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Preview: Conquer China on the go in Dynasty Warriors Next

Feb 15 // Samit Sarkar
Dynasty Warriors Next (PlayStation Vita)Developer: Omega ForcePublisher: Tecmo KoeiRelease: December 17, 2011 (JP) / February 22, 2012 (NA, EU) / February 23, 2012 (AUS)System launch titles usually go out of their way to demonstrate the various features of the platform, and DWN is no different. It's designed specifically for the Vita, taking advantage of seemingly every single one of the handheld's long list of technological talents. A lot of it seemed silly to me, but there's also some genuinely interesting functionality to be found in the package.The standard Campaign Mode lets you choose from 65 characters of various origin (Wu, Wei, Shu, Jin, and Other) and play through an episode pulled from Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the historical novel that spawned this entire franchise. It helps to know the individual stories: the subordinates you pick to bring into battle with you will be more effective if they're actually relevant to the mission. Taking into account the way many people play handhelds -- in short bursts -- Omega Force has compressed battles for the Vita, so even the longest conflicts won't take more than 20 minutes to complete. Conquest Mode is also a single-player affair, but you can interact with friends through the Vita's web- and location-based connectivity. In case the name didn't give it away, your mission in the turn-based mode is to unite all of ancient China's disparate kingdoms under one banner, which is, of course, diplomatic phrasing for "make war on your neighbors until you've bent them all to your will." Conquest is a much more strategic setup than the campaign's set sequence of battles for each character; it resembles a game of Risk, with ancient China -- instead of the whole world -- as your playground.Each territory on the Conquest map has its own level, and in order to be able to invade a nearby region, it must have a lower level than the place from which you're setting forth. (Invasions play out as standard campaign-like battles.) In the mode's economy, territories earn money, which can be spent on items such as buffs for your forces. The spoils of a successful invasion, in addition to increased income, include the ability to force a defeated officer to serve as an ally. Conquest strategy extends to defense, since you have to be vigilant for enemy incursions into your own lands.This mode becomes even more intriguing when taken online. You can play competitively or cooperatively with up to three other friends over Wi-Fi, with additional bonuses through proximity with them (as detected by 3G and GPS). Upon defeating a human opponent, you can offer them a Mission Battle. Here, the two of you compete in one of four mini-games such as Race (tilt the Vita to control a horse and rider through an obstacle course) and Breakthrough (swipe on the screen and shake the Vita to defeat a horde of enemies); the winner earns some extra experience points, not to mention bragging rights, and a better ranking on the Conquest leaderboard. For a perhaps less contentious experience, you can join with friends in the four-player co-op Coalition Mode, which works through the Vita's ad hoc connectivity (that is, your buddies have to be in the vicinity). I didn't get to check out this mode myself, but it includes four different courses designed specifically for co-op play. In the Sentinel game, you have to hold off waves of enemies, while the object of Marauder is to capture all the bases on the map. Blitz tasks you with capturing the main enemy camp as quickly as possible, and Sudden Death is a twist on Marauder in which you'll lose a life if you take one hit. For all its potential to destroy friendships, Coalition offers chances at rare weapons and items.Omega Force has brought touch and gyroscope functionality into gameplay, mostly in ways that seemed like gimmicky contrivances. When you use the new Speed Musou attack, the game will prompt you to swipe on the screen or shake the device to rack up more hits. Occasionally, a "sudden encounter" will arise, and you might be asked to slap away incoming arrows on the touchscreen or target enemies with gyroscope aiming. The new duel setup, which I didn't get to see, also makes use of touch controls.Some changes are welcome. Tapping on the right bumper initiates a charge in any desired direction and keeps your combo meter going for a bit, like manualing between rails in a Tony Hawk game. The new move makes it much easier to maintain long chains of attacks. The life bar is gone -- DWN features the modern "screen turns red when you take damage" health system -- and it's been replaced with the Break Gauge. When that's full, you can unleash a powerful Direct Break attack, which allows you to capture bases in one shot; a base taken with a Direct Break can't be recaptured by the enemy. Although I didn't feel the need for a lot of the functionality that Omega Force implemented, it was easy to see that there's a ton of content in DWN. Heck, the studio has even brought back the fan-favorite Edit Mode, so you can create a character and blaze your own legendary trail. Look for a full review from our resident Dynasty Warriors expert, Jim Sterling, next week.

I assume I'm not alone in lacking the ability to tell the difference between Dynasty Warriors games (or at least, between the ones of a particular console generation). I've played, or watched friends play, DW6 and DW7, but fr...

Preview: Slicing samurai in Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus

Feb 14 // Samit Sarkar
[embed]221706:42681[/embed] Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus (PlayStation Vita)Developer: Team NinjaPublisher: Tecmo KoeiRelease: February 22, 2012Although it's been eight years since Ninja Gaiden came out on the original Xbox, the source material for this port of a port remains a veritable classic, and an Itagaki-less Team Ninja has achieved a mostly smooth transition to the Vita. The handheld's dual analog sticks are key for a third-person action title; camera control is paramount in a game where ninja frequently sneak up on Ryu from behind. And its snappy face buttons do their job, holding up to the assault from your fingers as you furiously enter combos. I never felt like the device got in the way; success or failure depended only upon my skill, and that's how it should be.You'll need some new skills to do well in Sigma Plus, though. Sigma launched in mid-2007, a time early enough in the PS3's life that developers were still shoehorning motion controls into their games. In that game, you could shake the Sixaxis to make Ninpo (magic) attacks more devastating. As a Vita launch title, Sigma Plus is similarly tasked with exploiting its platform's various abilities. Team Ninja has shifted Ninpo powering to the rear touchpad, while adding gyroscope support for first-person aiming and touchscreen controls for launching projectile weapons. None of this stuff appears in the first chapter, which is all I played, so I can't comment on its implementation. Oh, and it's all optional, thankfully. If you're having trouble with the exacting combat, you now have a couple of options. Practice sessions come in the form of Ninja Trials, 76 bite-size challenges in which you can hone your skills on the go. But in case you want an easier experience overall, feel free to choose the new "Hero Mode" difficulty setting, which automates dodging and provides unlimited Ninpo. Another first is Trophy support, since Sigma came out before PSN Trophies existed.As you can see from the trailer and screenshots here, Sigma Plus is showing its age. It doesn't look bad per se, but it's clearly not up to par with the best that the Vita's launch lineup has to offer. Texture detail is lacking throughout, and environmental effects such as flames look simplistic. Luckily, the game retains its trademark fluidity; I experienced no frame rate issues.If you've already completed Sigma, there may not be a lot for you to do in Sigma Plus. But Team Ninja has designed this port with an eye toward accessibility, so folks who might have been turned off by Ninja Gaiden's renowned difficulty have a reason to check it out. Look for a full review from Dale later this week.

In case you were wondering, that silver line in the right half of the header image above is Ryu Hayabusa's katana. It's a long samurai sword, and I couldn't fit all of it into the picture. That sleek blade is the last thing t...

Preview: Street Fighter X Tekken through a noob's eyes

Feb 11 // Ryan Perez
Street Fighter X Tekken (PC, PlayStation 3 [previewed], PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360)Developer: CapcomPublisher: CapcomRelease: March 6, 2012 Something about competition and skill After a few whiskey sours, my overwhelming anxiety amidst the crowd of warm, odorous bodies began to die down (yeah, I'm a freakin' mess at public events). I eventually snuck away from my fellow Dtoid peons and proceeded to watch people play the game then interview the losers as they gave up their spots. After one particularly close game -- close enough to evoke a roar from onlookers -- I asked the loser, Daniel, about those moments after a defeat. "Sometimes you get a rush that, win or lose, you walk away from feeling pretty pumped," he told me. "Sometimes, though, it feels like your five-year girlfriend has just broken up with you ... leaving you with a broken heart." Although I haven't dedicated much time to this genre, I could see where Dan was coming from. These guys aren't button mashers. They've studied these games to the point where certain characters are like extensions of themselves. "You basically pick your pony and roll with it," Daniel added. "After enough practice, everything becomes second nature, and you focus more on the other player than yourself." I've never really had anyone explain this genre's gameplay in that way before. Any gamer can understand what it's like to know a game so well that you don't even notice your own actions -- you just do things impulsively. I've gotten great at games that require a lot of time to attain that sort of intuition, which includes those "hell yes" moments upon victory. The appeal of Street Fighter X Tekken was starting to dawn on me. A one-of-a-kind clash At the same station, Daniel's victor had lost the subsequent match. As the woman, Jessica, walked away with a bit of a satisfied grin, I asked her something I had asked Dan: What's the most attractive thing about these games? "Are you kidding?" she exclaimed. "Where else do I get the chance to beat the crap out of other guys?" After I took a step back, I asked her to elaborate on her statement. "Fighting games don't have much in common with others," she continued. "I mean, other games sometimes have fighting gameplay, but they don't have the kind of depth or all-out aggression that games like Tekken have. I can't really find other games like these." What Jessica said made perfect sense to me. Once you look at the medium as a whole, fighting games really are a standalone genre. It's easy to find minute similarities between other types of games, but ones like Street Fighter X Tekken are about as pure as they come. Fighting games haven't changed much and that's exactly their appeal -- no extra baggage that others have accumulated over the years. This, to me, seems like a big a reason why these games have held on for so long. While other genres have slowly melded together into a lineup of little distinction, series like Street Fighter and Tekken have retained what made them appealing from the start. Because such an undiluted experience can't really be found elsewhere, fighting games have managed to retain a substantial following. Another point goes to Street Fighter X Tekken for appeal. Eye gouging me with good looks Street Fighter X Tekken's aesthetics are basically a throwback to the old sprite-based graphics of the genre's earlier years. Whenever other franchises try this approach, though, the results are usually either overly simple toon shading that looks boring or the exact same visual style from that genre's inception. Thankfully, this is not the case with Street Fighter X Tekken. Sweet cinnamon-swirled Christ, this game is gorgeous. The textures on character models and backgrounds have a very painterly feel to them, breathing new life into a medium that's overloaded with technical trickery. Most other titles use straight power to cover up their shitty art, but this game lets the talent of its visual designers shine through. It's especially interesting to see the Tekken characters with such colorful personality -- at times, Heihachi looks like a cute, huggable elder. The slick art direction is greatly complimented by smooth animation as well as vibrant and striking particle effects. Fighters' moves connect with a sort of fluidity and flare that makes them actually seem like they're doing some damage. Ultra combos are presented in the type of exaggerated style only found in Japanese animation; some of them even got me laughing at how insane they were. In this age, it's getting more difficult to dazzle people with visuals. Fortunately, Street Fighter X Tekken doesn't try to make the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 sweat via shaders and maps. It knows exactly what it's trying to be -- an insane roller coaster of dropkicks and haymakers -- and doesn't pull any punches whatsoever, no pun intended. You are definitely going to anticipate every character's different moves, because each one is pure sex for the eyes. Can someone lend me $60? As a previewer, my job is to remain objective about each gaming experience and only deliver the facts. I'm not here to sell a game; I just state what I found interesting and worthy of keeping tabs on. But, son of a bitch, I've sort of already made up my mind about Street Fighter X Tekken. After speaking with two more gamers following Jessica, it was my turn to play. I looked around to make sure no coworker or associates were watching, and then proceeded to have my own digital testicles handed to me. While losing is never a great feeling, I had a blast playing a genre that I haven't been into since the 90s. I found it particularly nice that certain moves from Ryu and Guile were just as I remembered from older days. So I kind of want this game now. I'm flat broke, but I'm definitely going to try to pick it up some time after it hits the shelves. I have no doubt that most fighting fans out there have already decided to pre-order Street Fighter X Tekken, but those undecided folks who like fast gameplay, beautiful visuals, and crave an untainted old-school experience should definitely be on the lookout for this title.

