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3:47 PM on 04.06.2010

Final Fantasy XIII (PS3) review

Final Fantasy XIII (PS3) review

It's been four years since the last mainline Final Fantasy game and since then I've moved on to other games to get my JRPG fix such as Dragon Quest, Persona and the Tales series. My opinion of quality JRPGs has shifted dramatically as a result of these titles. Final Fantasy XIII has proven that the series is still relevant today.

Explaining the story of Final Fantasy XIII is quite a feat, as it's not as straightforward as you would expect from these kinds of games. From the outset, you're rushed right into the middle of a conflict that involves the utopian society of Cocoon, a floating structure above the savage world of Pulse. Entities known as fal'Cie rule the world of Pulse and curse humans as l'Cie, which are given the ability to cast magic, but are given a single task called a Focus. Those who complete their Focus are immortalized in crystal, while those who fail in the allotted time become Cie'th and wander the world as meandering monsters. Those who are discovered to be l'Cie or have been in contact with them are captured and executed by Cocoon's government. Think of it as the holocaust, except Jews don't transform into monsters. As such, the people of Cocoon live in fear of the government's propaganda and detest the l'Cie.

The main characters are all involved in this conflict as either deportees or as part of a resistance group that is trying to stop these executions. These characters include: Lightning, a strong-willed, aloof woman who wields a gunblade; Sazh, a black man who roosts a baby chocobo in his afro; Snow, the reckless resistance leader who is engaged to Lightning's younger sister Serah; Hope, an emo kid who no one cares about; Vanille, a scantily-clad, bubbly girl; and Fang, who is Vanille's compatriot and joins the party much later in the game. All of the characters are marked by a fal'Cie and thus, rejected by the world in which they seek to protect.

While the story doesn't stop to explain everything for you, the game's battle system does. For the first few hours, you'll slowly acclimate to the system through the game's tutorials and receive additional tutorials every few hours upward to 20 hours into the game as new aspects are introduced.

Battles involve controlling one character while the other characters in the party are AI-controlled. If your character dies, it's game over. You have multiple active time battle (ATB) bars that fill up and each one counts as an attack; some attacks require multiple bars, however. You have the choice to insert your attacks manually with the Abilities command or let the computer do it for you with Auto-battle. In most cases, the computer does a decent job of fighting for you and you can only pray that AI works in your favor as often your allies will just stand there and do nothing. You can also use special moves called Techniques that require Technical Points (TP) to use. These moves include Libra for analyzing your enemies, Renew for restoring everyone's health instantly, Summon for summoning a character's Eidolon who fights alongside them, and so on. You can also use items, which don't require an ATB bar to use.

The system gets complicated once the class-changing system from Final Fantasy X-2 is included. Every character will have three classes, with the option of all six being available to them later. The six classes include: Commando, a physical attacker; Ravager, a magic attacker; Medic, a healer; Sentinel, a defender; Synergist, which increase your party's attributes with spells like Haste and Protect; and Saboteur, which reduce enemy attributes and inflict status effects. Mastering these classes is key to succeeding in battle as you'll constantly be switching classes in a maneuver called Paradigm Shift. Prior to entering combat, you'll customize your party's class structure as Paradigms. For example, a balanced Paradigm would include a Commando, a Ravager and a Medic. A more offensive Paradigm would include a Commando and two Ravagers and a defensive Paradigm would be a Sentinel, Medic and Synergist. You can switch Paradigms at any time in battle by pressing L1 and selecting from your list that includes up to six at a time.

The one problem I had with this system is it doesn't let you save Paradigm arrangements for future use if you were to switch party members. To clarify: my usual group is Lightning, Vanille and Sazh and I have a solid list of Paradigms for them. In the few instances where I needed a Sentinel, I'd switch in Snow for Lightning and have an appropriate list of Paradigms for that party, however I have to manually set my Paradigms each and every time I switch teams.

Battles are more or less trial and error as you attempt to find the correct strategy for winning battles. If you aren't using the correct classes at a given instance, a normal battle that would take 30 seconds to complete can take upward of 10 minutes. A major element to keep in mind is the stagger bar. As you attack an enemy, their stagger bar increases. When it completely fills, they become staggered and their defense is significantly reduced and you proceed to bumrush said target. On the other hand, enemies (bosses specifically) have a nasty habit of instantly killing your leader just because they can. It's frustrating at first and it's only after several more attempts of tweaking your strategy that you meet the winning conditions. Winning appears to be a matter of 70 percent strategy and 30 percent luck, with these factors often flipping from time to time. Battles are more fast-paced than what you expect from turn-based combat, even if you mostly opt for the Auto-battle command. You'll constantly be swapping Paradigms in battle to satisfy the ever-changing conditions.

After battles you aren't rewarded with experience points, but instead crystagen points (CP, not to be confused with a certain 4chan topic of interest). Every character has a Crystarium, which is more or less a 3D model of the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X. Each class has a series of nodes that improve one's attributes and give them new abilities, and each node requires a certain amount of CP to acquire. Characters have three attributes: HP, strength and magic. These attributes build upon one another with each class, while the abilities remain with their respective classes; a commando won't have fire spells and a ravager won't have cure spells.

The in-game database, known as the Datalog chronicles, all of the story's characters, events, people, history, mythos and so on to clarify everything for you as the game's cinematics don't stop to let you know what's going on. Not bothering to look through the Datalog for a good 10-15 hours, I had no clue what Pulse, Purge, Sanctum, Fal'Cie were and it was even harder trying to explain it to others.

I embraced the streamlined nature of leveling as well as the game's pace. The game takes a linear approach and there's no backtracking or overworld exploration. The environments involve taking a straight path, battling enemies and collecting items. About 25-30 hours in, the game does open up as you're able to take on many optional side missions that involve killing a designated target. Aside from the option of taking on these missions, the game retains its linear nature for remainder of its length.

It's also noteworthy to mention the absence of towns in the practical sense. Shopping for equipment has been reduced to a series of menus, which you access from the abundant save points that litter the area. New shops become available as you progress through the story as does the upgrade option. Weapons and accessories can be upgraded by combining them with the materials you collect from battles such as beast claws and machinery components like bolts. Each item has a set amount of experience points that are needed to level up your equipment. The organic items don'tt offer much XP, but can trigger XP multipliers of up to times three. The fabricated items offer greater XP values and are best used after a piece of equipment has an XP multiplayer. Your equipment levels up to a certain point, where it is then designated as a star and if a transforming catalyst is applied, the weapon will change. In which case, it can be combined with a mineral component and transformed into a different piece of equipment.

