Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Dragon has Landed!

So, I'm walking in the door on this wickedly freezing day and the Fed Ex guy pops up out of nowhere from behind me and almost scares me to death with his big grin and package waving ways. Seems I was his last stop and he was more than happy to see me, as it meant he got to finally go home.

Anyway, my review copy of Divinity II Ego Draconis hath arrived, so I now have New Year's Eve plans. Yeesh - I KNEW I should have finished that preview a few weeks back!

Tempus Fugit, that's for damn sure!

Ah well. Early impressions from the preview builds: the game is pretty damn good. The final versions should be better. Off to get in some more flight time... Back in a bit with an update.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Review: Dragon Age: Origins

Platform: PS3, Xbox 360

Developer: BioWare

Publisher: EA

# of Players: 1

Rating: M (Mature)

Official Site

Score: A

Has BioWare ever made a bad game? I'm inclined to shout a defiant "No" towards the heavens, as I've enjoyed everything they've ever done, warts and all. Hell, I may be somewhat biased here, but at least I'm definitely right (that's a little in-joke, by the way). Anyway, in terms of their RPG output, the company has a superb track record with everything from the Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale games to Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire and even Sonic Chronicles: the Dark Brotherhood. Of course, their two current console projects, the upcoming Mass Effect 2 and the recently released Dragon Age: Origins will be the games on RPG fans' lips and minds for quite some time thanks to the developer's ability to craft completely different sub-genres while consistently bringing gamers superb storytelling and deep, challenging gameplay.

The game works almost perfectly as it delivers a completely new IP onto the scene with plenty of dramatic flourish, dynamic combat and a deeply engrossing storyline that absolutely begs for a sequel. No matter which of the six story lines you delve into the game just soars. Once you're hooked you in for one tale, you just HAVE to replay it as another character (or have two or more save files going) just so you can experiment with every dialog response, every choice until you've exhausted your options and see just how characters major and minor react. Your chosen hero or heroine is customizable, standard fare for any decent RPG these days. Once that's done (or you pick a pre-made avatar), you'll guide your hero or heroine through their lengthy quest chock full of events that make each play through unique.

With well over 60 hours of gameplay here for each character plus some great additional download content available right from the game's launch (and more on the way), hardcore RPG fans won't be coming up for air for quite some time. New players may feel a bit swarmed by what's here, but the very handy tutorials and wealth of other reading material will get them up to speed and coming back for more in short order. There's actually so much stuff to read (and all of it important or informative) that you'll absolutely want to play this on an HD setup. Running DA:O on a standard definition TV will have you breaking out the reading glasses AND a pair of binoculars.

In the game, your character is selected to become a Grey Warden (a legendary group of skilled warriors chosen from all walks of life) as a massive horde of demons known as Darkspawn reappears and resumes their terrorizing ways throughout the kingdom of Ferelden. How and why each character is chosen as a Warden makes up the introductory section and after a bit of exploration and exposition, the game world opens up. As you set out with a few new companions to put an end to the Darkspawn blight and the Archdemon leading them, you'll run into quite a few folks that can use a bit of heroic help. Your other party members may include a sultry forest witch, an elf assassin, a stoic warrior type, a drunken elf and others, but depending on how you interact with some of these characters, you can choose to drop them from your party forever or never get them to join at all.

As ou meet up and recruit characters, you'll find yourself growing attached to some and possibly ignoring others. This is a bad idea, as everyone is useful to some extent and there's nothing worse than jumping into battle with a few guys or gals you ignored because you didn't like their starting skills. Not only can some members only equip certain magical gear, having certain party members in certain areas can unlock new quests, dialog options or even a special skill or two. Let's just say if you're a dog's best friend, poke around for certain trees that will give your pet a nice advantage in combat.

If you've played Mass Effect, you'll notice similarities in how BioWare's brilliant storytelling such as the branching conversation paths and the possibilities of romantic couplings with certain party members under the proper circumstances. Finding and giving gifts to your teammates unlocks new skills and more of their stories, which also leads to new quests most of the time. There's no “pure” good or evil path here and other than how your party and a few other characters react to your decisions, you won't feel as if you've done something “wrong” if you decide to play the game as a pure saint or a total bastard. The extremely well-written script offers up some great dialog and as you travel throughout the nicely-sized game world, some of the conversations your companions have with you and each other are priceless, informative and often hilarious.

Combat can be tackled as real-time hacking and spellcasting, but you can also pause the action and input commands for each party member, much like in BioWare's other RPGs. Things can get really hectic in some large scale battles and it would have been nice to have the ability for some sort of multiplayer mode where up to four players could dive in together on one screen. On the other hand, the game has a few areas (particularly during the last epic battles) where a multiplayer mode would be a bit impossible to manage. There's a great series of fights where you'll get to "command" units and fight side by side with them against waves of Darkspawn and I'd imagine how tough that would be to pull off with four live players and dozens of other AI units fighting it out. You'd be hearing stories of real people rolling on the floor in living rooms all around the world.

Now, where was I? Right - As you're limited to four active members in your party, deciding whom to select is part of the fun. In some areas, having certain party members around allows access to locked chests or doors. If you consider yourself a treasure hunter supreme, I'd recommend playing as a Rogue if you want easy access to a great deal of chests in the game's beginning stages, but if you want to be a Warrior of Mage, go for it. Just don't expect those chests to magically open themselves. The fact that you can't go back to certain areas is a bit annoying, but once you start seeing all the cool gear that shows up at your camp shop and in other places in the game, you really won't miss those earlier chests.

The game's world map initially seems massive, but compared to other recent RPGs, there are actually only a few locations to explore along with a number of combat-focused areas you'll only get to visit once. To spice things up, you'll be able to take on guild quests as well as run into the occasional random over world map battle. Some of these mid to late game side quests can actually be more brutal than a few of the bosses in the main storyline. The dungeons and majority of other areas you move about in are pretty expansive, nicely designed and packed to the gills with everything from undead, giant spiders and later on more than a few dragons of different sizes.

In terms of difficulty, new players can stick to the easier modes, but hardcore RPG fans will want to crank the challenge up so fights don't fly by in a few button presses. If a character falls in battle, they're only lost for the duration of that fight and revived afterward. Of course, getting all your party members knocked out is an automatic Game Over and a trip to a previous save. Bumping up the difficulty is more rewarding in terms of experience gained, but the game has a number of very brutal bosses that can wipe the floor with an unprepared party on the easiest setting. If you love playing the "tank", you'd best have some great mages and ranged weapon users in your team, as status effects and the occasional powerful knockdown are commonplace when things get up close and personal.

Presentation here is mostly stellar on both consoles, with the PS3 getting the slight advantage. The visuals are pretty solid, with some grand in-game engine movies, beautifully detailed characters and plenty of lovely environments. Unfortunately, you'll also see some graphics glitches (mild clipping issues plus textures and the occasional background popping in) and hear the occasional sound drop during extended dialog sequences. However, the technical issues don't destroy the illusion of the richly detailed world BioWare has crafted. Still, picky purists will whine a bit about things not being “perfect” all the way through. The game nabs a Mature rating for a ton of blood, a bit of mild (but still not for the kiddies) sexuality and some rough language. I'd say some of the dialog and plot surprises are where the real M-rated content lie.