A friend once told me he thought fighting games had cool characters. After he wiped the blood from his head, he quickly apologized to me and said, "Perhaps I should rethink that statement." Then miraculously, out of a nearby ...

Preview: Mortal Kombat Vita has more ways to Finish Him

Feb 01 // Abel Girmay
[embed]220551:42570[/embed] Mortal Kombat (PlayStation Vita)Developer: NetherRealm StudiosPublisher: Warner Bros. Interactive EntertainmentRelease: Spring 2012 If you played the last Mortal Kombat, you should have a basic understanding of what to expect from its Vita iteration. Mortal Kombat 9 returned the series to its 2D roots, retold the story of the first three games, and brought a polished fighting system while keeping all of the gory hyper-violence intact.  Right out of the box, Mortal Kombat comes with all the DLC from the console version. That's four characters, eight retro costumes, Kratos, and Sub Zero's MK3 costume, all unlocked from the start. Also, players are not required to complete story mode to unlock Cyber Sub-Zero or Quan Chi, as they are also playable from the beginning. The biggest addition, in terms of content, is the Bonus Challenge Tower. The Challenge Tower from the last MK tasked players with completing 300 challenges for Koins, and a promised secret prize upon completion. With its creative challenges, and difficult (sometimes excruciating) missions, it quickly became a fan favorite. Bonus Challenge Tower aims to accomplish the same, focusing exclusively on challenges that incorporate the Vita's touch screen and accelerometer. The first mission NetherRealm showed, called Missile Mayhem, cast players as Scorpion fighting against Sektor. The twist was that players are constantly attacked by falling missiles, that you either must dodge or detonate prematurely by tapping them. Now while this part of the demo was hands off, it warrants mention that moving your fingers back and forth from the d-pad to the screen looked awkward. Especially considering that you still have to focus on fighting. The next challenge we played was another versus match, except whenever your character would land a hit or take one, blood would splatter on the screen. The only way to restore your view is to make quick wiping motions across the screen. This is actually a pretty clever idea, being both a smarter way to use touch controls, and a good fit to Mortal Kombat's hyper-violent tone. Our final look at the Bonus Challenge Tower was an interesting one, a new addition to the "Test Your" series called Test Your Balance. This challenge has your characters high up on a plank above a pit. Using the Vita's accelerometer, players will have to tilt the Vita to balance their character as body parts are thrown at them. Fail and you fall into the pit, where a unique death sequence waits for you each time. In this particular challenge, failure meant watching Jade fall into a giant saw blade, cutting her into two clean pieces. Overall, Bonus Challenge Tower is a welcome addition, and actually has a better-structured rewards system. The Tower in Mortal Kombat 9 offered Koins for each successfully completed mission, but only one prize awarded at the very end. The Bonus Challenge Tower offers Koins in addition to a total of sixteen extra costumes, awarded over the course of 150 challenges. The additional costumes also include -- long overdue -- alternates for the DLC characters. Personally, my fingers are crossed that NetherRealm will bring them to the console versions as well. The fighting system in Mortal Kombat remains as fast and intense as it did on consoles. Running at a constant 60 frames per second, the game mirrors its console brethren. Button for button, all the combos that you spent time mastering can be pulled off here. In my hands-on time with the game, I had no difficulty performing any of my Scorpion or Kung Lao combos. Mortal Kombat on Vita will also come with the same gameplay tweaks and patches that the console versions are running on now. There are no block infinites, 77% Cyrax combos, or overpowered Kung Laos to be found here. The only addition to the fighting system are the touch controls. Since fighting games require accuracy and precision more so than other genres, NetherRealm has, thankfully, kept the touch controls to a minimum. When you have a full meter, players can simply touch their meter to perform an X-ray. It's not ideal for comboing into an X-ray, but the touch controls (in actual combat) were made with casual players in mind, exactly who you wouldn't see leading into an X-ray with a combo. Rest assured, you can still press the shoulder buttons to perform an X-ray. Fatalities can also be performed with touch controls, and are pretty simple to use. So if you win a match with, say, Scorpion, you can swipe your finger, back, forward, back, and then tap the X button to perform his fatality if you don't want to go for the standard input. The screen reads your swipes accurately, so either option is viable. It's nice to see thoughtful use of the touch controls, rather than cramming them in because you can, which is actually why Mortal Kombat for Vita will not be using the rear touch pad, or use the touch controls to pull off enhanced supers. When asked why, NetherRealm stated that they did not want any touch controls that would interfere with the moment-by-moment fighting. Using the back touch pad lead to people performing moves they didn't intend, and using the touch pad for enhanced supers yielded similar results, so they were both cut. Finally, there is the multiplayer. Mortal Kombat on Vita supports local ad hoc via Bluetooth in addition to online over PlayStation Network. While player and ranked matches make their return, the lobby and King of the Hill modes that made the console version such fun are not making the jump. I'm not going to lie, that really sucks to hear. As a player who logged a good 5,000 matches into the console iteration, I am really disappointed to see the King of the Hill lobbies go away. It's how I spent most of my time online, and I fear that the Vita's MK online experience will be the lesser for it.  Still, with all the great new additions to this version, you can not argue that NetherRealm isn't working to do right by fighting game fans who plan on getting the Vita. If you didn't like Mortal Kombat 9 (crazy talk, I know) when it was released last year, there's nothing here to change your mind. But if you're getting a Vita and enjoy fast-paced, gory, accessible fighting games with plenty of depth to master, you'd be a fool not to keep this portable version on your radar.

The last half of this generation has been extremely kind to fighting games. Street Fighter IV returned the series to form, newcomers joined the fray with BlazBlue, and my personal favorite fighting franchise experienced a muc...

Preview: The roads are empty in Ridge Racer for PS Vita

Jan 25 // Abel Girmay
Ridge Racer (PlayStation Vita)Developer: CelliusPublisher: Namco BandaiRelease: February 22, 2012 Ridge Racer on Vita is an interesting conundrum because, as I said, it remains as solid a title as past entries. Like previous iterations, Ridge Racer forgoes any notion of real-world physics, bringing instead its patented drifting mechanic. Drifting has always been the defining feature that separates Ridge Racer from other racers, and it remains equally important here. Either you learn how to drift properly or have fun ending up in last place. It's not too difficult, thankfully. By releasing the throttle and moving the analog stick in the direction you want to go, players can send their cars into impossible-looking turns to speed around tight corners. This simplistic approach to drifting has served the series well in the past, and it works just as well on the Vita. It's for the best to that the drifting is so easy to pull off, since mastering the mechanic is key to performing well. The tracks in Racer Racer emphasize this the most, since they are all built with their fair share of hairpin turns and sharp corners. The draft and boost system -- and your effectiveness with them -- also rely on how well you perform, since you need a good drift going before you can build up your boost meter or draft efficiently. Multiplayer will allow up to eight players at launch, though our demo consisted of a standard race with four players. Online players can compete in standard races, of course, but one of the more interesting features is the ability to record, save, and upload ghosts which you can download (over either a Wi-Fi or a 3G connection) and compete against. It's certainly more intriguing an idea than just competing to shave seconds off a static leader board, and it could get more interesting when you compete with and against custom cars. Another staple of the franchise, car customization, is back and in full effect. While it's not yet certain how deep the customization system goes -- past Ridge Racers have boasted upwards of 300k unique variations -- if this can be matched, expect to swap out tires, paint jobs, and engines to your heart's content. Sadly, there is a chance that the customization (among other things) may be at its shallowest in series history, because Namco Bandai has elected to ship the game with a lackluster amount of content. Like I said, Ridge Racer on Vita is a solid racer at its core. But no matter how much fun the drifting still is, despite whatever positive aspects the game may carry, they all fall under the shadow of one huge caveat: the game is shipping with a bewildering five cars and three tracks. That matters. It really, really matters when talking about racers. Granted, the game will be retailing for less than other Vita titles ($29.99 versus the standard $49.99), the goal being to charge for DLC and let people craft their own experience, but there's no reason for the game to be so dry out of the box. Namco Bandai is promising free DLC to people who buy the game at or around launch. No word on what this DLC is, though, so it could be cars, tracks, or music packs. In any case, it's a little ridiculous to ship the game and then ask people to be patient as they release enough content to make it a complete experience. Ridge Racer for Vita doesn't set out to reinvent the formula. If you know Ridge Racer then you know what you're getting, or not getting, rather. The decision to ship the game with so little content is personally more of a reason to let it fly under my radar. If you're the type who is willing to stick with a game as content is trickled out over time, then keep an eye out for this one.

Another PlayStation machine is about to launch, and with it comes another Ridge Racer, of course. The new installment for PlayStation Vita is somewhat of an oddity. I can't remember a time when my opinion of a game had ever b...


Little Deviants is cute and cuddly fun times

Dec 16
// Keith Swiader
One of the launch titles accompanying the PlayStation Vita is Little Deviants, a cute, cuddly ensemble of mini-games that are designed to showcase the new handheld's features. Ranging from rear-touch functionality to Sixaxis ...

