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.