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Review: Strania - The Stella Machina

Apr 14 // Destin Legarie
Strania – The Stella Machina (XBLA)Developer: G. RevPublisher: MicrosoftReleased: March 30th, 2011MSRP: 800 Microsoft Points or $10 When you fire up this title for the first time you're greeted with a typical splash screen. You can select the different modes, and options, but the distinct lack of music is instantly off putting. As you navigate the menu, you're welcomed with harsh noises letting you know that you've moved the cursor. This is your first impression of the game, and the only explanation I can come up with is that they had to rush and throw it together. This amateurish first impression is covering up what amounts to an average shooter. The hook of the title is that you can get some unique power ups like a sword that you can slice through enemies with, but the other items are fairly average like a spread shot, side shot, laser, and more.  Strania's next mistake is that it uses the "screw-you-over system." If you have an awesome weapon combination, and a new item comes onto the screen that's awful, you need to avoid it at all costs. If you even touch it, your superior combo will be replaced with what could be a mess. There were many times that I was flying around with a nice spread shot side gun combo only to have one of the items replaced with a sword. I hate it when shooters do this. The difficulty level is also quite high. You get a maximum of 3 lives, and even if you have continues turned on they seem to do nothing. I tried to set my lives to 3 with a continue option turned on, but once I go through my 3 lives the game would just end. Either I'm an idiot, or the continue functionality does not work. It's a struggle to find them, but there are a few plus points to note. One area that's impressive is the visuals. There are mini-action moments spread throughout the game, including explosions that erupt in the background as the camera spins around your 3D character before he flies toward the camera.  There are also showdowns where an enemy will be highlighted in the distance before tackling the player head-on. These little moments set alongside some pretty level design make up the games biggest strengths.  It's just a shame that the rest of the product feels a bit flat. Even the sound is bland. There are no beats that will stick out in your mind, and the different sounds of the weapons all mush together to make an unimpressive stew of mediocrity. The fact that the music just ends after a level leaving you with nothing but the sound of your mech jets should tell you that someone was being lazy. There should be some kind of victory sequence tune, but it isn't present. Multiplayer is non-existent. There's an option for it on the main menu, and while local multiplayer works fine allowing you to team up with a friend to take down the bad guys, the online functionality is broken.  If you want to go online there's little to no chance that you'll find a game. If there are fans of the game reading this, I'm sorry, but no one is playing Strania.  You'll just have to call up a buddy to pick up a controller and sit next to you if you want some co-op action. I've gotten some enjoyment out of the shooters that have appeared on Xbox Live Arcade as of late, but this one just fell flat.  It uses an outdated weapon changing system that's more annoying than useful, doesn't do enough to engage the player in combat, and feels unfinished.  If Strania had some more time to add some additional touches I think there could be a decent shooter here.  As it stands now, I'll have to tell you to pass on it.

If I hadn't been reviewing so many of them lately, I would have thought the shoot-em-up genre was dead.  Apparently I was wrong as I've reviewed more games from this genre than any other over the last six months. ...

Review: Test Drive Unlimited 2

Feb 25 // Destin Legarie
Test Drive Unlimited 2 (Xbox 360 [Reviewed], PlayStation 3, PC)Developer: Eden GamesPublisher: AtariReleased: February 8th, 2011MSRP: $49.99 / $39.99(PC) You start off as a bellhop that gets his first big shot at becoming a racing superstar. With a little start up cash you pick up your first POS series sports car, roll up to your pad, (aka trailer) and begin working your way to a life of luxury. Faster cars, mansions, and fame are up for grabs if you're just willing to put the time into grinding through the same 5 races over and over with the occasional escort mission thrown in for good measure. With the money you earn by doing this you can buy clubs, clothes, cosmetic surgery and more, but make sure you focus on a pad with a big garage. A bigger garage equals more cars equals more races that you'll be able to compete in.Though the game gives you this large world to explore, filled with locations that vary from paved areas going as far as the eye can see, to gravely mud pits found in the off-road areas, it's all built upon a product that isn't ready for the retail market. Before I tear this game apart, let's start with a few positive points.  Yep, they did one or two things right like the "frim" system. Frim keeps you entertained by giving you points for dodging cars, driving fast, and pulling off smooth turns.  Every time that you manage to hit a new rank with the frim you have a chance to cash in, or continue for the chance at doubling your money. It only ends when you hit something, but it's a fun way to keep you engaged while on long stretches of road and I found that I would always keep a close eye on my cash when doing it.The second positive note is the vehicles.  There's plenty of customizations available including paint, rims, stickers, one or two mechanical upgrades, and who doesn't love pimping out their ride. The vehicles look spectacular.  They're probably the prettiest thing in the game, which is a compliment to the car designers, and an insult to anyone that lives in Hawaii. Then you go outside where you see that the environments already look drab, but add immense amounts of texture popping into the mix and you'll quickly find yourself wishing you were playing one of the greats from 2010 that I had mentioned earlier. Environments aren't the only bad part of the game as characters look stiff, unbelievable, and come completely packaged with some of the worst excuses for voice acting that I've ever heard.  Then there's the fact that what should be the game's biggest strength is broken.  Test Drive Unlimited 2 can best be described as an MMO racer without all the typical fun elements found in an MMO.  You know, like being able to play with other people.  You're supposed to be in an open world where you can race anyone at anytime. Instead the only multiplayer you're able to experience is the following notification.  "The Test Drive Unlimited 2 server is not available at this time.  Please try again later."  This game is jacked up. Not once was I able to join a quick match because the game either didn't work or was unable to find another player.  I did host a race that consisted of myself and one other player though. Beforehand we made gestures at each other using the games built-in emotes, and then I raced the only other player I could find. I was promptly left in the dust. At least until the very end of the race when his Dodge viper spun out and I was able to win with my Camaro ... only to watch the Viper be catapulted into the stratosphere. I'm not exaggerating, nor am I being facetious, that actually happened. I won a race and then watched a 10 cylinder, 3,000 lb Dodge Viper fly up, into the sky, and disappear. Speaking of actual racing (which you'll do from time to time) this portion of the game is mostly intact.  I would put it into the Gran Turismo category meaning it's more realistic, something that I personally don't prefer.  Thankfully they didn't make it so rigid that any mistake will punish you.  You can mess up here and there and still come out ahead. The countdown before each race drove me nuts at first though. If you redline your RPMs it's one of those games that just kill your car instead of letting you burn out until you let off of the gas. This is one aspect isn't forgiving like other racers, actually if you're just a little bit into the red (at least with your beginner car) the game kills the engine. Once I started getting better vehicles this problem seemed to disappear, or I had just adjusted by that point, but it's very confusing as a new player.  There's over 90 vehicles to collect in the game, and a max level cap of 60 that you can reach by playing the campaign, racing other players in multiplayer, and by finding new locations in the games humongous world. It's just a shame that the campaign consists of annoying voice actors that are almost unbearable to listen to, multiplayer is near non-existent, and finding a new location involves driving for extended periods of time through dull, boring terrain. Test Drive Unlimited 2 isn't a horrible game. It's just surrounded by a bug filled world, glitchy gameplay, and a core mechanic that doesn't function.  Maybe with a patch the glaring faults will be corrected, but in this state I would not recommend it for racing fans.