As for the game being "shocking" in its depictions of characters having desires for one another, all this fuss over sexual content in video games has been so overblown (well, unless you've got a copy of Pocket Pool for the PSP) that when you finally do get to the naughty bits here, you may be disappointed. Then again, if you need a video game to get your kicks that way, you really need to get outside more. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the sound effects, music and voice acting are all stellar, pulling you into the game world for a near-perfect aural experience. Those pesky sound drops that take place are a bit of a letdown, but never a game-killing blow at all. There's so much spoken dialog in the game that you get used to hearing everyone speak all the time and when the conversation abruptly cuts out, it's jarring.

Despite the sound flaws and occasional graphics hitches, the overall experience is consistently grand and yes, epic. I ask again, Has BioWare ever made a bad game? After about a dozen years of personal experience playing hit after hit, I certainly can't think of one. With Dragon Age: Origins, BioWare continues its long-running streak of solid, high quality epic role-playing experiences with yet another deep and incredibly addictive time eating monster gaming experience that's going to please genre fans new and old alike. Like any great story, the game is always highly compelling and rarely misses a thematic beat throughout. There's so much content packed onto the disc that it's almost overwhelming, but you'll find yourself staying up “just one more hour...” each time you step into the rich world the dev team has created.

If you're a huge fan of Western-style RPGs (hell, ANY type of RPG) and want something that's going to be expanded upon in DLC as well as sequels down the road, definitely make this one a purchase. The Grey Wardens, whose local chapter just so happens to be your nearby game shop or other retailer that sells Dragon Age: Origins are waiting patiently. Or maybe not so patiently... those Darkspawn certainly aren't going to kill themselves, that's for sure...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Review: Torchlight

Platform: PC

Developer: Runic Games

Publisher: Perfect World Entertainment/Encore

# of Players: 1


Official Site

Score: A-

The joke's on me, folks. When I first heard about Torchlight late last year, I somehow managed to get it confused with Twilight AND Torchwood and it immediately got ignored. Sorry, but I'm not a 13-year old girl with a vampire death wish on one hand and while I do like Torchwood a lot, a licensed game based on the series made me shudder a bit for all the wrong reasons. Anyway (and, yes. a BIG duh to the me), I happened to pop open a recent press release about the game a few months back and was pleasantly shocked and surprised that not only wasn't this a licensed game, it was in my favorite genre AND it was looking quite like a spectacular sleeper, to boot.

So, how did it all turn out? Read on and see...

Torchlight is one of the best game surprises of 2009, period. In a year with far too many many well-hyped huge budgeted games with needless midnight launches and ridiculously priced limited edition packaging, Runic Games has created a simple, gorgeous, elegant and near perfect economy priced hack and slash that's a more than solid time killer for fans of the genre. Everything from the great cartoon graphics to the addictive gameplay work extremely well in pulling you into the game for that "one more level" experience that will keep you up into the wee hours and beyond. While the game currently has no support for multiplayer, Runic is indeed working on adding the feature for a future update. As it stands, this is one of those great games that will keep you busy enough without having a friend or six along for the ride.

If the game looks and plays (to those out there less familiar with games such as Rogue or Nethack) very much like a Diablo or Fate clone, well... it is. But this is in no way a bad thing, particularly since the game takes what's best about both of those games and adds its own fine touches. Runic is made up of folks who've worked on both games and they've taken the best elements of both, tweaked them out and added more overall polish. In terms of story, you're not going into this one for a spectacularly scripted plot or dialog that's going to make you break out the Kleenex, that's for sure. Expect some of the usual RPG suspects with a slight twist. You pick and play as one of three different character classes who finds him (or her) self in the tiny little mining village of Torchlight, where something down in the mines is causing a bit of trouble. There's more about a blight, lots of demons to exterminate and a mad scientist/wizard type as the main villain, but going into more detail isn't really necessary. However, the game does just enough with what's here to keep you going deeper and deeper into dungeon after dungeon.

There are only three character types to choose from (Vanquisher, Destroyer, Alchemist) and other than the seemingly endless tons of gear you'll find, you can't change their faces or body types. To those who crave more in-depth fiddling, this might seem like a reason to NOT want this game. On the other hand, it's an dirt clever means of getting you to just pick a hero and jump into the action feet first. Runic keeps the exposition light enough and short enough that you're off killing monsters as quickly as possible (long loading times aside, but I'll get to that later). Dungeons are big enough to require a few glances at the mini-map, yet they don't drag on and on because you're almost always fighting something every few paces, including powerful sub-bosses and boss-like creatures that even early on, can dish out some major damage on the harder difficulty levels.

If you've never played this type of game previously, you can jump right in and get clicking, thanks to the great tutorials that pop up whenever you do something new. Veterans of this style of game can of course, toggle these tips off, but it's just fun to read them and see when and where they show up. Like Fate, you can take a pet into the dungeons who can not only fight with you, it can also act as a pack mule and personal selling assistant when you need to clear out your inventory. Unlike Fate: The Traitor Soul and its wider variety of pets, you're limited to a dog or cat here. However, unlike Fate, Torchlight allows for your pet to cast any spells in the game you can, which makes fighting against groups of enemies or tough bosses a bit less daunting.

Killing monsters will often have them drop plenty of choice loot, which is of course, the main reason many players will be diving into these dungeons again and again. The game allows for enchantments to items (courtesy of a village wizard) that add new powers, boost your stats and even beef up your hit points to some incredible numbers. Your pet can also wear rings, necklaces and earrings (an element borrowed from the Fate games), making for one blinged-out companion. You can't see these items ON your pet, mind you. Somehow, a dog or cat with gold caps on its grille and a big diamond ring or necklace doesn't exactly scream "fantasy RPG", so I'm glad Runic didn't decide to extend that level of detail to the feline and canine side of things.

One other thing Torchlight does a lot better than Diablo and Fate is inventory. Every item takes up a single slot in your pack, your pet's pack and your town storage (hoo-freakin' raaaay!) AND you have a shared storage chest should you, a family member or whomever else decide to play as a second or third character. No Plug Y, ATMA or other muling mods are required, although it would have been nice to see the option for multiple pages in both storage chests for us hoarders out there. Given the wealth of weaponry, armor and trinkets to wear plus the ability to buy more rear random gear from a few folks you come across in town or in the dungeons, all that space seems like not enough after about two hours of play. Still, you'll learn to distinguish between good gear, great gear and crap gear in no time. Then again, there's always those enchantments I noted above...

Oh, did I mention you can fish in the game? Yes, it's a simplistic mouse-clicking mini-game that's exactly the same as the one in the Fate series. But it's pretty cool to get special fish that can transform your pet into a powerhouse for a few minutes at a time. When transformed, your pet can still cast spells, go into town to sell items and in general, be just as useful as it is normally. Of course, those added bonus skills gained from transforming makes for a pretty sweet bonus. Being able to blast poison, ice, lightning or whatever else at a pack of angry skeletons of walking tree-things of assorted sizes is pretty darn handy. If your pet gets too wounded, it will flee the scene, so you'll want to have enough healing items for the both of you.

