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Bob Muir

Review: One Piece: Pirate Warriors

Nov 02 // Bob Muir
One Piece: Pirate Warriors (PlayStation 3)Developer: Koei Tecmo/Omega ForcePublisher: Namco BandaiReleased: September 25, 2012 MSRP: $49.99 After eating the Gum-Gum Fruit, one of many types of Devil Fruit, Monkey D. Luffy gains the ability to stretch his body like rubber, but at the cost of never being able to swim again. Not letting his handicap deter him, he sets off to sail the seas, finding adventure and gathering a crew. His ultimate goal: to traverse the Grand Line (the most challenging section of the ocean), find the legendary pirate Gold Roger's treasure One Piece, and become the Pirate King. Along the way, Luffy must overcome rival pirates, government-sponsored privateers, shadowy organizations, and ultimately the full might of the Marines. Pirate Warriors follows Luffy from his early adventures in the East Blue all the way to the massive Battle of Marineford, spanning more than a decade of a story that is still only halfway done. As might be expected, adapting the source material into a playable form necessitates massive cuts, and so the game tries to focus on the important fights and events. This is both a blessing and a curse. [embed]237611:45630[/embed] Part of the appeal of a long-running story like One Piece is having a chance to get to know the characters and understand their place in the growing story. While many arcs feel somewhat self-contained due to the nature of traveling from island to island, the arcs often introduce a new crewmate, develop characters, allow background machinations, and generally move the overall story. So when the aforementioned Battle of Marineford occurs, readers understand the weight of the events and why they matter. Combined with the exuberance and earnestness that creator Eiichiro Oda puts into his work, it's easy to become attached to the characters and cheer them on through increasing adversity. There is almost none of that build-up present in Pirate Warriors. The story is a disjointed mess, merely "best of" moments that will only truly make sense to someone who is already familiar with the manga. The majority of the game is told from a flashback occurring at the recent start of the manga's post-timeskip second half, within which the crew flashes back to even earlier events. None of the crew questions why three of them weren't important enough to get a flashback to their introduction story, and apparently no one at Namco Bandai questioned this awkward presentation. Any detailed explanation of characters or the world around them are relegated to a glossary. Chapters open and close with a narrated text dump trying to explain what has happened since the last chapter and what the ramifications of the chapter you just played were. Many cutscenes are presented in manga panels with voiceover, which feels lazy and barely serviceable when the fully animated cutscenes are so visually thrilling. Of course, because there is no overall narrative context, non-fans have much less reason to get emotionally invested with these moments. All that will register is that the guy made out of rubber blows up a ludicrously-sized giant fist to fight a leopard man who can shoot lasers from his finger. That being said, Pirate Warriors features many attention-grabbing moments, such as a guy made out of rubber using a giant fist to punch a laser-shooting leopard man. The story bits that the game adapts may be disjointed, but these moments were chosen for being some of the best, most important parts of the manga. The game manages to capture the spirited tone of the source material. Unlike the sometimes slow and stiff One Piece anime, playing Pirate Warriors felt true to the manic energy of the manga. The core of the game is what you'd expect from Dynasty Warriors -- various combos using square and triangle -- but the attacks are punchy and satisfying, even though there's little challenge in taking out a crowd of enemies. There is also a dash button for dodging attacks that can be mixed into a combo to halt counterattacks and speed up combat even further. Attacking or taking damage builds a meter for crowd-clearing special attacks, which are rarely necessary but feel quite good to mix into combat due to how snappy they feel. Some of the unlockable special moves power-up a character for a time, making you feel like a god on the battlefield. Often a crewmate will be nearby fighting, however, they inflict such small damage that you can't count on them for more than distracting enemies. Instead, it's better to tell one of them to follow Luffy, who gains the ability to summon them for a crew strike after performing the appropriate combo. Crew strikes feel somewhat superfluous, but they're useful for preventing enemies from counterattacking. The combat can be a lot of dumb fun, so it's a shame that the camera tries its best to hinder combat whenever possible. It is content to swing wildly and offer the worst view whenever close to a wall. Adjusting the camera feels flighty and loose, while hitting L1 to center it behind Luffy is not always the best choice. Pirate Warriors attempts to fix this when it matters by allowing you to lock-on to certain powerful enemies with a press of R3, but this is awkward and doesn't help aim attacks. In fact, getting near the wall even while locked on still creates confusion. I'm pretty surprised that a game would be saddled with such a poor camera in 2012. The primary mode is the Main Log, a story mode which follows Luffy, with another character occasionally stepping in for specific fights. Main Log features three types of stages. Musou is a typical Dynasty Warriors kind of stage, pitting you against hordes of enemies, plus a boss fight. Capturing territories is incentivized, requiring enough kills in an area before that location's leader can be challenged for control. Stronger baddies will show up from time to time, usually signaling a mission to beat them or capture a specific territory. Though the game promises that missions have a great outcome on how the stage plays out, they only make a difference in the Battle of Marineford. Otherwise, the reward consists of a character being available to follow Luffy or activating a support ability to stun the enemies in a territory. Another type of stage, boss, is simply a couple boss fights back to back. These encounters are generally more involved than the ones found in the musou stages thanks to plenty of cutscenes filled with quick-time events. QTEs are never a great design choice, but since the pop up so naturally, it's hard to complain in the heat of the moment when it feels like your button presses still make a difference. While this isn't the most flattering comparison, if you were able to enjoy the QTEs in Asura's Wrath by focusing on the crazy events on-screen, you'll probably enjoy these too -- they do an excellent job of keeping the boss fight's energy going. Unfortunately, outside of the cutscenes, boss fights can quickly become frustrating. Most bosses have eaten their own Devil Fruit, granting them powers such as separating body limbs, summoning a hydra made of poison, or even turning into an element like sand or light. It's these element-based enemies that are the most frustrating. According to the rules of One Piece, their bodies are actually made of this element, meaning that they can turn into it at a moment's notice, letting attacks pass right through them. This means your in-progress combos are often going to whiff, leaving you open to a punishing counterattack. The only defense becomes alternating square and X to dash back and forth, getting a light punch in here and there, while fighting the camera to stay focused on your opponent. It slows down what would otherwise be a dynamic fight. The third stage type, action, is all about platforming using Luffy's rubber abilities, with intermittent enemies and a boss at the end tossed in for good measure. Calling it "platforming" is