Modnation Racers: Road Trip is better with touch controls

Oct 22 // Abel Girmay
Modnation Racers: Road Trip (PlayStation Vita)Developer: SCE Studios San DiegoPublisher: SCEARelease: February 22, 2012 For those unfamiliar, Modnation Racers is a the Sony exclusive kart racer with a heavy emphasis on creation and customization. Since the series' launch last year, there have been over 2,000,000 creations available and shared, with approximately 500,000 of those being tracks. Fans of the series will be pleased to know then that Road Trip will be able to access all of those creations, day one. You can't upload Road Trip creations for use on the PlayStation 3 or PlayStation Portable, though. The experience of playing a handheld game versus a console game is distinguished most notably by the fact that handheld experiences must be quick bursts of fun that are as immediately satisfying as they are deep. For a game like Modnation, this can prove a challenge as you can conceivably spend hours building and perfecting a custom track. For Road Trip, SCE San Diego is making smart use of the PS Vita touch screen functionality to lessen the amount of time spent building from hours to mere minutes. It starts with you choosing from a preset list of environments: jungles, island resorts, deserts and the like. After that, you simply draw the shape of the track from an overhead view of the environment. Just touch down on the screen to draw and you have a track designing in literally seconds. It's that simple.  From here, you can select the placement of finish lines, weapon drops, and boost pads just by selecting the option from the menu and touching the spot you want to place them at. Or you can use the auto-populate feature if you don't care to go too deep. There is also an option to use the Vita camera to make tracks out of what you've photographed. This was not demoed though, so I'm not sure how it works. Once you have a track laid out, you can manipulate the surrounding environment with touch fairly simply. So when I wanted to lay out a lake, I simply selected the option from the menu, traced onscreen the area that I wanted to place my lake in, and watched the terrain form in an effect reminiscent of From Dust. Road Trip also makes use of the back touch pad during track customization. When creating mountains for my track, I place my fingers on the back touch pad and rose the terrain with corresponding spots onscreen. When you have all the touch features working together, what you get is the ability to make complex and creative tracks in minutes. Creating tracks in Road Trip is streamlined, amazingly intuitive and easy to use all while retaining the richness and depth that the series has built its name upon.  While the touch controls shine the most in the track editor, they are also featured in the avatar and kart editor. Relegated mostly to Minority Report-style drag and drop, touch in the kart editor allows you to zoom in close and swap out kart components such as tires, suspension, spoilers, etc. In the avatar editor you use the touch controls in a similar manner, swapping out clothes and accessories. One cool feature though is Modnations' use of the the Vita's gyroscope. At anytime when customization a kart or avatar, you can shake the Vita to randomize your creation. It's not the most fascinating feature ever, but it's there and it works. Our demo of Modnation Racers: Road Trip also showed off the game's career mode, complete with over thirty tracks and events. If you like the series' take on kart racing already then you will feel at home here. Drifting and drafting are back and intelligent use of them is as important as managing your boost, shortcuts, and weapons. As I've said, I have never been interested in the whole motion/waggle/touch control craze of late. If every Kinect and Move controller suddenly vanished tomorrow, the evil leprechaun on my shoulder would probably break into a river dance. Road Trip, though, uses touch to great effect that further elevates the core gameplay of the series. Handhelds are about quick fun, and Modnation is about creating cool stuff. Road Trip's use of touch control supports both these design mantras and comes out the better for it.

I am not a fan of motion gaming, waggle, touch screens, or other so-called "casual controls." It's not that I write them off the moment I see them. I just have yet to see a game that uses those control options to make the exp...

Preview: Hustle Kings (PlayStation Vita)

Oct 22 // Steven Hansen
Hustle Kings (PlayStation Vita) Developer: VooFoo Studios Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment To be released: TBA Though I’ve always found pool enjoyable, I know the real world game is not for everyone. Still, I’ve come across a lot of people that have enjoyed playing billiards videogames even if they had never picked up a pool cue in their life, probably because pool is an incredibly simple game with mechanics that lend themselves to videogame adaptations. You don’t have to be a pool hall inhabiting grifter to have some fun with Hustle Kings. The Vita version of Hustle Kings allows you to mix the original, button-based system with the new touch capabilities and I found the option to use both helpful. While I lined up the majority of my shots with the analog stick, I found aiming shots with the touch controls to be more precise and pain free in some situations. A cue ball icon at the bottom left of the screen also made it easy to choose where I wanted to hit the ball in order to put spin on it. In terms of actual shooting, there are a couple different methods. The simplest is a “pinball” style that simply requires you to drag the cue back and let it fly, while there is also an accurate, one to one style that requires you to pull back and push the cue forward with the touchscreen and judges the strength of the shot based on your movement. As I mentioned, Hustle Kings is a deep game. There is a variety of pool games, many of which I’ve never even heard of: 8-ball, 9-ball, black ball, killer, cutthroat, 3-ball, and continuous. There is also a career mode and an offline tournament mode where you can build your skills and accumulate “hustle points,” which can be wagered against other players. In addition to the standard games modes, there are a few other distractions, like a collection of trick shot tables that are incredibly challenging to clear. The game also affords a nice level of customization. Difficulty, shooting style, trajectory paths and all sorts of other things can be turned on or off or adjusted in some way prior to starting a game. You can even take a picture with the Vita’s camera and quickly set it as your avatar, change the cloth color on the table or take a picture that gets superimposed over the table, all of which are nice, little touches. Hustle Kings also boasts impressive attention to detail. The game’s visuals are great and the physics do well to recreate a faithful billiards experience that looks impressively fluid while in motion. The balls look absolutely fantastic and, if you zoom in and look at them closely on the table, you can even see the reflection of the surrounding bar in the balls. The lighting it quite nice too. As pool is a game of turns, multiple people (the exact number depending on how many the game mode calls for) can play on one system, in addition to online play. Owners of the Vita version of Hustle Kings will also be able to play with PS3 users, which is a great move and should ensure that there is already a decent community to play with when the game launches -- and I’m sure PS3 users wouldn’t mind an injection of lifeblood from a new group of people picking the game up. The option to wager accumulated “hustle points” gives online play some added tension, especially if you want to be a high roller. One other rather cool component to the Vita’s multiplayer is the ability to play against friends without being constantly connected to the Internet. Playing on a handheld device, a lot of people playing Hustle Kings on the Vita might not have a consistently stable Internet connection, so the game can effectively send “turns” taken back and forth between two people playing, almost akin to how people play chess by mail, though obviously much more instant. Hustle Kings is definitely the deepest billiards game I’ve played and the mechanics are strong enough to provide some entertainment for those who might not be fans of the real life game. Most exciting has to be the cross-platform play and other multiplayer elements, as I presume most people playing the game will eventually want the challenge of going toe to toe with another player. Perhaps niche, Hustle Kings looks like it will be a solid title and probably a must have for fans of billiards.

Developed by the small, UK based VooFoo Studio, Hustle Kings released on PlayStation Network in early 2010, receiving a positive review from us. Though I didn’t play that release, I’ve always been a bit of a pool ...

Preview: Wipeout 2048

Oct 22 // Abel Girmay
Wipeout 2048 (PlayStation Vita)Developer: SCE Studio LiverpoolPublisher: SCEERelease: February 22, 2012 As the name suggests, this Wipeout takes place in the year 2048, the near-future compared to the super futuristic star-dates of most Wipeout games. As far as the series timeline goes, this game takes place at the dawn of anti-gravity racing, before the first Wipeout on the original PlayStation. This change in setting affects the games look and feel quite a bit. Aesthetically, 2048 retains a good amount of the series' hyper-futuristic look, but incorporates more city streets, parks, and other contemporary scenes. During gameplay, the new (or is it old?) setting allows for some crazy track scenarios, such as the driving up a skyscraper, then back down on the track Empire Climb. Track design in general has been altered for this release. Being the hardcore racer that it is, Wipeout has always pitted players against the track almost as much as other players. In an effort to make 2048 more accessible, the team at Liverpool has made tracks wider, a subtle but noticeable change as you will spend less time fighting to stay on course. Fans need not worry though, as a relative noob to the series, you should happy to hear that I still fell of the track plenty of times. Just not as much as in, say, Wipeout HD. Another change to track design are the multiple track paths. Not to be confused with shortcuts, 2048 features branching tracks that incorporate a risk/reward system. So while taking one route may be the the shortest distance to the finish line, it will have more sharp turns and a greater chance for error. Or on a different track, you may run with a route that has more speed boosts while the other route offers more weapon pickups.  When actually racing on these tracks, Wipeout 2048 makes use of the PS Vita gyroscope with tilt and touch controls. Of course, there is still the classic thumbstick and face button controls, but Wipeout aims to make use of Vita's motion capabilities, in order to ease in more casual gamers accustomed to playing their iPod or iPhone. The controls break down like this: You hold one finger on the back touch pad to accelerate while steering your vehicle by shifting the Vita left and right. Weapons are managed by taping the right half of the screen for offensive weapons (plasma, missiles, cannons, etc.) and tapping the left half to manage your shields. You use the L an R buttons to control your left and right airbrakes respectively. So while 2048 does use touch, the face buttons are active as well. While great for a game like Modnation, the motion controls in 2048 didn't work all that well in this demo. For a game that requires so much precision, using motion to steer your craft is far too unruly. Overshooting a turn is common and even simple maneuvers, like hitting a speed pad on a straight path, are made harder to pull off. In its current shape, I can't see motion being the favored control option. Managing weapons with the touch screen worked very well though, and when used with the analog controls, felt like the most natural way to play. The final feature shown off for the game was the online play. The first thing you'll notice with the online play is that you are prompted to take a picture with the Vita camera at the start of each race. Whoever places first at the end of the race gets to have their mug plastered on the screen of every other user. It will be interesting it see how "creative" people get with their pics. Online for 2048 will feature eight player races on any of the games ten tracks. Online play will also feature an online campaign mode, essentially a system of secondary objectives, outside of simply winning, to reward both seasoned high level players and newcomers. For a higher ranked racer these objectives include wrecking a certain number of racers and finishing in first place, whereas lower ranked competitors need only avoid getting wrecked and finish in the top five. The online modes of Wipeout 2048 are rounded out with cross platform play between this game and Wipeout HD Fury on PS3. Basically, 2048 users will be able to compete against Fury users online using tracks and vehicles from Wipeout HD Fury. If you have played Wipeout before, you know what to expect here. The racing is tight, fast, and punishing to players not up to the challenge. As it is, it looks to be another solid entry into the series, but as a Vita title, it doesn't do anything mind blowing with the new hardware.

