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Preview: Hatsune Miku Project DIVA F has precision issues

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

Avengers Chronicles features the best pinball tables yet

Jun 13 // Brett Zeidler
First up, we launched the "Infinity Gauntlet" table. I let Conrad take up the game first (I really just wanted to see the master at work). I was always really looking forward to the this table because Thanos is one of the pivotal Avengers villains, and Marvel's upcoming plans with his character make this table even more exciting. This is the most story-driven table Zen has ever put together. There are 139 lines of dialogue, and quite a few moving parts around the table. In the top-left, the Infinity Gauntlet itself has the capability of picking up your ball and moving it onto the nearby blue ramps. Silver Surfer hangs out on the left side, and after initiated he and Thanos will fight it out. After Conrad finally gave up the controls, I played a round myself before moving onto the next table. This one seemed to move a lot quicker than other tables; almost as if it was at a higher angle. This could just be because of the fact that there are so many big ramps along the back wall. [embed]229343:44041[/embed] The guys from Zen Studios recommended I check out the "Fear Itself" table next to "see some really crazy stuff." Yeah, I was all over that. Upon starting the table, I instantly saw what they were talking about. There is a ton of things going on in there. "Infinity Gauntlet" may be the most story-driven, but "Fear Itself" probably has the most stuff. That's not a bad thing either, as it doesn't feel crowded at all. I'm not at all familiar with the Fear Itself story arc from last year, so forgive me that I don't know the characters' names. At any moment, there are three characters standing around the table. I should also let it be known that this table has the coolest launcher in the history of pinball: a guy crouches over the launching area and slams his hammer down. Captain America's shield is broken in half and acts as the two bumpers right above the flippers. There are numerous metal ramps to take your ball around the table, and a lot of interesting nooks and crannies to initiate different parts of the table. Other characters from The Avengers make appearances on the art throughout the table. There's even a giant serpent that can pop out of the back and mix things up. As I was playing, I managed to start one of the main missions that opened up a portal. It was relatively easy to get to (being on the middle ramp in the back), but I became nervous and accidentally let the ball go. Not only that, but that was my third lost ball. I suppose I'll just have to wait until next week to see what that does. I'm a little sad that I didn't have time to go hands-on with "World War Hulk" or "The Avengers", as those seem equally awesome in their own right. As I've already stated, the two tables I did get to play were enough to sell me on the entire pack that's arriving next week. Not only are they fun to play, but they are masterfully crafted and should hold their own among the best tables Zen Studios has made to date. I don't know how they could do any better than Avengers Chronicles, but I have a feeling the best is yet to come.
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There are two things in this world that consistently remain on my top-ten of all-time favorite things ever: Pinball and The Avengers. The fact that those two things are coming together in not only one, but four tables as part...

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

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

E3: Unchained Blades is an RPG for the hardcore

Jun 07 // Jayson Napolitano
First, the premise. Unchained Blades takes place in a world where people are granted a single wish if they can complete a trial and reach the Goddess Clunea. Our main protagonist, Fang, the emperor of dragons, approaches Clunea without a wish, but rather a demand that she divulge the name of the strongest creature in the land so he can defeat the beast and take the title for himself. Offended by Fang’s arrogance and bad attitude, she banishes him and strips him of his dragon powers. Now, bent on revenge, Fang acquires allies and explores massive titans that litter the land in search of powers to help him reach the Goddess once again and exact his revenge. As it turns out, Fang is only the protagonist of one of the game’s four chapters. Each chapter features a different cast of characters, all of whom are beautifully animated and voiced (at least from what we heard today, the quality of some of the voice-acted story bits have been questioned). We were also introduced to Hector, a golem who wants to reach Clunea to wish for a human form (apparently his golem form is too big and intimidating for his liking), Lapis, a medusa who wants to be rid of her curse of turning people to stone (she has clothing that covers the snakes on her head), and Mari, whose motives are unknown. All of these characters come together in the final chapter for what’s been promised to be an epic finale. In terms of what you’ll see, towns are navigated through a menu, allowing players to interact with NPCs and perform a variety of fetch and monster-hunt quests that reveal some backstory about the game world and the characters that inhabit it. You can also craft items and stay at an inn operated by a strange half man, half woman doll. Dungeon exploration happens in first-person in a classic Wizardry-inspired style. Even strafing is intact. The dungeon we saw was the innards of the Titan of Daris, which had a fire theme, but other dungeons have water and desert themes to name a few. The dungeons are large with multiple floors with lots to explore. Fortunately there are shortcuts that are accessed as players progress to aid in exploration of the latter areas of a given dungeon. The 3DS version of Unchained Blades (it will also be released on PSP) will display a helpful map on the bottom screen as you’d expect. Players will encounter puzzles and enemy encounters as they proceed. Battles happen in a separate screen, also in first person. One of the innovations here is that enemies can be placed in different positions, including head-on and to the side. There are spells and attacks that target different areas around the party, so this adds a strategic element to the battle system. We were told that these battles are intended to be hard, and when first entering a dungeon, you’ll likely only be able to complete a few before needing to head back to town to heal up. You’ll eventually level up and be able to progress more rapidly, but be ready for what XSEED describes to us as a “punishingly difficult” experience. The whole “Unchained” part of the game’s title comes from the fact that you can acquire enemies as followers. Most enemies can be unchained, and your chances improve as the enemy's health decreases. Each character can have up to three followers assigned, and benefits include attacks or healing during battle or stat increases. Unchained Blades is a 50- to 60-hour adventure and is due out this year as a downloadable title for both the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Portable. Based on how great the soundtrack for this game is, I’d probably have played this anyway, but consider me sold after seeing it in action today. Unchained Blades seems to combine the nostalgia of classic first-person dungeon crawlers with a compelling cast of characters, some amazingly vibrant anime-style graphics, and one of the best handheld soundtracks of the year. Have you been following Unchained Blades and have any thoughts about the game? Will you be picking it up later this year?
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I doubt it surprises anyone, but my excitement for Unchained Blades stems from my love of the game’s soundtrack, which was released last year. While it features a main theme by Nobuo Uematsu that sounds a lot like Iron ...


