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9:04 PM on 03.03.2008

Phil Harrison Jumps from a leaky ship to a sinking one, Appointed Prez of Atari

Seems that the rumors, however outlandish, were right. Guess you never really can tell. Phil Harrison, longtime big name at Sony has taken on the herculean task of putting the brakes on Atari's lightspeed descent into destruction.

Phil Harrison last week announced his departure from Sony. This was a shocking move that followed some very critical comments about the Japanese branch of the company failing to capitalize on the social gaming trends he says he saw long ago. Now Harrison is taking on the challenge of helping save Atari, a company that has had a long string of problems and bad financial occurrences of late.

"This is the perfect time to join Infogrames and help shape the future of Atari - one of the industry's legendary brands. As the game business moves rapidly online I believe we have an outstanding opportunity to create amazing network game and community experiences for players the world over. I am especially excited to be working on this challenge together with David, one of the most respected leaders and successful executives in our industry."

It seems that the frustration over SCEJ's stubbornness combined with the opportunity of a nearly clean start at Atari as head honcho is what caused the move. I have little faith in Atari, but all the respect in the world for Harrison, who always seemed like a positively genius spokesperson for Sony, even in the dire straights of the PS3 launch debacle. Hopefully he can use the Atari brand to create more social gaming successes like he did at Sony with Singstar and Eyetoy.   read

10:27 AM on 02.19.2008

Ninjas and Bitchin' Guitars - Week in VC

Continuing their unwanted, but accepted 2 games a week policy, Nintendo actually gives Wii owners two games worth buying this week. The first is the last in a trilogy of the best Ninja games ever that don't feature turtles, and the second because



While I played through Ninja Gaiden 2 many times, and played the first Ninja Gaiden up to the last stage many times, I never had even touched NG3 as a young lad with an NES. Maybe it came along too late and I was off playing my Super Mario Worlds and Final Fantasy 2s? Whatever it was, I don't think I was the only one to have overlooked this game. Fortunately, the virtual console delivers- Ninja Gaiden 3 is a top notch NES platformer.

The game manages to add a lot with lots of new abilities, enemies, and locations. My favorite is the ability to extend his sword's slashing range. What remains unchanged is the smooth and responsive controls the series has always had. Ryu can climb walls, jump off walls, hang from pipes, and just generally is fun to play as. Compare to many side scrolling action protagonists (looking at YOU, shatterhand) of his day, and you'll see why the NG games were so fun.

While I can find little to complain about NG3, I would highly recommend you pick up Ninja Gaiden 2 before this one. NG3 just barely misses classic status-blame NG2 for that, not NG3.


The second, but by no means lesser title is Lords of Thunder. Lords of Thunder is a side scrolling shooter with upgradeable abilities, appealing graphics, and fast paced, challenging action.

But forget about that for a second- The game's soundtrack, if you've watched the above video, is absolutely stunning. Well, if you don't hate things that rock, that is. Some games in the early 90s decided to use CD storage to put shameful videos of people "acting" to complement their 16 bit gameplay. Lords of Thunder instead stuck the most metal game soundtrack ever on their disc. The $8 admission fee is worth it for this soundtrack. The fact that the underlying game is actually good should be considered a bonus. Go buy it.

Your only excuse? The 200 blocks the game requires might be too much for those of us who've been buying VC games for some time now. I know I'm struggling with what to delete this week to make room. Don't tell Nintendo, though. They all know 512MB is good enough...   read

5:06 PM on 01.21.2008

Mass Effect-The Best Buggy Mess Ever

Mass Effect has two personalities. Most of the time, it's an exciting, fully realized sci-fi universe with fast paced combat that's got RPG bits sprinkled on top. Sometimes, however, it's a buggy game with long load times, bad AI, and an over-simplified binary good/evil system that has no real bearing on the outcome of anything. If only Bioware had figured out how to excise the demons that tarnish its better half, Mass Effect could have gone from just good to excellent.

Bioware's console games have been known for mixing action and deep RPG elements, like a parent mixing in a bitter pill with candy- knowing it's good for you, even if all those words and numbers get in the way of killing things from time to time. Mass Effect skews more on the action side of things than KOTOR or Jade Empire. In fact, it's possible to ignore the fact that you level up skills or get experience entirely, simply by allowing the game to level up your characters for you.