Oh happy days! The PlayStation Vita has an official launch date, and with that, a release date for its lineup of launch titles. We recently had the chance to play around with some of these including Wipeout 2048, the latest i...

Hands-on: Rayman Origins

Oct 20 // David Rayfield
2D platformers have seen something of a resurgence in recent years, with one small caveat. Most of the resurgence has been due to downloads. Braid, Super Meat Boy, Outland and even Shadow Complex have made a significant impact on the genre. Rayman Origins, though, will be asking full price when it is released on a disc in November; a change from its initially planned format as an episodic, downloadable title. But this shouldn't worry anyone who has a chance to play the game beforehand. Like a smack to the face, the game is downright gorgeous. Its striking art style of painted colours and vibrant backgrounds look good in screenshots, but to see it in motion on a huge screen is impressive. The controller I picked up belonged to series character Globox (the big blue one) as the couple next to me was controlling Rayman himself and one of the insect 'teenies'.  I learned later that the game moves at 60 frames per second and this came as no surprise. Even with three characters (out of four) playing and a ton of other madcap insanity on screen, Rayman Origins moves so smoothly it's almost not even worth thinking about. It's as if the game has never even heard of the concept of 'framerate issues'. The action itself is pretty familiar to anyone who has played platformers. Running, jumping and using the environment to fight enemies and collect items is pretty standard here. One thing I noticed as we were playing was the obvious similarity to New Super Mario Bros Wii. The frantic multiplayer co-op even places you in a bubble when you die that can only be burst by another player to allow you to continue. Having now played both games, though, I can say the co-op felt a bit over the top in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, whereas here it seems more suited to the gameplay. Using other players to help you get items seems to be more of a focus in Origins, and less emphasis is placed on the frustration of accidentally causing another player's death. Being propelled across the screen via wind ducts and trampolines is only enjoyable due to the game's precise controls. There are so many precarious edges and deadly spikes in the environment that it becomes tense not to die at every turn and if the controls were even a tiny bit less responsive, some frustration would creep in.  I never expected a Rayman game to be this enchanting. A lot of it has to do with how the game looks, but the characters and the overall feel of the game is just so charming it's difficult to put down even in my brief stint with it. When the demo ended, the couple next to me didn't have much to say. They simply nodded and left. As if to say "Yeah, we'll be buying this one". Honestly, as it stands now, I don't blame them.

The Rayman Origins booth at the EB Games Expo on Australia's Gold Coast was an area I thought would be largely ignored. Given the hours people were waiting to play Battlefield 3 or merely watch a section of The Elder Scrolls ...

Hands-on with Virtua Tennis 4 on the PlayStation Vita

Oct 17 // Keith Swiader
Virtua Tennis 4 (PlayStation Vita)Developer: SEGA-AM3Publisher: SEGARelease: TBA Off the bat, Virtua Tennis 4 on the Vita looks amazing -- the players' facial animations are unlike anything I've seen on a handheld. What's better is that I didn't notice any graphical hitches during my playtime, and even during an intense back-and-forth set, I didn't experience any stuttering. Gameplay works in two ways: the traditional button interface and the Vita's touchscreen, both of which offer intuitive and fluid experiences. The traditional aspect works as it should, with the analog stick or directional pad moving your player and each face button inducing a different swing. On the other hand, the touchscreen controls take some getting used to, but as mentioned before, it too offers a seamless experience. Touching an area on the court will highlight it and move your player there, which differs from the instinctive notion of sliding your thumb across the screen for movement and takes getting used to. Sliding your thumb instead is used to hit the incoming ball, with each motion shelling out either a lob, backhand, or forehand swing. Once you get the timing of each tap of the screen, you'll end up playing as fluently as if you were using tactile buttons. Each flick of the thumb feels natural too, with a flick forward triggering a hard swing and a flick down triggering a lob. Two-player mode was on offer during my playtime as well -- a top-down, Pong-style game on a single screen, in which players on each end of the Vita tap their way to glory. It sounds awkward, but this simplistic style works and ends up being just as intense as a regular match. Online mode will be available in the final product as well, featuring the traditional game of tennis, though Sega was unable to talk about it at the time. The most interesting of the port's features was the ability to play a match in first-person view, utilizing the Vita's gyro sensor, accelerometer, and left analog stick to navigate the course. The right face buttons are used to hit the ball; when used in unison, the entire mode surprisingly works very well, albeit a bit disorienting in the beginning. As you move the Vita around, your in-game view will change accordingly -- you can look at the clouds above by aiming the Vita at the sky, if you wish. I never would've thought there could be a first-person tennis game, but it appears I was proven wrong. Not much else was revealed about Virtua Tennis 4 on the Vita, but from this brief demo, I am sure it will be a hit with fans of the series. Be on the lookout for this one as we near the PlayStation Vita's launch.

[Editor's note: Say hello to Keith Swiader! He's joined our New York preview coverage team and is starting off with some previews on upcoming Sega games. -- CTZ] Of the launch titles that will accompany the PlayStation Vita's...

Gravity Rush is my first must-own PlayStation Vita game

Oct 07 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Gravity Rush (PlayStation Vita)Developer: SCE Japan StudioPublisher: Sony Computer EntertainmentRelease: TBA Okay, Gravity Rush (or Gravity Daze as it's called in Japan) isn't really as simple to describe as a gravity-kicking game thing. I wasn't able to get a sense of what the story is, but the basic gist of it is that you're this girl who gains the power to manipulate gravity from a cat.  Before I continue, I have to mention how lovely the art is. I just adore the character design, the overall art style, and the aesthetics of the environment. What was really cool is that the cat (and later a crow) looks like a mini universe. You can see stars laid out on the cat's black body, and the eyes look like a pair of swirling galaxies. Once the main character approaches the cat, our hero is suddenly floating in the air and ends up landing on the side of a building. From here, you're shown that pressing the R button at any time will make you float. Using either the left stick or gyro controls, you can target any structure you see and press the R button again to send out your character to make her land on whatever you're pointing at. Pressing the L button will make you drop from whatever surface you're on to send you back to the ground. As you're free-falling, you can press the R button again to stop yourself mid-drop.  After experimenting with the gravity powers, we see a mysterious girl who also has gravity manipulating powers. I give chase, but once I catch up to her, she just gives me this dirty look and takes off again. What a bitch! Before we go after her again, we see a guy on the streets below about to get attack. The next cutscene begins, and we find our hero beating up the trio of thugs and saving the guy's life. A comic book style cutscene then kicks in, where you're able to swipe at the screen in all directions in order to scan through the comic panels. Personally, I found it odd that the game switches from animated to comic book cutscenes. Once you're done talking to the guy you just saved, another fight breaks out. This time, gooey monsters appear out of nowhere, and it's up to you to take them out. Fighting is largely associated with the square button, and our heroine seems to only use her legs to fight. Why just kick away like a normal person when you can do a gravity kick instead? Simply press the R button to float, target your enemy's weak point, and then press square to do a flying kick. The whole process is a lot fun! Seeing the girl just race across the air and perform a drop kick feels so brutal. After taking out some grunts, a boss appears, and you have to kick away at its special core that re-appears on different areas of its body over the course of the fight. Once at the end of the boss fight, you perform a super move that sees you and your cat doing a super flying attack and ripping the special core off the boss in order to finish it off for good. Everything that I saw in Gravity Rush just screamed awesome. The wonderful art style, brutal combat system, and really unique gameplay mechanic have me wanting a PlayStation Vita. It should also be mentioned that Keiichiro Toyama, the creator of the Silent Hill series, is directing Gravity Rush, so you know this game is in good hands!

There's always that one game, the one that finally helps someone decide if they're really going to invest hundreds of dollars into a brand new gaming system. I've been hesitant about getting the PlayStation Vita, as nothing ...

TGS: Popping it with Pop'n Music Portable 2's party mode

Sep 16 // Allistair Pinsof
At TGS, I got to check out Portable 2's misnamed Party Mode which is a new edition to the portable series. You move your avatar along a board in search of treasure boxes filled with items, characters to converse with and songs to play. You even need to level-up your character in order to reach new areas. Although having character progression and a story wrapped around the traditional Pop'n Music game is welcome, the execution leaves me feeling underwhelmed. So much of the board is filled with empty spaces (for no apparent reason), prolonging the time it takes to get to the next song. The amount of boring dialog, navigation and item hunting is disproportionate to the songs themselves. Perhaps the board will be more populated with more interesting events in time, but in its current state it turns the game into a total bore. Add on that the fact that playing without the traditional controller takes much of the fun away and you have a port that may not cut it for series fans. The curious and most dedicated may want to keep up with the game’s progress, as it nears closer to its release date. With a little fine-tuning, the game’s story mode could be good addition but I'm still skeptical about this one. Back to the arcade, I suppose.

One of my favorite things about my local arcade is its Pop‘n Music cabinet. Slamming the machine's big, illuminated buttons to remixes of classic Konami themes is one of my favorite things to do on the weekend. Most g...

TGS: Hands-on with Final Fantasy Type-0

Sep 15 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Even the leveling up process happens in-game! The classic Final Fantasy victory theme plays over the in-game music and audio to notify when you've leveled-up. As for the storyline, I have no idea what's going on. The intro movie showed off some kind of war taking place between different groups. The main character in the video is a soldier and gets his ass kicked by the opposing forces. It looks like he was about to die until his Chocobo came in and saved the day. The happy moment doesn't last long though as the Chocobo gets attacked. The camera then pulls out as the Chocobo is laying on the ground covered in its own blood. Awesome! So as far as I'm concerned, Final Fantasy Type-0 is about a dude getting revenge for his murdered Chocobo. Yup. No word on a US release but I'm sure you hardcore Final Fantasy guys will just import it once it's on

I really f*cking loved the gameplay of Final Fantasy Type-0 on the PSP. I'm pretty much the opposite of a Final Fantasy player (role-playing games in general, really) largely because of the fighting mechanics. With Type-0, th...

