Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Review: Deadly Premonition

Platform: Xbox 360

Developer: Access Games

Publisher: Ignition Entertainment

# of Players: 1

Rating: M (Mature)

Official Site

Score: A-

Deadly Premonition
just might be a tipping point for certain gamers who don't quite trust mainstream review sites for any number of reasons. Sure, if you apply the now boring "by today's standards..." mantra to every aspect of the game, it deserves a low score for failing to have stunning graphics, online multiplayer modes, flawless controls and so forth and so on. On the other hand, if you approach DP as a game experience that's going to be (outside of yearly sequels and games trying to copy other games) wholly unique... well, hell - welcome to paradise. Granted, it's a twisted paradise of survival horror, intentional comedy, open world exploration, police car driving and a main character that's crazy as a herd of cows on a crack binge.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Review: Alice In Wonderland

Platform: Nintendo Wii

Developer: Etranges Libellules

Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios

# of Players: 1-2

Rating: E10+

Official Site

Score: B-
As with the Nintendo DS/DSi version of Alice In Wonderland, developer Etranges Libellules has done a great job, transforming what could have been a boring platform-hopping romp into a visually stunning, simple to play (yet challenging at times) experience. The Wii version uses the film's look and much of its major voice talent with excellent results and while it's not the longest game on the planet, a few tricky puzzles and combat should keep you entertained There's co-op play here for those that crave companionship or want to share the fun, but it's not quite perfect and actually can make the game a bit harder in some areas.

TopWare Introduces Battle vs Chess

Well, color me pleasantly surprised. You'd figure that since every strategy game is based in one way or another on Chess, we'd have seen something like this hitting consoles sooner. I can still remember playing Archon on the NES and Battle Chess on the 3DO back in the day, so this should be as much addictive fun from a gameplay perspective. Of course, those lovely new graphics are nothing to sneeze at.

Here you go - two screens from TopWare Interactive's upcoming Battle vs. Chess, set for a May 2010 release across "multiple platforms". Hmm... as if the publisher's upcoming epic RPG Two Worlds II isn't going to be keeping folks like me too busy to breathe already! I guess BvC will be a "downtime" game for when I'm not exploring Antaloor's expansive over world and deadly dungeons.

Also below is the official press release. The teaser site lists Xbox 360/Xbox Live, Wii, PC and Mac versions, but I'm hoping this makes it to the PS3 and or PSP at some point. I guess sales will dictate that, right? If anything, the fantasy theme combined with the Fritz Chess-powered gameplay will certainly make Chess a lot more accessible to those who can't quite grasp the board version, that's for sure.

Chess, the unrivalled champion of strategy games has been attracting players of all ages for countless centuries. Battle vs. Chess takes up the mission of adapting the time honoured classic for the 21st century, seeking to breathe new life into the beloved game without abandoning the essential concepts that have made it so enduring. However simply digitalizing it is not nearly enough, as the progressive title aims at developing a unique fusion between vivid 3D environments & characters, professional chess software and upbeat combat visuals & mechanics.

Employing the framework of ChessBase’s world renowned Fritz! chess algorithm software, widely regarded as one of the most sophisticated chess engines in the world, even the most experienced chess experts will be presented with a daunting challenge. All these features paired with an atmospheric soundtrack, several distinct game board environments, special game modes, and a plethora of unlockable bonuses guarantee players long lasting fun with the timeless game of kings!

Battle vs Chess is currently being developed across multiple platforms, and is scheduled for release in May 2010.

Sherlock Holmes vs Jack The Ripper To Stalk 360 in April

Looks as if the adventure game on home consoles isn't quite dead after all. Thanks to Dreamcatcher and The Adventure Company, Xbox 360 owners will get their hands on Frogware's Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper on April 20, 2010 for a mere $29.99.

The game is a port of the 2009 PC version (which garnered pretty decent reviews overall) and features first and switchable first and third-person perspectives, detailed environments based on actual locations around London and more investigating than you can shake a walking stick at. Here's a quick peek at a few screens as well as a little bit of info on what to expect in the final version:

Game Overview:

A horrible series of crimes are uncovered in the East End district of London. The police have no serious leads and the heinous murders continue. Take on the role of Sherlock Holmes as you set out to find clues in the dark, gloomy streets of London searching for the macabre trail of the one known as Jack the Ripper.