generous, considering that jumping, hitting, dodging, and grabbing the environment occurs via QTEs. Beyond extremely light puzzle elements, traversing an environment practically feels on-rails. This can be exciting at the right moments -- the Battle of Marineford comes to mind -- but more often made me wish that the engine supported greater free movement. It doesn't help that Luffy does the same canned animation every time he has a "Eureka!" moment for creating new ways to use his stretchy body to move around. The game often struggles to maintain its lively pace, a problem that occurs in all three kinds of stages. When surrounded by enemies, bouncing through an action stage, or participating in exciting cutscenes, Pirate Warriors is a thrill. But the moment things slow down, be it from running to find more enemies, searching for the right path across a gap, or feebly chipping away at a boss's health, things begin to drag, and suddenly your engagement drops. Overlooking the game's button-mashing gameplay and imitation platforming is only possible thanks to the euphoria created by the enthusiastic pace. When the adrenaline rush wears off -- and it inevitably will -- your actions suddenly feel repetitive and dull. All that said, when Pirate Warriors is on, it's on, and part of that comes from its presentation. The game is scored with a lively jazz/rock soundtrack, and while I wouldn't call it memorable, it fits the mood of the game perfectly. Similarly, the cel-shaded characters don't possess the most complex graphics, but they're appealing and well animated, translating Oda's unique character designs far better than the anime does. Little touches like the cartoony way enemy soldiers run away with their hands flailing in the air are well appreciated. Sometimes there's a slight disconnect with the background graphics, which fall between bland cel-shading and overly-detailed (yet still styled) realism, but it's nothing too jarring. Slowdown is almost unheard of, with scenes running smooth no matter how many enemies are surrounding you. Not to sound too snobby, but I'm so happy to see the Japanese dub present -- and not just because there's also no English dub. The Japanese voices do a wonderful job at shouting excitedly and screaming melodramatically, getting your blood pumping to mash more buttons. Admittedly, an English dub would have been a good option to have, particularly now that FUNimation is dubbing One Piece instead of 4Kids. But since FUNimation's localization is far behind the Japanese episodes, it would have required a lot of advanced casting for characters that wouldn't appear for dozens of episodes, not to mention the added cost that might have made localizing Pirate Warriors too expensive. There is a nitpick about the dub however, and that concerns the need to read the subtitles to understand the characters. It's not a problem in the cutscenes, but when characters talk during gameplay, it can be difficult to switch your attention between reading subtitles and monitoring the action. In addition, the subtitles will often disappear while performing platforming moves -- perhaps appearing for only a second -- making it impossible to know what was just said. Little of the chatter is terribly important, usually amounting to trash talk, so it doesn't affect progress; still, it is something that wouldn't be an issue if the game had an English dub (or if we all understood Japanese). Progressing through the Main Log opens chapters in Another Log, as well as two boss-rush challenges. Another Log puts the focus on the 12 characters other than Luffy, who all offer unique movesets and playstyles. The characters only have chapters for where they actually appear in the story, but it's possible to use a character in any other character's chapters, with that chapter's official character filling a support role. These are all musou stages, and many of the chapters are nearly identical, especially those of Luffy's crewmates. As Luffy's first crewmate, Zoro gets seven chapters that the other seven crewmates share, while two additional chapters are shared between the remaining four characters. They're a fun distraction, but due to the lack of story, there's little reason to play through them all. It would have been much more interesting for Another Log to offer exclusive fights or events not shown in the Main Log. Since Another Log isn't full of story cutscenes that show changing conditions, it is here that the game can most often react too slowly to your actions. I can't count the number of times I would capture a territory, notice that a powerful enemy had just appeared, or receive the support of another character, only to be told about it half a minute later, as though it had just occurred. It made me wonder whether another powerful enemy had appeared or if it was referring to the one I had already killed off, and with the camera being so unhelpful, I never knew if I was going to get smacked with a strong attack out of nowhere. It was particularly jarring to be fighting a strong enemy, only to be interrupted mid-combo by a stock cutscene introducing that enemy to the battlefield. The chapters in Another Log are available for play in both online and offline co-op, though offline co-op should be avoided at all costs. If the camera was unwieldy in single-player, it is almost unusable in splitscreen. Like many old Game Boy games, screen real estate is sacrificed to allow for full-sized characters, meaning you're almost always unaware that an enemy is charging up a big attack unless they're right in front of you. And even then, the frequent pop-ups explaining the latest mission take up more space. The map has been shrunk and placed twice on the screen when one regular sized map in the middle would suffice. Offline co-op just reeks of a throw-away mode, so it's surprising that teaming up with another player online can be quite fun, even if it just makes the normally easy stages even easier. Every mode also makes use of collectible coins, which offer stat boosts to characters when properly equipped. Coins are gained by killing certain enemies, killing enemies without getting hit, capturing some territories, and opening rare treasure chests. Combining three related coins will cancel out the coins' normal stat boosts and create a team skill that may reduce flinching or increase attack strength when health is low, among other effects. Because the coins are based on characters or items from One Piece, it may be hard for a non-fan to discover team skills without fully understanding what three coins have in common. Even as a fan, I was frustrated to not be able to activate certain team skills due to a missing coin, as the coin distribution is near-random, with little chance to acquire a complete set without heavy grinding. The stat boosts and team skill effects have little impact on gameplay, so it's not a huge concern that acquiring coins is tedious, but it does make the entire system seem superfluous, as if it was only put in place to reference minutia. One Piece: Pirate Warriors ultimately isn't that different from what I expected of a Dynasty Warriors game. The combat is simplistic, and despite the bubbly tempo, there are many parts that could have used more polish or consideration. Fans may decry the complete ignorance of two major arcs (Skypiea and Thriller Bark), as well as the small number of worthwhile non-Luffy fights. And yet, I can't say that I didn't have quite a bit of stupid fun with it. When the shouting characters, weird attacks, and strange enemies come together, Pirate Warriors excels at silly yet awesome spectacle. Just don't expect any depth or lasting appeal once the glow has faded.
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Yo-ho-ho he took a bite of Gum-Gum
I've never really paid attention to Dynasty Warriors, as Chinese history usually isn't something that grabs my attention. Besides, I didn't think that I was missing much more than a whole lot of button mashing. Then Namco Ban...