Being a Final Fantasy game, you can expect fantastic visuals and lengthy cinematics. I'd go as far as saying every 10 minutes (not counting battles) there is a new cutscene. Owners of the Xbox 360 version won't notice a huge jump between the in-game cinematics and the CGI ones. While the PS3 version (the one I played) looks amazing in its complete, uncompressed glory. I personally enjoyed watching the montage of CGI scenes in the opening movie whenever I booted the game up.

Fans will be disappointed that aside from the chocobo theme, which features a lyrical cover, none of the classic tunes or jingles from the series are to be found in the game; not even The Prelude or the victory fanfare. Instead we get many variations of Serah's Theme throughout the game, which I admit grew on me after hearing it more than a dozen times. There was much hype involving Leona Lewis' song "My Hands" as the game's theme song, but it only plays during the last scene of the game. I felt the battle theme was very catchy, despite it being spoiled in the initial trailer for the game.

Say what you want about JRPG voice acting, I thought the cast for this game was solid. Vanille's ambiguous accent was a little jarring at times, but I got over it. The same actor as Kanji-kun of Persona 4 fame voices Snow and I was hoping he would shout "Get bent!" somewhere in the game, but no such incident occurred.

Final Fantasy XIII has made some substantial changes to its structure that I believe are what made me enjoy and actually finish the game. I didn't mind the linearity or the lack of customization early in the game like other players have. The story appears convoluted at first, but if you spend an hour reading the Datalog, you'll appreciate it more. The PS3 version is the definitive version in terms of presentation as it simply looks better than its 360 counterpart. If you love Final Fantasy or JRPGs definitely check this game out.

9/10   read

9:56 PM on 02.16.2010

Dante's Inferno Review

When I first came into contact with Dante Alighieri’s “Divine Comedy,” I wasn’t in a literature class, but rather a Web design class in high school. One of my assignments entailed designing a virtual tour in Flash about the poem. It talked about the different circles of hell and I ended up never finishing the assignment because I was too lazy to look up tutorials on Flash, but that memory of Dante’s Inferno lingered in my mind. EA’s Dante’s Inferno sounded much more interesting than some BS Flash assignment.

The poem features Dante aimlessly wandering through a forest and stumbling into hell. In the game, Dante is a Crusader who is killed in combat but manages to defeat Death and take his scythe as his own. Dante soon learns his wife, Beatrice, was taken into the underworld on the grounds that Dante broke his pact by being unfaithful to her. Hell-bent on getting her back, Dante descends into the nine circles of hell to reclaim her soul. Various events from Dante’s past are brought to attention in the form of animated cutscenes that resemble The Beatles animated movies and contrast the seemingly epic premise of the game.

Dante’s Inferno is a hack ‘n’ slash action game that emulates God of War to the core. As such, you’ll be slashing enemies, building up combos and performing quick-time events to dodge attacks or finish off enemies. As you defeat enemies, you’ll acquire souls needed to purchase new attacks and magic for Dante. When grabbing an enemy, you have the choice to absolve or punish their soul. Absolving an enemy will grant you holy experience points, while punishing will give you unholy experience points. These experience points are used to level up two sets of experience trees: Holy powers are more magic-based and empower your ranged attack that fires crosses, while unholy powers improve your scythe attacks. Both trees max out at 7.

When you aren’t fighting demons, unbaptized babies or naked, phallus-wielding lust demons, you’ll complete block puzzles much like you did in God of War. You’ll also find damned souls that you’ll be given the choice to absolve or punish for additional experience and souls. Harvesting these souls brings up a rhythm mini-game that involves timing an approaching “sin icon” with its respective button. You’ll also collect relics that modify Dante’s abilities and Judas’ 30 silver coins for the sake of having inane collectibles.

While I didn’t mind the blatant copy-cat approach of gameplay, the platforming segments and cheap deaths are an unnecessary nuisance. Starting with the fourth circle, Greed, the level design starts to fall apart. Essentially, this is when it becomes semi-broken platforming sections or repetitive combat challenges. The biggest offender is not giving you any camera control whatsoever. The camera follows Dante as he moves around and rotates when the game feels it should, but there were several instances where I literally made blind leaps of faith in the hope of landing on a platform (try jumping up several platforms with a bright light shining directly in your eyes).

You’ll also encounter instances where if you don’t move fast enough or don’t know any better, you’ll be killed by a booby trap. I’m a prudent person when it comes to platforming and if I’m rushed even a little, I’ll get pissed. An early section in the game featured a fallen wooden door that is used as a bridge and if you don’t go across the bridge fast enough, it’ll fall. Since the camera was fixed at an angle where I couldn’t see if I was going to run off the edge, I took my time and was punished for it. Another incident occurred where I was pulling a lever to make a door open and when you let go the door slowly closes back up. Meanwhile, enemies are taking shots at you while you’re opening the door, so I decided to take care of the enemies first then open the door, but suddenly some spiked walls closed in on me from out of nowhere. WTF!? Fortunately, you’ll restart not too far from where you died, but I’m not much of a fan of this “learn quick or die” mechanic.

The game isn’t terribly difficult other than the cheap deaths you’ll inevitably encounter. Combat is a matter of button mashing X or Y. The game will take no more than eight hours to complete and after finishing the main game you take on the Gates of Hell challenge where you’ll face off against 50 waves of enemies. You’ll also be able to replay the game with all of your acquired abilities from the previous playthrough. This basically gives you a chance to fill up your other skill tree if you only focused on one as well as pick up any collectibles you may have missed.

Anyone who saw the commercial for this game during the Super Bowl would probably be amazed at the visuals and I have to say that I was impressed by them. The pre-rendered cutscenes are amazing. I noticed that Visceral Games contributed a lot of care to the graphics and the animations during these scenes. This diligence extends even to the actual game. As I was descending into the inferno, I noticed that the walls I was climbing down were moving and in fact resembled a cage-like structure where you could see the souls of dead people clamoring for escape. It freaked me out briefly, but I overcame the effect.

Another visual element I felt necessary to bring up was the abundance of nipples. Given that the second circle is Lust, nudity is expected. A section in this area has you climbing up a structure while a giant naked female demon is attacking you. It’s one thing when I see I giant pair of breasts, but when the nipples are tongues and release babies, I cringe. And don’t get me started on the design for the glutton demons. I’m not prude when it comes to nudity, but some things go too far and Dante’s Inferno definitely takes it to that level.

Going along with the epic cinematic scenes, there is a rich orchestral score that complements the heroic feats you’ll perform in the game. Much like in God of War, the music kicks in at the right moment during boss battles. The voice actors are great and definitely bring out the epic premise of the title. Hearing the echoing voices of the damned as I traversed through the game sent chills down my spine and definitely added to the atmosphere.