Music makers will dig PS Vita's Sound Shapes

Aug 28 // Dale North
[embed]209983:40576[/embed] The platforming side plays out with a little rolling ball...thing that sticks to all surfaces. The problem is that all the surfaces are small, and that there's always danger (any platform or obstacle colored red) nearby. As the player, you want to avoid red, but look for other environmental pieces to come in contact with. Each one touched initiates a new sound to be played, triggered in its own time in a 16-bar musical loop. You want to come in contact with all of the musical elements so that you are able to hear every bit of the intended composition. The goal is to come in contact with all the musical elements while surviving challenging 2D plaforming levels What's really cool about Sound Shapes is that the physical placement of each of these musical elements directly corresponds to their musical placement on a 16-step musical/beat grid. That wasn't apparent to me until I saw that each dot on the musical grid was placed exactly where the musical element was in the game stage. In this editor you are able to plunk down dots that trigger notes from several musical instruments or drums, and it gives you just as much creative freedom as any musical sequencer would. Musicians will be impressed by the level of musical freedom provided here, as there's really a full-featured music making program within the level editor. Your music becomes a level when you throw in background patterns and foreground obstacles, platforms and more. The Vita's touch screen lets you plunk down any object from the menu, while the back screen lets you use multiple fingers to move and resize any object freely. At any time, a soft button on the touch screen can be tapped to try out your level.  Using these tools I was able to compose a short loop of pretty music, add in a solid beat, throw in some platforms and obstacles, and then try it out for myself. That's great about Sound Shapes is that level design can be approached from either the musical or platforming side. Those that are musically inclined will get a kick out of how robust the tools are for creating songs, and then they can make a level around the song, but those into making a deep, challenging  platforming can just as easily focus on the level design tools, with the music taking a back seat. Either approach is going to make a stage that looks and sounds cool, and will most likely be fun to play through.  Sound Shapes will take full advantage of the Vita's online connectivity. Uploading and sharing of levels will be supported. You could even take someone else's song or level, remix it and then re-upload it.  I think it's apparent that I'm more excited about the musical side of Sound Shapes than the platforming side, but this title is looking so good that I think any fan of either music or challenging platforming action will be pleased. 

Platformers?  Love 'em. You can't make enough. Platformers of any type appeal to the gamer in me. But upcoming PS Vita game Sound Shapes also speaks to the musician in me. It's slick platforming and musical cre...

E3: Check vs. Mate offers a new spin on Chess

Jun 07 // Conrad Zimmerman
It's also gorgeous, with an art style that straddles the lines between Warhammer Fantasy and Warcraft to create a bold middle-ground that is striking and beautiful. Knights are bipedal horses with human arms while rooks are massive golems that thunder across the board as they move. When they go into combat, you'll be treated to violent animations as pieces are removed from the board. Where Check vs. Mate really stands out is in its third-person battle sequences where you control your piece in a battle against your opponent in order to claim a space. Once two pieces meet, the board is cleared and you get direct control over one of your units, working with some AI-controlled pieces in a fight to survive. The attacking player does get an advantage, so defending a space can be difficult but can also completely turn the tide of a game. TopWare also recognizes that it's hard to justify paying full retail for a chess game, no matter how pretty or how many options it has. That's why Check vs. Mate will be releasing at a reduced price point of $39.99 on PC 3DS, PSP and Wii and $49.99 on PS3 and Xbox 360 consoles. TopWare also plans to release downloadable content for the game, including new sets of pieces and boards to play on. The game looks like a lot of fun, particularly for people like me who have always liked the idea of Chess but lacks the skill to play it well. You can look forward to it releasing this September.

TopWare Interactive showed me this strange little game, already released in Europe as "Battle vs. Chess." It's been renamed to "Check vs. Mate" for the North American release to avoid potential conflicts with Interplay's Batt...

Preview: LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean 3DS

Apr 06 // Max Scoville
LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PSP, Wii, DS, PC, 3DS [Developer: Traveller's TalesPublisher: Disney InteractiveTo Be Released: May 10th, 2011  In terms of gaming, the LEGO franchise has come a very long way. Early releases like LEGO Island and LEGO Racer came out during my “I’m too old for that” years. This was coincidentally right around the same time that LEGO started releasing their first licensed Star Wars sets, which I definitely didn’t consider myself too old for. LEGO Star Wars was the first licensed LEGO game, and it was followed closely by other successful properties like Batman, Indiana Jones, and Harry Potter. My experience with these titles hasn’t consisted of much more than idly fiddling with them at friends’ houses or Best Buy demo kiosks. I thought the games were cute, but never gave them my full attention. To get completely off-topic for a second, here's a little anecdote for you: When I was a kid, I had a ridiculous LEGO collection, and my next door neighbor had more Super Nintendo games than anyone I knew. He’d always come to my house and play with my toys, and when I was over at his house, all I wanted to do was play SNES. Somehow, I wound up writing about video games and he’s got a job doing illustration and design-related work for LEGO. Go figure. I was on the phone with him last year, and he accidentally mentioned some Pirates of the Caribbean project he’d been working on. This was top secret news at the time, so I promised to keep it to myself. I never got too excited about the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. First one was fun, but I didn’t have a fanboy panic attack over the sequels. As a property to get LEGOficated, though, Pirates totally works. The old LEGO pirate toys were responsible for some of my most un-traumatic childhood memories. LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean? Yeah, I can get behind that, even if it's a movie tie-in. Traveller’s Tales games has gotten the LEGO adventure games down to a science at this point. They’ve done three Star Wars games, two Indiana Jones, Batman, and Harry Potter. If you aren’t familiar with the style of gameplay used in these titles, it’s pretty simple.  Players control LEGO minifigure versions of familiar characters like Luke Skywalker or Harry Potter, and play through adorable and cartoony LEGO adaptations of scenes from the characters’ respective movies/stories. A lot of the gameplay is puzzle-based, and relies on building stuff out of the LEGO bricks in the environment. There are also plenty of LEGO battles, which are hilarious and adorable, since there’s nothing upsetting about watching LEGO people get dismembered. LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean adapts the three existing films, and this summer's addition On Stranger Tides. There are four levels from each movie (five in the Xbox 360 version of the game.) I had a chance to play the last couple levels of At World’s End, the third movie in the series. Conveniently, I’ve seen the first two movies, but turned the third one off halfway through. I can’t vouch for how accurately the levels I played reflect their corresponding scenes in the film.  The first level I played took place on a pirate ship in the middle of a whirlpool, and focused on solving puzzles. I was making a little LEGO Will Turner run around and gather objects hidden on the ship in order to perform a Voodoo offering that would make sea-witch Calypso grow really big. Pirates of the Caribbean fans will make more sense out of this scenario than I did, hopefully. Everything in the world that’s made of LEGO pieces can be interacted with. This means firing cannons, turning cranks, smashing crates. Little bricks flying everywhere. One puzzle involved using Will’s sword as lever to open a hatch. Inside the hatch was a gear, which I then placed on one of three small posts. In video game puzzle logic, there are two more gears to find, which can then attached to posts. Cranks get turned and a platform appears with a cannon on it, which Will can use to fire himself into the ship’s rigging to continue the Voodoo scavenger hunt. One of the main features of these LEGO games is being able to play as a variety of characters with different abilities. If you count alternate outfits, there are over a hundred different playable characters in LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean on the 3DS, and some of the puzzles can only be solved by a specific character. In the level I played, I needed Elizabeth Turner’s grappling hook ability to access certain areas. Switching from Will Turner to her was just a matter of tapping her icon on the bottom screen. After the puzzle stage is over, a bunch of enemies showed up, and adorable LEGO violence ensued. Some of the stronger enemies can’t be killed with basic melee attacks or gunfire, so you’ll be forced to duel with them. This is done through fairly simple quick time events. Each duel started with tapping B fast enough to fill up this sort of duel-meter, and then matching button combinations shown on screen to block the enemy's attacks. After I fought all the monster pirate guys on the ship’s deck, Davy Jones appeared. I guess he’s a boss, but fighting him didn’t feel like any kind of epic, important challenge. It was just a matter of following him around the ship and beating him at several duels. If for some reason it wasn’t abundantly clear, LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean is aimed at kids, so you really can’t blame parts of it for being easy or simple. It's funny and endearing, which is more than can be said for most children I know. What’s extremely amusing is watching a cut scene where a LEGO guy gets impaled with a sword. It’s cute because it’d actually be really gruesome in real life. As far as the 3D effect on the 3DS goes, I thought it looked good. Not distracting, but also not half-assedly underwhelming. Coming from me, that’s pretty high praise, because I generally think 3D looks dumb. I’m not gonna lie, LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean is really neat. Sitting down and playing it made me want to break out my old LEGO pirate sets. As far as the gameplay goes, I was amused, and I think I might have to go back and check out some of the other LEGO games that don’t involve Orlando Bloom. LEGO minifigure or not, I'm still not a fan.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave on the moon with your fingers in your ears, you’re probably aware that LEGO has had a consistent presence in the video game world for the last decade. As someone who grew up pla...

