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Rodea: The Sky Soldier might be a bumpy ride

Jun 25 // Kyle MacGregor
Rodea: The Sky Soldier was initially conceived as a Wii game, but it came too late in the day for a system nearing the end of its life cycle. It needed to be reworked as a Wii U and 3DS title. The thing is, the Wii is a special console, and Rodea was developed with its unique attributes in mind. Motion controls are a tad different than standard inputs, and the transition between the two seems to have left an indelible imprint on Rodea's design. Taking to the skies in this aerial action game doesn't come as second nature. With the press of a button, Rodea lifts into the air and hovers for a moment as you aim where you want him to go. He can't fly indefinitely, though, and will fall to his death unless you find another object for him to bounce off within an allotted time frame. It seems like the type of interface that would work seamlessly with the Wii's IR pointer, but on Wii U GamePad, I found myself flying off at odd angles, often coming frustratingly close to objectives that seemed just out of reach. Perhaps it's the sort of thing that comes with practice, but in a brief demo on the E3 show floor, I only got a glimpse at what sort of joys Rodea might have to offer.  Though it never felt intuitive, there were flashes when I managed to soar through the air with some semblance of precision. And in those fleeting moments I could really feel Yuji Naka's (Sonic Adventure, NiGHTS into Dreams) fingerprints all over the game, as I bounded from one floating isle to the next, collecting rings in this ethereal obstacle course. More than anything, my time with Rodea: The Sky Soldier made me oddly happy the Wii U version is coming tethered with a copy of the game on Wii. I'm not sure how much easier it will be to pilot on its original platform, but it feels like that's how it was intended to be experienced. Either that or flight isn't a skill easily mastered in a few mere minutes.
Rodea impressions  photo
Awkward aeronautics
My first flight with Rodea: The Sky Soldier wasn't a smooth one. But perhaps that's to be expected of a title that's seen such a turbulent development history. The project went dark shortly after its initial announcement in 2010, then underwent a change of platforms -- something that seems all too apparent after a few minutes with the final product.

The next Skylanders borrows a little from the Pokemon series

Apr 23 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Skylanders Trap Team (3DS, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 [previewed], Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: Toys for Bob (last-gen) / Beenox (current-gen, 3DS)Publisher: ActivisionRelease: October 5, 2014MSRP: $74.99 (Game, Portal, figure, two Traps) The story sees Invader Zim Chaos trying to take over Skylands ... again. This time, however, he's going to enlist a group of villains trapped in a prison made out of Traptanium, the hardest material known to Skylanders. Chaos' plan works, sort of -- he's able to free the villains, but they all just escape instead of joining up with him. Enter the Trap Masters, the main draw of Trap Team. These Skylanders are bigger than normal core characters, but not as big as the Giants. The Trap Masters are skilled with all things Traptanium, and all their weapons are made out of the substance, shown off as see-through crystals in the game and the toys themselves. There's going to be around 50 new Skylanders, made up of a mix of these Trap Masters, new core characters, and reposed fan-favorite Skylanders. And of course all the previous Skylanders, Giants, and Swap Force heroes will work in Trap Team. Now here's the surprise, there's going to be over 40 playable villains as well that you'll have to physically capture, so to speak. "Pretty much the biggest thing we've done is this idea of constantly innovating," executive producer Jeff Poffenbarger told Destructoid. "Bringing toys to life was the first initial big innovation. We can certainly just continue to do that, but for us we asked ourselves 'What would even take that a step further?' We know we can bring toys to life ... but we also wanted to figure out how to reverse that magic. So you can bring toys to life, but how do we bring life to toys?" All of the escaped villains can be converted over to your team. Take them on, defeat them, and then capture them in a new special crystal toy. So yeah, kind of like Pokemon. Once an enemy has been defeated, players are told to insert a special crystal into the new version of the Portal of Power. It's actually a really cool effect, as the audio from the TV gets outputted into the Portal itself (and vice-versa) as they get sucked in and out of the adventure. Villains will also give you feedback, help, and advice from the Portal when not in use. One of the first major bosses is called Chompy Mage (pictured in the lead image), a crazy old guy who fights with a sock puppet on his hand (kind of like the Ventriloquist from the Batman series.) He can summon little tiny monsters, and later in the battle he'll transform into this giant jumpy gross monster thing. After he joins your team, all the power sets he used on you are now yours. While some villains are powerful in this way, there will be some with more passive abilities. One example shown was a mini-boss troll that can use a gun to freeze opponents. He can't really do damage, just freeze enemies. Those playing by themselves can actually hotswap between a Skylander and a villain with the press of the button to take advantage of this ability. Or say a parent can play as the ice troll to let their kid be more of the main star in the game. Traditional co-op with multiple Skylanders is still in the game too. So a cool concept, but here's where it gets kind of dumb. You can only save one villain into a Trap toy at a time. That I kind of don't have a problem with. You can at least store villains at a new hub location so you can swap villains in and out as desired into a crystal. The dumb part is that the Trap toys are all elemental based. So you can only store an ice based villain inside of an ice Trap toy, for example. My main concern is that this is going to get more expensive for fans than ever before. I'm just hoping the Trap Hero toys will include their respective Trap toy too. Plus these things are tiny compared to even the tiniest Skylander figure, and could potentially get lost really easily. Collectors be warned: There will be multiple variants of the Trap toys themselves as well. That said, you don't have to capture the villains, just like how you don't need all of the elemental types of Skylanders to beat the games. So what happens if you don't want to -- or just can't -- capture a villain after defeating them? Toys for Bob is still figuring that out, having kids and adults of all ages try out the game to find the best solution for everybody. Otherwise players can expect similar approaches to the mini-games, competitive multiplayer, the cross-platform saves, and the return of the jump mechanic from the past games. The visuals are just as gorgeous as ever, especially on the current generation of hardware. You know how you've always wished that the CG sequences from a game was what you were actually playing? That's Trap Team, essentially. The great visuals extend down to the toys themselves too, looking more detailed than ever. So yeah, Skylanders Trap Team. If you're a fan of the series, you already know you'll be picking this one up. I did want to make some special mentions of other playable characters before you leave. There's Chopper, a new core hero who's a little tiny T-rex with a helicopter rotor on its back. It can fly in the air and shoots swarms of missiles like it was straight out of Robotech. Then there's a duo team of villain trolls who control a walking chainsaw tank. Just let that visual sink into your head. Also SPOILERS Chaos himself is playable.
Skylanders Trap Team photo
Skylanders Trap Team has you capturing and reforming villains to your team
The developers at Toys For Bob are back in the saddle with Skylanders Trap Team, the next entry in their hit toys-meet-videogame franchise. This time the hook involves you capturing villains and enslaving brainwashing reform...

Puyopuyo Tetris is exactly as it sounds, and I dig it

Sep 18 // Dale North
As any Tetris player would know, those lines I sent my opponent were also a bit of an opportunity for her. Multi-line clears had too many random blocks in my way to set up chains, so I had to rely on my reflexes to send as much trash back. I won and then jumped back in to try it in reverse, with my Tetris skills up against the computer's Puyo.  Aside from this cross-up versus mode, there's also a Swap mode that has games changing for each player in a given time. And while it wasn't available on the show floor, a four-player mode was being demoed via video. Of course, you're free to play Tetris vs Tetris, or Puyopuyo vs Puyopuyo if you'd like.  Puyopuyo Tetris comes to several platforms in 2014. Let's hope Sega brings this mashup to the west.   
Better at one than the other...
Sega is showing off its new puzzle game Puyopuyo Tetris here at their already super busy TGS 2013 booth. As a fan of both games, I gave this cross-up a spin on the 3DS. Puyopuyo Tetris is also coming to the Vita and PS3 as we...