I'm extremely happy that the racing genre seems to be picking up again.  In 2010 we had some spectacular titles like Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, and Gran Turismo 5 so I couldn't wait to see what was in store for 2011.&n...

Review: Zeit^2

Jan 16 // Destin Legarie
Zeit² (Xbox Live [Reviewed], PC)Developer: Bright Side GamesPublisher: UbisoftReleased: January 12th, 2011MSRP: 800 Microsoft Points, $10.00 Well deliver they have.  January 12th, 2011 marked the launch of Zeit² across the Xbox Live and PC platforms meaning we finally have the opportunity to peel back the layers of this time bending shooter.  The layers aren't immediately apparent, but once you've had time to acclimate yourself to the time mechanic you'll discover a rich set of options that only build upon each other as you progress.  Zeit² forces you to layer your tactics when taking on opponents.  Firing causes you to lose life, letting enemies pass causes you to lose life and ships will enter at the top and bottom of the screen forcing you to start thinking outside of the box.  So enters the time mechanic.  The time mechanic in question allows you to rewind time for a few seconds, leaving a shadow image of your past self to attack.  While that image attacks, you can either shoot its shadow for an areawide attack that lasts a few moments, or cover the portion of the screen that your past self couldn't reach. Include enemies that can only be defeated while your past self is on the screen and enemies that can only be defeated if your past self isn't on the screen and you've got a recipe for some cerebral shooting. Though I was able to defeat the arcade mode in two hours, access to other modes open up immediately.  This includes some of the most engaging and difficult Bonus Levels I've ever played and game types that feel like entirely new experiences. Each of these subsequent layers can only be unlocked by playing at least one level of the previous game type. Wave mode is unlocked after accessing the Arcade, Time Limit mode is unlocked after accessing Wave mode etc. Though you may think that these new game types are standard they're anything but.  Nothing is as it seems when it comes to Zeit².   Each of the additional modes, Time Limit, Wave, Survival, Tactics, Score Attack, and Challenge take a unique approach. For example, survival will increase how much damage you'll take as you progress making it harder and harder to survive. Time limit combines survival with collectible score multipliers that boost your score exponentially. Even Score Attack, which seems self-explanatory, gives you four stages to choose from and allows you to pick one power-up before beginning. These slight changes will have any shooter fan salivating as they try out each mode and realize it's something new, and incredibly engaging. You're entire experience is set on a star covered background as enemies approach from the right looking like they just jumped out of the PS3's flOw and into a space shooter.  Opponents range from tiny, white, and squid shaped, to circular, goliath sized bosses. You'll take them on as you fly through a brushed steel expanse set to some light techno-rock. The music is one area I felt they could have improved on, which sometimes sounds like someones first attempt creating a mix in a music generator.  Luckily for the player it's not unbearable, easily ignorable, and aside from one track in particular, most of the tracks are perfect tunes for taking out white, squid looking bad guys. My main qualm with the game is that it was originally set to inverted. Luckily I found out that you can fix it by hitting the jewel, going to settings, profile, game defaults, action, and then setting your y-axis to normal. Had I not found this I would have thought the game was much less enjoyable. It makes me worry that others will not figure out how to adjust the setting, causing the same problems I encountered.  There's no option in the menus to simply set this to non-inverted and I've already seen multiple threads on the internet looking for a fix. This is one of those things that should have been caught before the game launched and will hopefully get fixed with a patch. Aside from that complaint you get quite the little package here.  Zeit² succeeds because it takes everything you think you know about a shooter and turns it on it's head. This isn't a game where you're just going to hold down the shoot button and kill everything.  You need to think about your position at all times and how beneficial that position would if you were to use your time travel ability. It'll change what you think a shooter is supposed to be. Zeit² is like getting a present inside of a present. At first you're not sure if you're going to like it, but once you delve into the game's time travel mechanic it grabs a hold of you. This seemingly simple stratagem has managed to create a truly unique experience. Score: 8.0 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)

One of the great things about services like the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade are their abilities to expose indie titles that otherwise would've never seen. Limbo, Braid, and Everyday Shooter are just a few example...