Visually, the game is a total knockout. The dark, stylized "Disney-like" art style fits like a glove and between the great animation and outstanding details everywhere, the game never fails to constantly impress. Things such as how different headgear affects the hair of characters who have it, the way your avatar moves, idles and attacks all make the hours slide by faster than you'll care to admit. Runic not only took a chance here by not following "today's standards" in graphics (*yawn*), they've also quietly raised the bar on just how well stylized graphics CAN and should be utilized by a lot more developers in different types of games. I was less than a minute into the game and so floored by the presentation that I wondered out loud just why the heck it's taking Blizzard so long to crank out Diablo III (well, other than making sure it's going to be a big and perfect online/offline beast that's tested to death and beyond).

The game does suffer a bit from a small set of monster types and yes, although the environments are gorgeous and lushly colored like huge, hand-painted 3D backdrops, there are only a few different types with some random maps that repeat. Nevertheless, the color usage and lighting are brilliant and the game actually takes on a darker palette and overall tone the lower you descend. If you didn't think shades of dark blue, purple, red, pink and black weren't all that sinister before, you will when you start hitting the last portion of the game. In addition to the regular story maps, you can buy random maps from the magic items seller in town that extend the game almost indefinitely. It's here that you'll find the most repetition in dungeon layout and it's something I'd love to see Runic add to in the next update. The music is also solid, with a mix of quiet village stuff and slightly more rousing dungeon tunes that don't go overboard while they embed themselves into your brain after a few hours of play.

Alright, the game both looks great and plays great... but how does it perform? Very darn good overall despite a few issues. System requirements are super low, yet the game ran on everything I tried it on, from a 4-year old XP PC with a 2-year old Nvidia card to a more current gaming laptop of a friend I convinced to try the game despite him not being a RPG fan (or much of a gamer, for that matter). He was hooked in by the art style and after a few hours, I got an email asking "why did you DO this to me?!!!", which cracked me up, a I was deep into another eight-hour grind-fest marathon using purchased maps to kill up new loot drops.

There are a few knocks to the game, however. As noted above, depth is more limited to the dungeons than the plot, so other than one or two twists that make you go "Hmmm....", you won't be moved much by what happens. On the technical side, un-patched, there are a few annoying bugs and yes, those pesky loading times can be tortuously long. How long, you ask? Long enough to make you think the game has crashed and hung up on a load screen when your start, end or enter certain dungeons. There's a recent patch (as well as a relatively simple fix available that involves unpacking, renaming and moving a file around) that takes care of the loading issue, unless your system has low virtual minimum memory (or you really hate fiddling with your game or system folders).

Granted, NO game is flawless, especially in this day and age of even console games requiring patches and updates. Still, what's here works so well that any bugs that did slip by are so easily forgivable. Runic has been addressing the technical problems and if you poke around on the official forums, you'll see a few player solutions that not only help out, they can actually make your PC run better in the process. Back to the good stuff, I haven't even discussed the excellent TorchED game editor or the healthy amount of user-created mods already available. Some are great, some need work - it's like any other mod community out there packed with folks who've fallen in love with the game and want to cook up their own creative content. Although, if you think about it long enough, making a Diablo-style HUD or other mod that turns what's here into a older game is sort of going backwards... but hey, it's a free country (and so are the mods).

My one BIG wish for Torchlight is not for some sort of super huge MMO mode down the road, but for Runic to somehow bring this game to consoles in some form or another once their multiplayer plans are set. Not only would PS3, 360 and possibly Wii owners be getting a game in a genre that doesn't exactly have a whole lot of new releases dropping from the heavens, with solid co-op and online play (plus larger maps to accommodate the hordes who want to hop on board the bandwagon), it would be a hit from day one. Granted, a console version on a disc would cost a bit more than the twenty bucks the game is currently priced at. However, I'd bet the farm that the game would be a total smash across the board if it's easy to control and has even more content made available via download at some point. Anyway, my suggestion to Runic is to contact the good folks at Splitfish and see about getting FragFX (and some sort of USB keyboard) support for a console version so PC players won't automatically whine about their version being the better-controlling one. Then again, both the PS3 and 360 support USB keyboards and mice, so it's a no-brainer if funding can be acquired for a console port...

In the meantime, if you have a PC and play games on it, by all means, go BUY Torchlight NOW. Your support for this product will not only make Runic smile, it'll help them make the game even better in the near future. With Diablo II seemingly ages and a day from completion, Torchlight will not only make you forget all about Blizzard while you're waiting, it'll be the first game its fans think of when they finally do play DIII. Beautiful, brilliant and highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

TRON: Evolution Teaser Trailer

Hmmm... This definitely looks pretty interesting and it's a great teaser, for sure. I'm ancient enough to recall seeing the original film a few times during it's first run back in 1982 and catching it on cable as many times as possible back in the day. Propaganda Games might have a sleeper here, provided the game goes beyond what the film brings to the table.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Review: Food Network: Cook or Be Cooked

Platform: Nintendo Wii

Developer: Red Fly Studio

Publisher: Namco Bandai

# of Players
: 1-2

Rating: E

Official Site

Score: B

As someone who learned to cook as well as appreciate video games pretty early on in life, I'm always keen on checking out any title that mixes these two passions of mine. Some of the games I've played have been fun, some not so fun, but they're all really interesting in one way or another in how they approach the experience of putting together (and sometimes serving up) a tasty meal. The Food Network: Cook or Be Cooked is very well done and in some respects, feels like one of the shows you'd catch on the popular cable channel. While entertaining and educational, the scoring system can sometimes be a bit too picky about some of your efforts. Nevertheless, as a first ever console game with the FN seal of approval, it hits almost all the right notes fans will appreciate.

Don't expect to see your favorite FN stars here at all. I guess they were gunning for their own games, wanted a ton of bread for appearing (pun intended) or just not interested in the project. It's no big deal and in fact, the lack of star power keeps you focused on the gameplay (which actually makes YOU the star). You do however, get cute versions of Susie Fogelson and Mory Thomas popping up from time to time with tips and after you finish a dish, to judge your culinary creations. But this isn't some cute kid's game with a FN license slapped onto it. The game is in fact, very much a primer on how to cook that's more likely than not going to send you into the kitchen a few meals in to whip up some real pancakes and bacon or seared Ahi with vegetables.

One minor caveat to those expecting some sort of be all, end all cooking experience is the game's length. The case says you're getting 30 recipes here, but you're really only cooking up 12 actual dishes total. While this might seem like some sort of cheap marketing ploy, the fact is real-life cooking consists of combining recipes and cooking techniques into one or more dishes. If you've never cooked before, you'll probably have a few "Oh, I can do that?" moments as you start putting dishes together using a few different recipes the game teaches you. Expert gamers will blow through what's here in a weekend, but novice chefs will come back over and over and probably take notes on what they've learned from playing the game multiple times.