Skylanders Swap Force is surprisingly more fun than evil

Jul 29 // Steven Hansen
Skylanders: Swap Force (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 [previewed], Xbox One, Wii U, Wii, 3DS)Developer: Vicarious Visions (PS3, PS4, 360, One, Wii U) / n-Space (3DS)/ Beenox (Wii)Publisher: ActivisionRelease: October 13, 2013 After last year’s Skylanders: Giants, which featured bigger monsters, the toys needed a new gimmick. This time, it’s swapability. Over a dozen of the new characters are Swap Force characters, meaning they can be vivisected at the waist (they’re held fast with magnets) and you can change characters’ top and bottom, mixing and matching as you see fit. It’s basically sanctioned unholy fusion of separate action figures. Kids these days have it so easy. Each Skylanders toy has its set of stats tied to it and each Swap Force character halve lays claim to independent statistics, which means you’re not tied to the entire character if, say, you wanted to keep a quick and speedy base but wanted to easily switch between melee and ranged attacks. Or something, I guess. I think it’s more personal preference than anything, because the game isn’t that deep. There is a Nightmare Mode you can gain access to, so maybe being savvy with character abilities and strategies might be a thing worth considering down the line, but everything I got the swappurtunity to go hands-on with was fairly straight forward mashing on monsters, which gets back to my original point: it’s solid mashing on monsters. I get the appeal now. I don’t exactly like the appeal, because there’s something inherently slimy and manipulative about the whole children’s toys market wherein kids are trained to desire all the baubles, but I get it. Had I disposable income and a child, Skylanders would be a no stress way to introduce said stupid human child to videogames in a lax environment. The child would get colorful visual stimuli mildly reminiscent of Ratchet and Clank, silly toys that children are apt to collect and enjoy, and pretty chill monster mashing combat. It’s not to say I wouldn’t get anything from it, either. Skylanders, at least of the Swap Force ilk. are generally named with lovely puns (and permutations thereof when they get swapped) that I enjoy terribly. Invader Zim’s voice actor also voices the main villain, and the writing in general pulled a few chuckles out of me. You can also see some semblance of heart and fun in Swap Force. Jumping has finally been added to the game and while it’s not a core tenet, it’s fun, as we learned so many years ago playing all those platformers. Plus, the jump animations are all kind of great. There’s a snake Swap Force character, Rattle Shake, who is basically Crocodile Dundee with Antnio Banderas’ voice, which is hilarious in and of itself. His jump features a springy sound effect as his tail coils up and propels him upward. I enjoyed it, anyway. The robot legs also bring a cool backflip jump into play. All existing Skylanders characters have been retrofitted with new jumping animations as well. Also, the Crocodile Dundee snake character? His gun is a smaller snake. I hate copping out and suggesting Sklyanders: Swap Force for kids. First, because I don’t know a modicum about child rearing. I’d probably throw s book at them and make them entertain themselves. Or take them to the park to play sports in the hopes of vicariously living through their organized athletic success after my own failures and blown out knees. Yeah, what of it? Don’t tell me how to raise my own gosh darn hypothetical children. The other reason is that I don’t see why those ungrateful little twerps can’t just play Super Mario World like I did; why they have to have something pared down and spoon fed to them. My SNES is literally sitting in my entertainment center right now. Still, if you can abide by the bollocks that comes along with children’s toys (and potential physical pay walls locking you out of side content that you need certain characters or character types for), I can see how Skylanders: Swap Force might be appealing. I’m still leery of the whole charade for more ideological reasons, but it’s a solidly fun escapade with some character to it. And Invader Zim. And a Crocodile Dundee rattle snake with a snake gun.
Skylanders Swap Force photo
Snakes shooting snake guns
Activision’s Skylanders franchise has always smelled of a money grab to me. Copperish, like the smell of old pennies scrounged up by hard-working parents so little Linda Anne can have all the newest and coolest Skylande...

The Lone Ranger rides into Disney Infinity

Jun 10 // Tony Ponce
Disney Infinity (3DS, PC, PlayStation 3, Wii , Wii U, Xbox 360)Developer: Avalanche SoftwarePublisher: Disney InteractiveRelease: August 2013 As mentioned before, half of Disney Infinity involves visiting various Disney movie worlds and going on whole new adventures in those worlds. You plant a special environment token and a character figurine atop a very Skylanders-esque pedestal and get whisked away. Unfortunately, you are limited to using only the characters native to that world in order to preserve the appropriate atmosphere. The mixing and matching is thus reserved for the Toy Box, a free-form mode that is essentially a fusion of LittleBigPlanet, Minecraft, and the mighty Disney money machine. But before we jump into that, let's talk the Lone Ranger playset. [embed]255796:49024:0[/embed] The Lone Ranger and his Indian partner Tonto must drive off the outlaw Butch Cavendish and his men from the small town of Colby, Texas. Encircling the town is a train, unable to break out of its loop until the bridge leading to another area is repaired. To repair it, you must earn coins, and to earn coins, you must take on missions. Swapping the two heroes at your leisure, you battle Cavendish's posse with your pistol / tomahawks. By tapping the left trigger and the maneuvering the right control stick, you can even play out your firefights like a third-person shooter. As you defeat foes and collect loot, you also accept missions from townsfolk noted by big glowing question marks above their heads. Sometimes you'll be asked to do something as simple as hit a target with your weapon. Other times you'll have to run errands, such as acquiring TNT or retrieving a woman's husband who has gone missing near the mines. These missions may link to one another, and you could find yourself on a side quest chain reminiscent of Zelda games. Throughout your campaign, you are constantly reminded that this is a fun toy world and you have access to god-like creation tools at a moment's notice. Should you cause collateral damage to the town, a simple press of the button will restore the buildings to their former glory. If you want to build that bridge, you can open an item menu and purchase the bridge or other goods, all which will instantly generate in the field like magic. Finally, you'll find plastic vending machine capsules floating about, their contents which include in-world tools or more goodies for the Toy Box. The Monsters University world is a little different in that you are engaged in a prank war with the neighboring school, Fear Tech. You can approach certain structures on the campus, press a button, and pull up a menu that allows you to swap the structure with stuff like spring-loaded easy chairs or boxing glove-sprouting phone booths, linking them together to form one big Rube Goldberg prank machine. The demo station running the Monsters University world was doing so on the Wii U, so I had a chance to check out the GamePad features. Aside from some hotkey shortcuts, the parts selection menu that would normally appear on the bottom of the screen appears instead on the GamePad. There really isn't any benefit to this feature, and I found it rather pointless. The other half -- and Disney Infinity's main claim to fame -- is the robust Toy Box mode. The world is a blank canvas upon which you can drop Tron vehicles, generate environments from Wreck-It Ralph, and more by placing hexagons into the pedestal. You can actually stack multiple hexagons atop each other for chained effects. For instance, by placing two additional hexagons underneath Jack Sparrow, he's granted power-up buffs or bonuses. You are free to write your own logic rules in Toy Box, so you can create something like a one-on-one fighter, a racing game, or a soccer match. And with all the pieces you earned from the main mode, along with pieces and characters generated from the pedestal, there really isn't any limit to what you want to do. This needn't be a solitary experience -- two players can use a single pedestal and interact via split screen, or you can take the adventure online with three other players. Furthermore, the games, environments, and structures you create can be uploaded to the net, where they will be curated and offered to other players the world over for download. There is seemingly no end to what can be accomplished in Disney Infinity, and it is for that very reason that I am wary. Unlike Skylanders, which is a basic hack-and-slash dungeon crawler albeit with colorful figurines you can buy, Disney Infinity seemingly defies any simple explanation. I can see there being a very big challenge in conveying the nature of the game to kids -- hell, even I'm a bit confused as to what Disney and developer Avalanche Software are trying to accomplish. The new trailer further up the page runs down a list of scenarios and game types possible within the Toy Box. I see it as a checklist of features that Disney wanted in the game, no matter how poorly they wind up being implemented. As it stands, a lot of the features -- right down to the clunky platforming controls -- feel incomplete. How much of the game can Avalanche improve before its target release in August? Others are really excited by Disney Infinity's potential, but I personally haven't been pleased thus far. Maybe I just need more hands-on time before the concept clicks. That's what E3 is for, after all.
Disney Infinity preview photo
Tonto, jump on it
Prior to the E3 festivities, Disney demonstrated the upcoming cash grab Disney Infinity to a room teeming with journalists. The focus of the event was on two of the in-game worlds plus the oft-touted Toy Box mode. The first w...