There is a great deal of variety in your experience based on the class of your character. Some weapons only are competently useful by the soldier class, for example, and certain biotic/mass effect abilities only appear in others. Unlike Bioshock, which was disappointing in allowing a character that could effectively specialize in everything, Mass Effect encourages replay by limiting your character's abilities. Bioware should have placed a disclaimer on the classes limited in weapon use, as many of the games battles are exceedingly more difficult for these characters.

Fortunately, you're accompanied by a variety of companions that bolster your abilities. Your control over them is more limited than past Bioware titles, to a fault. Typically they're intelligent, but that gets quickly forgotten the first time they run out of cover and get themselves killled, both reducing your abilities at hand, and drawing the enemy out towards your position. These companions are dull, compared to KOTOR's characters. Wrex is the only real interesting one of the bunch. The rest are pretty forgettable, and I didn't see any reason to delve into their stories.

The combat in mass effect is fun, but frustrating at first. The game has absolutely no tutorial. Either experiment and die, or study up on the instruction manual before playing. A few hours in, however, and you'll be tossing enemies in the air, putting up telekinetic cover shields, and melting your enemies weapons in their own hands.

Mass Effect could properly be classified as a third person shooter, and a competent one at that. However, the cover system is finicky, often sticking to objects when you want to move past them, and taking too long to stick when you're frantically moving under a barrage of enemy fire. The enemies you encounter also don't add much to the experience. Many of the encounters consist of a room of enemies that, upon discovering your presence, rush you until one of the two groups are entirely dead. Uninspired, but good enough- much like the rest of the game.

In Mass Effect, if you're not shooting, you're probably talking. Fortunate for it then, that the voice acting and story are top notch. There's always going to be people who can't abide story in their games, and be warned- Mass Effect has plenty of it. For the 20 or so hours I spent with the game, nearly half was spent in some kind of dialog. It's a credit to the game that I never became bored with it, but this isn't the "F YEAH" gung ho military game you're looking for. Bioware really overdid it with the backstory. There is a huge amount of codex information about everything from each planet in the game to individual technology. You need exactly none of this information to enjoy the game but it's nice that it's there for those who might get drawn into this world Bioware has created.

Mass Effect doesn't exactly deliver on its promises of dynamic conversations that change and flow with your responses. Your choices are very clearly marked as good, evil, inquiring, and continuing with the conversation. Bioware was smart to include abbreviations of the dialog choices, where choosing something like "I won't allow that!" might initiate a longer dialog, or get someone shot in the face. It always bothered me in KOTOR that the voice overs followed almost exactly the text shown on screen, giving me zero reason not to just read, and skip over the lengthy voice overs. Mass Effect does it better, adding some suspense and ambiguity to your choices that keep the conversations interesting.

So which side wins in this clearly flawed, but nonetheless enjoyable experience? I'm siding with the good, because although there's some framerate problems, very long and frequent load times, simplistic AI,very basic moral choices, and a cliched story with somewhat forgettable characters, I did really enjoy the game, and would gladly play through another couple times. I completely recommend Mass Effect for anyone who's even remotely enjoyed Bioware's console games in the past. Just as Jade Empire made their brand of RPG work with hand to hand combat, Mass Effect blends it with the third person shooter.   read

2:05 AM on 01.09.2008

I am such a unapologetic slut for Final Fantasy 7.

It's true, it's true. Ever since I saw the intro movie and sold my N64 asap for a Playstation back in 1997, I've been enamored with Final Fantasy 7. I realize it's a fairly shallow experience, and that it's ugly, and the music is MIDI, and there's awful translation bits, but I just can't get these damned rose tinted glasses off.

I'm on probably my 6th playthrough in 10 years through the magic of popstation on my PSP, and it's as good as I remember it. I like the simple one color shading polygon style, I LOVE the early CGI backgrounds and movies (This obsession isn't limited to FFVII, all early CGI fascinates me) and the game will always have a certain charm to it.

But charm is where it ends, because even a fanboi of the game like me can realize that if I sat down a non gamer to play this game in 2008, I don't know if they'd get bored or start to hate it first. This is absolutely one of those cases of "You had to be there" that happens so often in retro gaming, first gen 3D in particular.

It's for that reason that I think SquareEnix is absolutely foolish if they're not working on a modern day HD version of this game. With some polishing and extending of the story and some smoothing over of the gameplay, it would fit right in, and indeed exceed most any modern game in the genre.