Overall, Dante’s Inferno is a good game, despite not being terribly original. The game has its issues with a lack of camera control and the cheap deaths can be frustrating. If you enjoyed God of War, I would recommend checking the game out. It’s very short and even though there is DLC coming out in the near future, I’d say the game is still worth a rental.
3/5[/b]   read

5:46 PM on 01.30.2010

No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle Review

Travis Touchdown is back the sequel to 2008’s Kill Bill with wanking off lightsabers game, No More Heroes, with No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle. The sequel fixes some of the issues I had with the first game, but includes some new gameplay elements that end up hurting it more than helping it.

Travis is out for blood after he learns that his best friend was assassinated and is somehow convinced to compete in another assassination tournament at the request of the French seductress, Silvia. Despite being the winner of the last tournament, he starts at rank 51. However, you’ll actually only have to fight in 15 battles as you’ll jump ahead in ranks due to consolidated battles and other events that happen in the story.

The level design is identical to the first game, and in fact, some of the locations from the previous game return. Essentially, you’ll move from room to room killing enemies with your beam katana, which is just a fancy way of saying lightsaber. Pressing the A button swings the katana, while the trigger lets you kick enemies. When an enemy’s health has depleted, an arrow will appear and you’ll have to swing the remote in the indicated direction to finish off an enemy. If you finish off an enemy with a kick, two arrows will appear and you’ll have to swing the remote and the nunchuck in the direction that the arrows are pointing to perform a wrestling move. About half of the time, these motion controls work in the way you want them. As you defeat enemies, slot machine reels will appear and if you match up three of the same picture, you’ll earn a temporary power-up like faster attack speed, shooting blasts of energy with your sword or turning into a tiger and going ape-shit… or rather tiger-shit. Boss battles are typically longer than normal battles in the sense that you’ll have to figure out the boss’s strategy and exploit their weakness, then proceed to wail on them. It’s basically more of the same from the first game.

Between matches, you can take on side-jobs to earn some extra money. No More Heroes 2 improves upon several things in this regard. First, you don’t have to do any of these jobs at all. Before, you had to repeat the same tasks to earn enough money so that you could pay for your admission into the next battle, but now you don’t. Second, the GTA-style travel around the city has been removed in favor of a map screen where you simply select your destination and you’re there. Finally, with the exception of the scorpion job, all of the side-jobs are 8-bit NES-style mini-games. These classic games vary from action-puzzlers, side-scrollers, to simple puzzle games. Your speed and thoroughness determine how much money you earn from each job.

The money you earn can be spent on new beam katanas, clothing for Travis, or gym exercises to increase Travis’ attack power and health. It’s entirely optional and aside from the clothing, can benefit you later. The new beam katanas you can earn include: a green curved blade, a long-reach red blade and my personal favorite, two red blades. The clothing you buy is just customizable stuff that I never really cared about.

Now for the bad things that are included in this game. About halfway through the story, Travis will encounter Shinobu, a young female samurai who he fought against in the previous game, but spared her life. Now she acts as Travis’ pupil and tackles a couple of missions for him. Now I’m all for including new characters, but Shinobu’s levels are horrible. There are platforming sections in her levels and the combination of a wonky camera and the fact that she jumps like a stone don’t help. I had to retry multiple jump attempts simply because I couldn’t see where I was jumping nor could she hurdle across small gaps without falling. Also her movement is very stiff and doesn’t feel right at all. Travis’ brother, Henry, is also a playable character for a single battle and features the same stiff controls as Shinobu. All in all, the new character additions are nice, but I could’ve done without the platforming.

Graphically, the game maintains the previous entry’s cel-shaded artstyle, where everyone and everything resembles Japanese animation. I haven’t played the previous game in two years, but I noticed a lot more “booby-physics” in this iteration. Gratuitous violence and spraying blood make a return as well. If you were into the artstyle of the last game, expect more of the same in this title.

Much like the visuals, the sound retains many of the elements from the last game. All of the original voice actors are back and bring the game’s mature, perverted humor to life. The catchy battle theme from the last game makes a reappearance and in multiple forms, including a version with sung Japanese lyrics. Lightsaber hums, death screams and profanity are also back in full force. The 8-bit mini-games also include retro music and sound effects from yesteryear.

Overall, I found No More Heroes 2 to be better than the original game, but it still has some issues with its camera. The new characters were nice, but Shinobu ended up being more of a burden than a blessing. If you loved the first game, definitely check this one out.

3/5   read

5:36 PM on 01.30.2010

I Seriously Bought This Game Because of the Shiny Cover (Darksiders Review)

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was the last Zelda/Zelda-esque game I’ve played on a console. The new Zelda game for the Wii has been floating around in the rumor mill for some time now, but until anything concrete is announced, Darksiders from Vigil Games will suffice.

Going with what other critics have said, Darksiders blatantly copies off of many games. The overworld exploration and dungeon crawling from The Legend of Zelda are the primary aspects of this game, while the combat is similar to God of War. There’s a portal gun from Portal, a flying-shooting sequence from Panzer Dragoon, the grappling hook/swinging mechanic from Bionic Commando, the power-up-based exploration from Metroid and the main character totally looks like Arthas from WarCraft. Oh, and that memory of you playing with penguins at the zoo, Darksiders took that too!

Getting that out of the way, the story of Darksiders is loosely based off of the apocalypse stories that are mentioned in the book of Revelation from the Bible. Something terrible has happened and now heaven and hell are fighting over the world. You play as War, one of the four horsemen who are summoned during this time, but apparently you didn’t get the memo about the summoning being called off and now you’re stuck on Earth looking like a dumbass.

War is defeated by a minion of The Destroyer and sent to the Charred Council who charge War for bringing about the destruction of the world. However, War is given the chance to prove his innocence and unravel the mystery as to why these events are taking place. War is released and stripped of everything but his big-ass sword, Chaoseater. and the Council have attached the Watcher to War’s arm to keep tabs on him. The Watcher is the “Navi” companion of War and is voiced by Mark Hamill.

War’s quest will take him through four dungeons that resemble the dungeon structures from the Zelda games, namely the fire and water temples. You’ll solve puzzles, battle enemies and collect treasure. In each dungeon you’ll come across a map, a compass-like item and keys for opening locked doors. Probably the most noticeable thing is whenever you solve a puzzle, the camera will zoom out and pan over to a locked door and you’d expect to hear the little Zelda jingle, but instead you get Darksiders’ version of the jingle with a “BUM BUM BUM!” You’ll also find a major item/weapon that is needed to solve some of the puzzles in a dungeon and ultimately defeat the boss of the respective dungeon. For example, the first of these items is a shuriken that is used much like Link’s boomerang; you can target multiple targets in a specific order. An example of a shuriken/boomerang would be using the fire from a torch to light a bomb plant. Yes, bomb plants are in this game.