Producer Ryozo Tsujimoto talks Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate

Feb 15 // Alessandro Fillari
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (3DS, Wii U [previewed])Developer: CapcomPublisher: CapcomRelease Date: March 19, 2013 Before we press on, it should be worthwhile to explain the history of this particular title. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is an expanded version of its predecessor, Monster Hunter Tri, that was released on the Wii in 2009 (2010 in the west). After the positive reception from fans, Capcom eventually released an expanded version titled Monster Hunter Tri G for the Nintendo 3DS in Japan towards the end of 2011. As you can tell by now, western fans are usually the last to get their Monster Hunter fix.  As far as content goes, Capcom hasn’t passed up the opportunity to keep things interesting. Ultimate brings a whopping 70% increase in content (yes, seventy) compared to the original Monster Hunter Tri release. New armor types, weapons, quests, monsters, and an expanded A.I. partner system have been added -- and Capcom also has plans to add in more content via regular updates. Moreover, both versions of the game features a greater detail of control optimization than the series has ever seen. Not only will this give returning players great incentive to take another dive, but also will allow newcomers to dive into the definitive and most complete version of the game.After spending some time checking out the Wii U build, I sat down with Ryozo Tsujimoto, where we talked about where the franchise is at now. Serving as a producer for the series since the release of Monster Hunter Freedom (known as Monster Hunter Portable, in Japan), he’s seen first hand the evolution of the series and how much the fan base has grown over the years. “At its core, Monster Hunter’s enjoyment comes from playing with other players,” Ryozo-san mentioned while bringing up the fan base of the east. “In Japan, because it’s a small country, people live in very compact cities and there are a lot of opportunities for players to meet and partner together for local play. It created this snowball effect that led to where it is today.” During his reflection on the series, Ryozo-san expressed desires to see Ultimate as a way to elevate the fan base for Monster Hunter in the western market. A way for them to retain the local co-op element that fans have responded to so well is allowing for the Wii U to work online for matchmaking, including a voice-chat system, but also allowing them to connect via local Wi-Fi with the 3DS versions.Consistency is an important element of the Monster Hunter experience, which explains the reason why both the 3DS and Wii U versions are identical content wise. With Nintendo’s readiness for connectivity between the devices, this will allow players to transfer character data from the Wii U to 3DS and vice-versa, so you can pick up where you left off from the comfort of your couch or while on the go. “The gameplay could be transferred over very easily, since both versions share the same attributes and special features,” said Ryozo-san proudly. “This inspired us to develop the data transfer feature, and we worked very hard to offer a seamless experience.”Ryozo-san spoke further about what the Wii U release offers the series. “The Wii U had a lot of interesting possibilities to become compatible with the 3DS because they both utilize two screens and touch capacity. Ultimate utilizes both the dual screen and touch gameplay in interesting ways." For both the Wii U pad and lower 3DS screen, players can utilize these special features to have greater control and flexibility. On the touch screens for both 3DS and Wii U, you can place hot keys and icons; ranging from items, maps, A.I. partner options, and many other features to help keep you on your toes while in the field. One feature they’re proud of is the addition of the camera lock-on feature, which has been long requested by western fans in particular.While the Japanese market have had their hands on both versions of the game for quite some time now, Capcom’s simultaneous release of Ultimate for the west will finally allow fans to experience the most content rich and engrossing game of the series. “We have a lot of core fans out there who have been really good to us, and we believe this title will also bring in new players who are interested in the series,” Ryozo-san told me. Capcom has a lot faith in this title, and in the fans. And after playing it for myself, it’s no wonder why this series is so endearing.
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate photo
Slaying monsters in all sizes
Saying that Capcom’s Monster Hunter series has a passionate and loyal following would be a massive understatement. For nearly 10 years, Monster Hunter has captivated gamers and inspired many imitators. After months of k...

Next Skylanders lets you swap parts to form new toys

Feb 05 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Skylanders: Swap Force (3DS, PC, PlayStation 3, Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360 [previewed])Developer: Vicarious Visions / nSpace (3DS)Publisher: ActivisionRelease: Fall 2013 It looks like a Pixar movie Activision showed off a very early look at Swap Force to us and even though there's still a ton to work to be done, it's easily one of best-looking games I've seen this generation. The visuals will seriously make you think you're watching an animated CG movie, but it's not just the graphics that give this feel. Vicarious is infusing a ton of animation and life to the characters, capturing the spirit of what makes a Pixar film -- and even some of the better Mario games, like Super Mario Galaxy -- so charming and engrossing. Ridiculously high praises, but completely justified. I can't stress enough how this new tone makes it really feel like a cartoon show. Characters you'll meet in the world are fully animated and voiced now with the bigger focus on storytelling, adding to the kids-show aesthetics. Nothing is pre-rendered either, and cinematics such as the one featuring Flynn (voiced by Patrick Warburton) that I saw were all comprised of in-game assets. The all new swappable toys As I said, there are 32 new Skylanders. 16 of them are your basic heroes, and the other 16 feature swappable body parts. This essential gives you the ability to make 256 unique combinations of different heroes. The two halves are connected by two small magnets that keep them pretty securely connected. In fact, I thought I was about to break the toy I was handed when I first tried to pull it apart. Combining different toys will serve multiple in-game purposes. One of the new Swap Force heroes I was introduced to was Wash Buckler, a water-element character that's a pirate squid. At one point in the demo, Wash Buckler had to go up against a mini-boss named Gear Gollum and Wash wasn't the best suited for this battle due to his slow speed. So the toy was taken off the Portal of Power, and his bottom half was removed to be swapped with the bottom half of Magna Charge, a fire- and robot-based new toy that gets around by a singular electro-magnetic based wheel. The two toys now formed Wash Charge, and the combo of Wash Buckler's attacks with Magna Charge's speed was able to make short work of Gear Gollum. Now imagine doing that with 256 characters. Not only that, but imagine the developers having to plan, animate, and name all of these different combinations, on top of everything else going on. It's quite the feat, that's for sure. Other new characters I saw included Countdown, a walking bomb that can throw his exploding head around and shoot rockets from his hands. Blast Zone is a knight made of fire that can breath fire and throw bombs, plus can move around with rocket boots. My favorite was Roller Brawl, a roller derby undead character who has giant claws on her hands, headbutts enemies, and moves around on roller skates with buzz saws in place of normal skate wheels. You should also know that each half of the toys have a memory chip, so they'll be able to level up on their own as you move them around to different halves. As for the level cap, Vicarious wasn't sure yet if they'll be raising it. Elemental zones are back, with the addition of two new zone types. The first are the dual element gates, so either a Swapple featuring the two required elements or just two people playing co-op with the right elements, will be required to enter them. More of the same there, but the new Swap Force Zones (tentative name) present totally new experiences. These traversal zones require a certain body type, and the one I saw needed a character with a rocket to enter it. From here, the player was actually free flying around an environment, hitting a bunch of rings in order to complete the challenge. You can expect various new gameplay elements, such as areas where you have to climb on walls, compete in races, and dig to find hidden underground caverns. What's old is new again As with Giants before, all the toys from the first two games will work in Swap Force, and yeah, all your upgrades and extras will be intact. Plus, they'll all feature new animations to match up with the new engine. All 100-plus characters now also have to ability to jump now too, a big fan demand that will add some new gameplay elements. Expect local drop in/out co-op, and versus mode to return as well. So this begs the question, is Activision pulling a Call of Duty by having two studios switching off with yearly installments? It's too soon to tell for sure, but I was told by the Activision reps on hand that Toys For Bob's Paul Reiche and I-Wei Huang, the two men that have the final say for the toys in their version of games, have been part of the toy design for Vicarious' version, imparting feedback to ensure the Skylanders feel is present. You can expect Swap Force sometime this fall, and while it's too soon to know what the final prices will be, we do know that the starter pack will consist of two Swap Force characters, one Series 3 Stealth Elf in a new pose and outfit, new Portal of Power, and the game. Needless to say, I was quite impressed by the fresh visual design and really dug the new toys. I love the idea of being able to merge different pieces together, and if anything, this is a great counter to Disney's Infinity project.
Next Skylanders  photo
Skylanders: Swap Force
The next Skylanders is the last thing fans were probably expecting as there's three major changes going on with Swap Force, the new entry in the series. For starters, it's not developer Toys for Bob making this one. Vicarious...