During this terrifying adventure, Sherlock will attempt to shed some light on the mystery that shrouds the identity and motive of the ghastly killer

Sure, the game has no explosions, DLC, multiplayer modes or fast-paced action sequences that might cause you to break an controller into bits. Nevertheless, anyone who craves a more brain-twisting set of puzzles and a well-scripted mystery that combines Arthur C. Doyle's classic crime cracker and one of history's most memorable real-life murderers will be more than pleased, particularly if the 360 version is as well done as the original. We'll be keeping an eye on this one for sure.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Review: Alice In Wonderland

Platform: Nintendo DS

Developer: Etranges Libellules

Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios

# of Players: 1

Rating: E10+ (Everyone 10+)

Official Site


Score: A

When it comes to licensed movie games, the DS usually gets the short end of the stick and that stick usually has a particularly blunt end. With much less memory to work with, movie games squeezed onto the handheld (generally in record time) often show off the handheld's limitations rather than its strengths. On the other hand, every so often you'll see games that take what the system can do and combined with more stylized visuals and truly fun gameplay, manage to impress as much as (or more than) the console versions.

Alice In Wonderland does just this on the DS, thanks to developer Etranges Libellules, who also developed the Wii and PC versions of the game. Whereas the absolutely lovely, surreal console and PC versions are based on gorgeously colored, highly detailed imagery from the Tim Burton film, the DS game's fantastic blend of strikingly (and even quirkier), hand-drawn 2D and 3D elements combined with the multi-genre gameplay make this one of the most surprisingly cool licensed games to date. The game isn't quite what you'd expect it to be, yet there are more than enough familiar gameplay elements here that keep it entirely accessible to the target audience.

As royally cute as the cover art is, once you see the game in motion and yes, get busy with the stylus action, it's hard to stop playing. Like the other versions, you're not directly controlling Alice as the main character. You start out the game with The White Rabbit and Alice in tow and as the game progresses, you meet up with The Caterpillar, Mad Hatter and Cheshire Cat. All of your unusual friends have areas of the game designed specifically for their talents often on the same map. It's here where the gameplay shines and makes this nothing like a straightforward platforming experience. You control the Rabbit for a good portion of the first half hour or so as a running tutorial keys you in on movement, combat and problem solving. He can manipulate time and later, learn a double jump. So most of his puzzles revolve around making things stop, freeze or move faster while that jump helps him cross wide gaps.

As you go through these first few areas, the intuitiveness of the controls and menu system soon become apparent. Personally, I think this one of the most intuitive DS games I've played in terms of its learning curve. If fact, while there's a bit of text in the game, the gameplay is geared so much toward a purely visual experience that you'll eventually be able to look at parts of a map and figure out who you need to get Alice from Point A to Point B. The game throws a few areas at you where you'll need to quickly swap out characters to complete multiple tasks, meaning you never feel as if anyone is "useless". During your time in "Underland" You'll solve puzzles, uncover hidden treasure and bonuses while exploring a nicely sized collection of stages.

While Alice is regulated to following the selected character, she can also interact with them very much like Yorda in the PS2 classic, ICO. Alice can't jump too far, so each character has a means of aiding her across wider gaps or up to higher ledges. You can have Alice stay put as well, but don't leave her alone for too long. The wee lass also has no combat skills, so when the dreaded Red Knights appear to whisk her off in a vortex, you need to get tap-happy with that DS stylus to quickly defeat them. As in ICO, if Alice is spirited away in a vortex, it's Game Over and a trip back to your last save. Granted, save points in the game are numerous, so you rarely have far to backtrack if you lose Alice. On the other hand, the feeling of defeating the Knights as well as the game's bosses is quite exhilarating.

It's the boss battles that really showcase each character's skills as you'll need to move quickly in order to pacify some pretty tricky creatures. One early fight has the Caterpillar, who can shift air patterns in certain areas so the party can walk upside down, going up against a huge, toothy beast with multiple attacks. Trying to take it on directly is a bit crazy, but by changing the gravity, you can slam the beast to the ceiling or floor before rushing in to attack it for a few quick seconds before it recovers. Other bosses require a bit more work, but I won't spoil those battles for you. Let's just say that the game can be tricky, but it's never cheap or too hard.

Another fun element is the map system. As you travel through Underland, you'll need to locate map tiles shaped like puzzle pieces. Putting them together on the map screen in one order will unlock new areas, but swapping certain pieces around opens up shortcuts that can help you get past previously impassable obstacles. The trick is, you can't place a map piece in you need to move the piece you're on, so you're sometimes forced to hoof it to a different part of the map so you can move the piece you were formerly on. I liked this element a lot and hop ELB does something else with it in the future (either for an Alice follow-up or some other type of game).