Review: Worms: Battle Islands

Jan 14 // Destin Legarie
Worms: Battle Islands (PSP)Developer: Team 17Publisher: THQReleased: November 23, 2010MSRP: $24.99If you've never played a Worms title I'll describe what they've been reproducing.  You're a small team of worms on a large 2D landscape that can span multiple screens.  It usually has a theme like a snow covered lake or a field with various objects scattered about that can be used as cover, or to get a height advantage.  Your objective is to kill all the other worms before they kill you.  To do this you can use dynamite, missile launchers, grenades, cluster grenades, jet packs and more.  As you're setting off explosions (hopefully close to your enemies) giant craters are left behind deforming the playing field.  It can be a lot of fun.  The problem is that they've been doing this for so long now that there's 14 of these 2D games on the market.  The Worms franchise feels dead.There's already two Worms games available on the PSP. Worms: Open Warfare, and Worms: Open Warfare 2. This means that Worms: Battle Islands is going to appeal one of two groups.  The people who can't get enough Worms, (even though it's the same game) and those who want a worms title on the PSP, but don't already own one.  For those still interested, here's the game types you're getting.The campaign. Here you'll take over large chunks of land, collect blueprints and take over islands by winning matches.  It's traditional Worms gameplay at it's best topped off with a boss fight once the four surrounding islands have been conquered.VS mode. This allows you to play with up to 3 friends on one PSP, against computer opponents, or against a mix of the two.  Perfect if your on the go and don't want a lot of hassle connecting two PSPs.Online VS. Here you can connect via ad hoc to another PSP, or hop online and fight against... well nobody.  After trying multiple times over the span of 3 days I couldn't find a single match.  You can download flags and landscapes to use in online matches, which would be great if there were any.Time Attack mode.  You think it would be a, defeat all these enemies as fast as you can game type, but it isn't.  No, you'll instead use your jet pack or rope and fly through some painfully boring landscapes while trying to beat the "tracks" best time.  It's not very fun.  Finally, there's Puzzle Mode.Possibly the games saving grace, Puzzle Mode kept me challenged and gave me the most joy.  In this game type you're given a specific obstacle to overcome, such as not being able to move or only having a specific weapon and you need to try and defeat all the enemies on the screen.  It was fun trying to calculate the velocity needed to throw a magnet, make a mine hit my opponent and watch it blow up in his face, or see if I could hit an activated mine just right with a baseball bat so it blew up at the perfect moment. These puzzles were my favorite part of the entire package, not only because they were something new, but because they made me better at the game.That's about it. The innovation this time around was supposed to be the new "Tactics Mode." Team 17 said this was going to "redefine multiplayer worming" but all it boils down to is selecting something from a menu before a match in an effort to tip the scales in your favor. They also tried to spice the game up by adding a customization option where you can build new weapons with the blueprints found, or by adding some barely entertaining cut scenes into the mix. It just didn't work very well. Look, you can slap all the smiley stickers you want on a rotting carcass but it's still going to smell, and it's still going to be painfully obvious that it's a rotting carcass.And this particular rotting carcass has long loading times.I hope Team 17 can find a way to breathe some new life into this dying franchise because at it's core, Worms games are great. Teddy Grahams are great too but if you eat 14 boxes of Teddy Grahams they're not so great anymore. Only the most dedicated of fans, or someone who's never played a Worms game before should pick up Worms: Battle Islands. If you still want a Worms title for cheap, save some cash and pick up one of the other two titles already available on the PSP.  You'll probably find them in a bargain bin for a fraction of the cost.

Milking a franchise is one thing, but if you hook a milk machine up to a cow for long enough eventually nothing's going to be left. The cow's going to fall over, die, and the only thing you'll be sucking out are the innards o...

Review: A Space Shooter for 2 Bucks!

Jan 12 // Destin Legarie
A Space Shooter for 2 Bucks! (PSP Minis)Developer: FrimaPublisher: FrimaReleased: December 21, 2010MSRP: $1.99 The game succeeds by adding a little bit of style while not breaking tradition.  You're given comic style cut-scenes at the beginning and before each boss fight which act like mini-rewards simply for playing the game.  They're just comic panels but they're fully voiced comic panels.  Hearing the hero say "I pee everywhere to mark my territory... though I sometimes do it sitting down" makes it hard not to crack a smile.  You should know that these scenes may contain some swearing, but profanity has never bothered me and the fact that they were bleeped just made me giggle even more.Beneath all of the humor is a great shoot 'em up.  Nothing crazy happens, you'll just encounter enemies that fly in from the top of the screen, each with their own patterns and powers, and it's your job to take them out.  As you do, you'll collect orbs that you can redeem for upgrades to your ship.  These upgrades can range anywhere from better firepower, to better magnets for picking up more orbs.  Also, when you enter the shop you're greeted by a love interest for the hero, and the banter between the two will keep you coming back.  I kept hoping he got in her pants for the sake of comedy.  I wont spoil the outcome for you though. There are two different types of stages within the 18 different levels you can enter.  There's boss stages that I mentioned earlier where you'll be given a brief story, take out the alien, and get a weapon upgrade.  Then there's the question mark stages where you fight a mini-boss that builds itself out of a bunch of other ships.  Kind of like Megazord from Power Rangers but in space.  Take it out and you'll be rewarded with more orbs.  It may seem like it would be monotonous, but the ramped up difficulty is what keeps you coming back, maybe this time with a few new upgrades to kick some alien butt with.  Speaking of upgrades, if you ever find the need for extra orbs there's a survival mode where you can take on enemies and use any of the orbs you collect in the campaign.  Nice if you want to play for just a few minutes, or just power up your ship to pro status.Now I did encounter one big problem with the title.  Sometimes I would finish a level, the game would cross it off (indicating I had finished the boss) but then the cross would disappear and I would lose all the orbs I just collected and have to finish it again.  This even happened to me after beating the game which was extremely frustrating.  I had to finish a few levels twice just to proceed and it's never fun losing something you just worked hard to earn.  Hopefully they fix the bug in a patch. Though it's over quickly, (I finished it in about 3 hours) the game does offer multiple difficulty settings.  Starting with "Wussy," it moves up to "Competent" and also offers "Insane" for it's starting roster of difficulties.  If that's too easy for you "die trying" is unlockable so even those hardcore shooter fans will find something to enjoy.If A Space Shooter for 2 Bucks is any indication of what other games are in the PSP Mini collection, then gamers are in for a treat.  It doesn't try to do too much, it's a lot of fun, and it's cheap.  I wanted to keep coming back for more.  It was so addictive that I was distracted through the day because I was itching to come home and blow up some alien scum.  If you like shooters, spend the cash.  You won't be disappointed.