Preview: Unload your new toy chest with Disney Infinity

Jan 16 // Allistair Pinsof
Disney Infinity (3DS, PC, PlayStation 3, Mobile, Wii , Wii U, Xbox 360)Developer: Avalanche SoftwarePublisher: Disney InteractiveRelease: June 2013 Here's a general rule I have when previewing a game, one that investors (only the ones who play games) would be wise to adopt: If I have to use more than three games as a basis of comparison to describe an upcoming title, then it's something special but not necessarily something good. A game that does everything yet pleases no one is an ambitious mess. With only a limited demo and no hands-on time, I can't accurately state where Infinity falls between these two extremes -- one being a fun creative stroke of innovation and the other an incomprehensible turd -- but that the explanation doesn't begin and end with "Skylanders rip-off" is an achievement in and of itself. (For the short version of what makes Infinity special, jump to **** below.) [embed]242485:46370[/embed] I'm glad I'm not doing PR for this game It's awesome that long-standing Disney developer Avalanche Software isn't settling for a Skylanders clone. It's also awesome that it's not my job to sell this game and ensure its success. A 45-minute presentation for a family title should be overkill, but it felt as if Disney only scraped the surface during Infinity’s reveal at Los Angeles's El Capitan Theater, leaving many questions unanswered and seemingly deep aspects only teased. Though the game can only be played co-op with players on your friends list, there are some MMO roots to Infinity's design: The game is composed of isolated, property-specific worlds. Emphasis is placed on unlocking gear and attire. You acquire new stuff through real-world purchases (though it doesn't follow the traditional pay-for-currency model of MMOs) Participation ranges from hand-to-hand combat to exploring a large area by boat. Perhaps MMO is the wrong genre to compare it to, but there certainly isn't a right one. Hack 'n slash action in the world of Pirates of the Caribbean, creeping across campus in a Monster University stealth mission, platforming across a series of death traps a friend uploaded, trying to break the game's physics with three friends in Toy Box mode -- you can't explain Infinity's design any easier than you can explain how children play with their toys. It begins with emptying out every single thing onto the bedroom floor, G.I. Joes prodding out from beneath the sprawl of Ninja Turtles and Smurfs figurines, hoping something fun will follow. Where to begin No two players may have the same takeaway from Infinity, but all players will experience the same beginning. The intro opens with Jack Sparrow -- re-stylized in the pastel colors, saucer eyes, and vaguely Korean character design look that graces all Disney characters in Infinity -- rowing a boat through a pirate town under cannonball fire. After accepting a mission quest to rescue Gibbs, Infinity throws a series of tried-and-true mechanics at you: ground pound for an area-of-effect attack, cling and jump along ledges, fire a pistol at a locked gate, and always, always, always follow the big persistent purple arrow. To be fair, the game has a tasteful HUD that hides elements and contextualizes them in the world, such as a Blur-like health bar that temporarily appears around the player. Upon rescuing Gibbs, you are offered other islands and worlds to explore. Completion rewards the player with a ship for purchase in the toy kiosk at the center of town, a constant landmark across the game's worlds. With the coins acquired from defeating enemies and hitting the crap out of barrels, one mighty pirate ship can be purchased and boarded. From there, you can jump into a different section of the game (Pirates, The Incredibles, and Monsters University were shown off), play around in Toy Box, or customize your seaworthy vessel with items you acquired from red capsules hidden throughout. A new sail here, a fresh coat of paint there, and you're ready to island hop or have a naval battle. If a friend happens to join you, they can help man the cannons or go on their own adventure elsewhere in the world (without breaking the split-screen play). The Disney chokehold This is the company that had the government rewrite copyright law so it can hold onto its empire until the Earth enters the next ice age. While I can't say I ever met an unhappy Disney employee, the company itself has a habit of biting its own tail, and this is perfectly on display in Infinity. Avalanche Studios seems to be wholly content and grateful to be tied to such an ambitious project after many years of making games timed to movie releases. For an outsider, it wasn't hard to tell that Avalanche isn't being given the keys to the kingdom. I also get the sense it isn't being given the trust or freedom it needs to make Infinity a home run success, either. Looking beyond the elephant in the room (i.e. "Will Marvel or Lucas characters appear in the game?" Avalanche developers smiling, nodding, and saying, "We'll see."), it's baffling that Infinity's main concept is bringing the many worlds of Pixar and Disney together, yet no mission in the game will allow characters from another property to enter. There is an argument to be made that Monsters Inc. characters entering Pirates in the Caribbean may be out of character and a ham-fisted maturation of the property. That argument can be ended by pointing out that anything and everything is possible with the game's assets in Toy Box (read on below). If Disney was hoping I wouldn't notice the almost complete absence of classic Disney animated characters and expected that platypus from TV series Phineas and Ferb to fit right in with Pirates of the Caribbean and Toy Story, Disney is mistaken. So far, appearances from animated Disney films has been limited to minor aspects in the game world that can be applied in Toy Box. These range from the mundane (the Cave of Wonder's tiger entrance from Aladdin) to the fantastic (can I get a heck yeah for the inclusion of Tron's Recognizers?). Moderating player uploads and limiting players to only connecting with those on their friends list are to be expected. Limiting Avalanche's Toy Box, and in effect the player's, to only recent Disney CG properties -- really, who wants Bolt and Frankenweenie before The Lion King and Mulan? -- makes it appear as if Disney doesn't have a great deal of confidence in Avalanche to handle its top-tier properties, and it makes me wonder why. More importantly, it makes me wonder if the game will feel incomplete upon release, not fully making good on its grand concept of representing a child's play box where CHARACTERS from DIFFERENT PROPERTIES can PLAY TOGETHER. Right? Perhaps the rest is yet to come in a conveniently timed to E3 reveal. Let's hope. Once more into the toy chest I don't have kids, I don't adopt kids, I don't kidnap kids, and I don't have any young relatives or siblings. I am part of a demographic that isn't Disney's bread and butter. The same can be said of most game journalists, which is probably why Disney offered beer by the crate and dessert at 10am during the event. Such indulgent treats weren't necessary when Avalanche has an ace up its sleeve with Toy Box.****Hey, you found your way down here. Good to see you again!****Whether the included linear missions and secluded worlds are the origin or late additions of Infinity, it is Toy Box that realizes the game's namesake. Inspired by Avalanche's previous work on Toy Story 3, Infinity's revamped Toy Box mode is a hodgepodge of popular commercial level building sets. It's "Disney Forge" mode. It's "LittleDisneyPlanet." It's "Disneycraft." It's all those things and whatever else players will make it to be. At its simplest, Toy Box is a place where three players can join online and goof around, settle “What if?” scenarios between Mr. Incredible and Buzz Lightyear, build impossible obstacle courses, or construct a world that can be called home out of parts from 20+ Disney franchises. At its most complex, Toy Box can become a toolset that allows players to create puzzles via a logic editor that connects triggers to the environment, reposition the camera to make a traditional 2D side-scrolling platformer, or recreate Bowser's Castle from Mario Kart for others to race on. Toy Box is the one place where all of Infinity's items, art assets, and heroes come together to form a virtual space for kids to break, explore, build, and share. Combine all this with plans to run community contests, like one centered around building the craziest castle, and introductory templates and blueprints to ease players in, and Infinity has a real chance of presenting lessons learned from Halo’s Forge mode, Minecraft, and LittleBigPlanet to a younger and possibly wider audience. And all of this for the price of ... SCUMBAG GAME JOURNALIST turns to developer, who is explaining how to spend coins to purchase in-game items, and says with a smirk, "So, you can also buy those coins with real world money, right?" "No." That would be too obvious for Disney, which has a far more insidious plan. If Disney's plan comes together, it could create a perfect storm that will make the Elmopocalypse of 1997, Furbygeddon of 1998, and Skylanders drought of 2011 look like small footnotes in hungry-consumers-turned-stampeding-angry-parents history. Here's how you do it: You take Skylander's base reader and well-crafted figurine collectibles, then you add a third slot to the reader (the second slot is for a second player) which unlocks items, custom packs, buffs, and abilities, and finally -- this one is the real kicker -- you offer those franchise-specific tokens through blind purchase packs that leave kids frustrated over getting Frankenweenie for the fifth time and parents without any money to spend on Grandma come Christmas time. Like I said, it's insidious but not without a dash of genius on top. Whether you think it's better or worse than a pay-to-play structure, this aspect of collectible tokens and figurines brings the whole toy box concept full circle. Kids at playgrounds will make sacred trades, covet the impossibly rare Howard the Duck costume pack (not real), and become increasingly giddy each time they spill out the contents of their virtual toy chest onto their private play space -- one that may contain the iconic Disney castle in the background and Wreck-It Ralph's Sugar Rush track in the foreground. But it's also a space where memories can be made, not unlike the ones I made on a living room floor, once upon a time. Just don't expect to see Ariel make out with a facehugger.
Disney Infinity preview photo
Create, collect, go into debt
There's not a lot I remember about the rampant imagination of childhood, but most of the good memories came from the depths of my toy chest. Pitting Aliens against Transformers. Imagining Cloud Strife's sword slicing throu...

