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!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Random Art II: Bloodrayne Halloween Sketch

I did this piece a few years back for fun - the original is probably hanging in an PR office somewhere or socked away somewhere safe... one of these days I'll get to drawing on a more regular basis.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Dragon Age: Origins Update: Oghren (Plus Gold!)

It's done and gone gold, folks. Dragon Age: Origins has gone into production, so those final retail copies are only a short time away from your hot little hands. BioWare has also announced a DA:O social network which you'll be able to read more about below this week's character update. Anyway, without further adieu, heeeeeeere's Oghren!

Oghren, of House Kondrat, was once a promising member of the Warrior Caste who had earned great prestige in the dwarves’ gladiatorial proving grounds. When a Smith Caste family with plenty of money but few political connections offered their daughter in marriage, his family accepted the match. And then everything changed. His wife, Branka, invented a process that revolutionized the smelting process and was declared a Paragon - the first in a generation, forever ensuring an honored place among the ancestors. Oghren gladly joined his wife’s new noble house, but when Branka took her followers and vanished into the Deep Roads, she left him behind. He remains determined to find Branka again and learn what obsession keeps her hidden away from the rest of her kind

Oghren intro trailer

All Versions of Dragon Age: Origins to be Available November 3

EDMONTON, ALBERTA, CANADA – October 23, 2009 – Leading video game developer BioWare™, a division of Electronic Arts Inc., announced today that the PlayStation®3 version of Dragon Age™: Origins will be available on November 3, 2009 in North America. The PlayStation 3, Xbox 360® and PC versions of the game have “gone gold” in North America and are currently in manufacturing ready for their November 3 launch date. At launch, Dragon Age: Origins will be available on all three platforms with several packs of downloadable content (DLC) including The Stone Prisoner, the Blood Dragon Armor and Warden’s Keep; each further enriching the gameplay experience.

“We’re excited to confirm that all three versions of Dragon Age: Origins will be available to fans on November 3 in North America,” said Ray Muzyka, Group General Manager, RPG/MMO Group of EA, and Co-Founder, BioWare. “The Dragon Age: Origins development team was able to polish the PlayStation 3 version to our high standard of quality and we are ready to deliver the richest and deepest role-playing fantasy experience across all three platforms.”

In anticipation of the game, players can begin their Dragon Age: Origins experience early by joining the BioWare Social Network -- a destination to share in-game screenshots, review game data and share story information. Players can also download the free* to download Character Creator where players can create and customize a player character on the PC and then upload their character data and avatar to the BioWare Social Network before Dragon Age: Origins launches. The Dragon Age: Origins Character Creator will provide players with the tools to create a character with a nearly endless amount of options. Players can download the character creator and get more information on the BioWare Social Network HERE.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Review: The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road

Platform: Nintendo DS/DSi

Developer: Media Vision

Publisher: Xseed Games

# of Players: 1

Rating: E (Everyone)

Official Site

Score: A

Thanks to the very wise folks at Xseed, Media Vision's RIZ-ZOAWD has finally come to the US retitled The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road and it's one truly gorgeous JRPG both genre and Oz fans will love. The game balances classic turn-based combat with a great, innovative stylus centered control scheme that's sure to be copied in the future by other developers. Nearly everything about the game is grand and feels just right. What's here is basic enough for entry level players, yet the level of challenge in some spots can make the game tricky enough for RPG veterans to appreciate. This revision of the classic Oz tale doesn't overstay its welcome either, as the adventure clocks in at a decent enough length and has a nicely done ending that resonates long after you've watched the end credits.

Don't even think about the classic film being referenced here (other than the brief, funny opening dance sequence after the WB logo). This all-new story takes Dorothy, Toto and her three odd friends down a completely different path after that familiar twister picks her up and deposits her into the game's strange new world. The game twists the original tale around by getting you to Oz within the first twenty or so minutes with all of Dorothy's traveling companions in tow (and her little dog, too). The Wizard tasks Dorothy and her pals to defeat a number of witches in four different seasonally-themed lands before they can take over the land of Oz. Upon doing so, wishes will be granted, everything will be hunky-dory and Dorothy will find her way back to Kansas... allegedly. But let's keep things spoiler free here, shall we?