Controls are solid and realistic throughout as you go through the motions of prepping and preparing. Chopping veggies, oiling up a pan for sautéing and yes, even boiling water are all covered and the game keeps you almost constantly moving in real time to complete most of the tasks. That real time aspect is important and sets the game apart from others in the genre because it truly gives you an idea of just how long it takes to cook something like a burger or pasta. Before your jaw hits the rug, yes, you can speed up the clock and/or tackle other tasks while something else is cooking away. Could you imagine a cooking show where you had to wait twenty or thirty minutes while something baked in the oven? You'd be asleep and your house would burn down... but at least that cast iron fry pan would survive the inferno. Those darn things are nearly indestructible.

In fact, the game almost feels like a cooking show, as you'll be under pressure to not only cook well, but do things in a certain order and as flawlessly as can be. Of course, you're sometimes graded on silly stuff that really makes not much difference in real world cooking experiences, but as long as your ego isn't easily bruised, you'll be fine. Susie and Mory can be harsh if their food isn't hot and unburned, but the game never makes you feel like heading for the nearest window, Wii Remote in hand. If anything, buying this game will probably save you money you'd spend on takeout or driving to your favorite diner. The selection of dishes here isn't exactly 100% "international", but all the techniques here can be applied to different cuisines from whatever country you like.

Visually, the game will have you salivating over the food as you're preparing it and probably packing on a little extra weight once you take what you've learned and start applying it in your own kitchen. Other than the cartoon-like 3D Susie and Mory avatars, everything looks as real as can be, although it is pretty darn funny to see those huge plates of food show up at the judging table. Sounds and music are fine and well implemented, lending a nice FN touch to the proceedings. If anything, the game should net the Food Network a few new viewers based on the game's presentation and ease of use alone. That and the amount of things you'll pick up that can actually be used when you're whipping up your first lasagna or other formerly "impossible" dish.

There are two multiplayer modes here and while fun, the game could have benefited from a few more ideas or a bit more variety. You get a cook off where you go up against another live player as you both try to complete dishes. This can be fun if both players have a bit of Cooking Mama experience under their belts as well as a sense of humor (taunting some grumpy guy or gal who's a perfectionist only gets you a Wiimote or Nunchuck upside the head, not fun at all). The other mode has you working together with a second player to complete dishes, which is also fun unless Player Two keeps messing things up on purpose (which will have you hitting them upside the head with that Wiimote or Nunchuck). It would have been cool to see more done with multiplayer or even some sort of single player shopping mode and I'm hoping FN (along with Red Fly) will be taking feedback from reviews and fans if they decide to cook up an even better sequel.

Overall, Food Network: Cook of Be Cooked gets it mostly right, despite the slim menu. As mentioned above, I'm gathering there's going to be some sort of sequel with even more recipes and content, which would be nice for those gamers out there who want to squeeze every penny out of their gaming dollar. Granted, there's a certain segment of the FN audience who'd buy this game if it were only three recipes and had a big name FN star plastered on the cover and manual. Nevertheless, what's here is a good start that will hopefully lead to more and better follow ups in the future. You might be hungry for more a half hour after finishing the game, but at least you won't go hungry if you've got some stuff in the pantry you'd normally wouldn't touch unless you were having it cooked for you.

Divinity II: Eco Draconis Pre-Order Goodness + One Awesome Contest

Larian Studios' surprisingly stellar epic follow-up to its 2001 RPG, Divine Divinity (my hands-on preview will be up this coming weekend) is coming to the Xbox 360 and PC on January 5, 2010 and lucky Xbox 360 owners will be able to snag a neat set of powerful gear if they boogie on down to their nearest GameStop to pre-order the game. Check out the goodies below:

• Blood Echelon Armor - Sturdy as granite and shaped to intimidate, Blood Echelon armors set new standards in the art of war.

• Blood Echelon Weapon - The Claymore, the Frontline Slayers’ mighty weapon of choice, cleaves armor like it was mere flesh.

Additionally, CDV and Larian are sponsoring a cool contest where you can win some cool DII gear. The Grand Prize includes a Custom Divinity II - Ego Draconis Gaming PC, a NEC High Resolution LCD Desktop Display and an assortment of Divinity II- themed gear. Other prizes include desktop speakers, Logitech keyboard and mouse, and Divinity II mousepads and PC skins.

Click away above for details, enter and keep those fingers crossed. Back in a bit with the preview - the game is pretty darn good from what I've played so far...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Review: Need For Speed NITRO

Platform: Nintendo DS

Developer: Firebrand Games

Publisher: Electronic Arts

# of Players: 1 (1-4 Single Card/Wi-Fi)

Rating: E10+ (Everyone 10+)

Official Site

Score: A

If you're a fan of racing games on the DS, you can absolutely rely on Firebrand Games to cook up something really cool and incredibly fun to play that also allows you to tap into your creative side. Need For Speed NITRO is another superb racer from the team that nicely translates much of what made the Wii version so cool while adding a few DS-exclusive elements such as Single and Multi-card play for up to four players. While the game doesn't have exactly the same deep paint scheme editor found in its console brother, there is a mostly great color and decal creator that will keep the arty gamer quite occupied as he or she blazes through the game's wild courses.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Coming Up For Air (Plus Tax!)

Yikes. Who'd have thought writing a strategy guide could be so... intense? Anyway, nope, I'm NOT dead. Been buried in a few things including the aforementioned guide. Here's a Now Playing update:

Left 4 Dead 2 (360)
Dragon Age Origins (PS3)
Scene It? Bright Lights, Big Screen! (360)
Food Network: Cook or Be Cooked (Wii)
Need For Speed NITRO (DS)
Divinity II: Ego Draconis (PC & 360 builds)
Dragon Ball: Raging Blast (PS3/360)
Tekken 6 (Ps3/360)
Dragon Ball Z: Attack of the Saiyans (DS)
Diner Dash: Flo on the Go (DS)
Wedding Dash (DS)
Military Madness: Neo Nectaris (iPod Touch)

Well, back to the salt mines for me - I've some neat site updates coming this weekend - stick around...

Monday, November 9, 2009

Review: Need for Speed NITRO

Platform: Nintendo Wii

Developer: EA Montreal

Publisher: Electronic Arts

# of Players 1-4

Rating: E 10+ (Everyone 10 +)

Official Site

Score: B+

While the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of Need for Speed: Shift are tightly focused on bringing more realistic racing elements to the long-running franchise, Need for Speed NITRO has been custom built for the Wii as a pure arcade style experience that's a complete blast to play for the whole family. EA Montreal has done an excellent job here, bringing back the spirit of some of EA's fun arcade racers from the past such as Rumble Racing and Beetle Adventure Racing while adding bits of Burnout, San Francisco RUSH and some familiar NFS police chase action to the mix. There's also a fantastically deep and fun customization feature that lets players personalize and drive their rides using the Wii Remote, GameCube controller, WiiWheel or Classic Controller. Between the blazing fast 60 fps racing and the ability for players of any skill level to hop into the game and get racing, there's more than enough action here to keep you stuck to the sofa for hours at a time.