Preview: MLB 11 The Show

Feb 22 // Samit Sarkar
MLB 11 The Show (PlayStation 3 [previewed], PlayStation Portable, PlayStation 2) Developer: SCE San Diego Studio Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment To be released: March 8, 2011 The analog hitting and fielding in MLB 11 works very similarly to the way it does in MLB 2K. To hit, you pull back on the right stick to bring your hands back, and then flick upward to swing the bat. Timing is critical; you’ll want to pull back to preload your swing during the pitcher’s windup, so the swing ends up being one fluid motion (pulling back too early or too late will greatly reduce your chances of making contact). The option to use a contact swing or power swing still exists with a button press before the pitch. There are two ways to check your swing: pull down on the stick after you’ve started to push it upward, or merely let it go upward to the neutral position. To bunt, just push forward from neutral. I’m not a very good hitter in The Show as it is, since I spend most of my time playing as a pitcher in Road to the Show, so I had difficulty making contact. But the system feels great, and it’s good to see that it doesn’t offer any reduced functionality compared to button hitting. Analog fielding is really going to test your stick accuracy. Imagine the baseball diamond transposed onto the right stick: right is for first base, up is for second base, and so on. You push the stick in the direction of the base you want to throw to, and the longer you hold it there, the harder the throw will be. (For throws to the cutoff man, you hold L1 and flick.) The system asks for a deft touch. If you don’t flick toward cardinal east, north, west, or south, your throw will be off -- and if you hold the stick too long, it’s probably going to sail over your target’s head. On a stolen base opportunity, I had my catcher throw the ball to second base. But I pushed the stick up and slightly left; as a result, the throw ended up on the shortstop side of the second-base bag, and the runner slid safely in. And I saw more than a few instances in which my opponent air-mailed a routine throw, giving me an extra base or two. Analog pitching, too, requires pinpoint control -- especially with hurlers who aren’t aces. The system is both timing- and control-sensitive, just like real pitching. Unlike the gesture-based pitching in MLB 2K, where a four-seam fastball and a two-seam fastball require different movements, the basic analog-stick motion is the same for every pitch. Pulling down on the right stick initiates the windup, and a small baseball icon starts to move downward toward a horizontal yellow line on the vertical pitching meter. The idea is to flick the stick upward at the moment that the ball hits the yellow line. The intensity of the flick determines the amount of effort that your pitcher puts into the delivery, but you’ll quickly tire him out if you try too many throws with extra “oomph.” Of course, it’s only that simple if you want to throw the pitch over the heart of the plate. Once you start moving the ball around the plate, a direction indicator above the vertical pitch meter will correspond to how far your pitch deviates from dead center. With a pitch thrown right down the pipe, you’ll flick straight upward. But if you’re aiming to the right or left, you’ll have to flick the stick upward and to the right or left, respectively; the further away from the middle of the plate you’re aiming, the more your flick will deviate from true north, so to speak. The timing of the delivery will be quicker if you’re pitching out of the stretch instead of the windup, and if you don’t hit the yellow line exactly, your pitch will break less or more (depending on whether you’re early or late, respectively). As you can see, there’s a lot to take in. Analog pitching is also very unforgiving in its challenge; missing either the timing or the positioning may cause your pitch to end up in a place you don’t want it to go. You’ll be throwing many more balls than in years past, and what’s exciting is that the system really differentiates the wheat from the chaff. I created a pitcher in Road to the Show, and I noticed that I had to be very conservative in aiming with the 61-rated minor-leaguer. You simply won’t be painting the corners at will, and that’s the way it should be. I did notice one major issue inherent in the system: the meter in local two-player (or four-player, as the case may be; MLB 11 includes a co-op mode) games doesn’t give you the left/right control display. That makes sense, since you don’t want your opponent to know if you’re throwing inside or outside. But that means that determining location when pitching against a human opponent who’s sitting next to you is purely a “feel” exercise: you have to have an idea of how far left/right you’re aiming, and then you have to flick upward and left/right by yourself -- without the help of the on-screen indicator. It seems like something that’s going to take a long time to learn. If you’re having a lot of trouble, you can switch to Rookie difficulty, where you’ll only have to worry about the release-point timing, not the side-to-side control. [For a more succinct video explanation of analog pitching in MLB 11, go here.] This year, Road to the Show (RTTS) has changed up its player creation setup. You’ll still be allocating attribute points, but at the start, you have to balance your player on a set of sliders. Pitchers, for example, can be stamina guys or power guys, Maddux-like control freaks or hurlers with lots of movement on their pitches, and have a balanced repertoire or feature one dominant pitch. Similarly, you’ll have to put your hitter somewhere on the spectrum between power and contact, and arm strength and accuracy for fielders. These characteristics will determine the initial layout of your player’s attributes, and since you can’t max out any one rating at the start, you’ll have to play through RTTS to improve your skills. Sony San Diego really focused on visual improvements in MLB 11. I selected “rain” as the weather for an exhibition game, and noticed that the skies started out overcast and gradually darkened before a drizzle began. The field also looked wet; the infield dirt filled with darkened splotches, especially in the base paths. Also new is an optional eight-pitch warmup session for starting pitchers. You can turn this off, but if you leave it on and skip the warmup process, your starter will begin the game cold. I’m going to need to spend a lot more time with MLB 11 before I can decide if I prefer its analog controls to the tried-and-true button controls of yore. Everything else seems like a further evolution of a series that’s been great for years, so I’m excited to get my hands on the full game in the next couple of weeks. You can try it out for yourself right now: a four-inning demo went up on the PlayStation Store today.

Sony’s competitor in the baseball space, 2K Sports’ Major League Baseball 2K franchise, has included analog-stick controls for years. But the folks at Sony San Diego, the studio behind the MLB The Show series, vow...

Preview: Naruto Shippuden: Kizuna Drive for PSP

Feb 04 // Max Scoville
Naruto Shippuden: Kizuna Drive (PSP)Developer: Premium Agency Inc Publisher: Namco BandaiTo be released: February 22 I’ll be honest. I never got into Naruto, so I’m a bit out of touch. I stopped watching Toonami after the Buu Saga ended, so bear with me. From what I’ve gathered, Naruto is about ninja school, and learning to be a better ninja, and fighting ninjas, and so forth. I’m totally cool with this concept, but I probably couldn’t pick any of the characters out of a lineup.The story of Naruto Shippuden: Kizuna Drive -- or NS: KD from now on, because typing that out is getting old -- is all original. It’s not based on anything in the manga or anime, so there’s something new to look forward to. Another bonus is that it includes both Japanese and English voice options, which I think is fantastic. Dubbed voices are nails on a chalkboard if you’re used to the Japanese audio. As I mentioned, the gameplay is a lot of punching and kicking. Special moves and so forth, what you’d expect from an anime game about ninjas. The emphasis co-op is what makes it interesting, as you’re always fighting alongside three other ninjas. When I played with one of Namco Bandai’s PR guys, we each picked our characters, and then picked the computer’s characters. Ideally, you’d play this game co-op with three friends over local Wi-Fi, but if not, the AI’s got your back. In the mission we played, there were giant wild dogs terrorizing a village, and being respectable ninjas, we took it upon ourselves to beat the crap out of those dogs. There are six grades of difficulty: C, B, A, S, S+, and S++. In spite of the fact that we were playing a B-grade mission, one of the easier grades, I still died twice, and my teammates had to resurrect me. The whole teamwork dynamic pays off when players go into Kizuna Drive. This is when everyone combines their attacks on a common enemy to do increased damage. In the game, this requires stunning an enemy, then hitting triangle and circle at the same time. Your teammates will gather around, the enemy is airborne, and it’s all a matter of timing your attacks for when the he is passed to you. It’s like volleyball, except with ninjas. If the enemy is flying towards you, and you time your attack wrong, you’ll get hurt. Just like in regular volleyball.I think Naruto Shippuden: Kizuna Drive shows a lot of promise, and I wish I’d had more time to play with it. It’s obvious the missions are short enough to keep the gameplay fun-sized, which is how handheld games should be, but it looks like some real work went towards making it an overall immersive experience.

Naruto fans rejoice, because Namco Bandai has another game headed your way. Naruto Shippuden: Kizuna Drive is a PSP exclusive that’s coming out February 22. I got a chance to play it on Wednesday, and I thought I&rsq...

TGS: Valkyria Chronicles 3 is all I hoped it would be

Sep 17 // Dale North
  Valkyria Chronicles 3, or as they call it in Japan, Senjou no Valkyria 3, focuses on a Gallian squad called "The Nameless," and is set in 1935, which lines up with the timeframe of the first title. It seems that this troop is made up of the worst the Gallian army has to offer. The demo didn't delve too far into the new story specifics, but it seems that the series is making its way back around to a bit of a more serious tone, much like the first game. Sega does promise a bit of fan service when it's all said and done, as you'll fight together with squad members from previous games. Those that played either of the first two games will feel right at home here, as Sega didn't mess with the strategy role-playing formula. VC3 still uses the BLiTZ battle system, and the controls and button layout are exactly the same as the Valkyria Chronicles 2. That's not to say that they didn't make a few improvements, though. I noticed some slightly improved menu and interface art in battles. There are also more bold, artistic character portraits, and I noticed that the story elements that unfold on the battlefield feature better headshots and even some comic-style word bubbles. These and other changes, like a in-tank aim view, weren't large additions, but it made an already nice looking game look a tad bit better. The demo dropped me into a battle with a sightly underpowered crew. We were up against a massive enemy weapon that had two large guns mounted to the side, which was defended by several enemy troop members. I was armed only with a tank and four party members, and it felt like the difficulty level was set to "unforgiving." I had a ranger die on my second command, and another died one turn later. I continued to fall under heavy fire while trying to figure out the best way to take on the armed vehicle. I found out a bit too late that my tank was the best way to take their guns out. I failed my mission, which brought me back to one of the aspects I loved about the first two games: the solid difficulty level. There's nothing worse than a too-easy SRPG. I'd be game for any type of new Valkyria Chronicles, but Sega is dishing up exactly what I wanted in a sequel. Unlike others, I'm very pleased that the next game in the series is also portable. I also am very excited by the game's return to a darker tone and a more serious story. And while the art was always great, I feel like they've outdone themselves with this third game. The character designs are very nice so far, and I know I've only seen a small fraction of what's sure to be another huge cast. I'm just going to assume that Sega is smart enough to bring this to the west. For now, Japan will see launch of this game on January 27, 2011.

Valkyria Chronicles 2 was incredibly satisfying for this huge fan of the first title, which was a PS3 release. Some wrote off the sequel as it was a PSP-only game, but that didn't stop Sega from bringing the next game in the ...

Hands-on: Battle vs. Chess is not a simple game of chess

Aug 13 // Tara Long
Battle vs Chess (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, PC, MAC, DS, PSP)Developer: Topware Interactive/Gaijin EntertainmentPublisher: SouthPeak GamesTo be released: September 2010 Now, I can’t speak much to the game of chess itself. Too much critical thinking involved for my tastes. So let’s focus on the details, shall we? Battle vs. Chess was implemented using Fritz11! chess software, and has 10 different levels of difficulty to accommodate players of any experience level. You can test your abilities against a computer in single-player mode, or face off locally or online in multiplayer competition with the friends you probably don’t have. The game uses the Elo rating system, the world’s official standard in chess rankings, to keep track of your scores. So whether you’re a casual user just looking to improve your game or an aspiring eight-time Chess Master, this will provide hours of entertainment and a learning experience all bundled into one sexy package. Undoubtedly the most valuable feature in Battle vs. Chess is the option to have hints accompany each turn (along with a detailed explanation of why a particular move is optimal), making the game a great investment for any beginner looking to procure mad skillz. For intermediate players, there are a handful of modes designed to challenge and improve your existing skills, such as gameplay with a limited number of turns or pieces. There’s even an option that transports you directly into the seat of former chess masters, allowing you to compete in games that mimic actual famous matches in chess history. Other notable variations include “Madness” mode, where the computer randomly distributes pieces across the board. Then there’s the “Tactic” mode, where players have the option to arrange pieces on the board however they like while still abiding by the traditional rules of the game. What really sets this one apart from just another chess emulator, however, is “Battle” Mode. This form of fantasy gameplay puts a combative twist on the classic game by transforming the board into one of eight virtual battlefields whose pieces end up duking it out for the contending spot. The twist here is that rather than peacefully advancing an opponent’s square, the pieces come alive using distinctly realistic animations and the players must fight using weapons or strength. Though an interesting spin on the classic game, I don’t expect this feature to elicit much from the player other than a fleeting “Huh, that’s cool.” It offers no real advantage in terms of technique or strategy, and frankly, if I wanted to play a fighting game I’d bust out my Sega Genesis and rock Streets of Rage like it was 1992. Regardless, Battle Mode is interesting if only for its inherent uniqueness. I could see it being more suited for group situations, but if digitally-generated chess is a frequent activity at your parties, chances are you have bigger things to worry about anyway.

