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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.








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

JOHNNY TURBO SEZ SO.




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...
Photo








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.








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.








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.








(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:

NINTENDO OF AMERICA
ATTN: CS ADMIN
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?