War’s tools are also used throughout the game’s overworld. Large blocks of ice can be broken with War’s power glove weapon, while hovering grapple points can be attached to War’s hookshot that is simply called the Abyssal Chain. And as you may expect, there are treasures hidden throughout the world and many of them are blatant copies of things you’d find in Zelda. For example, after defeating a boss you’ll acquire a lifestone, (a skull) and is basically a heart container. This gives War an additional bar of health. Throughout the world you’ll also find lifestone shards and if you collect four, you’ll create a new lifestone and receive more health, much like the pieces of heart. Additionally, you’ll find wrath shards that can be combined to give you more wrath, which is needed to perform magic spells.

War’s magic includes: Blade Geyser, a ring of blades encircle Wars. Stoneskin increases War’s defense, Immolation ignites enemies and Affliction afflicts curses upon enemies. Wrath is represented as yellow, while health is green. Finally there are blue souls you’ll collect for defeating enemies, destroying objects and opening blue soul chests. Souls act as the game’s currency and can be used to purchase new weapons, combos and magic spells. Spells and combos can be upgraded multiple times with the purchase of souls, while your weapons level up with extended use.

As mentioned earlier, combat is similar to God of War. You’ll mash the X button constantly and occasionally press the Y button for your secondary weapon. Your secondary weapons include the aforementioned power glove, which sends shockwaves through the ground. You also have long-reaching scythe, which I only purchased on the recommendation of my buddy Adam. Overall, I found no practical use for the secondary weapons since I was more than satisfied with the Chaoseater.

Your weapons can be enhanced with various attachments that generate different effects such as increasing a weapon’s attack power, generating more souls, or slowly replenishing your wrath. The wrath regeneration enhancement essentially nullified the purpose of the yellow chests for the rest of the game.

In addition to weapon combat, pretty much all enemies can be finished off with a gruesome attack that prompts players to press the B button. Smaller enemies can be defeated with this attack alone, but the stronger ones will have to be stunned before they can be finished off. These finishers vary from breaking an enemy over War’s back to slicing them in half with his sword.

The visuals for Darksiders are very good. The opening cutscene is all pre-rendered and fools you into thinking that’s how all of the visuals look. The environments for the first few areas are dark and gritty, but later you’ll venture to a bright and colorful mountain pass and a beautiful temple garden. The game’s areas are definitely things you’d see in The Legend of Zelda only darker in tone. Character models are all really good, if you don’t mind War having a WarCraft appearance with his bulky armor and large shoulder pads. The designs for the angels look amazing, while the demons are what you can expect from demons.

I don’t recall much from the game’s soundtrack as there isn’t any main overworld theme. The voice cast is amazing, however. All of the characters sound really badass and it sounds like these characters are really from the apocalypse. Mark Hamill’s voice as The Watcher definitely steals the show with his wily Joker voice from Batman: Arkham Asylum and the animated series.

While nothing from Darksiders could be considered original, it’s all executed admirably. The main quest will take 10-15 hours to complete and grabbing all of the collectibles will add some more hours to your playtime. If you love The Legend of Zelda series and can’t wait for the new Zelda game, I highly recommend checking this game out.

4/5   read

7:59 PM on 12.10.2009

Holiday Gift Guide for Myself 2009 Edition

We have about two weeks until Christmas and I haven’t asked for anything aside from a BA trenchcoat/peacoat or something of that sort. While that’s pretty boring, here’s a list of relatively pricey things that I legitimately want.

1. PSP 3000 Hanna Montana Pack - $159.99

This is not a joke, I effing want this. I recently purchased Persona for the PSP despite not having the system and not just because of Persona, but because of the slew of other upcoming RPG’s for the handheld. The reason I want the “Panty Purple” PSP is not because of Hannah Montana, but because I’m guilty of vanity and wanting to have my stuff stand out from the others. Like with my DS I spent extra to get the golden-Triforce edition while everyone else has white and black. Also most everyone I know has black iPhones, while mine is white. In other words, I fully support the purple PSP.

2. Dungeons & Dragons 4E Books - $15-35

My other obsession besides video games is D&D. While I haven’t completely exhausted my current wares and 4E is still growing with new books coming out each month, I should still keep semi-updated. Particularly I would like these:

-Monster Manual 2
-Martial Power
-Divine Power
-Primal Power
-Arcane Power

Aside from the Monster Manual, the other books would be primarily for my players so that they would have even more options when creating characters.

3. Rise Kujikawa Action Figure 1/8 Scale - $130

This is probably the creepiest thing on my list as it involves my obsession with Persona 4 and Rise, the hottest girl you can date in the game. It’s a shame I had to cheat on my first girlfriend, Yukiko, to get with Rise, but it was well worth it… heheheheheheh!

4. iMac - $1500

“I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” enough with that crap. Apple released the new iMac recently and it’s pretty nice. My current Macbook Pro still works, but only barely. The first problem is the battery is shot and now my laptop is nothing but a smaller desktop, requiring to be plugged in whenever in use. The other problem is I was cleaning my keyboard and I got a little too OCD with cleaning the keys and accidentally broke off a couple of the keys, which somehow became 12. So now I use an external keyboard for typing and I’m content with it. However, the new iMacs are pretty sexy and I plan to get one later this summer.

5. SONY HVRA1U Black 1.3" 2.97 MP C-MOS 2.7" LCD 10X Optical Zoom Professional 1080i HDV Camcorder - $2500

This is an effing legit camera, and I plan to do some effing legit video recording sometime in the future and I might as well go big. This is a long shot from my current situation and I probably won’t get into this until me and some colleagues have established a proper base of operations to set this stuff up.   read

3:00 PM on 12.04.2009

The Most Fun Clusterf*ck of the Year!

I will make a confession: I have never finished Super Mario Bros. 3. Yes, what many consider to be the greatest game of all time, I cannot vouch for. I blame World 8 for being, both literally and figuratively, hell. With that said, I ignore that black spot of my past and move on to greener pastures such as New Super Mario Bros. Wii.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii is the successor to 2006’s New Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo DS. Both games return to the roots of the series in glorious 2D sidescrolling, platforming bliss. If you’ve played any of the classic Mario games for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Nintendo Entertinament System, you should feel right at home. For one thing, the story hasn’t changed: Princess Peach has been kidnapped and Mario must set out on a journey to rescue her… AGAIN!