Simplicity.  Sometimes a simplistic concept can be an amazing one.  Take this game for example.  A Space Shooter for 2 Bucks! takes the shoot 'em up genre and doesn't try to clone geometry wars, doesn't try to ...

Review: EVE Online: Commissioned Officer Edition

Nov 28 // Destin Legarie
EVE Online: Commissioned officer edition (PC/Mac)Developer: CCP GamesPublisher: AtariRelease date: October 19, 2010MSRP: $19.99Your experience begins by picking one of four races.  You can choose from the Amarr, the Gallente, the Minmatar and the Caldari each of which has a unique back story.  Each of which also has no impact on the game.  No matter what race you pick you'll go through an extremely basic character creation process before you begin the tutorial.  Or should I say begin the game because from what I can tell, that tutorial is never ending.  Sure you complete the initial, 2 hour long tutorial session but then you're told to speak to one of 5 different agents who begin teaching you even more tactics.  It's a necessary evil as there's many tactics to be taught but it makes for extremely boring and lonely gameplay.  For an MMORPG EVE doesn't do a good job of getting new recruits to interact with each other.  I actively tried to get other people to team up on the basic quests but no one was interested.  Aside from the Rookie chat there's practically no one talking in the Local or Corporate chat areas.  At one point I started going to a destination, set my auto-pilot and then walked away because it was taking so long.  Sometimes you'll have to wait 20 minutes just to get to a destination where you'll complete an extremely menial task.  These task will be completed alone.  Yes there's many other players online, but your first week will probably be comprised of missions that you complete for Career Agents.  The only way I could join a fleet was to sign up for one on their forums.  That's unacceptable and there needs to be a better system that encourages players to work together early on.  My experience felt like a week long training session that I didn't want to be at.  All I wanted to do was build up my ship and fight some people.  Yes I was able to do this against some non-player characters, but alone.  When I play a massively-multiplayer online game I expect to be playing with other people.  Not to be isolated.Also, the extremely steep learning curve will destroy any sense of accomplishment you feel.  At one point I was warping from point a to point b and was blasted out of the sky by a random person.  The ship, weapons, and items I had worked all week collecting were gone.  Yes I had insured the shuttle, but my weapons were gone and they're much harder to recover.  I didn't engage the person, I was just doing an extended tutorial mission and was blasted out of the sky.  It really killed any enthusiasm I had.  You're encouraged to "get used" to losing your ship, so much so that there's a tutorial mission based around it.  What's fun about dying while you're trying to learn how to play the game?  Nothing.Luckily you'll probably enjoy the environments, for the first few days anyway.  Texture popping will occur when you jump from gate to gate, but for the most part everything looks nice... the first time you see it.  After you've jumped to your 100th star system you realize it's just more of the same but in a different color.  There's blue systems, red ones, and cloudy ones.  Eventually, you'll find the environments dull.  You can however run the game on any computer as the requirements are quite low so I suppose that could be seen as a benefit.The majority of the time that you spend in space will be accompanied by ambient noises.  If I ever need to take a nap in the future, I now know that I can just pop in EVE's soundtrack.  You can change the track you're listening to and I'll admit that some of the tunes during the battle sequences are catchy, but the default music will having you fighting back the zzz's.  Keep in mind, this is the music you'll be listening to for your week long tutorial.  There's even a disembodied voice that lets you know when you're jumping, or locking onto a target.  It's all very soothing.So soothing in fact that I'd like to paint a picture for you.  Imagine a relaxing ocean track, combined with a mellow tune from an anger management CD.  Then, add a disembodied female version of Hal.  This is what you'll be experiencing.  The most soothing, sleep inducing MMO ever.  None of it's bad, but I prefer to remain awake during my gaming sessions.As I stated earlier, the game is extremely difficult.  So difficult in fact that most of your time will be spent alone, jumping places, and returning to the station your ships are at after barely escaping death.  In total, I talked to four people, two of which were moderators.Then there's the random attacks.  I was told that blowing up random ships is a sport that more advanced players partake in which I imagine is fun for them.  They try to see how many ships they can destroy in a night.  I had no chance and neither would you if you had been playing.  The way a battle is won in EVE Online is by having the strongest ship.  If your ship is weaker, you'll die.  Simple as that.  So while this player was able to add another notch in his belt, I lost everything I had worked on gathering in four days.  That's four days of work gone all because I had to grab a cheap part while on another tutorial mission.  Perhaps you would fare better but for a new player trying to learn and build an arsenal it's devastating.  Needless to say I had little desire to continue.  If you decide to play this game, be sure you don't get attached to a ship or anything you put on it.  Chances are that you'll lose it and have to start over.There's a gigantic universe open for players to explore with very few things of interest that you'll encounter.  There's literally thousands of stars you can visit in EVE Online most of which are uninteresting.  If you enjoy flying around aimlessly with the risk of losing everything you may have fun, but you may also have fun filling out your taxes.I don't know who this game is targeted towards.  It involves overly complex space exploration, and a tutorial that seems never ending.  The game must have done something right seeing it's been around since 2003 but I'm not recommending it.  I have never put my head down and attempted to sleep due to boredom while playing a video game but EVE succeeded in changing that.  Nothing about EVE is done poorly except for the fact that it isn't fun.  If you like charts, reading directions, and being blown up for no reason, give EVE Online a try.

