Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Gallery: Dawn of Heroes

I thought this one sounded familiar... Montreal-based developer Wicked Studios' DS exclusive Tactical RPG was initially announced for a June 2009 release, so I thought I missed out on it entirely. However, It turns out Majesco is actually publishing it on December 1, 2009, so here you go: the first game trailer and a nice batch of screenshots - enjoy!

I'm really liking the character customization aspects as well as the nice character art, which looks a little inspired a bit by the great Susumu Matsushita's work. Hmmm... I feel another developer interview coming on. It looks as if I'm off to bug some PR folks...

Oh... you wanted some official sounding info about the game as well? OK, read on, then:


The once great Kingdom of Brimthule is in despair following the loss of its lord and champion. King Leroy sacrificed himself to entomb the great beast Ragnakore in a body of stone. Without its leader, the kingdom has split into baronies and is beset by curses, monsters, and misfortunes, with some believing Ragnakore, though trapped, is responsible. The time has come for new heroes to stand tall against the realm’s greatest foes; the time has come for the Dawn of Heroes.


Dawn of Heroes features classic RPG concepts, character development, epic combat, quests and puzzle solving. Dawn of Heroes differs from other RPGs with hilarious dialogue, customizable parties, a variety of dungeons and items, and multiplayer features geared towards building a community of heroes all over the world.

*Take in breathtaking 3D graphics, from the massive world of Brimthule to the unique look of all its inhabitants.

*Immerse yourself in a deep storyline as you experience multiple quests and dangers.

*Play more than 50 missions with branching paths and side quests.

*Over 25 playable classes from 6 unique factions let you create your own party of heroes to work together as the ultimate team.

*Face a multitude of enemies from 12 unique factions.

*Collect hundreds of items during your adventure and share them online with friends.

*Awesome local and Wi Fi multiplayer action has players constantly optimizing their parties for a different battle every time they seek a new challenge.

*Streamlined user interface allows players to command all aspects of their adventure using the touch screen and stylus.

If the game plays as well as it looks, the DS just might have a big sleeper hit this December. back with more on Dawn of Heroes in a bit - stay tuned...

New Mass Effect 2 Character Revealed

Meet Subject Zero... don't ogle her tattooed glory too long or she's the last thing you'll see... and no, you probably won't die with a smile on your face, either. Mass Effect 2's latest character reveal is this deadly lady who has “been around, ran with gangs, wiped out some gangs.” Yikes.

Updated intel from BioWare notes this:

With an attitude to match, Subject Zero is a formidable biotic – as powerful as she is intriguing. Her detailed tattoos mark her favorite kills – “the good ones”. Mystery and fascination surround this uncontrollable rebel, which will undoubtedly leave fans wanting more.

Most definitely. Of course, I'd not invite Zero and Rubi Malone to the same party, as things would get a bit bloody in TWO completely different time periods. Check your weapons at the door, girls!

Mass Effect 2 is coming in early 2010.

Magnacarta 2 Goes Gold for Xbox 360

Ah, it's the ol' "Cross platform hijinx that makes some console owners want to rip their hair out, but it's all good in the end" department: Magnacarta 2 has gone gold for the Xbox 360 (and for now, ONLY the Xbox 360). The RPG series which got its start as a PC game in Korea followed up by a PlayStation 2 sequel (and a 2006 PSP port of the 2nd game which was never releases stateside) now gets its next installment as an Xbox 360 exclusive. Well, the 360 can use another decent JRPG, so I'm all aboard the MC2 train...

Press release below - images to come this weekend when I have more free time to post 'em. Yup, I can't wait to play this one, as well.

NAMCO BANDAI Games America Inc. announced today that their newest RPG title, Magnacarta™2 has gone gold for the Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system from Microsoft and will be available in North America on October 13, 2009. Developed by SoftMax, the team behind the original Magna Carta: Tears of Blood, Magnacarta 2 combines a deep storyline, beautifully detailed graphics, and an unrivaled active turn battle system to create a fresh new RPG experience.