gamescom: Swarm is my favorite new Skylanders

Aug 19 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
Another new character on display was Chill, who has a combination of defensive and offensive attacks. For instance, she can summon ice walls into the environment to protect against attacks. She can also push the ice walls at enemies to inflict some damage. Her other attacks include projectiles that have a wide range of impact, and a summon to bring in a flying Narwal to attack foes. Lastly there's Shroomboom, who has the most messed up backstory ever. Basically, he was born to be a pizza topping in the garden belonging to the main bad guy of Skylanders, Kaos. He escaped, and now uses a variety of projectile attacks to fight with the Skylanders heroes. Skylanders Giants still felt as good as when I saw it at E3 not too long ago. It's a pretty straightforward sequel, adding a ton for players while keeping the core experience largely the same. You can expect Skylanders Giants out this Fall for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, 3DS, and Wii.

Developer Toys for Bob showed off a few new characters for Skylanders Giants during gamescom this week. Amongst them was Swarm, a bee-like monster that's also one of the new oversized Giant characters. Look, bees and hornets ...

gamescom: LEGO LotR has a nice Skyrim vibe going

Aug 17 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
The hub world is in the Hobbit village, set during Bilbo's birthday party. From here you'll go down any number of paths to other areas from the movies, and even find new things taken from the books that didn't make it into the films. And you're not going through some magical door like in the LEGO Star Wars games. You're actually going down through pathways and exploring the world to get to where you need to go.  [embed]233298:44772[/embed]Each area has a distinct mood, from the pure happiness of the Hobbit village, to the rain of fire in Sauron's land. You'll be able to find a ton of puzzles, sidequests, items, and more simply by exploring the world. What really struck me about LEGO LotR was just how much detail each set piece has. Sure, there are LEGO items scattered all over, but the overall design just had a nice realistic feel at the same time. The team has put in 1.6 billion polygons just into the landscape alone, and it really shows. There will also be a quick travel option to get to other locations, which is great considering the scale of everything. After doing some exploration, we were taken to the castle siege scene from The Two Towers. The dialogue from the movies is all in the game, and while the cinematics are inline with the films, there are some goofy bits thrown in for fun. Remember when the archer kills the first orc before the castle gets attacked? In LEGO LotR, one of his friends starts to cry over his death. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli then become playable, and the player has to use each of their special abilities to prevent the invaders from climbing over the castle wall by knocking down their ladders.  It seems like each LEGO title just adds more gameplay features than the last, and LEGO Lord of the Ring shines from all that the team is putting into the game. The game will easily appeal to both Lord of the Rings and LEGO fans alike, plus it's going to be a great way to introduce kids to the LotR universe.  

LEGO Lord of the Rings is doing a number of things to really differentiate itself from prior LEGO titles. The biggest change is that this one provides a more seamless, open world design to the exploration, akin to that of Skyrim. 

SDCC: Taking on Kirby's Dream Collection challenge mode

Jul 13 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
I only played through the first world of the challenge mode where I had to go through three levels. Each level is based on specific powers, the first focusing on the sword ability, the second on the parasol, and the last on the electric ability. The levels are themed so that they make full use of the specific power, like the parasol stage featuring plenty of areas with gusty winds. The objective is to complete the level before the time runs out, all while collecting coins and killing everything you can. You will be awarded a gold, silver, or bronze medal based on how fast you can complete the level and on how many points you can get. Getting hurt will also subtract points from your overall score, so blindly rushing through a stage simply won't cut it. Once all three stages are cleared, regardless of whatever medal you earn, the boss stage will open which will pit you in a race against a character named Magolor. He's a cheating, flying wizard and will summon enemies and obstruct your path throughout the race. You're given a choice of which ability you want to equip before the race begins too, based on the powers you used in the previous levels. It's similar to Gourmet Race from Super Star, but nowhere near as fast paced. Winning the race will unlock the next world, where you'll focus on beating more levels each themed on different abilities. Pretty simple, but that's what makes Kirby so special. They're all simple, enjoyable games for all types of players, but there's some depth there to please people looking for a little challenge too. The visuals and gameplay style of the challenge mode are very similar to Kirby's Return to Dreamland too, for those wondering. Honestly, just the fact that I can play Megaton Punch all over again is enough for me. Everything else is just sweet, sweet dessert.

Kirby's Dream Collection is a bundle of some of the best Kirby games ever for the Wii in celebration of the 20th anniversary. Just the fact it contains Kirby's Super Star is enough for me, and the added bonus of the Kirby soundtrack CD is like icing on the cake. If that's not enough, Nintendo is throwing in a new challenge mode to give something new to longtime fans of the series.


ZombiU's asymmetrical, competitive multiplayer is a nice little package. It will definitely be a dorm room favorite and a good time at parties. The general premise is that one player (in this case, my homeboy Pungi...


Along with Project P-100, one of the biggest surprises at the Nintendo booth at E3 was Game & Wario. I would have definitely been less disappointed with Nintendo's on-site press conference if the...


Asymmetrical gameplay is nothing new to Nintendo. Pac-Man Vs. allowed players to experience the series as the bad guy for the first time, while Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 gave the second player to assist the "main" play...

