail.

The premise of the game is that the player takes on the role of a new student in Seto Kaiba’s Duel Academy. The flow of gameplay entails going to school each day, taking tests, and meeting the other students. Before you write it off, the length of time spent in “class” is brief, and the first week is basically used to give instructions on how to play the card game. This passage of time is similar to that of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX Duel Academy on the GBA, with monthly exams in which you prove your knowledge and skill of the card game to try and increase your academic standing.

The player’s character enters the school under the rank Slifer Red. From there, the aforementioned exams give you the chance to advance to Ra Yellow or Obelisk Blue, bettering your “rep” with the other characters. Outside of the card game, there’s a sort of RPG dynamic where you walk around on a map, talking with the different characters in the Academy. You can chat with them about their interests and try and make friends with them, so they’ll be more willing to duel. It doesn’t really seem to serve much purpose aside from giving the player others to interact with, but it’s a nice enough touch.

As the player progresses, the plot emerges, which is the premise of the show’s first season: the evil Shadow Riders emerge to try and take over the Duel Academy and resurrect their master Kagemaru and the three beasts of legend, Raviel the Lord of Phantasms, Hamon the Lord of Striking Thunder, and Uria the Lord of Searing Flame.

Even though it’s more of the same of the tabletop simulator, the card games themselves are spiced up with dialog and animations of the duelists showing their stuff, and some of the monsters even get some nice CG FMVs when they attack/draw/activate cards/etc. Outside of gameplay, one of the nice touches is that if a player connects a PSP running Yu-Gi-Oh! GX Tag Force 2, the game gives them a nice little starting bonus of 10000 DP on both games, which can be used in the in-game card shop to buy new cards, as well as giving three bonus cards.

There are a number of fundamental flaws with this game. The first is multiplayer. Where is it? The game case claims to be “1-2 Players,” but none of the in-game menus any kind of multiplayer options, nor is there any detail on it in the game’s very sparse manual. Some clarification on how to enable that would be nice.

The connectivity bonuses with Tag Force 2 are about all the game has to offer. Everything else aside, this game is nothing more than a port of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX Tag Force, the first game for the PSP. What’s more, the original Japanese version of the games had voice acting during the duels when the characters appear onscreen to make their moves. The absence of the original Japanese voices from the game isn’t so much a bother as is the fact that there were no English voices put in their place; so while the animations are fun to watch, they feel rather lackluster.

In summation, the dueling element of the game is pretty solid and emulates the tabletop game, as well as the show, quite nicely; but the game still feels far from complete. If you’re a hardcore fan of the series, it’s at least worth checking out if you skipped over Tag Force on the PSP. For everyone else, it’ll likely fall flat. For those who choose to check it out, get ready to “get your game on!”

Trying to capitalize on vehicles that you wouldn’t normally play in a racing game, MX vs. ATV: Untamed takes dirt bikes, ATVs, and Monster Trucks and pits them against each other to create an arcade racer that strives to be more.

The game’s biggest perk is the sheer amount of vehicles and play modes available. ATVs handle differently than dune buggies and indoor arena tracks are a world apart from the outdoor rally. Perks end there, though. The game quickly devolves into an average experience as the thrill of taking a jump leads to the inevitable crashing down to earth because you didn’t hit the lip of the ramp correctly. Moreover, the developers attempted to walk a specific line with physics and controls that lands somewhere between technical simulation racing and arcade; what they end up with is an unbalanced feel to the game. They should have chosen physics or arcade only, and stuck with it.

You can tell the developers were trying to get the best of both worlds and they mostly succeed with a lot of quick action and forgiving turns that make the game easy to pick up but occasionally the developers threw in some technical details that may frustrate players on both ends of the spectrums. Jumps are especially tricky and unforgiving; if you have any momentum approaching a ramp you need to steer the L3 control before and during the actual jump to land correctly, or suffer the ensuing crash. Add to that the random hazards such as water or snow on the course and winning a race is really a tricky endeavor. Ultimately, the gameplay proves to be too weak for the hardcore racer looking for Motorstorm action and too frustrating for the casual gamer looking for a beefed up Mario Kart.

Graphically the PS2 wins on this multiplatform entry; riders and terrain are slightly blocky but are better than a lot of the newer same-system titles. The PS2 also allows for customization to your vehicles as you progress, giving you options for new designs and sponsor logos. Multiplayer handles two players on the game or races of up to 6 players online, but beyond that there isn’t much to online functionality.

If you are looking for a no-brainer racer that gives you fast action and even faster crashes you have come to the right place. If you are looking for a technical racer and tricks then you might find some of that here, but probably not in the form you are going to enjoy.