The game mixes in 30 licensed cars and tracks based on, in and around real world locations such as Rio de Janeiro, Singapore, Cairo Madrid and Dubai, although I'd guess you wouldn't really see real cars with tricked out paint jobs blasting around the streets and drifting in broad daylight in any of these places if you were standing on a random street corner for a few hours. Still, the game's focus is less the scenery than the racing action and what's here works extremely well. Career Mode sends you to the locations listed above as you attempt to rise through the ranks and become the top driver on the circuit. There's a class-based ranking system in play that starts you out with slower cars, but as you gain star rankings, you'll have access to better classes and the vehicles that come with them.

If you decide to play with friends or family, there's a nifty co-op mode where all earned stars from race wins go into a pool that whomever owns the console the game is played on can use to unlock new stuff. It's a good way to sell the game to a friend, especially if he or she drops by and gets hooked before finding out they've been racing all that time for your benefit. Of course, you might just get a kick in the leg for being lazy and letting them do all the work for you. I'd say just challenge them to some multiplayer Drag Racing or Eliminator matches to settle the score. Of course, if you're really skilled at the game, you'll probably spend a bit of time showing a new player how to drift through turns properly (this isn't quite a Ridge Racer clone at all) or how to nab repair icons before opponents can knock them out of a race.

Winning races also nets you new parts, additional challenges and yes, more cars to buy with your hard-earned race loot. And you can bet real money that you'll be spending a great deal of time playing with the customization feature just because it so much fun to use that Wii Remote to place and move patterns, change colors and even alter the car's body parts. This feature is simple enough for kids to use, but I can see the more artsy gamers out there cooking up some real handmade rolling masterpieces. Unfortunately, you'll have to wait until those gamers post YouTube videos of their car creations, as the game has no online modes or car trading functionality. It really doesn't need it, but with online gaming a must for other consoles, it's time for as many developers as possible working on the Wii to include some sort of online mode that's smooth and easy to hop into, Friend Codes or not.

Despite the definite arcade tone to the game, the racing isn't a total cakewalk at all. You'll find that making too many mistakes can really cost you thanks to the AI tendency to always be close enough to make you nervous. The game also uses a "damage" system that limits or even takes away your boost ability if you're constantly banging into stuff. This forces you to not only spend time learning the different tracks, it also keeps the game from devolving into merely slamming into other racers to knock them out of the way as a primary tactic. That's not to say that you won't ever have it happen to you or that you can't try it a few times yourself. Just don't expect any Burnout-style wrecks here. You'll more likely than not come to a dead stop or watch your car slam into something with a convincing enough crunch that makes you wan to avoid hitting stuff so much.

Unlike NFS: Shift, the police are here to chase you on some stages and in certain Multiplayer matches, players that are knocked out of a race can drop back in as cops to give you a bit of grief as they chase you down. This is one bit of coolness that would have been great as some sort of online mode with as many players as possible on the Wii. However, I'm not sure the sense of speed would be as solid over every connection. The split screen action here works just fine, so you can get a lot more social with people you want to compete against. Heck, it's easy to trash talk a few hundred miles apart, but a virtual poke in the ribs by a "misplaced" elbow can't be duplicated through a headset of the fastest ping on the planet, that's for sure.

Visually, the game is great, with solid-looking cars that zoom and skid around some really lovely tracks. In multiplayer races, that 60 fps drops to a still respectable 30 fps with tons of detail on screen. The cars have that sort of unusual stretched out look similar to the RUSH games or some of those PlayStation One and PS2 Test Drive games from a few years back, which works just fine for me. You'll see some nice spark effects and there's that cool mode where you're literally painting the town with your car's colors as long as you have the lead. Although the amount of cars is small compared to other racers out there, you'll see a nice variety of rides as you get on with the unlocking. Of course, as mentioned above, you can have the same car as another player, but you'll definitely trick it out a lot differently.

I wasn't too fond of the look of the rival drivers, but I guess the game's characters need "character." It might be nicer to either use Miis only, have some sort of character creator or even drop them entirely for the next installment, as not every Nintendo game needs "personalities" in order to sell. Of course, I can see EA discussing adding Mario and other characters to the sequel as hidden avatars, which would be a bit of fun for the die-hard Nintendo-ites out there. then again, they may end up storming Redmond with torches if they see Mario or Peach driving a Dodge Challenger or Porsche next year and I don't think that's the reaction either EA or Nintendo wants...

As for sound production, it's quite nicely done indeed. You'll get some nice and throaty engines and bangy crash sound effects along with a soundtrack filled with tunes you might or might not recognizes depending on your musical tastes. Yes, there's no custom soundtrack function on the Wii, so you're stuck listening to what's here. Get used to it - it's absolutely not the worst thing you'll hear pumping out of your TV's speakers, that's for sure. I'll need to bug EA for a copy of the DS game just to compare the two on the sound front. After hearing how well DIRT 2 did in the music department on the DS (in terms of sound quality more than music selection), it would be sweet indeed to hear a similarly well-produced aural assault on the portable version.

Although the game is a ton of fun, there are some elements that could have been added to make it even better. The aforementioned online mode and car trading feature or some sort of replay save would be cool ideas for a sequel, as would even more cars and tracks. With only five locations in the game, you'll see everything here in a good weekend or so of play. Nevertheless, the overall feel of the game is of a great arcade machine you can't stop playing, so you'll certainly not mind revisiting these tracks time and time again. More camera views would definitely be something to add, especially since games such as a few mentioned above make good use of multiple camera views. I'm not asking for a perfectly detailed inside the car viewpoint such as the ones found in NFS: Shift or some of Codemasters' racers, mind you. But, there's a fun "old" PS One racer called Mobil 1 Rally Championship that allows players to customize the view angle, camera height and other elements so players could see more of the track (or less if they chose to do so).

Overall, Need for Speed NITRO is a an excellent purchase for Wii owners, particularly those fans of arcade-style racers. Sure, some of the purists out there will complain that there hasn't been a licensed exclusive realistic racer on a Nintendo home console in years that nails the simulation aspects of driving they crave. But that doesn't mean developers can't put 110% into cooking up great, speedy racers that appeal to as wide an audience as possible, including some of the elitist out there who want to fiddle with camber settings or trick out their rides with the latest in custom parts and such. Just pick this one up, pick up your controller of choice and let your hair down before jumping in both feet first - you won't be disappointed at all.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Sega Offers Up Bayonetta 360 Demo Chance Get!

Jump on this, folks: 40,000 very lucky Xbox 360 owners will get the chance to play through this killer demo early. If you want in on this, go sign up here for your free SegaPass. You can thank me later.

Left 4 Dead 2 TV Spot #2

Nice. 10 million zombies, huh? Given the pace of the recently released demo, it sure feels like it! November 17 is zooming up faster than you think...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

So, What Did YOU Do For Halloween?