E3: Hands-on with Rayman Legends

Jun 08 // Chad Concelmo
This game will make you want to buy a Wii U. It is that good. So far it is a Wii-exclusive, and, if it stays that way, this game could really be a system seller. If Pikmin 3 wasn't in the picture, Rayman Legends would easily be the best Wii U game I played at the show. Even me typing this hyperbole feels a little crazy, as the only thing on-display for Rayman Legends was the game's co-op mode. The single-player mode -- and the game definitely has one! -- was not playable. To fall this in love with an "extra" mode is insane. I can't imagine how incredible the single-player campaign will be. When I say "co-op mode," I don't mean it in the regular sense of the word. While you can play up to four-play co-op with four characters on-screen like in Rayman Origins, there is a new co-op mode that involves one player playing with the new Wii U Pro Controller and one playing with the GamePad. Let me break down how this works. As mentioned, one player controls the main character on-screen with the Wii U Pro Controller (you can read my impressions on that fantastic controller right here). The other player holds the GamePad and uses nothing else but the built in touch screen. While the first player is running through the splendid levels, the other player is "assisting" them by interacting with the world around them. This could be very basic like the co-op mode in Super Mario Galaxy, but it is not simple at all. There is so much variety to this "assisting" that it is always interesting and fun. In fact, it is so impressive that I gasped on multiple occasions because I was so impressed with what the game was letting me and my partner do. At first, the assisting is much easier. The second player can cut grass by swiping the touch screen to uncover shiny lums, tap on something in the background to open a secret area, or grab enemies and hold onto them to help the player. As the levels progress, things get much deeper (and much more fun!). In one section, the second player has to shoot projectiles at dragons in the background to protect the first player. In another, player two can grab parts of the environment to help player one proceed further. And this is some of the stuff that impressed me the most. In one level, a huge wooden wheel was in front of Rayman. The wheel had a complicated maze-like passage through it that needs to be traversed in order for the first player to proceed. In the passage were deadly, one-touch-and-you're-dead spikes and hooks to grab on to. In order to proceed, player two has to grab hold of the wheel and turn it for player one. To to this, the second player taps the touch screen to lock in the hold and rotates the actual GamePad back and forth. There is no lag and everything is smooth and intuitive. When the wheel is placed in the right direction, the first player can move forward. This dance between both players takes a lot of cooperation, and, when successful, is ridiculously satisfying. There were several puzzles like this, and they were all extraordinary. And then the second part of the demo started. I was already impressed by everything I played, but the second part of the demo involved Rayman running through a fast, auto-scrolling level timed to the music being played and activated by the second player. It's hard to describe unless you see the video (watch it right here!), but, basically, every jump, item grab, and movement the first player makes is timed to the music playing in the background. To help with the beat, the second player can tap on-screen statues. It is unbelievably cool and one of the most impressive levels I have ever seen in a 2D platformer. After talking about all this, I didn't even mention how beautiful Rayman Legends looks. I mean, it kind of goes without saying. But it should be mentioned. Rayman Legends is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. One of the best-looking 2D platformers ever. Hell, one of the best-looking games ever. I didn't think it was possible, but Rayman Legends looks ever better than Rayman Origins. And, keep in mind again, that I saw only two small sequences in the game. I can't imagine how amazing everything is going to look when all the various levels are opened up. Ubisoft and Nintendo were smart to show off the co-op version of Rayman Legends on the Wii U. A single-player demo would have been a nice bonus, but we already know what that is going to look like -- we have Rayman Origins to play over and over. With Rayman Legends, Ubisoft has taken things to a whole new level. The game looks incredible, it plays just as well as its predecessor, and the Wii U-specific co-op features are fun and never once feel gimmicky. Rayman Legends is a masterpiece in the making. If the final game is as strong as the demo, this could be some serious Game of the Year stuff.

Rayman Legends is the direct Wii U-exclusive sequel to the beautiful, gorgeous, sublime 2D platformer Rayman Origins that was released last year. The good news if you were a fan of Rayman Origins: Rayman Legends is even more ...

E3: Hands-on with ZombiU

Jun 08 // Chad Concelmo
Let's get to all the good stuff first. Even though zombies are completely overused in videogames, ZombiU surprisingly feels fresh. This is due to a few key things. One, the controls. The Wii U GamePad feels great, and playing a first-person shooter like this with it is totally comfortable. The draw to this game -- and the feature that drew the most applause during the Ubisoft press conference -- is the cool implementation of the GamePad controller. While running around doing normal zombie-killing things, you can use the GamePad for many different things. When opening a box, you can see the contents on your touch screen. Just tap what you want and slide it into your inventory! Get to a door that needs unlocking? You can pick the lock in a super easy (almost too easy) lockpicking minigame on the GamePad! Need to type in a code to open a door? Type it in on the touch screen! This stuff is fun (if a little gimmicky) and helps mix up the action. Another cool addition to the game is permanent death. When you die in ZombiU, you die forever. There are no retries or lives in the game. When you die, you restart as a brand new survivor, with your old character walking around the level as a zombie. It's a really neat addition and makes death feel so much scarier than in most games of the type. Now ... the not so good. First, ZombiU doesn't really look that great. Compared to the Wii, the game looks incredible. The textures are detailed, the lighting is slick, and the environments are appropriately atmospheric. But when you compare the game to other current gen games of the same type, it doesn't hold up. If it was very stylized, this comparison wouldn't be fair. But it's not. It is supposed to look as realistic as possible, and the graphics just don't feel as advanced as they could. The game doesn't look bad by any means, but it's hard not to compare it to similar games on other systems. The comparison is inevitable. Another problem with the game is also one of the ZombiU's greatest strengths: the implementation of the GamePad controller. As mentioned, there are some really cool things about the new control scheme -- lockpicking and item management is particularly neat. But there are some sequences that are just plain weird and a little awkward. Some parts of the game have you hold up the GamePad screen and look "through" the touch screen. Sometimes this is used for aiming with your sniper rifle, which is pretty cool, but most of the times it is used to "scan" the area and find secret thing using a special kind of vision. In concept, it sounds neat, but it doesn't work very well and totally takes you out of the action. (It is also accompanied by a very awkward on-screen animation of your character also looking through the same type of tablet screen. Why does he/she have this device in their backpack?) Adding a few clever elements with the GamePad is great, but add too many and the game collapses under its own cleverness. And, unfortunately, ZombiU falls into this category more often than not. Some of this stuff could be cleaned up before the final version, but, as of now, the game just feels to unsure of its own strengths and weaknesses to excitedly recommend it. Seeing an M-rated game being promoted on the Wii U is very exciting, and bodes well for the future of the system. With ZombiU, though, a little more work needs to be done to stay away from the gimmicks and focus on the core gameplay. I liked ZombiU, but didn't. I was impressed by some of the new features, but confused by them as well. I had fun with the game, but also was frustrated. So, in short: Huh.

Huh. That was my first reaction after playing ZombiU for the Wii U at Nintendo's booth during E3. Huh. Now, "huh" usually has a negative connotation, but that is not necessarily the case with this particular game. The "huh" i...

E3: Hands-on with Project P-100

Jun 08 // Chad Concelmo
While not nearly as violent as MadWorld or polished as Viewtiful Joe, Project P-100 still has that weird, fascinating vibe that only Platinum Games knows how to create. It almost feels like a hybrid between Pikmin, Little King's Story, and old arcade classic Smash TV. In the game, you play as a group of washed-up superheroes -- superheroes that, alone, don't amount to much at all, but, together, can almost do anything! Project P-100 is entirely controlled with the new Wii U GamePad. The group is moved around the screen with the left analog stick, and all attacks are done with the face buttons. In addition to these normal attacks, special moves can be performed with the GamePad's touch screen or right analog stick. On the touch screen, images of different things are displayed. In the demo, there were three special moves: a sword, a fist, and a gun. By "drawing" a specific shape on the touch screen (like Okami!), the superheroes combine and form whatever power you are summoning. The sword is a great, powerful melee weapon, while the gun is good for long-range attacks. The fist can be used to turn cranks and solve puzzles. Like Pikmin and Little King's Story, all of the heroes move around in a giant group. At certain points, and after defeating certain enemies, citizens can be rescued to join the group and make it bigger. The bigger the group, the more powerful the attacks. It's a simple concept that is made more interesting in a few ways: First and foremost are the somewhat odd controls. Moving around and attacking is easy enough (and really fun!), but accessing the touch screen is really tough to do while holding the GamePad. It just doesn't feel natural. If there was no time limit on drawing your shapes, this would not be as much of a problem. But you have to activate these special powers during some pretty intense battles. It was a stressful process and needlessly difficult. The powers throughout the game can also be "drawn" with the right analog stick, but that is almost trickier, since the accuracy is tough when not using the touch screen. The graphics in the game are colorful and polished, if a little simple. And, at times, some things even looked low-res, which was very strange. All in all, though, Project P-100 looks pretty good and uses a refreshing, bright color palette when compared to many other recent games. My favorite part of the demo was a section when your superhero group enters a warehouse. After entering by turning a crank with the fist power to open a door, the leader of the superhero group runs inside the building. Since the game is played in an isometric, top-down view, the insides of buildings are not shown (the roof blocks the view!). Because of this, the action moves to the Wii U GamePad's screen. Once inside a building, the leader of the group runs around in a third-person perspective as the player navigates him through some simple, yet fun puzzles. The graphics on the GamePad touch screen are really great and it was fun and surprising to switch play to the GamePad and then back to the T.V. screen once exiting the warehouse. It was a great sequence and made me think about all the cool possibilities that could happen with the GamePad in the future. Overall, I liked Project P-100, but didn't love it. I liked the interesting style and gameplay, but did not like the awkward, tricky controls. This could be remedied once the final game is released and players are not just thrown into the middle of the confusing action like the demo, but, as of now, I am hesitant if Project P-100 will be a must-buy when the Wii U is released later this year. If anything, Platinum Games did a good job of surprising with such a different game.