Mario’s travels will take him across eight different worlds that consist of environmental archetypes such as grass, desert, ice, lava, etc. Each world includes several different levels as well as boss fortresses and castles. The game essentially combines elements from Super Mario Bros. 1-3, Super Mario World and Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario World 2. If you’ve played the DS version, then you’ll be aware that in addition to Mario’s traditional move set of running, jumping and stomping on Goombas, some of his actions from his 3D adventures make appearances as well. These “newer” moves include the triple jump, wall jump and butt-slam.

It wouldn’t be a Mario game without a wide selection of power-ups like mushrooms, fire flowers and stars. Two new additions to the series are the propeller suit and the penguin suit. The propeller suit is this iteration’s form of the raccoon suit or cape, which allow Mario to fly in the air briefly to reach new heights. Wiggling the Wii remote sends Mario flying straight up and he’ll slowly descend back to the ground. There’s not as much horizontal movement as previous flying power-ups, but it still helps in skipping some of the trickier areas of levels. The penguin suit allows Mario to perform the same actions as penguins: sliding on his belly, swimming faster, and throwing snowballs to freeze enemies.

The game plays like the older Mario games with the Wii Remote turned on its side, using the d-pad to move, the 2 button to jump and the 1 button to shoot fireballs and run. There are some minor “waggle” movements to control the propeller suit. Wiggling the remote will also perform a spin jump, and holding down on the 1 button while shaking the remote will allow you to lift certain objects.

The most common object you’ll be picking up is other players when playing in multiplayer. Up to four players can play through the game’s main adventure as Mario, Luigi, Yellow Toad and Blue Toad in a quasi-cooperative-competitive fashion. Because while you are “working together” to complete levels, more often than not you’ll end up stealing all four power-ups that emerge from item blocks, picking up and throwing other players into pools of lava or “accidentally” bouncing on another player’s head so that they fall to their death. The game becomes much harder when other players are playing because the screen scrolls forward when just one player moves ahead, causing straggling players to be pushed ahead and crushed against walls and other obstacles. When a player dies, they return a few seconds later in a bubble that must be popped by a player who is still alive. If all four players die, they will have to restart the level from the last checkpoint.

There are two competitive modes: head-to-head and coin battle. Depending on how you play the cooperative mode, the former will probably seem no different from that, other than you’re given a selection of levels to choose from rather than traveling from world to world. Coin battle keeps track of how many coins each player gets in a level and tallies up their scores at the end. I definitely found the multiplayer component to be the game’s highlight, as I don’t think I’ve had this much fun in years.

I found the game to be somewhat harder than the DS game, but not too hard overall. If you’re a veteran Mario player, you should feel right at home with the game. However, should you die in the same level eight times in a row, a green box will appear that asks if you would like the game to play through the level for you if it’s simply too hard. If you accept, the level will be played through and you can stop at anytime to take control. In most cases, only the most inexperienced players will ever have to use this feature.

The game also has some replay value by having you collect three large star coins that are hidden within each level. These coins allow you to unlock videos that will show you various tricks such as acquiring infinite 1-Ups and finding secret exits to levels. I’m not much of a completionist, so I chose not to go after every star coin.

If you’ve played the DS game, then you’ll know what the visuals are like for this game. The characters and backgrounds are all 3D polygons, but you’ll travel along a 2D space. I’ll say the visuals are better than the DS version due to the hardware that this game is running on, but it’s not quite at the same level as Super Mario Galaxy.

The music consists of synchronized melodies from various Mario games, including New Super Mario Bros. for the DS, Super Mario Bros. 3 and more. The enemies will also dance to certain parts of the overworld music, which also happened in the DS game. Other classic sound effects include the power-up/power-down noises, coin chimes and the voices of Mario, Luigi and the two toads.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii is the most fun gaming experience I’ve had all year. It contains a solid single player mode and enough challenge and nostalgia to please veterans of the series. The game also appeals to such a broad audience that even those who don’t play games that much will be able to enjoy it. If you don’t already own this game, get it! If you do, get it for someone who doesn’t!

Score: 5/5   read

6:26 PM on 12.03.2009

Semi-Black Friday Adventures: A Trip to Target

(Note, this is about a week late as I’ve been busy with work and school for the past week so I finally got around to writing up this anecdote.).

For the Audioboo version that was recorded the day of the event, click the link below

It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and my friends haven’t all returned from school for the holiday, so I had nothing better to do but to visit Target (don’t ask). Whenever I visit Target, Wal-Mart, or any store of that nature, it’s my natural instinct to go to the electronics section of the store and look at the games. It was here that I noticed that Target had a premature Black Friday sale. They were selling Borderlands and Dragon Age: Origins for $44, as opposed to the normal $60 price tag. I really wanted to play Borderlands, but I wasn’t willing to pay full price on the game for the fact that I’m a cheap bastard—or a relatively cheap bastard. Since I didn’t quite have enough money at the time (my paycheck would be deposited into my account the next day), I relented to my impulse and came back the next day.

The next day, I returned to Target and I had realized I forgot my toothpaste and toothbrush up at school and my family had none to spare, so I decided to temporarily remedy this dilemma by grabbing some Eclipse breath mints. I then passed by the DVD section and noticed the different seasons of Dragonball Z for sale. I saw that the first season of Dragonball Z was $20 and there was a sticker on the cover that said “OVER 900 MINUTES OF UNCUT ACTION!” Knowing much about Internet memes, I picked this up because it was inexpensive and I had the urge to write an extra zero at the end of “900” to complete the meme. Come to think of it, they should make children’s puzzles or something that is called “Complete the Meme” so that future generations will know what’s right in the world and not the current crap like “Hannah Montana” and “Twilight.”

Anyway, right next to the DVD section for some reason is the book section, specifically the romance novels. The first thing I spotted was some Spanish romance novel titled, “Bianca,” with a subtitle that said something like “Los muertos fuego,” which my two years of high school Spanish has taught me stands for “hot death.” Upon later inspection, I’d learn that is not what it said, but didn’t care. The book was $2 and I had a friend who studied Spanish, read children’s books in Spanish and also had a thing for romance novels, so I knew this was the perfect combination.

After acquiring these three items, I proceeded to the electronics section and had the cashier get Borderlands from out of the glass case and had him ring up the game and the other items together. He had rung up the game, the DVD and the breath mints with no question, but when he got to the Spanish romance novel, he came up to a dead stop. For several seconds, he just stared at the book and then proceeded to fondle the cover with the half naked woman on it. He finally rang it up, I paid for my items and we never spoke of the incident again, despite not speaking at all.   read

3:42 PM on 11.06.2009

Bi-Curiosity… or How the Sailor Moon Super S Fighting Game Kicked My Ass

When I was 8 years old, I had an older cousin who introduced me to the Sailor Moon anime; she was obsessed with the show. During her adolescent years, whenever I’d visit her for the holidays, her room was decked out in Sailor Moon stuff. She had posters on her walls, action figures and other toys on her shelves, all of which were neatly organized, as she was a girl. My favorite item of hers was a wand that would sparkle and make noises when a button on it was pressed. She even had a notebook full of Sailor Moon trading cards and many duplicates, and she would let me have some of her duplicates. This was my first encounter with collectible cards and would only manifest further with the likes of Pokemon three years later.