Me? I Stayed the heck home starting work on a little writing project for Hudson Soft I'll have big news about shortly. My pal Jeffrey Wilson over at 2D-X, well... he was having a VERY game-related great time, NYC style! Check out his blog post HERE.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Thanks to Prima, Dragon Age: Origins Quizzes Me Somewhat...

Well, then - according to this Prima Guides Dragon Age: Origins Quiz, I'm a Warrior! Eeek. I hate playing "tanks" in RPGs. Give me a ranged weapon and some good spells to keep the beasties at bay and I'm a happy camper. We shall see, however, we shall see... The game is out NOW, so i hope you pre-ordered!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Post Wall-busting Update!

OK, folks... Phase One is completed, but things are a MESS here. The plasterers will be back on Monday to finish up and let me get back to regular posting until Wednesday of next week, when the painters show up. Unlike the thirty minute fixes you see on TV all the time home repair is actually a total pain in the ass. In the meantime, games have arrived and there's stuff to be reviewed and such... plus I'm tackling a HUGE side project that involves a certain mobile game and a bit of tactical planning...

more on this in a bit... stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Warren Spector's Disney Epic Mickey Headed to Wii in 2010

Deus Ex creator Warren Spector's Junction Point Studios has been working on a top secret game project for Disney Interactive Studios for a while now and it's been on my radar for as long as JP has been working away quietly on it. Now, the first official huge chunk of information and assets have now become available. Here you go: the complete press release and a nice set of images including a dev team photo, character renders and a few pieces of concept art.

General Generic and Non-Threatening Update Time!

In the process of moving a ton of games off the walls here for the big repair job that starts Friday, so updates will be slower this week. Still finishing up a few older reviews that SHOULD get posted before Friday (when I won't be posting at all unless the worker leave early enough for me to upload/download stuff).

Cooking up a Holiday Gift Guide for November as well as some more interviews and such, so stick around for that...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Games On TV: Left 4 Dead 2 Gamestop Baseball Bat Premium TV Ad

Hilarious L4D2 promo spot featuring the American Baseball Bat GS promo - check it out:

Review: Fairytale Fights

Platform: PS3/Xbox 360

Playlogic Game Studios

Publisher: Playlogic

# of Players: 1-4

Rating: M (Mature)

Official Site

Score: B

After a long development cycle it's finally here, it's pretty darn bloody and it's a hack 'n slash fan's dream game. That is, provided your dreams are candy-colored and packed with mutated puppets dishing out damage on an epic, nasty scale. Fairytale Fights packs in its entire running time with tons of humor plus more gallons of blood and severed limbs than you'd find in certain zombie-killing franchises. Although the game probably isn't going to impress those jaded players looking for total perfection and "innovation" seeping out of every corner, it's got more than enough style to keep those who love the sub-genre playing 'til the cows come home. As a single-player arcade-style experience, it's supremely hysterical, but can feel a bit lonely after a few hours. However, with up to three friends, the game is a complete blast to play - provided everyone's platforming skills are up to the game's deathtraps and occasionally brutal boss battles.

The game takes the Unreal 3 engine places it's never been before, instantly impressing with some of the most fantastically stylized visuals you'll see to date. The plot is a total hoot, mixing in gobs of violence with classic fairy tale stereotypes and yanks you right in from the opening movie. The four main characters, all familiar fairy tale legends, have had their stories stolen by Little Boy Tailor, a scarred up crazy that wants their tales for his own superstar story. The four characters set out to get their stories back and anyone in their way is fair game for whatever weapons they can get their hot little hands on. Gameplay is a mash-up of plenty of chase 'n chop action and classic platforming elements familiar since the days of Mario and Sonic. Colorful visuals and aside, the M-rated content here is absolutely NOT for the wee ones in the family and the game never pretends it's even close to "family friendly."

Combat is straight up arcade style fun, as in nicely simple enough so anyone can pick up and play the game without worrying about arcane combos or busting up a controller out of sheer frustration. You move with the left stick and attack with the right stick, which works extremely well with not too much of a learning curve (unless you're somehow resistant to using the right stick for pulling off moves). Sure, it's all too easy to whip out attacks in the game, but why shouldn't it be? "Innovation" doesn't need to be part of every game's controls, folks. That particular critical straw man is a stupid reviewer trick that needs to be shut down, as it's keeping a LOT of people from enjoying games more. Hell, the fact that there's NO need to spend a half hour figuring out what button presses do what and how fast or slow you need to do them makes the game all the more accessible.

Invite a non-gaming friend or someone who's interested in FF to drop by and play the game in co-op and within seconds, they're running, jumping and kicking polygon puppet ass along with you. other than some of the trickier jumps and boss battles, there will more likely than not be any yelling at them for "sucking" hard or messing up your game. In solo or co-op play, pay close enough attention to the cut scenes and background details and the plot will have you falling off the couch laughing as you get closer to Little Boy Tailor's trail. An offbeat musical number here, a crazy boss battle against conjoined twins there and if you're hooked into all of the madness on display, you'll be grinning away like Renfield chomping down of freshly caught flies in his padded cell. Sure, there's an almost Dynasty Wars-like repetition to the mowing down of piles of baddies throughout the different maps, but isn't nearly every video game about repeating the same thing over and over in different locations until you come out victorious?

There are a load of weapons to find and use against your foes (or other players, should you keep "friendly fire" toggled on). You'll have well over 140, categorized into blunt, sharp, firearms, wands and potions. While the selection is vast, most of the weapons are here more for visual variety rather than minute differences in damage. Sure, you can pick up and carry the same swords and clubs through the entire game, but why not whip someone with a rolled up newspaper, broken lollipop or even a thigh bone? The more exotic weapons actually lend more humor to the game, especially when a few like-minded friends are playing along with you. Those wands and potions liven up the action quite a bit by allowing you to freeze, burn, melt, transform or heal enemies or allies, but again, you can make do through most of the game with weapons or even your bare fists if you like.

Killing enemies makes them cough up weapons and coins which can be used to "buy" extra credits in the game if you lose all your lives or spend in magic fountains to get special weapons. You can get pretty darn far in the game using the tons of drops enemies leave, so those fountains might get overlooked unless you really have to have every single weapon type the game has to offer. In general, dying doesn't set you back too far unless you're in an area where saving is impossible and you don't have enough cash or loot to buy more lives. You can also upgrade the heroically posed statue of your character of choice in the town square, but I'd try and save up some loot just in case the game's trickier bosses and platforming areas are giving you grief.

The great "Salami Violence" feature allows you to carve up enemies into chunks, lop off body parts and even do a bit of creative bisecting. You'll get frequent close ups of this funny gore that can be distracting when multiple players are going at it, but are always fun to watch. Unless you're the one getting cut into six pieces in that insert shot. Some of the stuff here puts God of War games to shame, but you'll probably find yourself laughing outrageously more than being put off by what's here. Blood sliding for fun and profit? Yup, it's in here. Slicing up cute widdle bunny rabbits, gingerbread men and other "shocking" non-threatening creatures? yup, it's in here as well. It's all big fun and done for laughs, so play along and if you like, don't play nice with anyone you come across in the game world.