Review: Unchained Blades

Aug 15 // Bob Muir
Unchained Blades (PSP)Developer: FuRyuPublisher: XSEED GamesRelease Date: June 26, 2012MSRP: $29.99 The game introduces Fang as the Dragon Emperor, one of the most powerful beings in the world. In his hubris, Fang approaches the goddess Clunea in her sky temple and demands to be told of the strongest monster in the world, eager to test his strength. Understandably, this offends Clunea, who sends him crashing back to earth as a fledgling, the weak, human-like form of those still too young to be true dragons. To gain his power back, Fang must go questing through Titans, giant living dungeons, in order to be granted a wish by the goddess. Along the way, fledglings from other monster clans will join him, each with their own wish to be granted. It's a cool premise for an RPG, but even though Unchained Blades has more story than most dungeon crawlers, its influence on the core experience is very light. It doesn't change the fact that the story still centers around trekking through mazes and fighting tons of enemies. It does try to shake things up by focusing on different characters in different chapters, but then it's right back into fighting through dungeons.  The numerous party members are almost all human versions of the monsters you would usually fight in RPGs, like golems, phoenixes, reapers, and Medusas. It adds some novelty to the usual band of adventurers, but it doesn't mean they're well-developed. All the characters can be boiled down to a simple character trait: Fang is an overconfident jerk, Lapis is a shy cute girl, Tiana is a hot-headed princess. You can attempt to learn more about a character by talking to them at a campsite, but they rarely give any valuable insight. For example, I talked to Fang and was treated to a soliloquy about how much it sucks to be a fledgling again and how much he wants to get revenge on Clunea. Hm, you don't say? This seems to be the fault of the original developer rather than XSEED's localization work. They tried to impart more personality to your party, but it doesn't look like there's much room in the script to add characterization. Many segments feature voice acting, which helps, though characters like Hector and Lapis can be too cutesy. XSEED deserves a reprimand for the way text displays, though. There's an extra space after every bit of punctuation. Putting a double space after a period is controversial enough, but putting a space after a comma or even an apostrophe looks amazingly sloppy, like I was reading a fan-translation hack. The diverse characters also run into a slight problem in terms of visual consistency. Fourteen notable anime, game, and manga artists contributed character designs, and as a result some of the characters don't mesh well, either because of their clothing or because of their face, especially the eyes. In particular, the delicate design used for the reaper clan's Sylvie looks strange when introduced alongside the spirit fox clan's Niko. It isn't too annoying, considering that all the characters are from different clans, but it's still distracting, as if seeing a CG-generated character mixed into a hand-drawn crowd. Conversely, customizing your characters' skills is one of the best parts of the game. The skill map is made up of numerous rings full of stat boosts and new abilities, similar to Final Fantasy X's sphere grid. Every additional level gives the choice of two new bonuses, with further branches offering new possibilities. Furthermore, gaining all the bonuses on a single ring opens access to the skill in the center, which is often more powerful. It's a matter of balancing the accumulation of nearby skills with progress towards the farther, juicier skills, and I really liked the control I had over each character's build. But enough about the story and characters, dungeon crawlers are all about crawling through dungeons, and boy, do you crawl. It's easy to forget where you're headed in the first-person dungeons when the same undetailed tiles are repeated everywhere. In fact, once you've uncovered the map by exploring the area, it's more useful to look at the map than the actual environment. Naturally, you're forced into random encounters every so many steps. The usual turn-based battle elements are here: attacks, special skills, items, and running, as well as powerful "burst" skills unlocked when a character has attacked enough. Up to five enemies can appear on a screen, though they'll often be all the same type of enemy. If one enemy differs, it will generally appear in the middle as a sort of "general," and taking it out causes a "union break" that stuns the remaining enemies in some way. This seems to suggest new strategy concepts, but in practice the middle monster was always the strongest, so I just made it my target every time. In a Shin Megami Tensei-styled twist, your characters can use their charisma to win monsters over to their side. Charisma rises and falls based on your battle performance, and if it's high enough, characters can "unchain" weakened monsters. After passing a timing minigame, the monster will join your party. However, it doesn't fight directly in battle, instead serving as one of up to four "followers" that attach to a character. The higher a character's charisma, the more likely a follower is to perform follow-up attacks, or even block or fully deflect an enemy attack. Followers will often approach their master after battle and ask a question, and answering correctly can boost charisma, improve the follower's mood, or earn gifts. Unfortunately, anything involving followers is random, determined by your charisma score and the follower's mood, and as a result feels superfluous. The extra damage followers do is negligible, and only useful if a monster has only 1 or 2 HP remaining. There were countless times when I would have really liked the ability to tell a follower to not kill itself to protect a character with full HP, or instruct it to deflect a crucial blow, but there's no way to control these things. Even their questions seem random, as it's impossible to check the follower's personality while they're asking, This means you have no idea which response will produce which effect. One follower told me I needed to learn to dodge more, and when I agreed with it, it thought I was patronizing it, worsening its mood. When you have more than one of the same monster attached to your party and they have different personalities, it's very difficult to remember how to sweet-talk them all. Occasionally, your followers will be forced to fight a boss battle themselves against a massive group of enemies. This involves the followers throwing themselves at monsters and butting heads with little control from the player beyond a scrolling line of arrows that need to be pressed. How long they last before needing the next follower to automatically take over depends on their level. Occasionally, a follower will be forced into a one-on-one fight, which is the signal to mash X as fast as possible to win. These battles are the most superfluous use of the followers. They basically serve to halt progression until the game is satisfied that you've unchained enough monsters, even if you can't equip characters the number of followers they need just to pass the battle. But this is par for the course in a game centered around grinding. Forget going through a dungeon in one go; noticeably stronger monsters show up on each floor, and sometimes even within a floor once a certain point is reached. Instead of providing a smooth curve tailored to the average path through the dungeon, each new section requires the player to stop and grind until that area's monsters can be handled efficiently enough. Then, it's time to head back to town, heal up, and try tackling the next area. The grind gets tedious fast, since the rapid rise in monster difficulty feels like padding to keep players from getting through dungeons too quickly. It's worse when you realize there's not much strategy behind battles, as the repetition turns an average, functional combat system into a drag. Even Tsutomu Narita's well-done soundtrack becomes boring when you're stuck in an area too long, forced to fight in too many battles to get to the next part of the dungeon. As if to enhance the sluggish pace, once I finally started to make good progress in the skill map, the second chapter took the initial four characters away from me. I was stuck with a fresh set of characters, all at level one, which stole any sense of momentum the game was gaining. Adding insult to injury, this new party's first dungeon was the same dungeon I had just spent hours inside with my old party. It undermined any feelings of advancement that I had pushed for in the previous chapter. All of the unique features that Unchained Blades tries to add to a standard dungeon crawler aren't enough to make it stand out. The story is too light to augment the game's core mechanical focus, while ideas like the follower system feel tacked-on and inconsequential to strategy. Fans of dungeon crawlers may squeeze some enjoyment from the grind, but most players will be turned off by the tedious progression and repetitive battles.
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I'm not the biggest RPG nut, but over my last decade of gaming, I have appreciated most of the RPGs I've played. After starting on Pokemon, I've played a Final Fantasy or two, and even delved into Persona....