Skip ahead about 10 years and I’d come across a new friend who re introduced me to Sailor Moon and enlightened me on things like Sailor Moon S, Sailor Moon Stars, Super Sailor Moon Saiyan Stars versus Goku, and that’s when my mind was blown. Of course, I stopped caring about the series after the first three seasons, and for good reason. My friend informed me that in Sailor Moon Stars, there are boys who turn into girls who turn into Sailor Scouts. WTF? Now I’m proud to say that I never delved that far into the Sailor Moon canon or any anime for that matter—it simply gets too weird.


Before I bore you any further with more nostalgia, the Sailor Moon Super S fighting game for the Super Famicom was discussed recently on the Giant Bombcast. There was an interesting discussion about the title and it piqued my interest. They joked around about if Tuxedo Mask was in the game and the comment was shot down as him being the only one with competent fighting skills, would be too overpowered for the game. There were additional jokes about how Jeff Gerstmann was “getting his Sailor Venus and Sailor Uranus fighting sticks ready for tournament play.” I then decided to do a quick Google search for the game, and sure enough, I found a Web site that was dedicated to Sailor Moon video games and spotted a ROM for the Sailor Moon Super S fighting game.

Upon booting the game up, I was greeted with the familiar Sailor Moon theme song in MIDI form. The game’s in Japanese, obviously, but I managed to piece together things like random English words and numbers and got into the game’s story mode. I had the choice of picking Sailors Moon, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, Venus and Chibi Moon. I of course went with my main girl, Sailor Venus. If you want to debate who the best Sailor Scout is, we can take this outside (the comment section), but you are wrong if you think otherwise.

Anyway, I started the battle against Sailor Mars and boy is she overpowered! She starts off with a quarter extra health than me and she chains her flame attacks right and left. I was lucky to get a few hits in as I frantically mashed my keyboard for possible combos. I managed to pull off some heart projectile attack that dealt decent damage and then my heart whip, which does jack shit. Two rounds passed quickly and the match was over and I had lost.

I was soon greeted with a Game Over screen that featured a unicorn, so I guess that was cool. I decided to try again, but with Chibi Moon. To summarize: fuck her! She died in like five seconds.

Fortunately, I did manage to see a change of scenery as I played as Sailor Mars, who would fight Sailor Mercury. She features the same difficulty of having more health than me and being a cheap bastard. Seriously, she picked me up and threw me down three times in a row. So, maybe it’s just I suck at fighting games (I won’t argue that), but perhaps I’ll take out my frustration on my Sailor Moon friend, by beating her at the game because she sucks at video games.

*theme song*

Testing my patience by moonlight
Pissing me off by daylight
Never letting me win a fight
Fuck the game of Sailor Moon

It is meant to offend
Emotional injuries to mend
Hell is where I will send
This shitty game…

Sailor Venus (she’s alright)
Sailor Mercury (what a dyke)
Sailor Mars (fuck that bitch)
Sailor Jupiter (ugh!)

Testing my patience by moonlight
Pissing me off by daylight
Me playing this game is not right
Fuck the game of Sailor Moon
Fuck the game of Sailor Moon
Fuck the game… SAILOR MOON!   read

6:02 PM on 11.04.2009

DJ Hero review

DJ Hero was surreptitiously released last week and it’s unfortunate that such an original game gets lost in the music game clusterfuck of Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Though it’s not completely original since Konami started a turntable rhythm game called Beatmania more than a decade ago for arcades and consoles. That series ended in 2002, and now Activision and FreeStyleGames have adopted the gameplay of Beatmania with a turntable peripheral game of their own.

Since DJ Hero uses a new peripheral, the game is more interesting than Guitar Hero and Rock Band in my opinion. You can’t simply hop into the game with what you know from those games. Fortunately, the game offers a very robust training mode that grinds the game’s interface into you.

The turntable peripheral includes three colored fret buttons on a spinning disc and, much like other rhythm games, you press down on the correct button as its appropriate icon scrolls down the screen. You’ll then see long bars with slanted lines trailing behind either the blue or green icons. These are sections that require you to scratch the disc by pushing up or down on the disc. When playing on Hard, some of these sections will be direction-specific and you’ll have to scratch up or down. In Expert, these sections are exclusively direction-specific. On the left side of the turntable, there’s a cross fader switch that you can slide left or right with a small notch in the middle. At certain points in the game, a track bar jumps to the left or right and back, and you’ll want to slide the cross fader in the appropriate direction. This is to simulate the experience of cutting between the two songs that play simultaneously in each mix you’ll perform. One issue with the cross fader is that it’s very sensitive and you often slide it too far when returning it to the center and it’ll ruin your note streak.

Additionally, there are sections where a thin, golden hump will appear over a track, prompting you to twist the effects dial back and forth, which is located right above the cross fader. The effects dial earns you additional points and bonus multipliers; it’s the DJ Hero equivalent of the whammy bar from Guitar Hero. Also, there will be sections highlighted in white that must be played perfectly in order to acquire “Euphoria,” the game’s version of Star Power. When you acquire “Euphoria,” a flashing red button will light up to the left of the effects dial, earning you more points when pressed. Another feature is that after you’ve reached a number of note streaks, a glowing green rewind icon will appear and you’ll be able to rewind a section of a song by spinning the disc backwards and catching it. It’s a cool, tactile feature, but more often than not it doesn’t make the mix sound any better.

The game features 102 songs that come in the form of 93 mixes consisting of two songs. The library covers hip-hop, house, pop and more. You’ll come across mixes such as “I Want You Back” by Jackson 5 vs. “Just to get a Rep” by Gang Starr, “All Eyez on Me” by 2Pac vs. “Bittersweet Symphony” by The Aranbee Pop Orchestra, “Brass Monkey” by Beastie Boys vs. “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen and so on. Aside from the quick list option, you can only play these songs in a set list. So if there’s a mix that you want to play, you have to play through all of the mixes before playing the one you want to play. These set lists consist of having anywhere from two to eight mixes.

DJ Hero is very forgiving in terms of difficulty. Don’t get me wrong, the harder difficulties are brutal, but you can never fail out of a song for performing terribly. As such, the game gauges your progression with the number of stars you earned for playing through the mixes. Like Guitar Hero, you can earn up to five stars per mix and the stars unlock new characters, outfits, venues, turn table decks and more.