Some may complain that the game is "mean-spirited" but I'd have to let out a big horse laugh at this charge as I throw a swordfish into a giant, surfer trunk wearing mutated beaver boss' eyeball. Who's being offended here other than cartoon characters in a fake fairytale world? The game makes NO allusions to reality other than the fact that yes, if you chop someone in the head with an ax, they'll more than likely spray blood all over the place and fall over in a heap (or two, if your ax is quite sharp). In no way does the game condone violence against anyone but the characters in the game and even the collateral damage is outrageously funny if you're a fan of black comedy and some of the more twisted cartoons out there. If you're one of those dopes who tries to make any form of video game violence some sort of crusade against the medium, please go away and read a book or something.

The folks at Playlogic's internal studio really went to town on the graphics and presentation and as mentioned above, the game truly blows any other Unreal 3-powered title out of the water in terms of visual style. The whole game looks like Candy Land on crack with a 151 proof chaser. When you're not chopping loggers or losers to meaty chunks, you'll really want to take in the lovely, eyeball searing environments that practically pop off the screen. While playing the game with a friend , he started laughing and said "It's like The Wizard of Oz on LSD!" more than once. Having never experienced anything resembling LSD (other than playing Asmik Ace's ultra rare PlayStation import "dream simulator" named for the drug a few years back), I had to take his word for it.

Overall, character models and environments have a solid, chunky Claymation look to them, friend, foe and not-so furry woodland creatures are all animated in some wild way or another and overall, there's a solid sense of cartoon life to the game's levels. You will see a few graphics glitches in spots and once in a while, the game camera will settle somewhere where it's tough to survive a jump or enemy onslaught, but I'm hoping some of these issues are addressed in a patch (which, like it or not, seems to be the way games have gone this generation).

The maps range from the amazingly fun options village to a suprememly candy-colored castle, a massive, mostly dark giant's home and other awesomely huge set pieces. Going through the asset disk and leafing through the slim game art book that came with my reviewable code, I was amazed at how close some of the detailed production art resembles the final product. It's impossible to not play through the game and be totally blown away by new sights as each new area is unlocked. Rich colors and excellent level design abound, depth of field is used in very spectacular fashion and if I still scored games individually for graphics, I'd give this near perfect marks for execution. There is a bit of slowdown with four players and a lot of enemies onscreen and as of yet, I haven't yet played online (I'm writing this review before the game is in US stores). I'll need to check back in a few days or so after the retail version ships to see how the game plays over Xbox Live and PSN and how many folks are out there chopping away at each other.

Music and sound effects are excellently done, offering up twisted tunes and choice dialog that's as fun as the visuals. There's a goofy charm to all the different voices and effects with a nice twisted Saturday morning vibe to everything. In terms of overall content, there's about a dozen hours of gameplay here, but Playlogic has already released a bunch of FREE download content for the game, including four new characters and some new Arena maps. It's clear that the company is going to support their baby no matter what reviewers who don't appreciate their efforts write, but that's a darn good thing for folks who want to buy the game and are hoping for plenty of cool DLC. I understand the team has quite a few plans for DLC, so it'll be interesting to keep an eye peeled and see what's coming down the road.

If you need a reference point for this game's over the top usage of blood and gore in a comic setting, I'd say Artech's excellent, underrated original Xbox game, Raze's Hell is the closest in terms of being consistently funny and increasingly brutal to its enemy population. Yeah, Conker fans will appreciate what's here as well, although FF clearly tops both games on the controversy-o-meter in terms of a few of its trophies and achievements. I'd say this will go down in gaming history as one of those great guilty pleasures players will go back to whenever they crave some fun, gory co-op or versus action whenever they've a few friends dropping by.

In the end, your overall enjoyment of Fairytale Fights will boil down to two things: are you a fan of super-violent games looking for a surefire smile-cracker for you and your buddies? Or are you someone with a twisted sense of humor who's always wanted to see cute characters cutting each other up with relish? If so, and you're not going to go insane because what's here isn't reaching for anything higher than the bar it sets for itself, you'll want to gleefully bounce down to your favorite olde game shoppe, cash or credit card and ID in hand. You'll be getting more than your money's worth, free DLC waiting for you when you get home and change to spare.

More screens/game art HERE

(M-Rated Screens and Game Trailers to come on DAF:TG site later today!)

Review: Nostalgia

Platform: Nintendo DS/DSi

Developer: Matrix Software

Publisher: Ignition

# of Players: 1

Rating: E10+ (Everyone 10+)

Official Site

Score: A

An excellent game for entry level players or seasoned JRPG veterans who can recall the "good old days" with a wistful smile, Nostalgia is one of the best games in the genre this year. The Matrix Software developed Tecmo/RED co-produced project, some ten years in the making, just feels right from the moment you start playing and it only gets better as the hours zoom by. What makes the game so outstanding are the combination of well-worn genre elements spiced up by a rewarding skills-based battle system and a huge game world absolutely packed with stuff to do and secrets to uncover. The game rarely misses a note throughout and despite a few minor flaws can easily stand up to some of today's console JRPGs in terms of bang for the buck.

The basic story drops you into the shoes of Edward Brown, a young British lad who sets off looking for his dad, Gordon, an Indiana Jones-ish adventurer who goes missing after rescuing a mysterious girl from a bizarre cult. You're given Gordon to play with for about two minutes or so in the game's playable intro, but it's Eddie's show for the bulk of the game. Edward soon meets up with Pad, a tough orphan skilled in the use of firearms and the pair team up for the long haul after a bit of rat-hunting in the London sewers. The boys eventually meet up with Melody, a trash-talking young witch in training who joins the team to escape being scolded by her village's elder for blowing up a pot. Shortly thereafter, the threesome re-rescues Fiona, the girl Eddie's dad saved at the game's beginning and the game really gets cooking.

New characters are introduced as the game progresses, some of which join your party temporarily, boosting your battle skills or adding other helpful assists. You'll meet up with a female sky pirate looking for her lost sister and later, receive help from a certain group of adventurers you eventually team up with in order to solve a huge part of the main quest. It's too bad that some of these guys and gals can't become permanent parts of your traveling party in certain tough sections of the mid and endgame, as their skills are pretty formidable in those areas that they do join your cause. On the other hand, the rapic-fire nature of the game's pacing makes each teaming quite exhilarating as you hit a new dungeon to see what your temporary partner can do while they're tagging along.

Then game's late 19th Century alternate Earth setting makes for a nice change up from the usual fantasy/sci-fi worlds found in many other RPGs. In addition, the lighter touch, overall pacing and more humorous dialog makes for a nice change of pace from some of the gloomier "emo" scenarios found in too many of today's JRPGs. If you're like me and play a lot of RPGs, the feeling of nostalgia is inescapable, yet makes the game highly enjoyable. Only a fool would read the title, look at screens and/or game footage and still call the game a "rip-off" afterward. Of course, if you're too jaded to see the self-referential smartness on display (despite the game constantly nudging and winking at you), I really don't know what to say other than play LESS games so you can appreciate the medium more (or something kooky yet paradoxical like that).