EVE Online advertises itself as a space exploration adventure that will allow you to build power and wealth while exploring the vast reaches of space.  The commissioned officer edition is an attempt to get new players in...

Review: Swords and Soldiers (PSN)

Oct 07 // Destin Legarie
Swords and Soldiers (PC, PSN (Reviewed), WiiWare) Developer: Ronimo Games Publisher: Ronimo Games Released: September 28thMSRP: $9.99 My experience with real-time strategy titles consists mostly of Starcraft and Starcraft II.  My experience with castle defense games consists of those flash games you can play in your browser.  Imagine a game where elements from both were mixed together in a blender and somehow you got a delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  That's what Swords and Soldiers is... a delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwich that you got from a blender. This RTS / castle defense mash-up is presented as a sidescroller. Enemies are coming at you from the right, and you have to create enemies on the left that will march toward them and then kill them.  Your final goal, the thing you have to destroy, resides on the right hand of the screen.  To do this, you'll need gold diggers, portrayed at times as well endowed women who say "I love gold," soldiers, and magic.  All of these elements are mapped out on the L1, R1, and triangle buttons.  You press L1 for troops, R1 for magic, and triangle for upgrades.  You can select them with the thumbstick and then press the X button to activate them.  My explanation doesn't do it justice.  The commands are simply executed with ease. That's no small task either.  Taking all the elements of an RTS and somehow fitting it onto only a few buttons is impressive.  You'll be building troops and tearing down castles as though it was second nature, but what's your motivation behind this destruction? Well, you're on a quest to make the best BBQ recipe on the planet. To make it, you're going to need the best ingredients so you should obviously kill some people to get them.  You then embark on your quest and thus begins the Viking portion of the campaign. There's three sections of the campaign, each with ten missions which are unlocked as you progress. You start as the Vikings, then move onto the Aztecs, before finally taking on the Chinese quest. The cleverness seen in the Vikings quest seemed lost on the Aztec portion, but the Chinese leader looking for toys with his pet dragon-snake makes up for it. The entire game is presented in an animated art style shown below and it works well for the game. Backgrounds are colorful, and each character is so symbolic it'll be easy to pick them out from the crowd. The art used works well for the game and adds to the overall fun feeling Ronimo was going for. I just wish they had added some voice acting for the characters. Something similar to Chibiterasu's voice in Okami would have worked, but instead we just get text that you press X to go through. When beginning each mission they do a Batman-esque introduction zoom to throw you into the action which I loved. Again, one of those little touches that make the game great. There's also different music tracks for each of the levels that will play in the background, but you'll be too busy focusing on the action to appreciate it. Utter mayhem will be taking place on the screen at all times.  If you felt that the game was easy during the Viking campaign, you'll quickly reconsider your stance once you start with the Aztec's.  Some missions can take less than a minute, while others can last close to forty.  When you get stuck, it isn't the game's fault.  Rather, it's usually a tactic you've failed to utilize, meaning you'll need to adjust and come at the problem from a different angle.  If you don't use all the powers at your disposal, you can expect to be stuck for awhile. [embed]185557:33784[/embed] Once you complete the campaign, plenty of other options become available to you.  These include Survival where you survive as long as possible, Berserker Run, where you see how many yards your character can get before dying, and Boulder, where you squash all opposing forces with a giant rock.  Each unique challenge is actually a lot of fun and will have you adjusting tactics to figure out the best way to attack a problem. Theres also Skirmish for those who like to jump right into the action. Here you can take on an A.I. opponent of your choosing and select from a variety of different map types. However, the most disappointing aspect of this title is multiplayer, but I don't think thats the developer's fault. The only reason multiplayer is disappointing is because no one is playing this game. I tried on multiple occasions and I only found a game once after it sat for a very long time searching. Luckily, they also offer local multiplayer if you have a 2nd controller and want to play a friend split-screen. With all the extra options available, this is a great title for RTS fans, and castle defense fans as well. It has style, substance, and it had me smiling as soon as I turned it on.Score: 9.0 -- Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)  

I've noticed a trend with the Playstation Network. Sony brings a lot of special titles to it. PixelJunk Eden, Flow, and Flower are all examples of great pieces of software I've had the pleasure of experiencing. Swords and ...


Counterpoint: How Halo: Reach FAILS

Sep 30
// Destin Legarie
[Read Destructoid's original, glowing review right here. If you felt that was too positive, here's Destin with a counterpoint!] Halo: Reach has been out for two whole weeks. I think we can all agree that the critics love the...

Review: Sonic Adventure (XBLA)