Graphically, the game is what you’ve come to expect with these types of games. You’ll be more focused on the note charts than the dancing character animations at the top of the screen. If you are easily distracted, there are also lots of flashing lights in the background. The game features original DJ characters as well as caricatures of well-known DJs including Grand Master Flash, Daft Punk, DJ Shadow and the late DJ AM.

DJ Hero is a breath of fresh air in the world of rhythm games. Much like the original Guitar Hero, DJ Hero has limited features aside from playing through the different mixes and multiplayer mode. This of course, means the inevitable flood of sequels and downloadable content in the months to come. There’s also the ability to have another player plug in a guitar or microphone and play along with the DJ, but those get lost in the chaos of all of the DJ action. I highly recommend checking the game out, despite the $120 price tag, or $199 for the Renegade Edition of the game.

Score: 4/5

Photo credit:   read

4:21 PM on 10.21.2009

Brutal Legend Review

Psychonauts was my first experience with Tim Schafer and his creative development team at Double Fine. I loved the game for its hilarious story and creative game design. When it was revealed in 2007 that Schafer’s next masterpiece was going to be a metal-themed action game starring the voice and likeness of Jack Black, I was ecstatic. Two years and various publisher and logistical changes later, Brutal Legend has finally come to rock the Xbox 360 and PS3.

After turning on the game and being greeted by the “DOUBLE FIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINE!” logo, you’ll witness a live action video of Jack Black entering a record store and searching around for a specific album that will “not only blow your mind, but also your soul.” It’s none other than Brutal Legend, which beautifully transitions to the game’s menu screen.

Once you start the game, you’re quickly introduced to Eddie Riggs (voiced by Jack Black), the world’s greatest roadie. Unfortunately, he works for a “modern-day” metal band that appears to be a parody of popular bands such as Fallout Boy and Linkin Park, which go on to prove that “real metal” in this day and age is dead. Eddie wishes he was born into a different age, “like the ‘70s—the early ‘70s.” His wish is granted when he is killed by a construction accident and is transported to a world of metal, complete with evil demons, mountains of skulls and characters donning S&M gear.

Eddie adapts to this new world painlessly as he almost immediately finds and wields a large battleaxe and discovers that his guitar, dubbed Clementine, is able to summon bolts of lightning and fire. Eventually, Eddie meets up with a group of humans and learns that a war between humans and demons has been waging for years. Eddie uses his advanced knowledge of heavy metal to aid the humans in their quest for freedom.

From the outset, the game appears to be a regular hack ‘n’ slash game, but players will eventually use the guitar to play brief solos that have various powers much like the ocarina from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. These powers range from a facemelter solo, which literally melts the faces off of a group of enemies, to summoning a burning (led) zeppelin to come careening down on your foes. One of the solos you’ll use most often is the ability to summon Eddie’s vehicle, the Druid Plow. The vehicle elements become another large part of the game as it transitions to an open-world game where you can take on dozens of side missions in addition to the main story missions.

Not much later, Eddie rounds up various troops including the melee-class Headbangers, the ranged Razor Girls, fire-breathing Metal Beasts, structure-destroying Roadies and many more. Eddie is able to command these troops to advance to different locations or to attack specific targets. This all leads up to the epic stage battles, which changes up the gameplay style once more to that of a real-time strategy game.

Your stage is your base of operations and your goal is to build up your units and destroy your opponent’s base. In order to accomplish this task, you must appease your fans by building merchandise booths and gaining their support. Your fans act as your resources for building and maintaining your army. However, your opponents will also seek these resources by attacking your merchandise booths and building their own, so you must defend your own resources while fighting for theirs. While this is going on, you’re still controlling Eddie like you do in normal play—often taking matters into your own hands.

Since the stage battles aren’t your typical mouse and keyboard RTS controls, nor is it your typical console RTS controls, you’ll find the controls and interfaces somewhat clunky. Your “cursor” is Eddie and you can only issue commands to units near you and your commands direct your units only so far, so you constantly have to issue new commands every couple of seconds as they advance forward. All of your unit creation tools are hidden under a submenu that can be brought up with the right-bumper. The stage battles wouldn’t be that bad if they weren’t a huge part of the game, but the latter half of the game solely consists of these battles.

The stage battles in the single player mode prepare you for the game’s multiplayer mode. Now, I’m not much of a competitive player and when I have a hard time playing a mandatory match against a computer opponent with awkward controls, what makes you think I’ll want to go out of my way to get humiliated by a human opponent? If you said achievements, you’d be right. In multiplayer, you play skirmishes with other players as one of the three factions that you meet in the game: The metal army, Ironheade (spelled with an ‘E’ to show they mean business), the emo army of Drowning Doom and the demon army of Tainted Coil.

The main problem with Brutal Legend is that it’s too ambitious with its game design. It’s part-action, part-rhythm, part-open world, part-RTS. With so many game varieties mashed up into one game, not all of them are fully developed. I would have preferred a straight third-person Zelda-style game, despite the combat being somewhat repetitive. I personally had major issues with the driving mechanic, specifically the escort and racing missions. When driving, if you happen to even slightly brush up against an obstacle, you’ll lose control of the vehicle and go flying off somewhere and experience difficulty recovering

More often than not, you’ll trudge through the tedious gameplay just to get to the next cinematic and hear the hilarious dialogue. Some of the quotes I’ve ripped straight from the game in this review already to give you an idea of the game’s humor. There are also tons of references and inside jokes to metal lore that I wasn’t too familiar with, but my metalhead roommates picked up on them.

Many fans were worried about the inclusion of Jack Black in the game. Love him or hate him, he manages to pull off the role and I don’t think anyone else could do the job better. Jack Black isn’t the only celebrity to offer their likeness to the game. Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister acts as the game’s shaman character known as the Killmaster. Ozzy Osbourne takes on the role of the game’s merchant and sells Eddie upgrades for his axe, guitar, and Druid Plow. Tim Curry voices the game’s primary antagonist, Emperor Doviculus, but he only appears in roughly three scenes in the whole game, which is disappointing.

Going along with the metal theme, Brutal Legend boasts more than 100 metal songs. I was never a metal fan prior to playing this game, but after completing it, I’ve warmed up a little to the genre. Some of the highlights for me were “Deadly Sinners” and “Destroy the Orcs” by 3 Inches of Blood and “Kickstart my Heart” by Motley Crue. The cool thing about the soundtrack is a specific song will play at a specific point in the game and it totally sets the mood for the current situation. The most epic moment in the game in my opinion is when you’re quickly escaping from a crumbling tower with burning debris crashing down on you and “Through the Fire and the Flames” by Dragonforce starts playing in the background. “HO-LY SHIT!” was what came to mind.