E3: Sly's Vita debut pickpocketed my heart

Jun 07 // Allistair Pinsof
Since Thieves in Time is, more or less, the same game on Vita and PS3, I opted for the handheld experience. I found controlling the camera a bit troublesome and the low polygonal models unattractive, but enjoyed the touch controls and gyroscope moments. Overall, it wasn't a bad way to play the game. The demo starts off with Bentley the Box Turtle and Sly bickering as Sly infiltrates some sort of medieval-themed circus. Really bad embarrassing jokes are made and boring exposition is given, but that's the way the series has always been -- it's charming in its own way. Before long, you get to the main draw of Sly Cooper: Innovative level design and superb platforming presented with a one-of-a-kind ambiance and style. One of the key features of this sequel is new costumes which let Sly alter his abilities. By tapping on the costume button, Sly can dress up in a Robin Hood costume and shoot arrows at targets to create rope lines he can walk across. Making these rope lines is a lot more complicated then you'd think and a lot more fun, too. You take aim with a bow and arrow, and then control the arrow by tilting the Vita toward the bullseye. It's pretty tricky, especially as the targets become obscured by flaming boulders and other obstacles. The bulk of the platforming felt as fluid as I remember Sly being on the PS2, but I did find issue with some minor details. A couple times I felt I'd awkwardly over-jump or not reach my target, as if I were being blocked by an invisible wall in mid-air. The game is still being polished, but the demo didn't give me faith this would be the platforming gem that the originals were. In addition to the costumes, Thieves in Time makes some cosmetic alterations to the series. There is now an arrow surrounding Sly and friends that points them toward the objective at all times. Falling down gaps now rewinds time and places you back on the previous platform. The Vita version also adds large buttons for costume changing and binoculars. I think these are pretty helpful additions, so no complaints here. The second section of the demo found mysterious ninja raccoon Rioch Cooperi taking Sly's place. This level, called "Sushi House," focused on the stealth. Facing an immediate fail state because you got caught in an enemy's spotlight is as annoying as ever. I didn't mind stealth in past Sly games, because they usually give you plenty of space to hide within. That wasn't the case, here. Riochi does have his advantages, however. With Riochi, you can use his focus jump to quickly leap to far away platforms. It's a scripted ability, designed to specific spots, but it has a nice tactile feel to it that makes it enjoyable to use. Thieves in Time probably won't meet the high standard that Sucker Punch set, but it's not close to being the disappointment I feared it would be. With a little bit of polish, this could be the killer 3D platformer that Vita owners have been waiting for. Nothing wrong with playing it on the PS3, either.
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When I heard the long-awaited next-gen Sly Cooper sequel would be put in the hands of Sanzaru Games, I lost all interest. Considering Sly 1 & 2 are two of my favorite games, that's a lot of interest to lose. But, what do ...

E3: Orgarhythm is hard to explain, but fun to play

Jun 06 // Jayson Napolitano
[embed]228990:43979[/embed] Starting from the top, Orgarhythm has an interesting story. Two gods who are also brothers inhabit a planet. The eldest, with a destructive nature, takes to the core of the planet to thrive on its energy while the younger, with a creative nature, resides on the surface to enjoy the sun and sky. Each god spawns followers, and it isn’t long before the minions of the elder god find their way to the surface and begin to wreak havoc. Faced with the decision of siding with his brother or his creations, the younger god decides to fight back, and that’s where Orgarhythm begins. The game is stage-based with twelve stages and corresponding bosses. Players take on the role of the younger god who marches through stages on a set path and at a set pace (on rails) while issuing commands to his minions to fend off incoming enemies. These minions come in red, blue, and yellow varieties, with blue being weak to yellow, yellow being weak to red, and red being weak to blue. You can decide whether they’ll perform melee attacks against nearby enemies, ranged attacks against enemies on cliffs or behind obstacles, or they can construct a catapult to siege large targets in the distance. You’re essentially trying to protect your god who has a set amount of hit points, and when they reach zero, the game ends. You might say this sounds a lot like a strategy game so far, and you’d be right. The rhythm elements are experienced through the interface. Players will repeatedly tap, tap, tap, and swipe on the Vita screen (there are no button inputs in Orgarhythm) in time with the music, with the track’s tempo determining how fast you need to enter these commands. The first tap selects the god, the second the color of the minion, and the third the type of attack desired. The swipe determines the placement of your minions: do a small swipe to dispatch one or two minions to do the job, or a wide swipe to send all of your troops forward. This takes a lot of getting used to as you’re constantly doing this in time with the music, but once you get into the swing of it, it’s a lot of fun. You receive bad, good, cool, and excellent ratings for each input, and doing well raises your level, adding additional elements to the backing music as well as increasing your number of minions. Presses that fall out of the rhythm conversely decrease your level and result in minions fleeing your side. They’re also building a lot of replayability into the game, as the enemies are programmed to remember your tactics and change accordingly to counter your gameplay style on subsequent playthroughs.Music and sound are vital to the Orgarhythm experience. Music is handled by composer Ayako Minami, known for her contributions to the Armored Core series and Enchant Arms. After a dreamy and beautifully animated opening video, the first stage gets a soothing electronic track with accompanying woodwinds to lend an organic edge. As mentioned, as your level increases, more elements are added to the music, so while at level one, you may only hear a bass drum, woodwinds and more are added as you increase in level. The second stage we saw featured a more rock-oriented track with wailing electric guitars that was also cool. Interestingly, XSEED will be holding a competition on YouTube for artists to submit their music for the game, and once winners are selected, the in-game soundtrack will be able to be swapped out for these user-submitted ones. In terms of other sounds, button presses generate a sound effect that is in time with the music if you're pressing along with the rhythm. The minions also march in place and dance in time with the music. There will be cooperative and versus modes as well. In versus, players go head to head, whereas in cooperative mode, you share the same minion pool and have to work together to ensure neither one god is left defenseless. The game is slated for a summer 2012 release date, but the hope is that it will ship simultaneously in North America and Japan this coming August. They’re determining whether or not this will be a digital-only title, which would unfortunately exclude any sort of pre-order bonus or the pack-ins that XSEED is known for providing to fans. I can’t be excited enough about Orgarhythm at this point. It looks, sounds, and plays beautifully. It’s a beast to explain, and I hope I’ve conveyed some of what it’s about, but this is one that really needs to be played to understand, so hopefully there will be a demo available at some point to let people know what Orgarhythm is all about. Let us know what you think of Orgarhythm so far. Is this blending of genres a brilliant innovation or n forced stretch?
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Orgarhythm is the most difficult game I’ve ever tried to explain. In fact, XSEED had a hard time explaining it to me. It wasn’t until I played it that I was fully able to understand what it was all about. A hybrid...