As in plenty of RPGs, airship travel plays a big part in Nostalgia and yes, some gamers will no doubt want to draw direct comparisons to games in the Final Fantasy series as well as Sega's epic Skies of Arcadia on the Dreamcast (and later, GameCube). If you've played way too many RPGs like me, you can probably trace bits of the game to the aforementioned titles and add bits of Velldeselba, a PSOne RPG from 1997 and The Airs, another PSOne RPG from 1999, two games that featured airship combat as a main gameplay element. If you dig even deeper, you might also see in the map-based travel a very tiny dash of RED's own Tengai Makyou: Daiyon no Mokushiroku - The Apocalypse IV, a wild Sega Saturn RPG from 1997 that had its cast traveling through different US states on a quest to put down an evil demon unleashed by the main character as a child.

Combat, whether on the ground or in the air is good old-fashioned random battles and turn-based, but offers up some interesting elements. Defeating monsters earns you the requisite gold and experience points, but you also get Skill Points which can be used to upgrade each party member's skills. This allows players to customize their characters how they like (or not customize them at all), making any or all into total powerhouses as skills are beefed up. Some later skills require other skills to be leveled to a certain point before they become available, so curious players will want to be uncovering those "?" slots as quickly as possible. You're graded post-battle from "S" to "C" and nailing an "S" Rank will get you more Gold, experience and Skill Points, so getting the more powerful skills is actually a benefit as the game goes on.

One thing veteran RPG players will find out quickly is that the dungeon battles can be incredibly easy right from the beginning and as their party gains levels and new skills, most land-based battles actually become less challenging. However, in the airship battles, you'll always be tasked with new and tougher enemies as your craft travels further and eventually, higher on the world map. I look at it this way: the dungeons are grinding paradises so you can survive the airship sections. Enemies in the skies often show up in groups and you'll find yourself outclassed by gunships that have a few times more HP than your entire party. These big cruisers can wipe out your ship in a few shots, so the better skills you take into the skies, the less frustration you'll run into. There are also plenty of flying creatures to give you grief, a few demons and more pesky beasties that can send you down in flames, so those dungeon areas become crucial as the game goes on.

Some of the dungeons in the game are multi-tiered affairs that aren't all that long, but require careful navigation in order to locate every treasure and reach 100% completion in your Adventurer's Journal. That Journal keeps track of everything from monsters, items, new characters met and more, so consulting it is a must throughout the game. Oddly enough, despite the great translation job done with the rest of the dialog and story text, the word "Adventurer's" is misspelled on the cover of the book (the game's one major text error that should have been caught). The nice thing about the Journal is how it continually updates the character relationships and other tidbits as the story plays out. You'll also be able to tackle quite a few optional Adventurer's Association quests, all of which can add to your Adventurer's ranking, gaining you prestige and some cool items that come in very handy.

The game's presentation is mostly solid throughout and while it's not the best-looking RPG on the DS, it gets the job done quite well. Visually, Matrix has figured out through its other DS projects that the DS can pump out PlayStation One quality graphics with no trouble. So they more or less cooked up a game that looks just like something from that system's late 1990's RPG library. While I'm not too find of the super-deformed 3D character models, the character portraits are lively and charming enough to make up for the blocky bunch you'll be seeing up close and personal. Interestingly enough, the game's bosses all get a "cuter" SD and more realistically rendered 3D model, so it's not as if Matrix couldn't have done the entire game in the more appealing style. Nevertheless, you'll see plenty of in-engine cut scenes with the requisite humorous and dramatic elements, none of which are too long and all of which are enjoyable.

There's also a superb soundtrack that makes each new area thrilling to discover. I loved the different music for each altitude you reach in the airship, the boss battle tunes and even the familiar battle end tune you'll hear a few thousand times as you blaze through dungeon after dungeon. There's no voice acting of anime cut scenes here, but the quality of the music is so great that it drives the action forward just as well as speaking characters would. Each of the cities you visit has its own "cultural" theme music, specific weapons and townspeople that lend a certain mood to the area. Granted, the cities aren't as large as in other RPGs, but Matrix clearly had fun in creating the different visuals for each area. As London is your home, you'll need to hop back there from time to time to check out special weapons that show up thanks to the trade routes you've opened up through your travels to new lands.

I haven't even covered all the cool optional quests or bosses, the great ending that unlocks a playable, open-ended epilogue that allows you to continue playing for as long as you wish and the additional goodies you get from seeking out all 50 World Treasures, tricky to locate map points based on real-world ruins or other locales. There are also little furry creatures called Korols in each dungeon that can restore HP or MP, sell you items, identify Gadgets and even give you a hint or two. The types of Korol you come across is totally random, so you don't always need to seek out each one if you're in a tearing hurry to get through some of the tougher maps. On the other hand, you never know which type you'll run into until you go to the trouble to do so. This is one game where exploration is part of the fun and players that crave JRPGs with more than enough to do that don't sink into the depths of doom and gloom will really be pleased by what's here.

As someone who's played hundreds of JRPGs since Phantasy Star on the Sega Master System (and an equal amount of PC RPGs), I can truly say this game indeed evokes memories of camping out on the couch for a weekend plus of dungeon diving and boss-bashing. Nostalgia is carefully crafted to bring those warm fuzzy feelings to the surface and the game revels in its plot devices and scripting to keep you thinking stuff like "Ah, I remember this sort of thing happened in...(insert name of favorite 8/16/32-bit classic here)." While much of the game will seem all too familiar, Nostalgia still fits like a favorite pair of jeans glued to a really comfortable couch. If that's your favorite cup of tea, this is one ride you'll absolutely want to take.

Screenshot gallery

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fairytale Fights Free DLC Arrives Along With Game

BAM! Just as Playlogic's hybrid hack 'n slash/platformer hits stores, here comes the first DLC - go sign up and get it, folks! My review is coming shortly...

Playlogic Offers Bloody DLC for FREE Within 90 Days of Release

October 27, 2009 – Amsterdam/New York – Playlogic Entertainment, Inc., an independent worldwide publisher of entertainment software, are thrilled to announce today that its highly anticipated hack’n’slash gore-fest Fairytale Fights will have FREE DLC for all gamers available for a limited period of time (90 days after release). Gamers who buy the game within 90 days of launch can receive exclusive FREE DLC valued at over $15 by registering on the Fairytale Fights official website. Once the downloadable content is available, bloodthirsty Fairytale Fights fans will receive exclusive redeemable codes, courtesy of Little Red Riding Hood!

Part of the FREE DLC will be exclusive to those who register:

Fairytale Fights FREE DLC (for registered users) includes
· 4 Brand New Playable Characters
· 3 Brand New PvP Arenas

For all those that don’t register, we’ll be announcing our FREE DLC release plans for Xbox Live Marketplace and the PlayStation Store in the coming weeks so be sure to check the Fairytale Fights official site on a regular basis for news and updates.

Fairytale Fights is now in European stores for the Xbox 360™ video game and entertainment system from Microsoft and the PLAYSTATION®3 computer entertainment system and will be available the 27th of October in North America!