Sep 27 // Destin Legarie
Sonic Adventure (Xbox Live Arcade (Reviewed), PlayStation Network) Developer: Sonic Team Publisher: Sega Released: September 20th The story is crap. Yep. That's how we're starting this. It's okay though because no one plays Sonic games for a deep, compelling story. Just be aware that this story is bad. Really bad. Some of the lines spoken in the game make me wonder how much time was really spent on this script. At one point when encountering Robotnik he says "Give the chaos emeralds to me, or else I'll take them from you by force ... the hard way!" Now, think about that statement. Was there ever an easy way to take something "by force" from someone? The answer is no. Dear script writer, I know you're writing this with 10-year-olds in mind, but could you at least try to make the characters not sound idiotic? Thank you. The reason you're fighting Robotnik is because he has teamed up with Chaos, who gets stronger every time he's given a chaos emerald. So Robotnik keeps waiting until you find them before he smacks you around, takes them, and then feeds them to Chaos. I wish the people at Team Sonic would join forces with the writers of the Sonic comic. They could possibly make something enjoyable, which this, and many other Sonic video game stories, are not. Sly Cooper, Ratchet and Clank, Jax and Daxter -- these are all games targeted toward the same age group. Guess what? Their stories don't suck. I don't care if the game's 12-years-old. Enough about that. The gameplay is the most important part of any Sonic game. This was the first time we got to see Sonic on a next generation console way back in 1998. It let you play the game as other characters like Knuckles and Tails if you chose to, it had free roam areas, and different stages, like a flying stage to break up the action. Back then it was amazing, some would say revolutionary. Today, it shows its age, and it has not aged well. Sure it was great in 1998, but today you can see that it has a lot of problems. The highlight of the game is the levels that have Sonic running around, collecting rings and killing badniks. The low points include the free roam areas and a fickle joystick that has you coming to a dead stop during a running segment or fly off into oblivion when going off of a jump. There was also a camera system that works sometimes, and sometimes it decides to be utterly useless. It will clip through walls, it will show Sonic's face running toward the screen when it should be behind him, and it will lock when you need to rotate it 45 degrees. So yes, when it works, it's great. When it doesn't, have fun swearing at your television. Even with my gripes, it is still fun and a little addictive. The running portions, especially in the early levels, still hold up. Sonic's homing attack is a quick and easy way to dispatch enemies, but sometimes he will spin around an item or bad guy without hitting it. I don't think that's supposed to happen. In addition to all this, you can train a little Chao character and play as other furry friends.  This allows you to experience the game from their point of view, and unlock one more bonus character if you finish the game as everyone else. There's a lot to experience if you're a hardcore Sonic fan. Obviously the game is going to look dated seeing as it's twelve years old. Nothing has been updated as you're pretty much getting a direct port of the Dreamcast version. The game will let you upgrade to the Director's Cut for an additional 400 Microsoft Points but it doesn't improve the graphics.  Come on Sega. If someone's going to spend 10 dollars on a game, couldn't you just have given them the Director's Cut version instead of charging them another $5 for it? At least it's there as an option for you fanatics, but I'll save my cash. You're going to see a lot of clipping, blocky characters, and occasionally Sonic and Tails will merge to become one at an end screen. I've tried to get that image out of my head, but I will have nightmares of that amalgamation for years. The levels still look pretty good, even with their low resolution textures. Somehow, Tails manages to be less annoying over time. Instead it seems that they put all their efforts into making Big the Cat seem like a mentally handicapped imbecile. His voice actor must have been forced to drink a mouth numbing solution before speaking his lines, because it sounds like he is chewing on his tongue. Then there's the music that no one should ever be forced to listen to. I'm sick of it. I want ONE Sonic game released in the next five years that doesn't use this shitty 80's rock crap that we've been forced to listen to over and over again. The soundtrack to Sonic 2 is fucking amazing. Did someone at Sega decide to lower their standards and force this wannabe 80's easy listening, wannabe rock crap into our ears? Who's in charge of this? Please fix it. I know you can make great music, so do it! Oh, and then there's the epic fight between Sonic and Knuckles where Knuckles shouts the words "oh no" when hit with an energy level that can only be duplicated by Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. *Deep breath* Thankfully the interactions between Sonic and Tails have a few moments that are actually cute. The two even have a few moments of banter that made me crack a smile, as does Sonic with some of the other characters. So how hard is the game? It's not. It's hard to prevent yourself from clipping through walls or flying into oblivion, but the game isn't that difficult. One thing I would of liked to see is an indication, or hint, as to where you're supposed to go in the "free roam" areas. You're just supposed to know where to go (I guess) as theres no blip on your map, or audio hint. If there is a hint, it's usually vague or difficult to find. You wont die much, as there's plenty of rings and free lives laying around to keep moving the story (or what they call one) forward. This was actually a very difficult review to write. Do I hold this game to the standards it was up against in 1998, or to today's standards? The nostalgic part of my brain is telling me to love this game, but today it just shows too many signs of its age. Like me, fans of Sonic are going to go in with fond memories of the game. Sadly, I have to recommend that you keep those positive memories and avoid this one. It'll just tarnish the pedestal you've set this game up on in your mind. This is a great game for the fanatics who like having all their Sonic games on a next generation console. However, if you're a casual fan looking for a masterpiece, all you'll find is a relic that was once considered greatness. It honestly pains me to say that. Score: 6.0 -- Alright (6s may be slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.)

I still remember playing through Sonic Adventure back when it came out on the Dreamcast. Firing it up again on the 360 re-introduced me to some characters, like Big the Cat and Amy, who I had all but forgotten about. But ha...