Amidst the tragedy of civil war, Juto, a man with no recollection of his past is destined to end the cycle of bloodshed and save the Lanzheim Kingdom from eminent doom. Together with Princess Zephie, the rightful heir to the throne, Juto must navigate an uncertain world full of tragedy, chaos, and slaughter to regain his own identity and forge a new one for the kingdom.

Delivering more than 40 hours of gameplay, Magnacarta 2 features a signature Chain System that combines real-time action and a turn-based stamina mechanic to deliver an unequaled RPG experience. The innovative battle system offers a new and engaging take on the traditional combat RPG system by adding real-time attack timing, stamina bar limiter, and massive combat bonuses for the adept.

Together with a formidable magic system and massive weapon customization options, Magnacarta 2 is richly layered with extraordinary gameplay design and story which is guaranteed to keep players enthralled with the Lanzheim Kingdom.

Magnacarta 2
is rated “T” for Teen by the ESRB and will have a MSRP of $59.99.

F1 2009 Wii Trailer

Nice bit of a tease for Condemasters' upcoming F1 2009 showing of the new Singapore Course. Color me impressed at that frame rate and number of cars on the track. Fingers crossed that it's got true simulation as well as arcade aspects so everyone can dive in and play.

More on this one as new info arrives - stay tuned...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Left 4 Dead Crash Course DLC Now Available (and of Course, Valve Is Giving You Something A Little Extry)...

Let's say you don't already own a copy of L4D for the PC but you want to buy it NOW. Well then, pardner, boogie on over to Steam, sign up today and you can get L4D for 50% off of the retail price. You'll be wiping out hordes of zombies within minutes and "Cha-ching!", you just saved some money in the process! Of course, this is a LIMITED time deal, hoss - it expires October 1, 2009. SO get cookin', chief.

As to that new DLC mentioned in the header - read on for details (links below as well):

Valve today announced that "Crash Course", the second downloadable content (DLC) update for its zombie thriller, Left 4 Dead (L4D) is available now for Xbox 360 and PC. To celebrate, Left 4 Dead (PC) is available via Steam for 50% off its regular its regular price thru Oct 1.

"Crash Course" delivers new single-player, multiplayer and co-operative gameplay to both platforms. This new DLC bridges the gap between the end of the "No Mercy" campaign and the beginning of "Death Toll" in the original game, expanding the game universe with new locations, new dialogue from the original cast, and an explosive finale.

While containing both Survival maps and a Co-operative Campaign, the primary goal of "Crash Course" is to deliver a complete Versus mode experience in just 30 minutes, resulting in a streamlined version of the game's existing Versus campaigns. A recharge timer for infected teammates has also been added, and item spawn behavior has changed for more balanced gameplay.

Alrighty then - time's a'wastin', cowboys and cowgirls! Go hoof it on over to them links above and get yer zombie killin' thing on. Hell, over 3 milion players can't be wrong, right?

Release Calendar: 9/28 - 10/2

Here we go - pretty much from this week onward, it's going to be crazy in terms of new releases. Lots of top quality stuff this week along with a few sleepers.

Dead Space Extraction should creep you out with not only how good it looks "for a Wii game" but also with some really scary moments that give the game a nicely cinematic feel. Obscure: The Aftermath brings the teen horror flick to the PSP in fine form with co-op play and lots of monsters trying to kill the hell out of you and your AI (or second player controlled) partner.

Give Tornado Outbreak a whirl (it's a lot of fun and not a Katamari Forever clone at all), Valhalla Knights Eldar Saga should please RPG fans who love to grind away for levels, The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road DS is one of the best-looking games on the handheld and a unique entry level JRPG variation on the classic book and film. Risen looks and plays wonderfully, so give it a try if you're a PC role-player (360 owners have a few months more to wait for their version).

Midnight Club Los Angeles: Complete Edition is a great deal for racing fans of any stripe. Speaking of racers, if history is any indication, Gran Turismo PSP might boost up sales on the handheld a bit (as well as sell a few more PSP GO! units), Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days will wow the Square-heads while Battle of Giants: Dragons and Undead Knights look intriguing to me... I'll have to look into getting review copies on those two.