E3: Hands-on with Zone of the Enders HD

Jun 06 // Daniel Starkey
The first beat of this mecha movement is the "rerelease" of the of the first two Zone of the Enders titles as part of an HD collection I played through the first 30 minutes or so at the Konami booth, and I left thoroughly impressed. That said, my shock had very little of it had to do with the improvements Konami has made (which are substantive) and everything to do with the sheer quality of the original game. In terms of an "HD remake," Zone of the Enders is about what you'd expect. Frame rate and resolution have been boosted, as has the quality of some of the textures; they've added achievements and cleaned up a lot of the audio as well. There isn't any new content, however, and they haven't tweaked anything in terms of gameplay. So you're really only paying for the higher resolution and the ability to play ZotE on a modern console. It's nice that almost every facet ages well, and I think it makes for an excellent downloadable title. Combat is fast-paced and feels brutal. Animations are nice and smooth, and the whole package fits nicely together. If I had to level one complaint, I'd say that the voice acting is pretty god-awful, but that's a small price to pay for such fantastic gameplay. The release date is set for October 25 in Japan, so keep an eye out for this sometime in Q4.
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Thanks to my semi-adolescent brain, mech battles are easily some of the most awesome of which I can conceive. The notion of pitting giant robots with lasers, machine guns, and jets against one another is at the top of my...

Preview: When Vikings Attack

May 24 // Dale North
When Vikings Attack (PS3, Vita)Developer: SCEAPublisher: SCEAReleases: October 2012  It doesn't get much more simple than When Vikings Attack. In this game you'll control a group of vikings, moving them around an inner city play map to pick up items and throw them at other groups of vikings in the hopes that you'll knock some of their guys out. The last standing group out of up to four players wins. The control scheme is also quite simple: the left analog stick moves your group, the X button dashes, and the square button lets you pick up and throw items. What items? Well, just about anything your group comes in contact with in this city setting, including boxes, signs, cones, trash and even Stonehedge pillars. There are a few special items that, when thrown, let you do things like steal vikings from another group, but it's mostly just chaotic throwing of anything within reach to see who comes out on top before time runs out.  In Vikings it's all about finding something to throw and then getting the hell out of the way before something else comes back your way, bringing me back to four-player sessions of Bomberman. The action is just as quick, but it's more of a free-for-all as there's no maze to bomb your way through.  That said, don't expect to just freely stroll around 1970's England with your vikings as there are plenty of obstacles to deal with. One of the versus mode stages I played with a few others took place in an intersection where traffic was constantly moving through. Getting hit meant losing vikings in another way, forcing me to dodge both traffic and incoming throws. It also taught me that I could rope in innocent pedestrians to add to my group. When Vikings Attack is going to be a great party game when it drops on PS3 and Vita later this fall, with its four-player online/offline support and quick gameplay. Gamers will appreciate that one price gets them both the PS3 and Vita versions of the game on the PlayStation Network, and they'll likely also appreciate that the price should come in somewhere around $12.99.  
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Upcoming PS3 and Vita title When Vikings Attack is nothing like what you'd picture in your head from the name. While there's vikings in it, it really has little to do with the bearded Norse explorers or their funny little horned hats. In fact, this game is set in a cartoon-y, cell shaded England in the 1970's. Stay with me here.