Review: Gladiator Begins

Sep 13 // Destin Legarie
Gladiator Begins (PSP) Developer: GOSHOW Publisher: Acquire, Aksys Games Releases: September 14, 2010 So, for some reason you're still reading after that introduction. I guess that means you're genuinely interested in Gladiator Begins, or that you've been tricked by the clever marketing that involved a half naked slave girl in a big helmet. I say tricked because you fell for one of the oldest tricks in the book. Titties. Luckily you may have stumbled upon an almost decent PSP game. I said "may have" so you'll have to actually read this review to see if it's a pile of crap or not. By the way, my character's name is Sagat. You can see a picture of him above. I found it very hard to care what was going on in this game, mostly because of the god-awful presentation. There are people that want you to protect senators from assassination, a woman who wants you to kill her ex-lovers, and a gladiator encouraging you to go all the way to the top and earn your freedom like he did. Once in awhile you're even able to choose between two different dialogue options! The problem is the stories are all told through on-screen text and talking torsos that grunt and groan their emotions at you. It's not only dull, but after playing something like Peace Walker, it's a disappointment. If I wanted to read a book, I'd go to the library. Instead I made up my own story featuring our hero Sagat who's training so that he can win a time machine, go to the future, and be strong enough to fight Ryu. I'll let you know if I write a full fan fiction. The real reason people are going to pick this up is because they want to cut off someone's head and then feed them their still-beating heart. Well combat isn't that gruesome, sadly. You're given tutorials over the first few days that teach you the different layers of combat. Blocking (which never works right), countering (which I gave up on almost immediately), and the only thing you really need, the different types of attacks. You can attack high, low or to either side of the character. Attacking one spot frequently enough will cause an opponent's armor to fall off, making that spot extremely vulnerable. Most of the time I would spam the one-two combo, which you can do infinitely, and the second my opponent was vulnerable, unleash a flurry of heavy attacks. It seemed like they wanted to make a deep mechanic, but failed; instead, you're running in circles around your enemy until you can stab them in their vulnerable rib cage. It's not very deep and sometimes you'll be pummeled by three enemies in a corner while you try to run away. Your body armor can also fall off, which means that by the end of a fight there's so much shit lying in the ring that you'll be tripping over pieces of armor as you're hit. If you happen to have your sword and shield knocked off, you can pick them up and continue fighting but don't pick up the wrong item with the wrong hand. If you accidentally switch which hand you were holding things in you'll start attacking with your shield instead of your sword. To put it lightly, that's stupid. I have a sword and a shield. I don't care what hand it's in; just stab the guy. If a helmet and sword are next to each other, you'll sometimes pick up the helmet and be forced to use that as your main weapon. I get what they were trying to do, but it doesn't work and should have been scrapped. Don't worry, you'll still breeze through the game. All of the characters look great and one of my favorite parts of the game are all the different outfits you can outfit your gladiator with. Sagat is currently decked out in a Primus Palus Cloth A, a Centurion Galea, and is wielding a Saber with an attack power of 31. He not only looks like a frigging bad ass, but his equipment will eff you up. The only time you really get to enjoy this is when you win a fight and do your victory dance, but it's still so cool seeing your gladiator all decked out with the awesome equipment you've taken from your dead opponents. The environments leave a lot to be desired. For the most part, you'll be fighting in a sandy ring with up to four other combatants. I think I can forgive them for having a dull environment, because it makes you focus on your enemies and where you plan on stabbing them... repeatedly. The only time you'll get a cut scene of any kind is when you fight a boss-type character one on one. Sagat, or whatever you name your gladiator, will walk up to them and do a mini-fatality such as chopping off their head with their shield. This should have happened more frequently, and each weapon should of been given multiple mini-fatalities. It's your reward for winning! I want to see some variety darn it. If you've ever seen the HBO series Rome, which I have and loved, you'll find something oddly familiar about the tunes that play. They don't play frequently, but when they do there's definitely an influence to the point that I think some of the songs were deliberately made to sound similar. The only other noises you'll hear are clanks of swords, grunts and groans during the cut scenes, and a "blarrrgghhhh" from your character as he raises his hands in jubilation for being able to spam the one-two combo. Way to go Sagat, you defeated a mentally inept AI. Way to go. It was so easy that I thought I was going to breeze through the game until I hit my first boss. Suddenly, I had to implement my "run in circles like a jackass" tactic, which worked flawlessly. Bosses will beat the crap out of you, not because they're stronger, but because they'll be 10 times faster than you. If they get you against a wall, they can do some serious damage. So, to combat this I would run in circles, let my opponent use up all of their stamina and then go in for the kill. This worked so well that I was able to finish off a few bosses so quickly (one in under 20 seconds) that I was rewarded with Sagat stumbling to the ground as though he was hurt with what I've dubbed "failure music" playing in the background. If you don't please the crowd enough, then the game says your performance was "pathetic" or "forgettable." So even though you won, your gladiator falls to the ground. Screw that; I just kicked that guy's ass in 30 seconds. If you don't like it Rome, you can go suck on some olives. If a buddy of yours also has accidentally purchased this game, then you can enter the Battle Arena and go head-to-head against each other. You can also go into the arena and choose which battle mode you would like to partake in. Everything from the campaign is available, including team battles, and two-on-two. Anytime there's another teammate in the ring you're going to be stumbling over each other, so make sure you only take on the guys who come after you. Let the other two guys beat on your teammate until you're ready for them. If you get really frustrated with your teammate, just kill him. Aside from the Battle Arena, the only reason you'd come back is if you'd liked the game enough to create a second character. Well, after jamming on the "O" button for a few days, I can say that I've had enough. It's not a short game, so you'll definitely be getting your money's worth in that aspect, but that's assuming you don't get sick of it in a day or two. In the end, here's what you get: a brawler with a weak combat system. Had the combat been tighter, then perhaps I could have given this a glowing review, but when the heart of a game is flawed, all of the other components are going to suffer. This isn't a game that will be talked about for ages. It's a game that will drift from our memories and work its way into bargain bins worldwide. Score: 5.5 -- Mediocre (5s are an exercise in apathy, neither Solid nor Liquid. Not exactly bad, but not very good either. Just a bit "meh," really.)

2:49 pm - Turn on the PlayStation Portable. It's dead. I haven't touched it since Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker 3:00 pm - Update my firmware 3:03 pm - Watch the progress bar. 3:06 pm - Battery Level is too low. Now I have...