Project P-100 (working title) from Platinum Games (creators of Viewtiful Joe and MadWorld) was one of the strangest Wii U games I played on the show floor at E3. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. In a way, it reminded ...

E3: Body slamming men in tights from space in Injustice

Jun 08 // Allistair Pinsof
Injustice takes what worked so well in Mortal Kombat and adds in environmental damage and character-specific items. Sure, we've seen characters thrown through walls into new arenas in Dead or Alive. We've also seen crazy, character-specific gimmicks in BlazBlue. The combination of all these elements filtered through NetherRealm's level of polish and playability is what makes Injustice stand out. The first thing you'll notice is that it looks a lot like Mortal Kombat and it plays like it, too. This isn't a bad thing at all, but before you think this is another middling DC superhero game like Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, there are some things you should know. For starters, the game looks better with improved lighting and texture work; the costumes have a lot of detail and depth, looking convincingly lived-in and real. It probably would be enough to just be pretty, but Injustice is hoping to find a new audience of fighting game fans, not just please the old one. NetherRealm is attempting this in a couple ways. I've never seen a fighting game with as much spectacle and environmental interaction as Injustice. It's closer to Power Stone than Dead or Alive in this respect. Depending on the area of a stage -- which there are typically two to three of -- there are contextual environmental attacks you can attempt. Even crazier, the type of character you have will also alter the possibilities. For instance, Batman can take an opponent's head and bash it into a car nearby. However, Superman can then pick-up the car and toss it across the screen. There are a lot of these sorts of contextual attacks, which change the flow of combat. Some of them open up over time, like grenades that fall out of Batman's weapon arsenal once enough damage is done within its vicinity. Almost all of these attacks are accessible to all players, so the playing field is evened out. In other words, you won't be picking up a bazooka and spamming it, a la Super Smash Bros. Unlike MKvDCU, Injustice is a pretty gnarly game with some vicious attacks. When Solomon Grundy isn't pulling knives from his back, he's ripping out a tombstone from his guts and beating people with it. Then there are the absolutely insane super moves -- taking the place of Mortal Kombat's X-ray attacks -- that go above and beyond anything I've seen in a 3D fighter before. As Flash, the camera pans out to show the speedy hero run across the globe and then it zooms back in to show him use that momentum through a deadly uppercut. Likewise, Superman lifts his opponent into space and then pile drives him to the ground. Injustice has simplified Mortal Kombat's already accessible combat. Now there are only three attack buttons and a fourth button for character-specific weapons. Harley Quinn has a gift box with a randomized surprise inside, while Batman has batarangs and grappling hooks he can use to stun an enemy. For being such an early demo, Injustice felt great and had the same polish that made last year's Mortal Kombat reboot such a pleasure to play. Kicking an enemy through an office complex and into the next arena looks incredibly elaborate, but all these environmental moves are simple to pull off. It's just a matter of timing and placement, like everything else in a good fighting game. Balance is key to the genre and there is a good reason why most developers have shied away from this type of complicated contextual fighting environment. I figured all this stuff would be optional, only there for casual players who want a more heightened, cinematic fight. NetherRealm insists, however, that all of this is integral to the game and will likely not be optional. Instead, they plan to balance it all and make it work. If they achieve this, Injustice could usher in a new era of fighting games that appeal to mainstream action junkies while still capturing the interest of fighting game fans that have followed Ed Boon's work over the years.

I never thought I'd want to play a DC superhero fighting game, but then again, I never thought I'd want to play another Mortal Kombat after the series' decline in the '00s. Once again, NetherRealm is changing my mind. Injusti...

E3: Madden NFL 13 feels better because of physics

Jun 07 // Steven Hansen
Madden NFL 13 (Xbox 360 [previewed], PlayStation 3, Wii, Vita)Developer: EA TiburonPublisher: EA SportsRelease: August 28, 2012The first thing that struck me when I settled down to play was the new broadcast HUD. It’s pretty much all about the blue and looks like you’re watching a CBS broadcast. Accordingly, CBS Sports’ Jim Nantz and Phil Simms are calling the action now, entering into the rotating doors of Madden announcers that has spun around since Madden himself was removed from the game. Personally, I hate watching football on CBS and think their blue HUD is rather unsightly, so I wasn’t crazy about the aesthetic shift. On top of that, I don’t particularly like Phil Simms or Jim Nantz as a broadcast team, and certainly don’t need to see cuts to their respective visages in the booth during game. This might satiate the crowd looking for a more true-to-life viewing experience, but I have a feeling even those people will end up mashing buttons to skip over the presentation additions soon enough. Thankfully, the actual gameplay felt noticeably different from Madden 12. I elected to skip buying last year’s iteration and instead settled for playing competitively only when visiting friends, because I was letdown with it after promises that canned animations were a thing of the past -- they weren’t -- but now they seem to be, thanks to the newly implemented Infinity Engine. Yes, there’s finally a physics engine. While the franchise has been touting its tackle masses for a while, I finally felt like players converged on tackles and made a realistic clump of bodies haphazardly struggling against each other. The claim that’s being made is that no two plays look the same, and I did see a lot of unique reactions reflective of how hits were made and who was delivering them. Players glanced off near misses, and a few times both I and my opponent let out little gasps of excitement when a player was close to retaining his balance after taking a hit and breaking a large gain. At one point, I barely took down the opposing running back as my last tackler barely dragged him down to one knee from behind. In past Madden games, usually when someone was tackled, they went down, but this was a great display of how the new physics system works and how the running back tried his best to stay up. There’s a palpable sense of momentum, and running in the open field feels more exciting than ever. The physics engine also seems to have had direct improvement with blocking, something that always seems to be a problem in Madden. In short, players, including wideouts, were actually blocking for me competently. Not once in the game did I have an issue with my teammates not blocking well (or not blocking at all), and the majority of my plays were runs. Similarly, rushing the passer feels better. As opposed to either getting through instantaneously or getting stood up and feeling like you’ll never have a chance to get to the quarterback in time, I felt a lot more give and take. One other little decision I loved was bringing the kicking game back to the right stick. Kicking is a big enough part of the game for the decision to move to a “press X” meter to have bothered me. Analog kicking is a bit more engaging and just makes more sense. No idea why they went away from it, but it’s back. EA Tiburon is also addressing the complaints about franchise with a new system called Connected Careers, which melds online and offline franchise modes, as well as Superstar mode. You can switch between the coaching mode, which is akin to the past franchise mode in which you have full control over everything, and Superstar. Though unrealistic, you are also now afforded playcalling duties in Superstar even if you're not in a leadership position (quarterback on offense, middle linebacker on defense). Your performance in either mode nets you XP. There are benchmarks your players need to reach for certain XP gains, at which point you can allocate the XP to make the players better. You can also set the computer to automatically spend XP at set intervals if you don't want to deal with allocating points and would rather just play football games. You can even get XP from practicing situational football, such as two-minute drills, finally making the mode feel like less of a waste of time. As a whole, players feel a bit more grounded, and it’s a positive change. The implementation of a physics engine is a move the series desperately needed, especially if it’s trying to keep up with EA’s own other sports titles, while the revamped game modes bring some interesting things to the table. I’m going to want to see more before I consider picking it up this year, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

Another year, another Madden. We’ve probably reached a point in time where there are Madden fans who have forgotten than John Madden’s goofy mug used to adorn the games. As a big, stupid football fan, I’m al...