The materia system is easily exploitable but deeply customizable. Trace elements of the FFXII gambit system are in place, allowing for skills and reactions that pile on top of each other to create snowballing effects that leave the player giddy with power. Watching 8 instances of knights of the round cascade upon a lowly random encounter simply for beginning gives one a thrill similar to stepping on an anthill as a cruel child. (Surely, I'd never partake in such puerile activities..)

Anyway Square, I know you're busy getting everybody mad by placing long desired sequels to revered series ON TELEPHONES and forcing Mickey Mouse to be a badass, but if you've got time, one of your best selling and most loved games is just begging for some polish.   read

3:18 AM on 01.08.2008

Just a little bit about Beautiful Katamari

Both of these statements are true.
I received Beautiful Katamari in the mail today.
I saw the end credits to Beautiful Katamari today.

This is the first Katamari game I've finished, so I don't know if this is typical, but that went fast. Less than 10 levels that each have time limits under 10 minutes sounds like you're not getting your $40 worth here. Yes, you'll be retrying them because they're not all easy. There also are hidden things in each level and bonus stuff to unlock, but that really was of no interest to me. I'm not blessed with broadband in my neck of the woods so I can't speak to the multiplayer, but I'm thinking that Beautiful Katamari isn't going to give you the bang for your buck the PS2 original did when it arrived as the $20 kitschy darling back in 2004.

There's not much else to say about the game. It's more Katamari Damacy. If you don't' know what that is, you shouldn't be playing this one, but the PS2 original. I'm not sure you even should be playing this one if you do know what that means.   read

3:07 AM on 01.08.2008

Nintendo fesses up, offers replacement Twilight Princess discs

(Originally written April 10, 2006)Nintendo is now offering a new, fixed Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess disc for those who have experienced either of the infuriating bugs. The glitchy areas effectively halt your progress in the game, requiring you to do at least 3 dungeons over. Apparently the new disc will fix the problem even with a glitched save, no need to restart the game for the fix to work.

Nintendo's directions:
Write a letter explaining how you encountered the issue, along with name, address, and daytime telephone number, and mail it along with just the game disc (no case) to the following address:

4900 150TH AVE NE
REDMOND WA 98052-5171

My opinion: This is a great move, and even better that it fixes saves already glitched. To go back into the US version code and change for future prints is a pretty stand up move.

It does come a bit late, especially for the many people it's already happened to and had to start over. The glitch shouldn't have been there in the first place, and it's quite strange to see such a bad bug in a high profile 1st party Nintendo game.

I haven't encountered the glitch yet, but from what I've read up on it, I'm fairly close to where it CAN happen. I'll probably be sending in my disc soon, and recommend everyone do the same. What better time than with Super Paper Mario this week to keep you busy until the replacement disc arrives?   read

3:06 AM on 01.08.2008

Review: Yes folks, there IS a good TMNT game out there!

I was a Ninja Turtles kid. The toys, the show, all that stuff. I never thought twice that the concept of amphibious lizards who know karate and eat pizza was ridiculous. Anyway, that series went gracefully into the night, or so it should have. The recent attempts at reviving TMNT fell hollow on today's Pokemon and Hilary Duff infused youth, while also managing to destroy older fans' image of the series, however inaccurate or undeserved.

But wait! Ninja Turtles have always been good concepts for a videogame, right? 4 turtles, four players, lots of beating up enemies and ninja moves! But no, aside from the re-release of the classic arcade game, Ubisoft seemed to have put out a mindless Prince of Persia lite for every home system ever conceived. (they may have forgotten the Colecovision, I'm not sure) Even the DS, which is often like a glittering fantasyland made of licorice whips for good games got a watered down version of the crappy home game.

Is the nouveau TMNT a complete wash? Is there nothing good to sift out of the steaming piles of childhood memories? No, dear reader, for the Game Boy Advance saves the day, with an excellently crafted and incredibly overlooked ninja beat-em-up.

The game basically has two objectives. Kick ass, and move right! Aside from that simplicity, the game does have a good combo and air juggle system using launchers and combo strikes along with roll/dodge moves that adds a lot of depth. Weapons are placed throughout the somewhat repetitive levels. The whole game has a very solid feel to the engine and physics that I haven't seen in this style of game since River City Ransom.