Preview: Hatsune Miku Project DIVA F has precision issues

Jun 14 // Bob Muir
[embed]229537:44089[/embed] In Project DIVA F, players pick from a list of some of the most popular Vocaloid songs, including some sung by characters other than Hatsune Miku. As the music video plays, face buttons fly in from around the screen and land in corresponding spots, with timing indicated by a minute hand spinning and pointing up when it's time to press the button. The previous game also added the need to sometimes hold a button or press a d-pad direction as well. In general, it's easier to just time the button presses with the beat than to rely on the visual timing. Players are then rated on accuracy and can build up combos if they don't miss the buttons. Doing well unlocks harder difficulties and numerous outfits. I played the song "Cat Food" by doriko (the second song in the trailer above) on two difficulties, and in terms of the core experience, Project DIVA F is remarkably similar to the past two games. Sure, the graphics are somewhat better, taking advantage of the Vita's power to render more colorful and energetic scenes, even if Miku and friends are somewhat plastic. But considering the need to focus on the buttons flying in from anywhere on the screen, the pretty visuals in the background are at best ignorable and at worst distracting. Some changes are made to the scoring system, such as a "Technical Zone" in which combos earn bonus points. One section of a song, "Chance Time," has been slightly altered. Instead of happening at a specific time towards the end of the song, this point bonus section is activated by filling a gauge up. The function of "Chance Time" still remains quite frustrating: it provides a massive point bonus that can only be fully taken advantage of by entering it with a high combo and not missing any buttons. Messing it up by missing only one or two notes can be the difference between getting a great ranking and just barely passing the song. These problems aren't helped by the accuracy required, which has not changed at all since the first game. The level of precision required from the player is sometimes astounding. For someone who grew up playing two instruments, has played rhythm games for years, and likes to think he has an excellent sense of timing, it can sometimes be shocking to play a Project DIVA game and be graded so harshly. This is why Project DIVA F's main gameplay "innovation" seems so out of place. Though the game is also coming out on the PS3 in Japan, the Vita version has an additional method of input: a star that must be hit with the touch screen. When I first saw this, I thought it might remind me of the good times I had with Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan, but its implementation is really unintuitive. You don't actually tap the stars -- you swipe, anywhere on the screen. That's right, in a game that requires intense precision, Sega has decided that the best way to use the touch screen was to require an imprecise swiping motion. Whoever thought that this was a good idea needs to be fired. Sega claims that it might actually consider bringing Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F stateside, noting that there was some "good" buzz from those at E3 who actually played it. While it's always cool for fans to get something they like localized, I'm not sure what the point is. If you've read this far, I'm impressed that you're actually interested enough in the game, considering the internet's feelings against Japanese games as of late. Hatsune Miku and Vocaloid are niche concepts in America to begin with and I can't see a Project DIVA game selling well enough for Sega, in light of its current economic state. Those who might want to play it are likely to import it anyway, since players only need to figure out how to navigate the menu, making it a very import-friendly game. Even then, once you consider the marriage of strict timing and imprecise touch screen control, it would probably be more fun to pick up the first PSP game on the cheap.
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Here's a quick lesson on Japanese pop culture: Yamaha sells a software called Vocaloid, which provides the digitized voice of a singer and allows users to incorporate it into their own music productions. Each singer is repres...