Review: Hydro Thunder Hurricane

Aug 21 // Destin Legarie
Hydro Thunder Hurricane (Xbox Live Arcade) Developer: Vector Unit Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios Released: July 28th, 2010 MSRP: $15 or 1200 Microsoft Points Avoiding the extremely tempting reference to an Andy Samberg song lets look at what works and what fails in Hydro Thunder Hurricane. Smash through a dock, jump off of a 500 ft waterfall, take that path to the left before jumping into the secret area and flying over the electrified power lines to the finish line. That's the first level of Hydro Thunder Hurricane. Nothing from the level design to the boats is typical about the game. It seems that the designers wanted to take every fantasy location they could think of and have you race through them. You're not going to be discussing the dazzling water effects, or amazing texture detail of the boats in Hurricane but you don't need to be the Gears of War 3 of racing games to be fun. Hurricane manages to pull this off by using unique tracks and surprising obstacles instead of jaw dropping visuals. Of course there's typical race tracks like the Tsunami Bowl, but others like Storming Asgard will have you facing viking ships and Norse gods. The viking ships and viking gods that come to life are examples of challenges you'll need to overcome. It seems that these themed stages always have some asshole A.I. obstacle, like the viking or police boat, with the goal of making the game suck. Somehow they have the uncanny ability to avoid all 18 other players to focus solely on you. It kinda pissed you off. I also didn't like that you were able to get stuck on top of your opponents which would have a tendency to ruin my entire run. They're both a small part of the overall experience, but I felt like I was either being singled out by the unavoidable A.I., or getting pissed off because of an odd collision system. The theme's are great though. Driving through Area 51 where you'll encounter UFO's, or Monster Island where you get an up close and personal encounter with Nessie are a fun way to break up the monotony of driving in the same circle over and over again. Every lap the track changes and you'll need to keep on your toes if you want to get first place. You'll only get credits toward unlocking things if you manage to be in the top 3 at the end of your race so mastering your boat and learning the secrets of each track becomes extremely important. In total, 8 tracks are offered for players to unlock as well as 3 other modes, and 9 vehicles which include Novice, Pro, and Expert levels. You'll start out as a Novice but continually placing in the top 3 will unlock Pro, and Expert boats. The level of your boat actually determines the skill level of your opponents and the size of your reward. If you've unlocked an Expert boat and can control it without expertly disassembling your controller against a wall as your boat careens into every single thing on the screen, you'll be rewarded with a substantially larger amount of credits. Speaking of unlocking things, expect to frequently. After my second race I was bombarded with more pop-ups than on a porn website. 2 races in and I'd managed to unlock 2 avatar awards, 70 of the 200 achievement points, a new boat, 2 new tracks and multiple new modes. After a few hours I had more Hydro Thunder options for my avatar than anyone would ever want. The announcer makes the game. If you're turning it on for the first time, someone shouting "HYDRO THUNDER HURRICANE" at the beginning may make you cock an eyebrow, but if you're a veteran of the series you'll smile when you realize that the over the top presentation has remained intact in this iteration. Sadly that's about the only thing standing out in the sound department. The music is forgettable at best and some of the sound effects, like the explosion sound effects are underwhelming. If smashing through a wooden plank is more jarring than an 800 horsepower boat hitting a wall at 300 miles per hour and erupting into flames, well then you should make a few adjustments. Even those complaints are mostly forgivable because you'll quickly reset your vehicle, or be too busy focusing on the next boost location to jam out to the tunes. A co-pilot lets you know when you're running low on boost and is there to taunt you at the end of a race with remarks like "it's probably the boats fault" if you come in last. He'll make you smile once or twice but by your 50th race the remarks may get tiresome. Being able to unlock everything in a few hours does not mean that you'll be finishing the game quickly. You can unlock all of the important items by completing the 8 race tracks, but that opens 24 ring master tracks, 8 gauntlet tracks, and 10 championship challenges. The second mode, ring master has you flying through rings placed in each level as fast as you can. If you hit every ring you'll have plenty of the boost you'll need to get a good time, but if you miss even one, you'll have to hit the next ring before you get any of that precious boost back. Its an interesting way to extend the tracks and will occasionally show players some alternate routes that can help improve their best time in race mode. Speaking of best times, its cool seeing how well you're doing against your friends times on Xbox Live as it's displayed in real time on your screen. The third mode is Gauntlet. Gauntlet is similar except instead of going through rings you're avoiding red barrels of death. Not much else to explain there. I've seen courses that are similar to both of these in other racers. They try to extend the single player experience and I've never been a big fan. Hurricane doesn't change my opinion but it is good that you have a different type of challenge on a map you've completed 20 times. The fourth option is Championship. Championship mode is a welcome addition to the campaign as it combines challenges from all categories forcing you to mix your knowledge of the track with the skills you learned in the other two modes. For some reason I like that more than doing them one at a time. It just meant that I had much more anger when I would get stuck on a track that threw one of my least favorite modes into the mix as the last challenge. Especially frustrating when you're on the last round of 5. Of course there's still multiplayer to talk about. You have your standard 4 player local split-screen that allows you to take your team online, or you can go at it solo and see how you fair on the high seas alone. You can partake in a standard race or a 2v2 rubber ducky mode where one player will have to be a duck, and the other will need to get him across the finish line using any means necessary. All the boosts have been replaced with a standard level boost to balance out the matches and it doesn't affect game play much, but it will be hard for some players to break the habit of constantly going for the red boost locations. The only problem I had with multiplayer as a whole is it sometimes took quite awhile to find a match with someone and when you did, it would occasionally be with a moron who didn't know what the ready button did. If one person doesn't ready up, you're forced to sit there and wait for them. All that needed to be added was a timer and the problem wouldn't exist. If you have friends who like the Hydro Thunder series though, it'll be no problem and you can take your maritime warfare to the seas of Xbox Live. I love getting a good value for my money. If a game can offer me 50 entertaining challenges to overcome and then multiplayer I can happily spend my hard earned cash. It only has a few shortcomings, one of them, being in the over-saturated racing genre, but new comers and veterans alike will enjoy themselves. Score: 8.0 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, it is worth your time and cash.

How a racing game featuring boats ever became as renowned as Hydro Thunder I will never know. Think about it. A designer had the balls to walk up to his boss and say "Okay, I've got this great idea. A racer, but with boats...

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