Listen up nerds, it’s time to take off your robes and wizard hats for a second ‘cause there’s a new game in town, and it answers to the name of Battle vs. Chess. If you’ve ever found yourself wonderin...


Cladun: This is an RPG -- known as Classic Dungeon in Japan -- is a quirky little hack and slash RPG made by the minds responsible for Disgaea. Think Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past mixed with the insane humor that NIS i...

E3 10: The bar is raised for God of War: Ghost of Sparta

Jun 18 // Nick Chester
"We like the franchise, we love the character, we like the world that it's created," Jan says. "We like making the game. So when [Sony] said, 'Do you guys want to do another one of these; fans are clamoring for it,' we were like, 'Cool.'"   When it had finished Chains of Olympus, Jan explains that the team still had plenty of ideas, things that just didn't make the already content-packed title. But at some point in development, you have to face the facts -- games are made to be shipped; you can't keep adding features forever. "If anyone is going to top the game, let's make it be us," Jan explains. "We don't want someone else making a God of War PSP game, so let's do it; let's make it the most amazing thing that anybody has ever seen on the PSP. Let's outdo ourselves. We think we set the bar really, really high, and if it's going to be a challenge, let's be the one to tackle this." A challenge, indeed -- Chains of Olympus was already pushing the boundaries of what the PSP could do, with crisp, detailed visuals that rivaled what we had seen on the PlayStation 2. The scope of the game easily matched the console titles in the series that had come before it. So now, for Ready at Dawn, it was a matter of raising the bar again. And if wasn't going to be able to do it, why bother? "To put it simply, the time that it took to put the boxes away and send them back, was the time it took for us to rethink it," says Ready at Dawn founder and vice president Ru Weerasuriya. "I'm not kidding. It took us time after Chains of Olympus to decompress and really think, 'Can we do more?'" Taking on the new project wasn't just about being able to match the quality of Chains of Olympus; it was about raising the bar again. Too often, Weerasuriya says, you'll see a sequel that just feels like "another iteration," or, as he put it, a "1.X" title. "For us, it was about going back to it because we know we can make it bigger and better," he says. "Bigger" and "better" is a simple way of putting it. Visually and technically, Ghost of Sparta easily exceeds the work Ready at Dawn did for Chains of Olympus. During a demo of one of the game's opening levels, which takes place during a storm on a massive ship headed for the shoreline city of Atlantis, you can immediately see it in action. The graphics are sharper than ever, and effects like depth of field have been added for extra visual impact. Even in its early stage, Ghost of Sparta looks to be one of the most impressive titles on the PSP to date. God of War: Ghost of Sparta is due out later this year. "The moral of the story is if you're ever going to ship something away, don't take a picture of it," jokes Jan of the picture seen below, "and don't post it on your website."

In 2008, when developer Ready at Dawn had finished with development on God of War: Chains of Olympus, it had publicly said it was done with PlayStation Portable development. To drive the point home, it even posted an image of...

E3 10: Preview: Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep

Jun 16 // Dale North
Starting out with the actual game, I got a crash course on Birth By Sleep's control scheme. You're still swinging Keyblades to attack enemies in this action RPG, chaining moves into combos and such, but some new additions to the formula keep things fresh.  The new Command Deck introduces a bit of strategy into the action. You'll preset a deck of ability card prior to combat, and you'll be able to call upon those powers and eventually build on them. For example, early on I acquired the ability to add a slide to my attacks. After including it in my deck, I could select the move in mid-combat, and after it was charged, I could execute it by simply hitting the triangle button.  The new Dimension Link ability allows you to connect to the movesets of the two other characters you're not playing as. Once conditions are met, you'll be able to hit the Right button and link to another character's move, essentially adding their unique abilities to yours. Lastly, one move that I didn't get to try out more than a couple of times was the Shot Lock move. If you're swarmed with a lot of enemies that seem to have gathered in one place, you can use this powerful blast (by pressing both the L and R buttons at the same time) to take them all out at once after targeting them. Despite all of these additions, I never felt hindered in combat. Actually, I felt the action was fast, responsive and enjoyable, again, kind of taking me back to the first Kingdom Hearts game on PS2. Know that the PSP's controls (and graphical abilities) are definitely not holding this game back.  Blasting through several save files that Square Enix made, I was able to check out many different worlds. Disney's Princesses are in the game and each have worlds. I got to play a bit of Cinderella's world, called Castle of Dreams,  as a couple of the heroes. Playing as Terra, I was out to look for a lost Ventus. In looking to meet the prince I ran into Cinderella's bitter stepsisters. I also was able to check out the Hercules inspired Olympic Coliseum. There I was able to help out Herc himself, as he seemed to be overrun with the game's recurring enemies, the Universed. It was her that I was able to try out the Shot Lock blast and help him out a bit. I didn't have time to fully explore, but I do know that Lilo and Stitch and their world Deep Space are also in Birth By Sleep, as is Peter Pan's Neverland. I'm sure this game is as packed as previous games were with Disney characters.  Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep is on a portable game system, but it does not feel like a portable game. There seems to be a ton of story here that promises to properly set the stage for the series of games you've already played. Thankfully the battle action is tight and entertaining. Between these aspects and the mountain of Disney fanservice, Kingdom Hearts followers will not be disappointed.

I'll say right off that playing Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep seemed to bring back some of the magic I felt when playing the very first Kingdom Hearts game. That's to say that it feels kind of magical again. That was surpr...


Before you click play know that I was not blessed with the correct type of face/head to wear a ballcap. It just doesn't work -- I've tried, especially when being beat down by the hot summer sun. But it's not worth it. I look...

Preview: Persona 3 Portable: All new features outlined

May 12 // Dale North
You can play as a girl It's worth repeating again. While you could play P3P with the male protagonist as you did the last couple of times, you'd be missing out on a whole bunch of new story changes that you'd see playing as the new female lead. Plus, she's really cute.  Everything changes, especially the relationships you have with others in Persona 3's world.  Speaking of... Your social link interactions are different (you'll date the boys) When you played it the first time as a male, it was easy to notice that there were plenty of girls to send your affections to in Persona 3. But look at it again: there's plenty of guys too. That's who you'll be courting as the female, obviously. All the main cast can be dated in social link interactions. Junpei? Sure, if he's your type. I'm more of an Akihiko kind of girl. There are also new social links for friends Outside of dating, you'll have the opportunity to join clubs after school, just like in the original game. But, as the female lead, they're different. The three clubs you can join as a female are tennis, volleyball, and archery. I saw a bit of the volleyball club, which is linked to the Chariot arcana. In this one, schoolmate Rio is your friend and Ms. Kanou is your coach. Both have new portraits in P3P, and both are attractive. Too bad you're a girl. Everything outside of Tartarus is in 2D I guess I never really paid attention to the fact that everything is in 2D until now. While this cuts back on the exploration you'll do, it's really neat to see how they've recreated the world in 2D. Thankfully Atlus' artist did a great job, and everything looks fantastic. Iwatodai strip mall looks even more inviting. Duck Burger is now fleshed out in full detail. Somehow the mall looks better than it did in 3D, and the phermone-tastic Chagall Cafe has awesome lighting that I never noticed before. Navigation is easier, faster Because of this change to 2D, you're able to navigate the game's world much faster than before. Instead of trolling school hallways, you'll just point your cursor at where you want to go. It's instant. Pulling in the R triger brings up a hotspot menu that lets you instantly jump to a completely different location. Little talk, save, and action/interaction icons pop up over interest points - all you need to do is point and click. Your desk at school is a save point This is a little one. It's exactly as it sounds: you can save in your seat in class. Cutscenes are out The only negative change I can think of is that the animated cutscenes (other than the introduction) have been cut. Think about it: Atlus would to have had recreated all the scenes with a female lead now. The game does not need cutscenes, but they were nice. The battle system takes from Persona 4 No more stupid AI! I remember screaming at my television for some of the stupid mistakes the AI made for your party members in the original Persona 3. When you could control your full party in Persona 4 -- well, that was like a dream! In P3P you'll have that same control over each party member, letting you dig deeper into the game's tactics system and scream at the TV a bit less. Two new difficulty levels Adding to the three existing difficulty levels are two more, Beginner and Ultra-Hard. The main difference between all levels is the change in balance between the damage your characters put out and the damage you'll receive from enemies. Story elements are the same across all levels. There are part-time jobs now Just like in Persona 4, P3P has part-time jobs. While they're not full-on social links, you'll be able to work to make money and increase traits like charm, academics and courage. New dialogue added While all the original Persona 3 dialogue is in the game, the voice cast was brought back to add voicings for all the new story elements that come with the female lead's story and social links. That means new dialogue from all the cast. Data install feature, downloadable version If you want to avoid switching UMDs, you can opt to install P3P onto a Memory Stick. Atlus says that the install weighs in at about 300mb. You could also just buy the downloadable version of the game and skip the UMD completely. The install helps with load times, but I'm glad to say that the game doesn't really need the help. Awesome loading times even with out install The load times straight off the UMD are very fast! Going from area to area is barely noticeable. The only real load time I noticed was going into Tartarus. Because they've used a lot of 2D, P3P's load times are significantly faster than the PS2 versions of the game. There's a Junpei hat If you pre-order the game at GameStop or, you'll get a sweet pre-order bonus: a hat just like in-game character Junpei.    

Atlus' portable version of one of their most popular games of all time is coming to the PSP very soon: July 6th. You don't have to ask me twice to play the game I've already played a couple of times again -- I love Persona 3....


Toy Story 3 is also coming to the PSP and DS and each version offers something different. On the PSP side, you'll get to play as Woody, Buzz or Jessie through scenes from the movie. There will also be various mini-games and ...