Preview: LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes

May 22 // Dale North
Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes (Wii, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation Vita, 3DS)Developer: Traveler's TalesPublisher: WB GamesReleases: June 19, 2012  The Joker and Lex Luthor have teamed up to spring all the bad guys in Arkham Asylum with a deconstruction weapon that can tear open the blocks that make the prison. Gotham City's heroes, Batman and Robin, swoop in for riot control, and they handle the job quite well at first, but it eventually becomes a situation where the Justice League needs to be called in.  The gameplay in LEGO Batman 2 is delightfully simple. I steered a LEGO mini-figure version of Robin in a cooperative session with another attending press member playing as Batman (LEGO Batman 2 supports drop-in/drop-out play for a second player at any time) in the fight against Arkham's worst, kicking, punching, grabbing and throwing my way through them. A simple combo system lets you string attacks together, but more advanced attacks come from character-specific suits that add new abilities for combat and navigation. Early on we saw that Batman has a electricity suit that lets him power-up to do special takedowns as well as power up equipment for puzzle solving. I liked Robin's acrobatic suit, which lets him throw poles into surfaces to swing on and jump from, enabling him to reach higher platforms. The poles can also be used as a baton-like weapon, but it pales in comparison to the suit's hamster ball ability, which lets Robin roll around to smash baddies and other obstacles. These are just a couple of the many suits available. This high level of accessibility combined with some depth in abilities and combat means that you can sit down to play LEGO Batman 2 with a child and you'll both will have a good time. I certainly did. I really enjoyed the dynamic presentation of the two-player session. The split-screen isn't static, and will move around to highlight the action, with the division constantly moving depending on where each player stands. If both players are near each other, there is no split, but as they move apart, the dividing bar will tilt and spin freely, and the camera will zoom in to highlight the action. This makes for a cinematic presentation, making your co-op session look something like an animated movie. For the first time, all of the LEGO game characters have been fully voiced. The work I saw in a presentation and gameplay was top notch, with Superman and Joker being the most notable. The dialogue is packed with wisecracks and jabs, making for some pretty funny cutscenes. In one scene, Superman teams up with Batman to head to Lexcorp to get some answers. Superman opens the door for Batman, which has him groaning. Inside, the receptionist asks for their names. Superman asks, "Seriously?" After names were given, the receptionist asks if these were their last names. Batman jokes that even Luthor's receptionist is evil. Spoiler: Luthor's receptionist actually is evil, as she soon transforms into a sub-boss robot made of the hardest substance known to man. Hilarious. After I played through the demo mission I was able to get a taste of LEGO Batman 2's open-world. Set in Gotham City, heroes can explore freely, taking on missions, picking fights and trying out any of the 70 playable characters. We saw all types of weird experiences in this open world, ranging from crazed Batmobile cruising to Wonder Woman riding on the back of a lion. It all came together for me when I saw LEGO Superman take to the skies, cruising over Gotham's skyscrapers as the Superman theme queued up in the background.  Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes will be released later next month for just about every current game platform on the market, save for mobile.
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Batman's back (in LEGO form) and he brought his friends along for sequel in LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes. Not just Robin, though. Superman, The Flash, Wonder Woman and Aquaman are among the blocky heroes, and The Joker and ...

Preview: Quelling the forces of darkness with Orgarhythm

May 11 // Steven Hansen
Orgarhythm (PlayStation Vita) Developer: ACQUIRE/Neilo Publisher: XSEED Games Release: Q4 2012 Yes, it’s that time in videogames again: time to be a god; this time, a god of music, as it were. The mechanics used to command your brightly colored horde are all touch-based. A translucent beat reverberates on screen, requiring you to simply tap it when it shrinks to its most minimal, in rhythm with the beat. After nailing the first tap, you can choose between activating your fire (red), earth (yellow), and water (blue) units. Additionally, in some instances you can choose a fourth option -- to buff existing troops with things like higher health or increased damage output. Once a unit color is selected via a well timed tap, you must choose which sort of attack you want the unit to perform (again, with a rhythmic tap). Here, you decide between standard melee, a ranged attack and a catapult. Melee attacks are performed most quickly, over the period of two beats, while ranged bow and arrows require four beats, and the catapult eight beats to set up and launch. The catapult also requires you have at least four minions of a particular color in order to use. Once your method of attack it chosen, you draw (often a line) on the Vita’s screen and the selected units will fill that line and begin attacking when appropriate. The elements have a rock/paper/scissors relationship of effectiveness, with fire trumping earth and earth trumping water, so your units should be set up to face colored enemies accordingly. Minions are minions and, as such, expendable. The real aim is protecting you, the God of Light. Of course, keeping your minions alive and in strong numbers is the easiest way to do that. Hitting your beats perfectly raises your chain level, which in turn grants you more minions. The beats are also dynamic, quickening as your ranks begin to fill or the action ramps up. I played through the first of 12 slated levels and got through it relatively unscathed, despite not being particularly good at rhythm games (at least not as far as I’m aware), and finished with an A rank. There’s a thorough ranking system post-level completion bound to keep completionists playing. I was also told that the AI remembers how you play a particular level and will adjust enemy deployment and attack strategies accordingly, which, if it works as advertised, could keep levels worth going back to. While I was surprised that I made it through the first level with ease, I dug the rhythmic, hypnotic beats and RTS elements, especially when I built up a nice queue of minions to send into the fray. There was also a pretty cool boss fight at the end of the stage against a bunch of giant, stone dragon heads. Along with the 12 stages the game is being launched with, DLC is being promised for the future. Most exciting, though, is the call for indie music-makers to submit tracks that could be featured in future DLC. Additionally, local and online co-op and versus modes will be available. In co-op, control over the minions is shared, while versus pits the God of Light directly against the God of Darkness. As a fan of the PSP’s lovely Patapon franchise, I’m pretty excited to see another fine blend of rhythm and strategy hitting Sony’s new portable system. The twelve launch stages feels a bit slim, but otherwise I’m looking forward to delving into Orgarhythm later this year and hopefully losing myself in some hypnotic jams.
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Last week, Jonathan Holmes talked about a new advertisement for Orgarhythm, a combination rhythm and real-time strategy game he likened to a cross between Pikmin and Space Channel 5. I’m inclined to throw a Patapon comp...