Preview: Killing in motion in Splinter Cell: Blacklist

Jun 13 // Bob Muir
[embed]229417:44066[/embed] The demo begins at the Iraq-Iran border, with Fisher disguised as an enemy soldier carrying a dead body. Soldiers usher him into a tent so that they can treat the body, but one of them glances suspiciously at Fisher. As he walks over, Fisher uses the "mark and execute" system to mark two of the men. When the soldier is about to attack, Fisher takes him hostage and instantly kills the two men he's marked. He tries interrogating the remaining soldier, but when he offers no information, Fisher has the option to kill or knock him out. The possibility of a morality system was intriguing, but those expecting the options to matter should temper their expectations. Apparently there was discussion during development about incorporating morality points or consequences for killing or leaving enemies unconscious, but Ubisoft Toronto decided against it. The team was worried that players would meta-game and chose their actions based on the consequences or point system instead of what they felt was right. As a result, the option to kill or incapacitate enemies is a purely aesthetic choice. Fisher dons his classic outfit and moves through the camp, finding a group of enemies up ahead. This is the moment the player decides to show off the new "killing in motion" system. Taking cover in a tent, he marks three soldiers and dashes out, killing them in slow-motion. With a stab of the enemy in front of him, his "mark and execute" ability is recharged, allowing him to mark and shoot the two remaining enemies as he keeps running. This is something that could not be done with the old "mark and execute" system, which required Fisher to remain stationary. Moving on, Fisher navigates some guards and springs up the side of a building, hanging on to the edge. A soldier patrols on top, and Fisher makes a sound to attract his attention so he can pull him to the ground, knocking him unconscious. The ability to draw a guard's attention isn't just limited to pressing a button. If you're playing Blacklist on Xbox 360, you can use Kinect voice commands to attract enemies. I saw the potential for abuse, and asked if Kinect would require a specific command or if a chatty roommate could set it off by accident. Though they had considered making it sensitive to any sound, perhaps for increased realism, they had wisely agreed that this would be a bad idea. Players will have to use the right command if they want to utilize Kinect. Fisher climbs up the building and waits for other soldiers to find the body, which has fallen in a puddle of water. Thinking quickly, he fires an electric bolt from his tactical crossbow, a new device that has multiple applications depending on the ammo used. Fisher moves forward but a truck with more soldiers and a turret appears. One of the perks of being the leader of the newly formed Fourth Echelon is having air support from his team. A firefight ensues, and once Fisher feels he's in place, he calls in a missile from above to take out the turret and most of the enemy forces. Ubisoft Toronto wanted to incorporate the idea of attacking tactically from multiple sides like in Rainbow Six, but adjusted to work for just one man, something demonstrated by Fisher approaching the room with his target. While he used brute force in the main demo, my private demo showed a much more strategical approach. After peeking under the door to mark three enemies and identify his target, he places an explosive on the door and scales the building, ending up in front of a window on the other side of the building. Before the soldiers even know he's there, Fisher blows the door, drawing their attention so he can smash through the window and execute all three of them. There will reportedly be many moments in the final game that allow for such creative, multi-directional attacks. Fisher closes in on his target, who is enraged and claims to be a planted agent deep undercover for years, another deviation from the original demo. He yells at Fisher for blowing his cover and demands to speak to whoever is in charge. Fisher, being the head of the Fourth Echelon, obliges, grabbing him and getting an eye scan. The man was once an operative but joined the enemy a few years ago. Fisher demands information about the Blacklist with a gun to the man's throat, but the man would rather die, pulling the trigger on himself. My demo continued, with more enemy forces closing in on Fisher's position. Fisher must rely on his team to get him out of there, as the player takes control of an attack helicopter. From a first-person viewpoint, the helicopter proceeds to eliminate every enemy outside Fisher's door. With the coast clear, Fisher runs out, jumps, and the demo ends. This demo may have given the impression that older fans are simply out of luck when it comes to the stealth gameplay they love, but some hints from the team imply that they shouldn't write off the game yet. While Conviction's co-op multiplayer is returning, it is also being joined by the revival of Spies vs. Mercs, the classic mode from the last-gen games. Fisher can drag bodies to hide them, and in general there will be a balance of stealth and action. Earned cash can also be shared between the single and multiplayer modes, something that is always appreciated. So for a guy who has never really cared about Splinter Cell, I came away impressed. Blacklist looks like it will be a satisfying experience when it releases in Spring 2013. In the meantime, it seems that I need to go back and play Conviction.
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I've never been that big a fan of Splinter Cell, or at least the last-gen games that were clearly about stealth. There's nothing wrong with stealth, but a demo of the first game never clicked with me, so it was always a serie...

Preview: Assassin's Creed III Liberation is the real deal

Jun 12 // Bob Muir
It's 1765, and there's trouble in the South. The Louisiana Rebellion is brewing, and Aveline de Grandpre, a French-African assassin, must help fend off Spanish soldiers in New Orleans. Parts of her story will cross over with Conner's in ACIII, but for the most part, she'll be on her own. Just like Conner won't be stuck in cities like Boston, Aveline will be able to explore outside areas. Examples given include the bayou, a wilderness area that functions like the frontier in ACIII, and Mayan ruins in Mexico, an area which hopefully gives fans that follow the minutia of the mythology something to wonder about. Don't expect any modern-day revelations though, because Desmond isn't related to Aveline and won't be framing the story. The demo, however, was set purely in New Orleans, 1768, in the midst of a riot against the Spanish soldiers. Aveline must support the townsfolk and keep them from getting killed. Starting above the action, she finds a soldier below to perform an aerial assassination on, leaping down and using her target to break her fall. This provides enough charge to a new meter to let her access the redesigned quick-kill system. First introduced in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, the old quick-kill system required timed, focused button presses after Ezio achieved his first kill in a group. Liberation's new system slows down time and allows Aveline to pick her targets just like Splinter Cell: Conviction's "mark and execute" system, wiping out the soldiers once the mode is exited. As combat progressed, I got a chance to see some of Aveline's new tricks. Besides the usual hidden blade weapon and her version of Conner's hatchet, a machete, Aveline has a few gun options. The pistol functions similarly to the Renaissance-era pistols of past games but with a bit more speed and less range, as well as the option to dual wield. On the other hand, the musket is slow, but more powerful. Both guns are loud and likely to draw more attention to Aveline, but at least she has the option of stabbing an enemy with the musket's bayonet. Rounding out the notable weapons was a poison blowpipe, which worked just like a crossbow loaded with poison arrows. The touch screen can also be used to pause the game and switch between the weapons. Soon, a carriage full of gunpowder is lit on fire, requiring Aveline and an ally to drive the carriage through the streets to get it away from the crowds. The direction is naturally controlled with the left analog stick, while acceleration is handled by pressing the touch screen. I wasn't quite sure why this system was better than pressing a button, but it seemed to work well enough. Aveline successfully gets rid of the carriage and jumps off before it explodes, leaving her with one last last duty: to save some kidnapped rioters. She storms a building, picking off guards along the way with a combination of stealth and aggression, and finally rescues the prisoners. The demo officially ended at this point, but I was also shown a separate area of the game, the Governor's Palace of New Orleans. Certain landmarks were shown, such as the St. Louis Cathedral, the highest building of the time. It's certainly not anywhere near as high as some of the points in the past games, but it still gave an impressive view of the city. I haven't visit New Orleans before, so I can't speak to the accuracy of the layout, but I still came away impressed by the work that went into creating the city. Like ACIII, Liberation looks to be an exciting new take on Assassin's Creed with all the new shine of its big brother. My only concern is the fact that both games are releasing on October 30, 2012. Two meaty, console-quality, open-world adventures set in the same time period may overshadow each other, despite their different protagonists and geographical settings. Of the two games, ACIII is clearly the one that's more important to the franchise's continuing storyline, so it would be a shame to see Liberation lose out in the process. Hopefully my fears are unfounded.
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As far as I'm concerned, there hasn't really been a portable Assassin's Creed worth playing. Despite the release of three story-based handheld games -- only one less than the console releases -- they have contributed nothing ...