Anyway, here you go:

Midnight Club Los Angeles: Complete Edition (PS3/Xbox 360)

Animal Kingdom: Wildlife Expedition (Wii)
BCFX: The Doug Williams Edition (Xbox 360)
Battle of Giants: Dragons (DS/DSi)
Beaterator (PSP)
The Curse of Monkey Island: Lair of the Leviathan (PC)*
Deca Sports 2 (Wii)
Family Feud 2010 Edition (DS/DSi/PC/Wii)
Fallen Earth: Welcome to Apocalypse (PC)
Imagine: Salon Stylist (DS/DSi)
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (DS/DSi)
Left 4 Dead: Crash Course
(PC/Xbox 360)*
Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 (Xbox 360)
My Sims Agents (DS/DSi/Wii)
Tornado Outbreak (PS3/Wii/Xbox 360)
Undead Knights (PSP)
The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road (DS/DSi)


Valhalla Knights: Eldar Saga (Wii)

Dreamer: Top Model (DS/DSi)
Gran Turismo (PSP/PSP GO)

Risen (PC)

* available via download only

Namco Bandai Announces Enslaved for PS3. 360

It looks as if Namco Bandai has figured out one more new gaming equation: Ninja Theory + Andy Serkis = one hell of an interesting game experience. Enslaved is the next game project the respected Heavenly Sword developer is currently working on for a 2010 release on both the PS3 and Xbox 360 and based on the concept art and early screens, the game is looking mighty fine indeed.

Aesthetically, I'm not sure if the Jak meets Wolverine look of Monkey clicks until I see the game in action, but it's a definite "Yes!" in my book for Trip's athletic yet "normal" figure (i.e., no pudding-filled pontoons stuck to her chest). Also, the bigger questions in the end to some may be this: can Ninja Theory deliver a second killer game, this time out, successfully as a cross platform release while making sure it looks equally good on both consoles? My money says yes they can. Anyway, to the press release!


Epic New Action-Adventure from Ninja Theory Combines Cinematic Visuals and Combat, Rich Character and Story Development, and Top-Notch Entertainment Talent

SANTA CLARA, Calif., (Sept. 29, 2009) – Leading video game publisher and developer NAMCO BANDAI Games America Inc. announced today Enslaved™ for the PlayStation®3 computer entertainment system and Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system from Microsoft. Developed by Ninja Theory Ltd., Enslaved takes players on a gripping, surprise-filled journey as two dissimilar characters form an uneasy union in order to survive their way through a perilous, post-apocalyptic America.

A tactical action-adventure game, Enslaved centers on the complex relationship between the two main characters and challenges players to employ a mix of combat, strategy and environment traversal. With influences and contributions from top music and film industry talent, Enslaved combines beautifully rendered graphics and captivating music with seamless animation and engrossing gameplay. Enslaved is planned for release in 2010.

More than 150 years in the future, the world has transformed into an unrecognizable state where all that remains are a dwindling human population and merciless robots left over from wars long past. In Enslaved, players take on the role of Monkey, a strong and brutish loner, and his AI partner Trip, a technologically savvy but sheltered young woman from a peaceful community. Both become captured by a mysterious slave ship, which are rumored to harvest people and take them out west never to return. As they each attempt to escape, Trip realizes quickly that Monkey, with his raw strength and power, is the only hope she has of making the perilous journey back home. She hacks into a slave headband to enslave Monkey and link them together – if she dies, he dies. Her journey has now become his.

Players must make sure both Monkey and Trip work together as they skillfully navigate through the world and survive against the dangerous enemy obstacles that lie in wait. Monkey will deftly wield his trusty staff weapon to attack and defend against enemies, using a combination of melee attacks, blocks and counters. He will also be able to perform spectacular takedown moves, allowing him to rip an enemy apart piece by piece, take its weapon for his own use or destroy it in one final blow.

Ninja Theory has raised the standards for video game development by enlisting highly talented professionals from other entertainment industries. Emmy, Golden Globe and Bafta nominee actor and director Andy Serkis, renowned for his roles in film as “Gollum” in The Lord of the Rings and the title role “Kong” in King Kong, and villain King Bohan in Heavenly Sword has been tapped to not only direct, but portray the lead character of Monkey. Considered to be the “go-to” talent for performance capture acting, Serkis continues his work with Ninja Theory for Enslaved. As with Heavenly Sword, Serkis is a major contributor to the character and script development, casting and directing for the title.