You're guided through the stylus-based movement that has you flicking and tapping a trackball on the bottom screen. This control system is perfect, allowing Dorothy to walk, trot, run at full tilt and stop on a dime. You can also turn using arrows to the left and right of the trackball. All her motions are wonderfully animated from head to toe and it's just a ton of fun to get from place to place using this method. Combat also uses the touchscreen, but in a more simplified manner making it accessible to anyone who can read and hold a stylus. When you go into battle, you're allowed to select who you want to participate using a "ratio" system. You have four points total to work with and each of the four travelers is assigned a specific point value. Dorothy and the Scarecrow are one point each, The Lion is two points and the big Tin Man is a big three points. Additionally, enemies have different characteristics each of the four characters are strong against, which adds a bit of strategy to the fighting.

For example, Dorothy is strong against ghosts, the Tin Man is strong against plant creatures, the Lion beats stone-based creatures and the Scarecrow is great against aquatic enemies. While this makes things easier once you remember who's good against what, once in a while the game does mix in a few enemies that can't be defeated by normal means. One of those "enemies" is Io, a wise old gnome/lizard/Yoda-looking creature that teaches you a few much needed magic spells. The only way to get trained by him is to beat him, but he's not going down without a fight. For an old coot with a tail and a cranky attitude, he's got some nasty attacks that can wipe out your team of four in a few turns. If you best him each member learns a new spell. If he wipes you out, it's Game Over and a trip to your last save point. Having a good stock of healing items helps a great deal as does using some of the spells you learn against him in future visits.

One thing you'll notice in combat is the game recommends actions for each character, but you'll need to pay VERY close attention here as you may want to manually heal someone rather than let the game do something entirely different, costing you a character for that battle. On the other hand, the beginning of the adventure is shockingly easy to the point of being quite deceptive. You'll blow through baddies so quickly (and defeat each of your three Oz pals in no time flat) that some of you might think the rest of the game is a total cakewalk. Well, it's most certainly not. I'd recommend leveling up a lot more before you leave that Yellow Brick Road, as the game takes a geometric leap in difficulty in the Spring stages. Of course, as you grow stronger, those wolves, frogs and other formerly major pains will become minor bumps in the road as you go after that aforementioned group of witches the mighty Oz wants taken out.

There's a ton of visual power on display here and this is one of the best-looking DS games to date. You'll see some of the most beautiful scenery on the handheld thanks to some really talented artists and programmers pushing the hardware to its limits. Media Vision has put together a game that practically sings its visuals to you through lush color and tons of detail you'd normally find in a console game. Yes, there's a bit of pop-up, but every area has some jaw-dropping locations with waterfalls, arched ruins and lovely skies all around. Enemy design recalls everything from Dragon Quest (those ghosts cracked me up the first time I saw them) to a bit of Final Fantasy and a few stops in between, yet as a whole, the art direction and presentation comes off as wholly original. The redesigned manga-style Oz characters look spectacular and it's too bad we only see them in that cool opening, storybook sequences or character portraits. The again, having all four heroes running around on screen during the game would have been a bit too hard on the game engine.

The soundtrack is nothing but amazing throughout from the lovely opening song, the different battle music and other choice tunes pumping majestically from the DS speakers. If Xseed had packed this with a soundtrack CD, it would be an even better buy, but as it is,some of you will be popping in ear buds to listen to the tunes once you get into the game. I haven't been to the game's web site just yet, but it would be very cool if Xseed made the entire soundtrack available as a download at some point. Hmmmm... maybe they can start a download service on their site, charging a few dollars for the different game soundtracks from their most popular titles. Time for an Xseed site poll, I say...

My few complaints about the game are minor. Coins are really hard to come by, so you'll be stuck with your starting gear for a while unless you "farm" maps for gold by going back and forth in an easy area and hope for the best. And when you finally do buy new gear, you often find out that the weapons or armor in some treasure chests ends up weaker than the stuff you spent money on a few hours back. At least healing is free if you warp back to the castle and don't mind retracing your steps. As innovative as the controls are, I'd imagine some gamers whining on about the simple combat system, but i say if it ain't broke... don't screw with it.

Too many JRPGs get saddled with some really crazy battle systems that make playing the games more annoying than enjoyable. What's here works perfectly because it doesn't try to be arcane and flabbergasting disguised as "cool" or "innovative." The game works because it's accessible and the only learning curve comes from getting Dorothy to go where you want her to and occasionally not taking the choice the CPU gives you in some battles. If I had to REALLY whine about something, it would have to be with the whole Toto thing. there's a button on the lower screen that lets Dorothy pet him to make him learn "tricks" as the game progresses, but I think he only goes after coins (and he's not too good at that). Then again, the rest of the game was so well explained in-game that I didn't read the manual or poke around online at all to find out what all that heavy petting would really do.