Graphically, the game looks great. It’s a bit more realistic than Schafer’s past titles, but it retains the animated movie appeal. Schafer has gone on the record saying that every scene from the game was designed to look like a metal album cover and it accomplishes this well. The animations look great and in combination with a stellar voice cast, this game really comes to life.

Tim Schafer has managed to create another hilariously awesome game with Brutal Legend. If you like humor, metal and/or video games, this is perfect for you. The game does try too hard to be so many game types at once and it definitely falters because of it. If you can endure the gameplay, it’s absolutely worth it for the story and dialogue.


Photo credit:   read

7:13 PM on 09.23.2009

Imagine Freshman Girls for the DS: Great Idea, Brilliant Idea, or Sick Infatuation?

Over the first couple of days returning to school, one thing has crossed my mind: freshman girls. Now this is my third year attending college and last year there were freshman girls, but I saw them more as little sisters and they were a bit too close to my age for my liking.

There is the high school teacher pedophile creed of “Man, I get older, but these girls stay the same age.” And this goes further than that. This summer, a friend and I indulged in an anime called Fruits Basket. In the anime, one of the characters writes erotic fiction as a career and has a hidden obsession with high school girls. There’s a particular scene where he’s cleaning up the house in preparation for a visit from said girls and he sings a brief funny/creepy song:


I came up with my own version of the song that simply switches “high school” to “freshman,” and it has the same effect; I’m perceived as a creepy pervert. Of course, I do this all for irony, while my roommates are actually the ones who are obsessed with the "youngins."

While tweeting about the subject, I came up with the brilliant game pitch for Ubisoft’s 100+ games in the Imagine series: Imagine Freshman Girls. In this game you follow the day to day lives of your choice of one of seven freshman girls including the activities of:

-panty pillow fights
-deciding on what to wear for the day
-trying on clothes
-subtlety degrading your friends’ individual self-esteems
-shop at Hot Topic
-shop at Macy’s
-shop at Victoria’s Secret
-Asking parents for money
-curling straight hair
-straightening curly hair
-Obsessing over Twilight
-Talking about the boys they like
-Talking about cute boys
-Bragging about their relations
-tripping when going up stairs
-running into people in the hallways
-standing and staring blankly in public places
-order food and get full after one bite
-suck horribly at Guitar Hero/Rock Band
-going to the bathroom with other girls
-shave legs if not wearing jeans
-wear jeans
-Listen to Death Cab for Cutie
-Listen to Taylor Swift
-Listen to Kanye
-Ask everyone in class for gum
-Obsess over the Jonas Brothers
-Complain about being too cold
-Watch MTV/MTV2/MTV7/VH1
-Watch 27 Dresses… again
-being too hungover to come to class
-cross legs when sitting
-cross arms when standing
-fail at driving
-get knocked up

This package alone would satisfy the needs of creepers of all ages. Considering the Imagine series is geared towards women, why not gear it towards men also. This could be the start to a series of games such as Imagine Fratboy and Imagine Douchebag, but that would be redundant…   read

7:08 PM on 09.20.2009

The Beatles Rock Band Review

First, I’m going tell you that I was never into the Beatles, or any music for that matter. As such, I’m often seen as an outcast in that regard and I had little interest in The Beatles Rock Band when Harmonix announced the game. However, many of my friends are huge Beatles fans, so I came up with the brilliant idea of grabbing the title a week after release and my Rock Band set, thus, appeasing them and boosting my popularity. Essentially, it’s a pyramid scheme to get me laid, but now is not the time for that. After playing through the game I’m less of a non-believer.

The game opens with an LSD-centric animation showcasing the Beatles’ most popular songs. Then you can jump into Quick Play and play through the game’s 43 songs from the outset. I convinced my comrades that the songs weren’t available and we had to play through the story in order to unlock them—suckers! The story chronicles the Beatles’ humble beginnings in Liverpool, England to their touring of the United States, to their recording sessions at Abbey Road. After playing the previous Rock Band games, I’m relieved that the Beatles takes on a more relaxed, linear approach that the original Guitar Hero games did with their career modes. Also, there’s less pressure to succeed because you don’t have to worry about losing fans or making less money if you fail a song. All of the stuff that makes Rock Band’s World Tour mode so overwhelming for me is gone. Also the story can be completed in no more than three hours.

Despite the streamlined career mode, the game retains the Rock Band formula for gameplay of guitar, bass, drums, and vocals. Playing on Easy automatically enables “No Fail Mode” for that player, and it can be turned on when playing in Quick Play. The one major addition to this entry is the integration of two-part or three-part harmony when one or two more microphones are plugged in respectively. Assuming you can find people who can sing harmony, it’s great, but even if you can’t, it still lets more players get in on the action if the other members aren’t quite adept at playing and singing simultaneously. The songs also aren’t that difficult compared to other Rock Band games. I often found myself getting 100% while playing guitar on hard, despite knowing little or nothing about most of these songs.

After completing the story, you can go back and take on the challenges, which are essentially playing through each set list without breaks between songs. As you’re doing this, you’ll be unlocking photographs that feature information on the band’s career, as well as behind-the scenes videos. Even with all of that said and done, the game is short-lived and you’d only play it again whenever guests are around or if you have the urge to play Beatles music. The title also features its own set of DLC. Simply put, you won’t be able to import Beatles music to Rock Band or vice versa.

The game does take a unique approach with the visuals during the songs. You’ll see digital renditions of Paul, John, George, and Ringo that sort of creep me out their countenance. I made a joke about how the “Sgt. Pepper Beatles Rock Band” issue of last month’s Game Informer had the Mario Brothers on the cover, but no one thought it was funny. When the story gets to Abbey Road, the “dreamscape vision” scenes dominate the background and sometimes you’ll simply want to watch these scenes instead of playing. The videos included with “Yellow Submarine” and “I Am the Walrus” are two of the highlights in this regard.

Each track is a master recording, so Beatles fans will have much to appreciate from this game. Another key thing is when you use the whammy bar on the guitar; it doesn’t make that god awful sound distortion, which is much welcomed. It makes me hope that future Rock Band games will give you the option to turn off distortions.

Coming from someone who isn’t into the Beatles, I’d probably say rent it or at least don’t pay the full $60, unless you’re a die-hard fan or you often have friends and family that are heavily into the Beatles visiting. It’s definitely a gateway game for non-gamers much like Wii Sports. I definitely prefer the core game design of this title over the previous entries, and that definitely makes up for my lack of interest in the source material.

4/5   read

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