Likewise, world-class musician and composer Nitin Sawhney, whose versatility and talent have helped him score more than 40 films and release eight studio albums, has returned to create the riveting score for Enslaved. Adding to the cavalcade of talented professionals is Alex Garland, novelist and screenwriter who has penned works including the novel The Beach and the movie screenplay for 28 Days Later. Enslaved is Garland’s first video game specific project. He serves as a co-writer and has been heavily involved with creating the script and in-game dialogue.

Well, that all sounds superb, so we'll have to definitely see what's cookin' as Enslaved moves further along in its development cycle.

Today: Live Dead Space Extraction Demo/Dev Commentary/Q & A!

How's this for fan service? Just in time for today's launch of the Wii-exclusive Dead Space Extraction, Visceral Games is hosting an hour-long live webcast featuring gameplay demos of the cinematic sci-fi horror/action hybrid along with a Q & A session with members of the game's development team that you (yes, you) can be a part of. The fun begins at 12 noon, PST (that's 3pm Eastern Time if you're in New York), so click away on that link above and enjoy the show.

We'll have a review of Dead Space Extraction after our review copy arrives.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Review: Bleach: The 3rd Phantom

Platform: Nintendo DS/DSi

Developer: Tom Create

Publisher: SEGA

# of Players: 1 (Wi-Fi: 1-2)

Rating: T (Teen)

Official Site

Score: B

I may not know much about the Bleach anime, but I have enjoyed the different US localized games from Sega I've played over the last few years. Being a huge Strategy/RPG fan, I was surprised to find that the series has ventured into that well-traveled territory with a fun to play, albeit pretty basic turn-based game experience. Bleach: The 3rd Phantom mysteriously showed up via Fed Ex with another bunch of games, so out went Dirt 2 and in went this new game for a good chunk of review time. While what's here won't topple the giants of the genre, there's more than enough solid hours of gameplay, over 50 potential party members and even a bit of Wi-Fi action if you've a friend who happens to have a DS and a copy of the game.

The story actually delves into the origins of the Soul Reapers as well as the whole Bleach saga and my poking around a few fan sites and such revealed it was actually scripted by Bleach creator Tite Kubo, a nice touch. If you know your anime and manga, you also know that games like this aren't short on dialog at all. Therefore, owners of MTV-short attention spans will most likely be bored to tears by the great deal of exposition, explanations and in the case of this game, lots of descriptively helpful menu screens.

I actually liked these elements of the game because they show Kubo's commitment to making sure everything players need to know about nearly everything regarding the large character pool is here. You might not like all those text boxes, chatty adults and street urchins that go on and on about bento boxes, high spiritual pressure zones and the like. Nevertheless, in this age of 30 cuts per second editing, meaningless sound bites strip-mined for deeper meaning that doesn't exist and plotless jump-to-it action moves (and yes, anime), a good read in a decent game is a welcome sight.

As densely packed as the story is with stuff about evil creatures called Hallows being controlled by someone (or something) mysterious and the twins' getting to know the different Soul Reapers, the gameplay controls are quite basic, but elegantly so. In fact, the game doesn't support stylus use at all. This isn't a bad, nor shocking thing, folks. Both screens are put to good use in telling the story, playing out battles and given you handy information, so it's as if you have two Game Boy Advance units glued together, if you want to look at it that obliquely. Heck, blame Nintendo if you want to for killing off the Game Boy Advance format for no other reason but to force developers to make any and every game use the DS format. What's here is well done and given the simplicity of the movement and menus plus the straightforward storytelling, any stylus stuff would be gimmicky at best.

The story lets you choose a male of female twin as your lead character and both have different interactions with the large cast of eventual party members you'll meet up with as the game progresses. This gives some great replay value, although you only have two save slots (one of my few complaints about the game). As you go through the story, the game uses pre-battle planning and post-battle wrap up sequences to tell the bulk of its story. In the pre-battle planning, you choose your party members (or add to the ones preselected by the game for certain missions), upgrade their stats if they've gained levels from previous battles, equip new items and assign co-op partners for the coming fight. You can also choose to tackle Free Battle maps, which leads to a bit of an exploit that can make the bulk of the game a total cakewalk.