Overall, The Wizard of Oz: beyond the Yellow Brick Road is one of the best DS RPGs this year, hands down. While it doesn't have the hype of a Final Fantasy or a Fire Emblem, nor is it as "epic" in length as those or other franchises, it's definitely a recommended purchase for any JRPG fan. Wizard of Oz book and film fans will adore what's here as well as the game makes excellent use of a fantastic license, looks phenomenal and plays like a dream. I'm not sure if Media Vision has future plans for more Oz games, but that game engine they've cooked up for the game is something well worth seeing in another RPG, that's for sure.

Armored Core 3 Portable Hits PSP As PSN DLC Only

From FromSoft, with Love (BOOM!), Department: PSP and PSP go owners can do the happy dance while folks who want their retail UMDs are crying in their root beers. An all new PSP Armored Core game is here and ready to go over the PlayStation Network, so drop the fifteen clams on this one and get with the customizing and mecha blasting action, whydontcha? Now, I'm hoping that FromSoftware sees fit to localize and release King's Field Additional I and II in the US via this method one of these days (especially with Demon's Souls blowing up the charts all over the map)...

Press release and images below:

FromSoftware Inc. today announced that Armored Core® 3 Portable, the latest installment in its popular mecha action game series, will be available for download on the North American PlayStation®Network on October 22, 2009. The Armored Core franchise has sold more than 3.5 million copies worldwide, and the original Armored Core 3 for PlayStation®2 has stood the test of time as a fan favorite.

In Armored Core 3 Portable, players battle as members of the mercenary organization “Raven,” piloting customizable mecha Armored Core (AC) units. The ACs are customizable with different weapons and machine parts that can be reconfigured as necessary to complete a variety of combat-intensive missions.


* Over 50 action-packed missions
* Enhanced menu interface and in-game visibility
* Pilot a fully customizable AC unit, configuring weapons, parts, armor color and emblems
* Over 200 parts available to assemble and create your own machine, including parts from the previous games in the series
* PSP® (PlayStation®Portable) Ad Hoc Network support; easily battle up to four friends using a wireless connection
* Challenge opponents nationwide over the Ad Hoc Party on PlayStation®3 (PS3™)
* A new opponent from the Japanese Armored Core novel
* Future-proof data can be saved and transferred to future Armored Core PSP titles

Armored Core 3 Portable is rated T for Teen (Violence) by the ESRB, and has a purchase price of $14.99.

Valve News: L4D2 Pre-Orders Pre-Loaded, Aussie Version Neutered

In Valve news, good and not so good:


Those who have pre-purchased Left 4 Dead 2 via Steam may now pre-load the game demo, which is due to launch for early access on Tuesday, October 27. Early access to the L4D2 demo is available for both retail (360, PC) and Steam (PC) customers. Those who pre-ordered via participating retailers should be able to pick up their early access codes this weekend and be ready to play on Tuesday when the demo launches.
As for the ratings deal Down Under... well, it looks as if Australian gamers wanting their zombie killing unaltered will be out of luck as:

“In the review board’s opinion, Left 4 Dead 2 could not be accommodated within the MA 15+ classification,” it said. “The computer game contains a level of violence which is high in impact, prolonged, repeated frequently and realistic within the context of the game.”
Well, duh... But I guess the board has to protect the folks over 18 who want to buy the game from themselves and any potential bad behavior seeing exploding zombie heads will cause. Ah well... EA and Valve appealed the rating after presenting a 'sanitized' version of the game to the review board, but the board stood fast. Soooo, Down Under gets the game... but it's going to be a lot less gory than what's hitting here.

I'm guessing the US PC version may be the way to go for you guys, unless it's been banned from import into the country...

Arc Rise Fantasia Headed to Wii From Ignition & Marvelous in 2010

Looks as if the Wii is getting another exclusive RPG and a mighty fine-looking one at that. Ignition Entertainment and Marvelous are bringing imageepoch's epic Arc Rise Fantasia to the US next year. Here's a quick look at some mostly character-centric screens (and yes, we'd like more, please!):

We'll have more on Arc Rise Fantasia as news comes in.