The visuals and sound production are fantastic. The graphics share influences from Tim Burton's own art (of course), to Okami (the use of Asian-style brush work in characters and environments) and Patapon (the simple yet exaggerated enemy shapes and usage of black areas) and even a tiny bit of the cartoon-like Zelda games. While the pace of the game a a tad more languid than candy-colored mascot platformers, the use of color, mixture of 2D and 3D scrolling effects and overall "feel" of the game is superb. Richard Jaques' score is brilliant, slightly eerie and always compelling you to reach the next new area. While the sound effects are minimalist, they work perfectly, especially when Alice needs a boost or shows fear when certain enemies are around.

Even simple things such as the menu system and adjusting options is well thought out and funny. You'll want to go though all the options and adjust the sounds, microphone sensitivity (you'll find out why you need that microphone in the game - think teacup boats) and even check out the credits just to see the cute animations. I don't know if ELB has plans to do a second Alice game, but I'd love to see this art style either in a new Alice cartoon or on T-shirts or some other licensed products. There's also a bit of hilarious manga/anime stylization in the game, but again, you'll have to see these scenes for yourself.

As a bonus, the game cart has Disney's D gamer functionality that allows you to create an avatar and connect to the D gamer web site for online fun and games. You'll also unlock Achievements or gear your avatar can wear in your Collection in by collecting certain items in Alice in Wonderland. It's a much more kid-friendly mixture of Xbox Live with a dash of Miis in the creation process, but we'll see if this catches on n the future. Given that Disney games have an automatic user base, I'm sure the service will do quite well. I was going to ignore it and just play through the game, but I relented and cooked up an avatar just to see how well the feature was implemented. It works perfectly fine, bit I'd have loved to have the ability to make my little guy look as if he was drawn in the style of the game art.

As far as negative issues go, well, there aren't many to speak of. While the controls are intuitive, once in a while the camera will pull back to show a larger puzzle area, making something like a small jump a bit tough to tap out precisely (as in the return trip past the the bathtub puzzle). If you hate lots of backtracking, there's a great deal of it in the game. However, it's well-designed backtracking, as you'll be required to use skills your team hadn't learned during your last trip through the stage to reach new areas and uncover hidden items. The exploration element of the game is in fact, where the bulk of the fun is, so I'm gathering that those who want to buy the game won't mind trekking it about from start to finish.

Overall, for a licensed game, Alice In Wonderland is just about as perfect as it gets and so far, one of the best DS games of 2010. It's long and challenging enough to feel rewarding yet never wears out its welcome thanks to its stellar visual style, combination of familiar gameplay styles and emphasis on exploration. All of these elements equal nothing but pure fun when they're mixed as well as this. Even if you have the barest interest in licensed games, platformers or normally dislike games geared toward a younger audience, the consistently quirky nature of the game (and its amusing dialog) will have you hooked.

Classic Gaming Expo 2010 Info!

It's baaaaaaaaack! Want to spend a weekend in Vegas surrounded by TONS of vintage to current games, game consoles and plenty of cool folks who love them (as well as a few that have created them)? Well, Classic Gaming Expo 201o is set to take place at the Tropicana Las Vegas on the weekend of July 31 and August 1, 2010, so boogie on over to the registration page and get your pass NOW.

In addition to more games than you can shake a stick at (sticks not included at the show) , AtariAge and Digital Press are hosting a "Retro Rumble" tournament where the best classic gamers can compete to win fame and some awesome prizes. There will more likely than not be an incredible, eyeball searing auction where attendees can snag some really rare games, systems and swag (I'll update this as info comes in) as well as many special guests

As the press release says:
"Classic Gaming Expo is the largest and longest-running celebration of classic video games, the designers who created them, the players who enjoy them and the fanatics who collect them."

Anyway, c'mon down, bring the family and prepare to break the bank (or at least maim it slightly)... but not on slots or roulette! You'll more than likely go broke picking up some great deals on classic to current gaming goodness.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Avernum VI Released, Grand Time-Suck Begins Worldwide...

That Tardis-like sound you're hearing on occasion as you stroll about isn't your tinnitus going haywire. That's the sound of pure time energy being vaporized as people download and play Spiderweb Software's supremely addictive new RPG, Avernum 6. What, you don't believe me? Hmmmmm. Go download the PC or Mac demo and see for yourself. Have a great time, but maybe remind friends and family of what you're doing, as you won't be coming up for air any time soon...