Impressions: Rabbids Land is the Wii U's Mario Party

Jun 12 // Bob Muir
In Rabbids Land, the Rabbids have invaded an amusement park and intend to have a good time, rules be damned. This takes the form of a board game punctuated by minigames. My demo didn't really show how the board game would be set up, but focused on a few of the minigames so that I could see the possibilities of the Wii U controller. The first minigame I played took its inspiration from Indiana Jones. The Rabbids dressed up like the famous adventurer and rode around on top of boulders in a vaguely Temple of Doom-themed area. Like many Wii U games this year, this one featured asynchronous multiplayer. One player tilted the Wii U GamePad horizontally to control three Rabbids on small boulders and gather ten diamonds. Meanwhile, the second player tilted the Wiimote to move one Rabbid on a big boulder who needs to squash the other player's Rabbids. The Rabbid on the big boulder could roll faster than the Rabbids on the smaller boulders, but the weaker Rabbids could slip through small green gates to momentarily escape their hunter. The GamePad had a top-down view of the entire area while the TV screen had an angled, slightly zoomed-in view, but in practice this difference didn't matter. If the big boulder Rabbid couldn't see one of the smaller boulder Rabbids, it was obvious that it was in the corner not currently visible. It might have been a lot more interesting if the small green gates shifted over time and were only visible to the GamePad player, but as it was, there wasn't anything here that couldn't have been done with two Wiimotes on one screen. Innovation aside, it was a fun game, with good tension for both players. The other minigame I was able to check out was a riff on a Tunnel of Love ride. The two players must work together to help unite soul mates by picking them out of a crowd. The identification process is both silly and dirty: pull up the Rabbids' skirts or kilts to see if they have matching symbols on their underwear. This game showed off asynchronous multiplayer much better than the first, thanks to the different views actually mattering. The Rabbids have different symbols on their fronts and backs, and each player can only see one side. So the Wiimote player aims at a Rabbid, presses A, and aims higher to lift the skirts or kilts, while the GamePad player simply drags the clothing up with their finger. The goal is to find as many matching pairs as possible before time runs out, and all the Rabbids are replaced once a pair is found. It turns into a shouting match as both players try to compare and match the symbols they have as fast as possible. Well, that's what it would be in theory at least, since my Wiimote partner seemed very overwhelmed by the concept and only spoke up once he had very carefully analyzed all of his Rabbids. Despite my partner's reluctance to have any fun with it, I could see this being a good icebreaker game at parties. There are many more minigames set to be included in Rabbids Land, and I'd imagine not all of them make "innovative" use of the GamePad. But if they're as fun as the Indiana Jones minigame, it shouldn't really matter. The GamePad just opens up more possibilities; there's nothing wrong with using old methods if they work. I'd still be interested in seeing how fun the board game element is before committing to Rabbids Land over the inevitable Wii U Mario Party installment.
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I remember picking up the first Rayman Raving Rabbids game when the Wii launched in 2006. While I had planned on buying Red Steel alongside Twilight Princess (a purchase mandated by Nintendo fan law), a negative early-mo...

E3: Guacamelee! on Vita is bueno, but needs tweaking

Jun 10 // Bob Muir
[embed]229229:44005[/embed] The area DrinkBox presented was early in the game, essentially what is shown in the trailer above. It teaches the basics, introduces wrestling moves, and throws a few easy baddies for you to play with. The luchador not only has the expected basic attacks, but also some dual-purpose special moves that allow him to burst through breakable walls both above and below. If enough damage is done to an enemy, pressing triangle will initiate a grab, allowing the player to hurl him away for a finish, preferably into another enemy. Using jumps and special attacks to move around feels great, but sadly the combat has some issues. Enemies move very fluidly and like to punish any mistakes you make, such as whiffing with a punch and failing to stun the enemy. This wouldn't be a problem, but the luchador's reach was never quite what I expected it to be, so I repeatedly came up short. There were many times when I felt like the luchador was close enough for an attack and learned he needed to be even closer to actually connect. The special moves have much better range, but obviously there are many times when you want to use a basic attack. This is mostly a problem with shrinking the game down onto the Vita. Guacamelee! looks beautiful on the OLED screen, but the characters are quite small, meaning that making sure your attack connects is a little difficult. Similarly, the triangle button prompt for grabs is tiny, as is the text. The developer noted that they were probably going to adjust these things, but I might actually prefer if they simply zoomed in a bit more instead of trying to replicate the entire screen of the PS3 version on a smaller screen. It doesn't need to be as zoomed-in as Metroid II on the Game Boy since the Vita's screen is pretty big, but it would be smart to give more consideration to the hardware. Speaking of Metroid: Guacamelee! loves making homages to the series. One of the luchador's abilities is to transform into a chicken with the press of a button. Besides just being silly, this feathered form helps him fit through small corridors, similar to Metroid's morph ball. One room contains a Chozo statue holding a power-up. An old man nearby even calls it a Chozo statue, which I was told was something that would be changed before release. But hey, why not call a spade a spade? If you're going to be influenced by a game, you might as well pick a good one. It may sound like Guacamelee! is just taking Samus Aran and dressing her up in a luchador mask, but the game has its own identity. Besides adding moves normally found in a brawler, the luchador gains the ability to switch between the planes of the living and the dead. A wall may block a path in one world, but switching to the other world by hitting the shoulder buttons reveals a way through. Some enemies can only be attacked on one plane, but if you're crafty, you can time a plane shift so that the invincible enemy is hit by another enemy you just threw. Of course, the true test of a good Metroidvania is whether or not the world is as fun to explore when you're backtracking with a shiny new trick. New abilities unlock new areas, but I wasn't able to test this out during the demo, so I can't say if the backtracking is fun or repetitive. However, based on the care being put into the rest of the game, I expect it should be fine. Other than the small characters and interface, Guacamelee! is shaping up to be an entertaining platformer with lots of personality. I didn't even get to try out the two-player co-op, but I already know that I'll be picking it up when it releases later this year.
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For the past two months, I've been hearing good things about Guacamelee!, a colorful, luchador-themed Metroidvania game from DrinkBox Studios. Saying "Metroidvania" is usually good enough for me to be interested, but adding i...