While the game isn't all that difficult save for a few mid to late mission fights, you can exploit the Free Battle function to train party members, gain levels and earn items galore as much as you want. Granted, the age cap for players of this game tops out around 15 at best, so anyone older (or who tends to be a bit snobby about their SRPG tastes) will laugh at the overt cheapness of replaying these simpler maps to reap level after level. I tried to ignore the Free Battles for a few missions, but after trying them once and gaining a level for three party members plus a few nice items, I ended up abusing the function to a good degree and not feeling one bit of guilt. You only get two save slots (a mild gripe), but you'll learn to make the most of them.

Combat is the same as most turn-based SRPGs in standard missions or Free Battle. Your characters are placed on different maps and need to kill all the enemies on them. Sometimes, there are different objectives, such as protecting villagers from harm and the like, but you can beat most maps on the first try as long as you have enough healing supplies or magic. On some maps, you can be healed by standing near certain characters and in many cases, although you'll take damage, you can win a map without healing at all. Some of your luck depends on how you level up each character's weapons with new skills that do everything from add magic to attacks to keep party member resistant to certain status effects.

After each real mission's post battle wrap up, there's a great little Free Time mini-game in lieu of the usual RPG village full of NPCs that never sleep. The top screen shows a side-scrolling map and a cat-like creature that walks spaces according to the number of Action Points in portraits on the bottom screen. The goal in Free Time is to gain access to new characters, increase your stats by gaining items or upgrades from certain important characters and gain Affinity with new friends by choosing to interact with them. After you select a portrait, you're taken to a lengthy cut scene where you find out a bit more about the person you chose.

When meeting a character for the first time, they'll often appear again as a choice, this time with something for you in the form of an item, status boost or AP point decrease. All you need to watch out for are pits in the road that end the session before you gain some choice goodies, but if you can count, you can avoid the holes and sometimes the Goal point in order to meet an extra character or two. These Free Time sections aren't more than a few minutes long each, but they provide more than enough information about the characters and game world that fans should be pleased.

The visuals are clean throughout with the end result sitting nicely between 2D JRPG, manga and anime thanks to hand painted backdrops and nice character art. There's a cool animated intro movie and the top screen fights look great (albeit slightly choppy in some of the more elaborate special attacks). I really liked that the developer went to the trouble in animating many different combinations of party members' co-op and team attacks and yes, the battle scenes look very much like Studio Pierrot might have had a hand in creating them. If you're spoiled by 3D graphics or brighter colored 2D games, the matter of fact anime style might not be your cup of tea. On the other hand, you're not going to confuse a Bleach game with Dragon Ball, Naruto or anything else unless you tend to lump all anime into one nice, handy (and confusing to others) ball of whatever.

Sound effects are basic, minimalist fighting game stuff with some spell and weapon effects added, although there's a decent amount of voice acting here in the form of assorted battle cries. As I only received one copy of the game, I can't comment on the Wi-Fi mode. The manual says it's a battle mode where you and another person with the game (and a DS, of course) can fight it out using created teams. You won't earn any experience points or items here, so it's all no frills bragging rights for those Bleach fans who get together to duke it out, wireless style. The single player game takes roughly 25 - 30 or so hours to beat if you spend long enough leveling up in Free Battles. As noted above, the game isn't all that difficult unless you don't upgrade and equip your party members properly for what's ahead or pay attention to some of the story sections that can help in the trickier battles later on.

In the end, Bleach: The 3rd Phantom won't set the SRPG world ablaze, but it's a good, solid well-made entry level RPG fans of the anime would be proud to own (and go back to when they need a refresher course on where it all began). Of course, if you happen to be a JRPG fan who has a large block of time to spare, what's here is decent enough to play through twice just to see how each of the twins' stories go. When you find yourself staying up too late as you grind away in Free battle mode or try to avoid pits in Free Time mode, try not to blame me for your sleepless nights or sleepy days.