River City Ransom comparisons don't stop there though. Each of the four turtles can accumulate experience points and improve their abilities. Enhancements also can be purchased with money that enemies drop. There is a hub-like overworld from where you select levels, buy upgrades, and play an abundance of minigames with Casey, Splinter, and April. Last on TMNT's extensive feature list is the medals (read: Achivements) for doing things like a 50 hit combo, juggling someone 10 times, accumulating money, and other creative goals.

Sprites are clean, clear, and animation is very expressive. The levels are a bit repetitive, and the game is over before it really should be. It should go without saying, but if you hate these type of beat-em-up sidescrollers, TMNT won't be for you. However, for fans, GBA is by far the best way to go for TMNT gaming this time around.

The game hasn't been very widely shipped and you might have to do some worthwhile searching. (I found mine at a best buy, and have only seen copies at a local department store otherwise, every GameStop/EB and GameCrazy got NO copies in, morons)

I give TMNT an 8 of 10 for the very solid game engine, ample bonus content, and very impressive graphics. It loses points for the number of stages in the game, and lacking classic TMNT villians. (yeah, the movie was too, but that's another problem)   read

3:05 AM on 01.08.2008

EA and Bizzare launch a dud with Boom Boom Rocket.

Let me get this out of the way. Boom Boom Rocket (BBR, get it?) is a shameless attempt to cash in on the recent rhythm game popularity. BBR even yoinks the famous DDR type style to give added subliminal connection to potential buyers. Don't be fooled. This is as simple as it gets push the button when it crosses the line gameplay. On top of that, the graphics are very blah, the music is all royalty-free classical style song remixes, and the game is far overpriced at 800 points.

Verdict: 2 of 10- Little to like here, might be okay if you had a 4 year old who wants to play the 360. The high price should turn almost anyone away, though.   read

3:04 AM on 01.08.2008

The 20GB Playstation 3 dies quietly in North America

(originally written April 12, 2007) Sony today confirmed that the $499.99 version PS3 will no longer be available. Sony's Dave Karraker cited "overwhelming demand" for the $599.99 model during launch for the move to one system at retail.

Opinion- As always, Sony makes a confusing move. Who stands to benefit here, other than Sony? One of the biggest problems people have had with the PS3 is its pricing, and the $500 model becomes even more attractive with the $480 Xbox 360 Elite competing with it. Speaking of 360, Sony seems to have just justified Microsoft's pricing by distancing themselves $120 from Xbox.

Removing options can never really be a good thing, and the "overwhelming demand" statement becomes rather hollow when you realize that the majority of shipments were for the more expensive model. The $500 PS3 was fully featured for gaming, unlike Microsoft's Core package, and I'm sure I'm among many non-PS3 owners who would have chosen the $500 version when software starts coming.

The real question is without the $500 version, does that become a begrudging $600 purchase, or another $600 model sitting on the shelf?   read

3:03 AM on 01.08.2008

Square Enix not Down with Digital Distribution

Square Enix seems to have indicated that their classic catalog of games will not be getting the microtransaction treatment so many companies have taken advantage of this generation. Square cites lack of Japanese interest in digital downloads as the reason. The statement was specifically targeted towards the Wii's Virtual Console, but the response makes future releases unlikely for PSN or Xbox Live as well.

It's quite obvious what the reasoning is for this move by Square Enix. They have been doing the remake raping of consumers for years, and it pays off every time for them. Square Enix doesn't want to release Final Fantasy on NES for $5 on VC when people are happily buying the PSP remake with Korean MMO style graphics for $30 a pop.

The real shame here is that we'll probably never see some of Square Enix's harder to find or unreleased in the US titles from years past, as the VC was the first real chance for Square to do this inexpensively and with minimum risk.

I hate to place the blame on consumers, but the Square-centric consumer has been about as picky with their buying decisions lately as swine running to Square's slop filled trough. Really, did anyone really need to buy Dirge of Cerberus, or any Mana game made in the last 10 years?   read

3:01 AM on 01.08.2008

Let me be frank about F.E.A.R. on XBox 360.

F.E.A.R. is a standard first person shooter with some horror/slo-mo elements added in. In general, I never felt very polarized either way about FEAR, neither loving or hating it. Nothing much stands out in the game, run through linear passages through office/industrial/slum environments shooting enemies with a variety of weapons.