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E3: Jonathan Holmes commentates on the Nintendo show


Jun 05
// Bob Muir
You've watched the Nintendo press conference. You've seen all the latest news from Nintendo all day long. You've learned our opinions of the press conferences. You've heard how adorable the new rock Pikmin are. But have you ...
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E3: Talking to Destructoid editors about Nintendo


Jun 05
// Bob Muir
There was tons of news coming out of Nintendo's press conference. Unsurprisingly, most was about the Wii U. We saw a new Pikmin, the reveal of Nintendo Land, and proof that Nintendo is courting third parties. But for some pe...
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E3: Ubisoft adds Spider-Man, Wolverine to Avengers game


Jun 04
// Bob Muir
The Avengers came out in theaters earlier this month, and if you haven't heard, it's pretty great. Ubisoft is still working on the movie tie-in game, though, which they premiered at their press conference today. Titled Marvel...
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E3: Dust 514 gets PlayStation Home area, Vita app


Jun 04
// Bob Muir
There's a hot new trailer for Dust 514, the upcoming free MMO FPS for PS3 by CCP. (OMG!) Watch as people get attacked by tanks before taking revenge with an orbital strike from massive spaceships. You can still sign up ...
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E3: Gears of War: Judgment looks like more bloody fun


Jun 04
// Bob Muir
I promised myself that I wouldn't get excited for a new Gears of War game after the third installment wrapped things up. Maybe a game about the Pendulum Wars would be cool, but I thought I was pretty much done with fighting ...
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Sega brings Monster World IV to XBLA in a bundle


Mar 15
// Bob Muir
Sega and Westone's Wonder Boy series was really strange when it came to naming conventions. Wonder Boy started visiting Monster Land and Monster World, and before you know it, Sega put out a Genesis game with the&nb...

Preview: Learn to play guitar with BandFuse: Rock Legends

Feb 22 // Bob Muir
BandFuse: Rock Legends (Xbox 360) Developer: Realta Entertainment Group Publisher: Mastiff Games Release: 2012 I'm no rock expert; my guitar experience begins with playing very simple bass guitar parts in a high school rock band and ends with an embarrassing amount of hours put into Rock Band. Luckily for me, Flixist's Max Roahrig knows his way around the strings, so we were able to test out how BandFuse works for both neophytes and experts. The first thing I noticed when playing BandFuse is how simple the game's fretboard is. Instead of trying to skew the perspective to simulate a vertical fretboard, all the notes flow horizontally from right-to-left. It wasn't until I had played a song that I realized how much this reminded me of guitar tabs, albeit professionally made instead of some fan-made approximation. It felt extremely natural and easy to read. All the current graphics are placeholders, so the layout could still change, but the scrolling tabs seem near-finished. The developers seem to recognize that when it comes to visualizing notes, simpler is always better. That doesn't mean there isn't still a bit of a learning curve to understand the tabs. As an unskilled bassist, my mind just doesn't "get" chords. So when they popped up in a song, I generally hit the first chord, then flailed around on the strings until some single notes started popping up again. However, this seems like something that would go away with just a little practice. Conversely, Max was able to jump right into Judas Priest's "Breaking the Law" and hit most of the notes, chords included. Up to this point, we had stuck to the lower difficulty levels. The lowest level greatly simplifies the tabs, reducing riffs to just one note and removing chords entirely. The next level adds chords in, but still keeps you from getting in over your head. Curious to see how far the difficulty went, we bumped the difficulty up to the highest level, which included every note as far as I could tell. Higher difficulties also mix in palm-mutes and whammy bars, even noting how long you should bend the note. The added complexity could be overwhelming for those just learning to play, but the finished product will have a feature that allows you to slow down, speed up, and loop sections of the song, helping you figure out a tricky part. And if there's one section you just can't seem to get, you don't need to worry about failing out. For now, BandFuse has no "crowd meter" which will kick you out of a song before it ends. In fact, if you really want to, you can ignore the tabs, turn down the guitar track, and just freestyle. It's less about beating a song to get a high score and more about absorbing the technique. Realta is aiming for a set list of around 55 songs, with the usual mix of rock, metal, alternative, and pop rock. Some of the songs we got to play with included "The Bleeding" (Five Finger Death Punch), "Harder to Breathe" (Maroon 5), "Yellow" (Coldplay), "Sweet Home Alabama" (Lynyrd Skynyrd), and "Back from Cali" (Slash). That last song may be one of many from Slash, as he is involved with the game beyond just licensing a track. Slash is serving as the game's musical instructor, guiding the player through the game and providing advice on how to rock. There's still some room for improvement, however. Currently, feedback on how you're playing is very minimal. I'm not saying that BandFuse needs more bars and combo meters, but some confirmation that you're playing great would be nice. There's an electric effect that shows up when you play a note correctly, but it appears once you've completed the note. Realta wants to show that you've nailed the note, and that's a great idea for all the notes you hold longer than one second, but it can throw you off when the electrical effect shows up on a string the moment you start playing the next note on a different string. Of course, the game is in an extremely early state, and for now we're essentially judging the concept and the technology, and that technology is impressive. Something I didn't consider until it was pointed out to me is that there is no lag, or at least no perceptible lag. Deciding to test out this statement, I played a few fast notes, and sure enough, they played instantly in the game, even with added effects like distortion, chorus, and reverb. Compared to the noticeable lag while singing or performing a drum solo in Rock Band, this was quite magical. A lot of things are up in the air for BandFuse. It's being developed on Xbox 360, and there is a desire to port it to different systems, but no confirmation yet. A bundle with a guitar and the necessary adapter could be in the works, as Fender is a partner, but it's too early to talk release plans. Multiplayer will be present in some form, though it's unknown how it will be implemented. Most tantalizing is the hint of playing additional instruments like a USB microphone -- lyrics appear at the top of the screen, screaming out for some notes -- but there are no announcements for now. Still, the core game looks promising. Out of all the games which promise to teach you music, this one felt the most natural to me. Anyone interested in learning to play guitar should keep an eye on BandFuse.
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I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I was invited to see a new, previously unannounced music game. Internet hyperbole states that music games, or rather rhythm games involving guitars, are dead, killed by over-satura...