MGS: Peace Walker's multiplayer both helps and hurts it

May 03 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (PSP)Developer: Kojima ProductionsPublisher: KonamiTo be released: June 8, 2010 Playing through the campaign with a buddy changes Peace Walker. By yourself, it feels like the standard stealth espionage game. With a buddy, Peace Walker unintentionally becomes more of an action game. So long as one person is alive, there is no worrying about game overs. If a player is killed, the teammate can resuscitate the other back to health and keep on going. Plus, when multiple players are within a radius, the health bars will combine and everyone shares a bigger health bar. Another very useful co-op feature in Peace Walker, called "Snake-in," allows co-op players to hold on to each other. One player will steer while the other can shoot on the move. Co-op players can also share cardboard boxes including a tank cardboard box that shoots out flash bombs. Because of this easy revival system, there’s no real reason to worry about stealth. I found myself being careless compared to when I would play on my own. I think I would have been more careful if I was playing without my partner being right next to me. In that same breath, Peace Walker doesn’t feature any sort of voice communication. There are set in game messages you can send, but it’s very inconvenient since it gets in the way of playing. Back to the main issue that will plague Peace Walker players: the boss fights. While fully doable on your own, you’ll sooner want to smash your PSP to pieces before you get through the first major boss fight. Up to four players can work together to take on bosses that take place in arena based environments. You just need to shoot the key points on the boss until their health bar is completely gone, which is easier said than done. The game doesn’t scale appropriately based on the amount of players. Even with four players, you’ll constantly be dying. The first major boss is a giant robotic tank that’s moving around the level like it’s Tony fucking Hawk. It has a wide assortment of weapons and you seriously are going to want to snap your PSP after so many retries. The thing about Peace Walker, I feel, is that it was designed with the Japanese audience in mind. People are playing with their PSPs far more in Japan in social situations. That’s not so much the case here in America. The DS and especially cell phones dominate our on the go gaming needs and finding a partner will be very difficult I think. Peace Walker also features six-player versus modes which you’ll most likely end up playing through just once to see what it’s about and then never touch it again. You’ll have your standard modes such as free-for-all, team deathmatch and capture the bird (flag). Mutliplayer for a game like this just doesn’t work on a PSP. The action is too fast paced for what the PSP can manage with the button layout and you really want a second stick to have fun with this. At the end of the day, what would make Peace Walker’s online worth playing is voice communication, Wi-Fi and the ability to use the PlayStation 3 controller. The Konami PR reps at our demo session asked our thoughts about releasing Peace Walker as a downloadable PSN title. Everyone at the preview session agreed that Peace Walker would work better on the PS3 over the PSP. The PSP controls are not a good fit for the versus mode and it would be a lot easier finding people to play with through the PS3. However, I wouldn't write off Peace Walker completely for the PSP. Metal Gear fans will easily love the latest in the series, despite these flaws. 

Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker offers both co-op and multiplayer versus modes. In the main game, you’ll be able to play with a buddy through Ad-hoc and the game becomes somewhat of a breeze to get through. This bigger...

How Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is kind of like Pokemon

May 03 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (PSP) Developer: Kojima Productions Publisher: Konami To be released: June 8, 2010 One of the items Snake can carry is the Fulton Recovery System. The Fulton is a device that once attached to a person, will shoot out a parachute and launches whoever’s attached towards the sky. A plane will then fly by and take the person to Mother Base. There are prisoners scattered throughout levels that you can save, but you’ll find yourself "recruiting" enemy soldiers the most. The only way to recover an enemy is by either knocking them out or by nearly killing them. For the most part, recovered enemy soldiers will join you, but some will be hostile to the idea and will remain in Mother Base’s brig until they’ve changed their mind. So yeah, like Pokemon. Sort of. As you collect soldiers, you’ll find them in the waiting room in the staff roster section. From here you can either manually -- or let the game automatically -- assign where your soldiers will be used. The main section is the combats unit and these are the guys you’ll be sending on missions in Outer Ops. You’ll also be able to assign soldiers to research & development, intel, medical and the mess hall. Every person you recover will have experience points, stats, special effects and traits. The soldiers assigned to your combats unit can be used in a couple of the game’s modes and the more you use them, the more they’ll level up and get stronger. The best way to level up your character is in Outer Ops. You’ll be able to create eight teams of eight to venture to different conflict zones and battle with the computer in turned based style matches. You’ll send them off before you go into a main story mission and when you get back, you’ll be presented with a battle report of how your team did. Soldiers will come back from battles with increased stats (the ones that survived anyway) and they’ll sometimes bring back items and new recruits. This is also where you’ll be able to make use of the tanks, helicopters and a very special treat for MGS fans. You’ll also be able to play as recovered enemy soldiers and level them up in Extra Ops. Here, you’ll do little missions with specific objectives. Missions will range from simple target practice, fulton recovery based ops, document retrievals, armored vehicle battles and more. After awhile, word of the Outer Heaven group makes the rounds and you’ll find that soldiers want to volunteer for your group. There’s a section in Mother Base called Recruit that will let you recruit more soldiers based on Wi-Fi connections. Once a signal has been found, you’ll be given a mission to bring on more soldiers. These soldiers won’t simple join the cause right away though. You have to defeat them in un-armed combat first in order to prove your group is really worth joining. Two players can do the recruiting missions together and both players will get the same amount of recovered soldiers. The last part of Mother Base that you need to know about is the research & development section. Here, you’ll do as the name suggests in order to upgrade weapons, unlock better weapons and gain new items.  I had over 250 soldiers on my team by the end of my playtime. As you progress through Peace Walker, the oil platform housing Mother Base expands and evolves in order to accommodate all of the new features and personnel. At the end of the day, a lot of what Mother Base offers, specifically the features for your soldiers, will have no impact on the main game at all. Still, I found myself always messing around with all of these extra features as it was just really fun. I enjoyed leveling up these characters and I liked the idea that I had multiple teams of soldiers out in the world fighting as I played the main game. Mother Base will keep you coming back for more long after you've completed the main quest.

On top of the main game presented in Peace Walker, there’s a whole other engrossing aspect called Mother Base. In trade for the help of Snake and the Soldiers without Borders group, Ramón Gálvez Mena giv...

An overview of MGS: Peace Walker's main adventure

May 03 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
[embed]170233:28894[/embed] Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (PSP) Developer: Kojima Productions Publisher: Konami To be released: June 8, 2010 Peace Walker begins with an in-game cutscene of Snake making his way towards a beach full of sparring masked soldier. Once the overly dramatic cutscene ends, a tutorial begins running you through the controls and the Closed Quarters Combat system. You’ll move with the directional stick, adjust the camera with the face buttons, punch/shoot with R and take aim with L. Up on the d-pad is the action button that lets you interact with objects, left button selects your items and right on the d-pad lets you select your weapons. Pressing the down arrow once will have Snake crouch and holding that button down will have Snake lie all the way down. You won’t be able to move when in the prone position but you will recover health this way. Holding down the attack button near an enemy will have Snake grab them and give a choke hold. From here you can either continue to hold the choke until the enemy passes out, press the action button to interrogate the soldier or move the directional stick to body slam the soldier. Choking out a bad guy takes an absurd amount of a time and I never saw it serve any sort of real purpose. Your best bet is to body slam your foes in order to knock them out as fast as possible and it's a good way to take out multiple enemies when surrounded. After you’ve thrown down the first guy, you’ll be thrown into a little QTE where you’ll be able to take out everyone around you in one successive swift move after the other so long as you hit the button prompts on time. Once the tutorial ends, Snake's partner and main contact in Peace Walker, Kazuhira Miller, informs Snake of a couple of visitors. Snake is then introduced to Ramón Gálvez Mena, a teacher at the Costa Rica University, and his student, Paz Ortega Andrade. The two of are seeking the help of the Soldiers without Borders to help deal with the aggressive military force that has appeared in Costa Rica. The Costa Rica government itself isn't able to act due to its constitution, so it’s up to Snake and his crew to intervene, after some serious convincing and bartering of course. This is a Metal Gear Solid game after all, so the story is nowhere near as cut and dry as described above. Expect plot twists, backstabbing and everything else you’ve come to expect with Hideo Kojima’s long running military espionage saga. All of Peace Walker’s cutscenes are presented in animated comic form by artist Ashley Wood. The art style is as gorgeous as ever and the presentation gives the story an extra element of coolness. Some parts of the comic scenes will let you zoom in on women to see through their clothing while other parts will have full blown QTEs that need to be completed in order to progress the scene. Peace Walker is a third-person shooter and looks fantastic considering that this is a PSP game. The character models look good and the environments have a nice level of detail going for them. You’ll be moving through every level in a section-by-section basis as you either clear out an area or sneak your way through. Enemies patrol areas and in classic Metal Gear fashion, act pretty dumb. If you do get spotted, soldiers will call in for reinforcement and your best bet is to hide until the alert meter resets. Enemy soldiers play an important part to the Peace Walker experience, which you can read about here. After you’ve cleared a mission, you’ll be given various stats and a grade ranking. You’re then taken to Outer Heaven, also known as Mother Base. Mother Base is a beast of its own and you can read all about that right here. Before jumping into another mission, you’ll be able to outfit Snake with items and weapons at the base. Snake will be able to gain different outfits and his standard one allows him to hold seven items and six weapons. On the items side, you can have food for health, shields, boxes, binoculars and gadgets for dealing with enemies. With the weapons, you can only hold two guns at a time with the standard outfit and you’ll have your choices between pistols, shotguns, automatics, rocket launchers and snipers. You’ll also be able to carry grenades, C4, supply drop markers and more. Supply markers are very handy as you won’t be able to recover ammo or weapons on the battlefield. Instead, you have to use a supply marker to call in for more ammo. You only have a number of supply markers too, so you better make your shots count. There is a chance you can run out of ammo completely, but you do have your trusty fists as well as a taser to fall back on. Once you’re geared up, you can jump to the next mission. Kaz and other characters you meet throughout the game will brief you before the next mission giving info on objectives and goals. You can also communicate with your allies on the field through the Codec system. Konami had me out at a private function to play Peace Walker for two whole days. I spent at least 16 hours on the new Metal Gear Solid and I still wasn’t even able to beat the game. There’s a ton on offer here with a lot replayability value and everything about Peace Walker really does feel like it's Metal Gear Solid 5.

It’s been ten years since the events of Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater. Naked Snake, now known as Big Boss, left the United States military due to the events from Snake Eater and is now hiding out with the Militaries San...

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