Preview: Ragnarok Odyssey

May 11 // Alessandro Fillari
Ragnarok Odyssey (PlayStation Vita)Developer: Game ArtsPublisher: XSEED GamesRelease: Summer 2012 Anyone familiar with titles such as Monster Hunter and Phantasy Star Online will feel right at home with Ragnarok Odyssey. While it seems a bit different from its predecessors, at its heart it's still the same monster slaying and exploration game fans are familiar with. Just on a much smaller scale. Players will interact with other characters in the HUB area of Rune Midgard, where they can receive quests, customize their equipment and appearances, and receive new items. RO gives players much room to experiment and to explore how they want to carry out their adventures. In your character’s home, you can freely change between the six character classes -- ranging from assassin, sword master, hammer smith, hunter, mage, and the cleric. From here, you can customize the appearance and equipment of your characters. With several different types of combinations to tool around with, you’re guaranteed to see a lot of diversity among characters. When venturing out in the field, players will fight their way through a variety of enemies; from small slime creatures, to wolves and goblins, and much more. While the gameplay is structured like Monster Hunter and Phantasy Star Online, in terms of clearing out monsters from the sectioned areas of the stage, RO’s combat takes a much more fast paced and action oriented approach. Your character utilizes weak, strong, dash, and jump attacks against your enemies, which you can easily combo together in many different ways. You can start off with dashing into a crowd of enemies, using your weak attacks to stun them, and launch them into the air with strong attacks and juggle them while in mid air. I was quite impressed with how fluid, responsive, and open-ended the combat felt. Control wise, the developers did a great job with getting the feel just right on the handheld. They even utilize the touch screen by mapping support items and abilities to the corners of the HUD. When playing as the sword master class, the character utilizes sweeps and air combos to gain the upper hand on the enemy. While the assassin class uses their speed and agility to move between different targets with ease. With all the action going on, the game kept a consistent frame rate throughout and the visuals look quite stellar on the small screen. The developers showed great care in giving a unique feel and play style to each of the six classes. Experimenting with combos will yield more drops and unique loot. Specifically, tarot cards are acquired from mobs of enemies, and can be used to increase your character’s stats and support abilities; tailoring each character to your own style and role in combat. Towards the end of one of many quests, you'll come across boss monsters. One of the big draws for RO is that you’ll encounter bosses several times the size of your character. When fighting these bosses, the verticality and the flexibility of the combat really shines. Going beyond the juggles and aerial combat from weaker enemies, you'll have to find the weak spots of these bosses by using teamwork and platforming skills to traverse and jump to high places. Starting out the earlier bosses won't be too daunting of a task, but you’ll eventually come across giants which are almost four times the size of your character. Ragnarok Odyssey looks to be an exciting entry in the series, and a much needed game for the PS Vita’s library of titles. The world of RO shows promise, and players who enjoy action games and want something exciting to play should keep an eye on this one.
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Ragnarok Odyssey made quite a name for itself and since the February release in Japan, it has become one of the fastest selling games on the PlayStation Vita. Now, XSEED has taken it upon themselves to publish the game for No...

Preview: Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

Apr 30 // Ryan Perez
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (3DS, PC, PlayStation 3 [previewed], PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360) Developer: Sumo Digital Publisher: Sega Release: TBA 2012 Upon selecting a racer, more than one moment saw me pointing to a character and saying aloud, "Oh yeah, I forgot Sega made that game!" Of course, the expected Sonic cast was present: Tails, Knuckles, Dr. Robotnik (I don't call him "Eggman," because this is America, goddamnit). Joining them, though, were characters whom I had forgotten even belonged to the Sega family: Amigo (Samba de Amigo), Beat (Jet Set Radio), and B.D. Joe (Crazy Taxi). It was at that point that I realized Sega actually had a shit-ton of variety and eclecticism within their body of work, and this little racing game was, in a lot of ways, a testament to that. Now, even though I've had my fair share of Sega consoles (everything except for the Sega CD), I can't call myself a "Sega kid." I got my hands on every piece of hardware I could while growing up, no matter the company. Still, that didn't keep the warm feelings of my childhood from brewing in my gut, especially once I took to the roads of the Panzer Dragoon course. While I did play the game in a relatively early state (alpha, to be exact), it was little snippets of nostalgia like these that made me realize that Sega fans were going to be in for a real treat. Considering how much of the company's history the previous All Stars Racing game encapsulated, I can only imagine this follow­-up will provide more of that iconic imagery. "Shit yes," says my 13-year-old, malnourished inner-self. So the nostalgia is a great hook, but how does it play? Well, the "Transformed" in the subtitle actually has significant meaning. During each race, courses will change their structure after every lap. So, naturally, each character's vehicle morphs into the appropriate form. On the Panzer Dragoon course, the first lap had me clattering over a creaky wooden bridge -- a favorite in professional racing, of course. On the second lap, though, a fuckin' dragon burst out of the water and destroyed it! No worries, because B.D. Joe's cab flipped its wheels and presented a nice set of propellers for the water below. Upon reaching that area for the third time, instead of sloshing into the lake, Joe's Chevy Impala took to the skies like Doc Brown's DeLorean, but with less time traveling and more ... well, craziness, I suppose. The elaborate changes in courses not only provided a fresh pace to the otherwise-bland genre of "kart racers," but they also quelled the boredom that can sometimes present itself after the third lap on the same track. Seeing as how I only got to try out two courses (the other being a downhill Super Monkey Ball-themed one), I'm anxious to see what other creative twists Sumo has added to the track selection. Amidst all of this reverential Sega imagery and the nostalgic glow it emanated, I couldn't help but feel a bit of remorse in the end. Seeing the diversity of Sega's franchises under one roof (or skybox) sort of brought to light the tragic reality that, well, while the company has a quality portfolio, it has continued to face more and more hardship. I mean, Transformed featured a roster of characters from games that had absolutely nothing to do with each other -- all of them great, to boot. It now makes less sense to me than it ever did why Sega has taken such a tumble down the staircase of this industry. Goddamned Nintendo has thrived on the same names and faces we've known since the late 80s, yet they have managed to accumulate an Olympic-sized pool of gold bullion. Mascot-themed games provide a rather decent retrospective of a company's history. Super Smash Bros. showed us Nintendo's backstory, Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale will compile Sony's, and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed does that very thing for Sega. The result is a relatively fun and robust experience that makes you think, "Wait a minute ... if they made that game, then what the hell is the problem?" Oh well, perhaps I don't have the full picture. In fact, I know I don't. For all I know, the Sega execs of old might have blown all the company's money of cocaine and classy hookers. What matters is that, while Sega has taken hit after hit, despite all rules of logic and reality, games like Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed show that they can still make a fun and engaging title ... complimented by a cast from their own great games. Sumo Digital has put a lot of care into making this game its own great experience, even going as far as building the engine from the ground up, as well as implementing their own physics into the gameplay. Transformed plus liquor is a combination that's bound to be worthy of a friendly, split-screen gathering ... err, I mean "fun for the whole family." By the way, this preview taught me one important fact: Max Scoville is rather graceless at competitive racing games. So if you find yourself at a bar with him, and he's downed a few slippery nipples (yes, that's a real drink), the handheld version of Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a sure way to win a "wager of the pantsless variety" with him. You didn't hear that from me, though.
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Few developers have a large enough catalog of praised franchises that they can make entire games featuring a variety of their own iconic characters. Nintendo is obviously the leading company that has made a habit of doing th...