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Atlus confirms Persona 4 Arena for US release this summer


Feb 21
// Bob Muir
[Update: We've added hot new screenshots to our gallery, fresh from Atlus.] We figured this might be what Atlus was teasing a few days ago, and it feels so good to be right. Atlus just sent out an email to the Atlus...
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Listen to the intro track for Silent Hill: Downpour


Feb 19
// Bob Muir
It's safe to say that a major part of the atmosphere in the original Silent Hill games was the soundtrack by Akira Yamaoka. Any new music in the series will inevitably be compared to his work, which is almost unfair, since th...
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Captain Commander is an Atari game for the Internet age


Feb 19
// Bob Muir
If you're looking for a good time-waster this weekend, look no further than Adult Swim's new game Captain Commander. The latest from PixelJam -- a.k.a. the guys who did Dino Run -- has you playing as the titular Captain Comma...
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Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker releasing in Spring 2012


Jan 30
// Bob Muir
[As originally posted on Japanator] It's been a while since we last heard of Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker, the anime spin-off of Bioware's fantasy RPG. Dragonagemovie.com has been updated, and we n...
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Shank returns in Shank 2, shanking very likely


Sep 27
// Bob Muir
Last year's Shank was a gleeful journey of violence and bad-ass-itude, wrapped in wonderful, hand-drawn animation. Realizing that gamers really liked stabbing baddies in the gut, developer Klei Entertainment is gracing us wi...
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Two Tetris games exemplify the problem with 3DS gaming


Aug 29
// Bob Muir
[Update: Our original story noted that Tetris: Axis is out on October 20; the correct release date is October 2. Furthermore, we've added a note to clarify that EA's Android versions of Tetris (while free) is supported by ads...
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Global Agenda gets Recursive Colony expansion


Aug 26
// Bob Muir
Hi-Rez Studios announced that Global Agenda, the first free-to-play shooter MMO on Steam, will soon be receiving a big update that brings the game to version 1.5. Called "Recursive Colony," the free expansion will feature the...
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Crimson Alliance's wizard Direwolf is not a wolf


Aug 24
// Bob Muir
Following in the footsteps of Gnox the mercenary, Direwolf the wizard gets his own trailer for the multiplayer action RPG Crimson Alliance. He does his best to not sound like a mad, evil wizard, then totally comes acros...
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Dungeon Defenders finally releases on October 19


Aug 23
// Bob Muir
Trendy Entertainment has put out another trailer for Dungeon Defenders to remind you that, yes, the game still exists! Dungeon Defenders is a third-person co-operative tower defense game with four different classes. This par...
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Machine Gun Jetpack is now renamed Jetpack Joyride


Aug 22
// Bob Muir
While Mojang attempts to hold on to the name of Scrolls, fellow indie developer Halfbrick is changing the name of their upcoming iOS game Machine Gun Jetpack. From now on, the game will be called Jetpack Joyride. As explaine...
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Grasshopper Manufacture teases Black Knight Sword


Aug 22
// Bob Muir
Grasshopper Manufacture, the company of wacky auteur Suda51, continues its partnership with Digital Reality as they work on a new project named Black Knight Sword. A downloadable game for Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStatio...
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Dragon's Dogma video makes me pine for silent characters


Aug 22
// Bob Muir
A goblin pack! Their kind hates ice and fire both! I'll draw it near! Take the offensive! Fall still! That's all I got from this footage of Dragon's Dogma from Gamescom. Sure, the combat looks kind of fun, and riding on a fl...
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Newest Persona 4 anime trailer features poppy theme song


Jul 27
// Bob Muir
[As originally posted on Japanator] A new Persona 4: The Animation trailer featuring Rise and Kanji wearing next-to-nothing? I'd say that's exciting enough, since the last trailer was three months ago. But a t...
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Dragon Age anime gets named, pushed to 2012


Jul 27
// Bob Muir
[As originally posted on Japanator] A little over a year ago, FUNimation announced a Dragon Age anime project, a surprising move for a company that normally focuses on translation and localization. Since then, we h...
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Two Worlds II: Castle Defense adds Eyetracking technology


Jul 25
// Bob Muir
In readying the iPad 2 version of Two Worlds II: Castle Defense (released on PC, Mac, iPhone, and iPad back in May), TopWare has added a really cool new feature. Using the iPad 2's camera, Castle Defense can track the player'...
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Pre-order Cooking Mama 4 at Gamestop and get free plushie


Jul 25
// Bob Muir
Because every game has to come with a pre-order bonus these days, Gamestop is offering a free plush doll of Mama when you pre-order Cooking Mama 4: Kitchen Magic for the 3DS. Yes, for putting down $5, you can get your very ow...

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