The enemies are quite smart and did surprise me several times when I was surrounded before I realized it. The problem is that the closed in spaces you fight in rarely have enough different passages to take advantage of the AI. FEAR's weapons are all standard fare, SMG, Rocket launcher, Pistol, Shotgun. Weapons do control well and feel powerful. Two that stand out were the penetrator, which fires metal projectiles that make for some humorous looking enemies pinned to walls, and the laser sniper rifle which makes enemies explode in a bloody mess, going against any kind of stealth or subtlety long range rifles are suited for.

Another way in which FEAR attempts to be different is by including a slow-motion ability which basically means you can move faster than enemies, see them being blown apart (literally) by your attacks in slow motion. Nothing too exciting. The few scripted hallucination events in the game seemed tacked on and if you've played Eternal Darkness, will seem like nothing special. These could have made the game much more interesting, but seem like yet another missed chance.

I thought multiplayer was more fun, if also basic. The standard Deathmatch, the team version of that, and the flag capturing version of that are provided, also with slow-mo variants that nobody plays. Speaking of which, not many are playing online except for peak periods and weekends. Nothing much impressive here, just running around maps mostly taken from the single player game competing for kills. Weapons are pretty imbalanced and from my experience the AR/Penetrator dominates the game.

The game looks good, but not great (noticing a trend here?) with some lighting effects that never really are taken advantage of, nice detail on characters, and lots of objects that blow up and go flying when firefights take place. I didn't notice any framerate issues or glitches in my time with the game.

The 360 version includes two very forgettable extra modes, instant action which places you in areas from the single player game with a number of enemies. It's a lot like a terrorist hunt on Rainbow Six, without as much customization, and only single player. A "bonus mission" of sorts which took all of 10 min and made little sense, not to mention taking place in familiar recycled environments with recycled enemies is included as well. On the topic of not making sense, the story doesn't. I wanted to understand it and I did, but only after a quick trip to wikipedia where someone had written a synopsis. What I understood is the story borrows pretty heavily and blatantly from The Ring and The Grudge.

Final verdict? I'd say 5 of 10, meaning it' s the perfect average FPS. Nothing here done wrong, nothing here done very right or exciting either. It's hard to recommend FEAR with better shooters like Rainbow Six:Vegas out and Half Life Orange Box coming out. I'd say pay no more than $30, and don't set your expectations high on this one.   read

3:00 AM on 01.08.2008

Indigo Prophecy Shows How To Ruin a Story

I really liked Indigo Prophecy. The mystery, the interesting characters, the unique dynamic of playing the killer/investigator, it all drew me in. But I was fooled. I didn't see it coming. Indigo Prophecy falls apart so fast that you'll hardly know what happened.

In less than an hour of gameplay, your character will go from an average Joe who works at a bank, trying to patch up things with an ex-girlfriend who finds himself at the giving end of a bathroom stabbing to an undead Neo clone making love to the woman investigating him for murder in a subway car. Yes, those are spoilers, but since the story makes no sense, it doesn't really matter. At right about the same time, the game transforms from a clever evolution of classic adventure games to a button mashing/simon says game placed on top of cinematic scenes. It's a real shame that this game wasn't given more time to fulfill it's potential.

On the plus side, there is more good than bad, time-wise. It's only the last few hours' sloppy wrapping up of the story which ruins things. You can enjoy the multiple story threads, well written dialog, and the well developed and believable characters for about 75% of the game.

On the mechanical side, sometimes the controls just don't act naturally, because whenever a camera angle shifts, your character seems to want to turn around and start walking another direction. It's tough to explain, but not as tough as moving your characters where they need to be in the timed sequences. I can't speak for other versions, but on PS2 there were numerous times when the audio would skip and stutter for 10-15 seconds at a time, while the game froze, and also when the incorrect lines of dialog would be played, out of sync, or on top of the character's actual dialog. This was a brand new copy I played, so I'm calling it a software issue, and you may not experience it.

I do like using the right stick for dialog selection and interaction with the environment, and Indigo Prophecy looks great, with lots of detail and good animation that communicated emotion very well.

Scoring Indigo Prophecy is difficult because of the split in quality. I can, however, ruthlessly give it a 6/10 for wasted potential, and say play it if you get the chance, for $10 or less.   read

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