Resistance: Burning Skies is ready to set the Vita ablaze

Apr 23 // Abel Girmay
Resistance: Burning Skies (PlayStation Vita)Developer: Nihilistic SoftwarePublisher: Sony Computer EntertainmentRelease: May 29, 2012 Burning Skies puts players in the boots of Tom Riley, a firefighter on a mission to protect his wife and daughter during the Chimeran invasion. Taking place between Fall of Man and Resistance 2, Burning Skies' story is set during the first three days of the Chimeran blitz. Although Europe has all but fallen, until the Chimera show up, America is still living in its Norman Rockwell ideal. Whereas past games in the series have always placed players in the thick of the conflict, Burning Skies aims to lead players through the transition of day-to-day 1950s America to the war-torn hell hole it becomes as the Chimera bum rush the Eastern seaboard. With their big push, the Chimera bring along a few new enemy types. There weren't a whole lot of new enemies shown in this demo, but there will be new breeds of Chimeran infantry and boss monsters mixed in with the series' mainstays. In my time with the game, I was reacquainted with old friends like the Executioner, LongLegs, and the good old Hybrid. Joining the series is the Impaler, a melee-focused enemy who loves to rush and, as the name implies, impale people. The dreary setup is in place, but Burning Skies couldn't be a Resistance game without some crazy weapons. All the tried-and-true classics are back such as the Auger, the Bullseye, and the Carbine, but a few new toys enter the fray. The standout new weapon I saw was a shotgun/crossbow hybrid called the Mule. A beast at close and medium range, this two-shot double-barrel weapon lays out any enemy like a good shotgun should. Its secondary function shoots explosive crossbow bolts over long and medium ranges. Apart from being incredibly fun to use, the Mule also shows off the design philosophy behind the new human weapons. [embed]226263:43480[/embed] Speaking with Nihilistic's Robert Huebner, the Mule and other weapons were "meant to have this home brew feel to them." Acquired early in the game, you get the Mule from a bartender who's just attached a crossbow to a shotgun so he could protect his home and business. It's these smaller details that go to sell the desperation of the people you encounter during the story. Not be outdone by the opposition, the Chimera bring some new guns as well. The one we got our hands on was the Sixeye, a burst-fire sniper rifle that shoots remote charges as its secondary function. Setting and detonating the charges both use the Vita's touch screen, as do all the secondary fires. To make up for the fewer buttons on the Vita versus a PS3 controller, Nihilistic has mapped a great deal of Burning Skies' controls to the touch screen and back pad. To put up an Auger shield, for instance, you place your thumbs on the center of the screen and swipe them away from each other. Or if you want to tag a target with the Bullseye, just tap on screen which target you want marked. Melee and grenades both have their own onscreen icons that you tap to use, and sprinting is done by tapping on the rear pad. As you can see, there is a ton of functionality tied to the touch controls. Thankfully, it all works well. While there is some initial awkwardness to overcome, once you get accustomed to the controls everything works incredibly smoothly. In fact, it's because there is so much touch functionality that it all works so well. Constantly having to use it for even the most basic mechanics makes it feel all the more normal. All told, the single-player looks to be in great shape, but what about the multiplayer? In a word, slim. Burning Skies will ship with a decent six maps, but will only come with three modes -- two of them being Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch -- with support for up to eight players over a Wi-Fi (no ad hoc support) connection. In our demo, we got a look at two of the game's six maps, playing Deathmatch and Survival mode. Deathmatch in Burning Skies is as straightforward as you would imagine. It's a free-for-all race to the top as you try to get the most kills before everyone else. Survival mode pits two Chimeran players against six human players to see how many members of the latter group can survive before time is up. Every kill that a Chimeran player gets infects the human and respawns them as another Chimera. It's a fun diversion, but like similar modes (such as Halo's Living Dead), it's over quickly. The meat of the multiplayer, then, is in its leveling system. It works pretty much how you would expect: you earn XP for completing challenges, getting kills, assists, ending another player's kill streak (which is even called buzz kill), etc. You unlock new weapons and upgrades (essentially perks) to improve your weapons until you hit the level cap of 40. One cool feature is Burning Skies' Infection system. As you play games, you can get get XP boosts, called infections, from other players. The way the boosts works is that you get a set multiplier for a predetermined amount of time. Values of infections range from getting 1.5x more XP for a few games, to getting a 10x boost for a whole weekend. It's a rather ingenious incentive to keep people playing. You can also pass infections to other players either in-game or with the Vita's Near functionality. Depending on how long the community lasts -- and with so many ways to spread them -- infections could travel far, like herpes. Unlike herpes, though, you can choose which infections to keep and which to throw away, ensuring you can discard lower-level infections in favor of higher ones. With about a month until release, Resistance: Burning Skies looks to be in good shape to set the Vita ablaze. The multiplayer can feel anemic, especially when it comes to modes, but what's been shown of the single-player has been simply awesome. Whether you love first-person shooters or not, Burning Skies is one title any Vita owner cannot afford to let slip under their radar.
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With a relatively thin PlayStation 3 launch line-up, Resistance: Fall of Man was a saving grace for early adopters. Almost six years later, the Resistance franchise has gone on to be a critical mainstay for Sony's systems. Wi...

Preview: Street Fighter x Tekken (Vita)

Apr 10 // Dale North
Capcom says that they're not done with the game yet, and are open to adding more features that will use the touch panels and cameras. Capcom is already looking at using the Vita's digital compass, and Near functionality, and may try something with augmented reality in the future. Stay tuned.  The big news with the Vita version of Street Figher x Tekken is that 12 new characters have been added to the line-up, and that connecting this Vita verson to the PS3 will unlock the new characters in the console version. These unlocked characters can even be used in PS3-to-PS3 battles, making the Vita version of the game work as a sort of expansion key. The 12 added characters are as follows: Blanka, Cody, Dudley, Elena, Guy, and Sakura from the Street Fighter side, and Alisa, Bosconovitch, Bryan Fury, Christie Monteiro, Jack, Lars Alexandersson and Lei Wulong from the Tekken side. Vita-to-PS3 connectivity goes beyond characters, as game saves and customized data can be transferred via a data link. All DLC purchased on the PS3 can be used on the Vita version, and vice versa. Worldwide cross-platform play is supported over two Vitas, or a Vita and a PS3, with full support over 3G or Wifi connections. We saw a real-time demonstration of local play between a Vita and PS3, with the action perfectly matched between the two systems. The systems never fell out of synchronization, and the action was equally smooth on both platforms. If the same tight synchronization is available over online battles, gamers will be impressed.  Much like UMvC3, the Street Fighter x Tekken portable port is very impressive, being almost a perfect match to its console counterpart. All of the action, animation and framerate are there, with a side-by-side PS3 and Vita demonstration proving that. I was also able to play a few Vita vs.Vita matches with other attending press members, trying out new characters like Blanka, Sakura, Elena and Dudley. Battles went off without a hitch during my sessions, with Vita game play holding up nicely to the console versions.  Street Fighter x Tekken Vita will launch with the upcoming improvements for the console game already installed. In the coming months the console version will see improved online experiences, tweaks to the infinite combo issues, and continued support for tournament play organization. Capcom has also acknowledged the online sound issues and are working on a patch to fix these. Expect to see a patch in early April.   Capcom says to expect more news on new modes, features and content to be revealed leading up to the fall 2012 release date of Street Fighter x Tekken.  
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With Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, the PlayStation Vita proved itself as an ideal portable platform for fighting game ports. Capcom is back again with another portable fighter, Street Fighter X Tekken, set to release later th...

Impressions: PS Vita's free AR games

Feb 22 // Jim Sterling
Let's get the first game out of the way, Table Soccer. This is the most ambitious of the games on offer, and it's also the least fun. The premise is quite interesting, as it allows you to build your own soccer field using all of the cards available. Three cards are positioned lengthways to create the pitch, a further two are required for the stands, and the final one creates a scoreboard. You can move the cards around to increase the size of your stadium, which is quite cool.  Table Soccer is, essentially, what it sounds like. It's a table soccer game in the same vein as Subbuteo. Little toy players are scattered around the pitch, and you flick them to kick balls, move into positions, and tackle other players in a turn-based scenario. Frankly, however, I barely spent much time with it due to the controls being rubbish. Even when you zoom in, the players were far too tiny for my fat penis fingers to control. If you are Jack Skellington, you might have a better time, but make sure to wear protective gloves so that your bony hands don't scratch the Vita! In all seriousness, people who are really into soccer might get off on it, but it's too much of a hassle to set up when you could just get FIFA instead.  Next up, we have Fireworks. This is something of a rhythm game, although there's no real rhythm to speak of. You set up your cards to serve as the foundation of a twee little house. Fireworks shoot from the house and your job is to tap on them so they explode in a shower of pretty flames. Fireworks can be detonated as soon as a target appears on them, but timing the detonation until the target's curved lines are joined in a circle is the key to achieving perfect scores.  Fireworks looks quite nice, and having a miniature firework display on your desk is cool. However, the game's biggest challenge comes from seeing how long you can keep playing until the four-note background tune drives you absolutely insane. The monotonous music -- though I use the term "music" loosely -- is enough to turn a sane man mad and a mad man sane, but if you are possessed of a steel will, then the actual gameplay provides some simplistic amusement that shows off the AR features in a clean, solid manner.  The standout game is Cliff Diver, despite how bland and unexciting its name is. Cliff Diver uses a card to erect a diving board and pool of water, and requires your timed button presses to make Diver Dan perform perfect jumps. It's a little more involved than the other games, but it is far from complicated.  First, you have to tap the rear touchpad in time with a beeping heart monitor so that our half-naked hero can build enough adrenaline and make his jump. You'll then have to wait until he reaches the optimum point on the diving board (indicated by a marker that flashes green at the right moment) and hold the X button. The longer you hold down X, the further Dan will dive. As he falls toward the water, he'll pass through several hoops, and you'll need to press one of the face buttons (shown on screen) as the hoops turn green in order to increase his score.  It's pretty simple, but there's enough variety in terms of diving boards and hoop patterns to make for quite a neat little distraction. If you're going to test any of the AR games out, I fully recommend Cliff Diver as the first download. It's barely much of a game, but it does a decent job as an entertaining little tech demo.  Besides which, they are all free, so don't expect too much and you might end up having a little more fun than you bargained for.
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Just in time for the PlayStation Vita's North American launch, a trio of free games bounced onto the PlayStation Store, hoping to demonstrate the handheld's augmented reality gameplay. You might notice that your Vita came pac...

Preview: Mixing it up with MLB 2K12

Feb 17 // Samit Sarkar
MLB 2K12 (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [previewed], PC, Wii, PSP, DS, PlayStation 2)Developer: Visual ConceptsPublisher: 2K SportsRelease: March 6, 2012MSRP: $59.99 (PS3, 360) / $69.99 (360 Combo Pack with NBA 2K12)It's unclear at this point whether Take-Two will renew its exclusive licensing agreement with Major League Baseball. But even if this is the last MLB 2K game, the developers at Visual Concepts aren't phoning it in: they're focusing on fixing gameplay instead of buzzword-filled new features, and I give them credit for that. It's not a flashy approach, but if they pull it off, I expect fans to give the game a better reception.Visual Concepts has fixated on the pitcher-batter confrontation, the heart of baseball. Unlike McGilberry in his perfect game, real MLB pitchers constantly mix up their strategies for attacking hitters. That's what separates them from minor-league hurlers: they rarely abuse a pitch or return to a particular location in a certain situation. They have to adapt because they're facing MLB hitters, who got to the big-league level by punishing pitchers who became predictable. If you tend to go with, say, a splitter in the dirt on 0-2, and a shoulder-high fastball on a 1-2 count, hitters in MLB 2K12 will quickly pick up on that habit and learn to lay off. In addition, if the pitcher you're playing with has four or five pitches in his repertoire, and you consistently stick to one or two, batters will come to expect them -- and when a hitter knows what to look for, he's much more dangerous. (The game determines the baseline frequencies for each pitcher -- whether he tends to throw a certain pitch 8% of the time or 28% of the time -- from his Inside Edge scouting data.)MLB 2K12 gives you a good deal of feedback to tip you off to your tendencies. Analyst Steve Phillips might point one out with a comment. The visual feedback is more immediate and noticeable. All of your pitches are lined up on the left side of the screen as circular icons with numerical effectiveness ratings. If you're beginning to overuse a pitch (that is, throwing it too often compared to the Inside Edge data), the icon's background will turn from a neutral teal to yellow. That's a warning that you're becoming too predictable. If you continue to throw that pitch, the background will eventually become red, which lets you know that hitters are starting to look for it above your other options.It's also important to mix up your location and keep hitters on their toes. Going to the down-and-away well too often will cause that corner of the strike zone to turn black, which is a sign that you should go elsewhere. It'll be tougher to hit your spots, though, since Visual Concepts has tweaked breaking balls to be more realistic. You won't get the same sharp break on a 12-6 curveball if you start it above the strike zone as if you start it chest-high. At any time, you can pull up a screen showing exactly how many pitches you've thrown in each area, as well as Inside Edge data that illustrates a pitcher's real-life pitch frequencies. In practice, the adaptive hitting AI indeed made my life miserable when I began to overuse my fastball. A pitch's effectiveness rating also drops when you give up hits with it, and it varies from hitter to hitter. I only spent an hour or so with the game, but I had a couple of long innings because batters began to hammer my outside-corner heater after they learned to expect that pitch in that spot. That was doubly true for Albert Pujols. He smacked my fastball in his first at-bat for a single, and when I faced him again two innings later, I noticed that the fastball's rating had decreased. It appears that MLB 2K12 will really force you to adapt just as real pitchers do.Visual Concepts hasn't neglected hitting, either. Criticisms of past MLB 2K games always mentioned that they lacked hit variety -- it seemed as if you'd keep seeing the same soft liners to infielders. New ball physics this year have greatly improved hit variety and distribution, and it's all tied to the pitch that was thrown and the way the hitter made contact, just as it should be.Throwing in the field has also seen a significant upgrade. The new throw meter dynamically responds to your fielder's position. If you're charging a slow roller and you cue up a throw that your fielder has to make on the run, the green section of the throw meter will be much smaller than it would have been had you allowed him to set his feet before throwing to first. Of course, the meter also depends on the skill of the fielder in question, so someone with a more accurate arm will have a larger "sweet spot" even if someone's upending him with a slide as he's releasing the ball. The one new mode in MLB 2K12 is called MLB Today Season, and it's a spin on the traditional season setups in sports games. It allows you to play along with a real-life team, one game at a time. Let's say you're a Dodgers fan, and they lost the first two games of the 2012 season to the Padres. The MLB Today engine will import the exact scores and statistics from those games into your MLB Today Season, and you can pick up from there with the next game on April 7th and try to alter the course of the Dodgers' season.MLB Today Season forces you to play game-by-game, so you can't play at any pace other than that of your team's real-life counterpart. But by the end of September, the real Dodgers might be languishing in fourth place while your in-game Dodgers are celebrating an NL West crown!My Player has also seen a tweak in the direction of NBA 2K12: you'll select a role for your player that will affect the way your attributes develop. Speedsters won't hit a lot of home runs, but they'll be able to run down balls in the gap and steal a lot of bases. Sluggers, on the other hand, won't be fleet of foot. I'm still not sure that MLB 2K12 will be a legitimate competitor to Sony's MLB 12 The Show. But I liked what I saw, and it appears that the competition will be as close as it's ever been between these two franchises. Here's hoping Visual Concepts finally gets it right.
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This is the third year in a row that 2K Sports is holding its Perfect Game Challenge for its MLB 2K series. They're changing the format this time, but previously, the first person to throw a verified perfect game would win $1...

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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...

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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[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!
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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.
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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 Play-Asia.com.
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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...


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