E3: Hands-on with Nintendo Land: DK's Crash Course

Jun 07 // Chad Concelmo
The concept of the single-player Donkey Kong's Crash Course is simple: You just have to guide a rolling, triangle-shaped vehicle through a crazy, complicated obstacle course without crashing it or flipping it over. It sounds simple, right? It's not. Crash Course is super-challenging, and, my God, so much fun. The only "simple" thing about it is the controls. All players have to do is tilt the Wii U GamePad back and forth to roll the vehicle left and right. Occasionally, the ZL and ZR triggers are used to activate levers and cranks, but, outside of all this, the controls are very easy to learn. Mastering them is an entirely different story. As you can see in the screenshots, the course in Crash Course is HUGE! And these screens don't even give you the entire picture. The level actually scrolls way up, so it is much larger than the images indicate. Everything starts out easy enough, with some hills to navigate over. Just tilt the GamePad and the vehicle rolls. If the hill is big, just tilt the GamePad even more more and the cart will roll much faster. But you don't want it to roll too fast. If it does, it could easily crash or flip over when you get to the next obstacle. You have to be slow and meticulous. And as the obstacles get more complicated, things get tough! BUT SO MUCH FUN! The whole thing reminded me of a combination of Uniracers and The Incredible Machine -- which is kind of the best combination ever. Some of the obstacles involve navigating giant loops with cranks, riding elevators, and navigating a crazy series of steep hills. To help you out, there are checkpoint markers every once in a while that you spawn from if you die. But with only five lives, getting through the entire course is tough. I played the game multiple times, and never made it. Is is really challenging. To add incentive and competition to the proceedings, your time and distance is recorded on a leaderboard, making getting farther and earning high scores oh-so tempting. I really, really loved Donkey Kong's Crash Course. It was such a breath of fresh air and a genuinely fun and surprisingly deep minigame. I can't wait to play more and finally make it to the end of the course!

This is the last in the series to preview all five of the games within Nintendo Land for the Wii U. (You can check out the other previews here, here, here, and here! Whew!) Let's talk "Donkey Kong's Crash Course!" I am going ...

E3: Hands-on with Nintendo Land: AC: Sweet Day

Jun 07 // Chad Concelmo
Why did this game surprise me? Well, when I saw video of it, Sweet Day looked the least interesting of all the Nintendo Land games. The good news: It's not. It's actually very fun! Although somewhat similar to Luigi's Ghost Mansion, Sweet Day has enough differences to make it feel unique. In the game, four players control the townsfolk with the Wiimotes, while one player controls the evil chefs with the GamePad. And, yes, I said chefs. With an "s." In a cool mechanic, the player with the GamePad actually controls two chefs at the same time. One is controlled with the left analog stick and one is controlled with the right. This can be tricky, but that is part of the challenge. The other four players have to run around the screen and collect pieces of candy. This can be accomplished by two players standing next to each other on a set of buttons. Once done, the candy flies out of a tree and all over the screen. In total, 50 pieces of candy are eventually released into the Animal Crossing-themed arena. To win, all four players have to pick up all 50 pieces between them. When attacked by a chef, all candy is dropped and the player is stunned. If all 50 pieces are collected in the time limit, the players win! What is really neat about the game, is that when you pick up a piece of candy, your character starts to slow down. Pick up a couple dozen and you almost grind to a halt. This makes it almost imperative to split up the candy collection between the four players, as when you start to move really slow, the chefs can easily stab you with their giant knives. Yup, they have giant knives. Although simple in concept, there is a surprising amount of depth to Sweet Day. Something I wasn't expecting at all. This polished, colorful little game is a welcome addition to Nintendo Land and very fun with five players. It was a good time!

Only two more left! This is the fourth in a series to preview all of the games within Nintendo Land for the Wii U. You can check out the other three here, here, and here! I swear, I really had a great time with the Nintendo L...

E3: Hands-on with Nintendo Land: Takamuru's Ninja Castle

Jun 07 // Chad Concelmo
Takamuru's Ninja Castle uses the WIi U GamePad in arguably the most creative way. By holding the GamePad to the side, players slide their fingers forward on the touch screen to shoot throwing stars on the T.V. screen. It is a smooth, intuitive, very effective mechanic and works perfectly! If you barely move your finger forward, the throwing star will just fall to the ground. You really need to slide your finger as fast as possible, as speed totally matters. In this minigame, the player is tasked with battling off an army of ninjas through different levels. Each ninja has different specialties, with some just jumping around, others throwing stars back at you, and some super-powered ones attacking with bombs and giant swords. Every time you hit a ninja, the multiplier starts. By not missing, you can rack up your score to be ranked on the in-game leaderboard. Get hit by too many projectiles, though, and it is game over. This was easily the most basic of all the minigames in Nintendo Land, but it was still really fun. Aiming and throwing the ninja stars was completely easy and felt really solid. Of all the Wii U games I played, this is the one that "casual" gamers are going to get the most excited about. Similar to the excitement of playing the Wii for the first time, there is something to interacting on the screen and actually "throwing" things from the GamePad to the T.V. screen. It is a clever gimmick and fun to do over and over again as the ninjas start to fill the screen. Of all the Nintendo Land games, this one may end up being the most repetitive, but with a little more variety in the levels, Takamuru's Ninja Castle could turn out to be an addictive little distraction. At the very least, I know my mom is going to love it.

This is the third in a series to preview all of the games within Nintendo Land for the Wii U. You can check out The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest here and Luigi's Ghost Mansion right here! Ninjas star in some of my favorite g...

E3: Hands-on with Nintendo Land: Luigi's Ghost Mansion

Jun 07 // Chad Concelmo
Nintendo Land: Luigi's Ghost Mansion primarily takes place on one screen. Four players control their Miis on-screen (with cute Luigi hats!) while the fifth player controls the terrifying ghost. The twist: The ghost is invisible on the main T.V. screen. The ghost can only be seen on the GamePad screen, which the ghost player uses to control. The object of the game is for the four players to survive for five minutes, or destroy the ghost using their flashlights. The ghost has an opposite, and very nefarious, goal: TO KILL THE FOUR PLAYERS BEFORE TIME RUNS OUT! Well, technically, the players just "faint" when attacked by the ghost ... but we really know what is happening. The ghost only has to touch a player to make him faint, but it is not as easy as it sounds. In fact, the game felt surprisingly balanced. I played the demo so many times, and felt the players and ghosts won equally, which is a really good sign. When a ghost is close, the players controlling with the Wiimotes turned to their side will feel their controllers rumble. The closer it gets, the more intense the rumbling becomes. This is how they know the ghost is around. During the demos, we would yell out "He's by me! Yellow!" while playing to let everyone know where the ghost was. It was a fun bit of interaction. When the ghost is hit by the flashlight, its energy is drained from 100. When it hits zero, the players win! If a player is knocked down, though, they can be revived if another player (or players!) revives them with a flashlight. It is a slow process, but that just adds to the tension. As mentioned before, the ghost just has to touch the player once to make him/her faint. In a nice touch of detail, the ghost has to drag the player for just a few seconds before he officially faints. This is important, as in that brief period of time, another player can hit the ghost with a flashlight and the ghost will drop the captured player. There were some exciting last minute saves during some of my play-throughs that had everyone screaming and laughing in relief. And that's what is so great about Luigi's Ghost Mansion: Everyone was having a great time. Nintendo's E3 2012 theme of "together" is never more prominent than when playing this game. Every person I played the demo with loved it and had a really great time. We all screamed when the ghost would pop out. We all would cheer if we emerged victorious and defeated the ghost (not an easy task). It was a truly fun experience and one of my favorite on the show floor. If all the other minigames are as entertaining as Luigi's Ghost Mansion, Nintendo Land is going to be something pretty special.

Next up in my series to preview all five of the games within Nintendo Land for the Wii U is Luigi's Ghost Mansion. (Check out The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest right here!) With Luigi's Ghost Mansion, Nintendo Land is bringin...

E3: Hands-on with Nintendo Land: Zelda: Battle Quest

Jun 07 // Chad Concelmo
During the Nintendo press conference, the main message about the Wii U was "together." And after playing all the minigames in Nintendo Land, this message is  most definitely clear. The games in Nintendo Land are meant to played together with a group of people. They are designed around cooperation and friendly, fun competition. As a guy who has a lot of friends who don't play videogames very often, this is very appealing to me, as I know my friends will look forward to diving into a minigame compilation like this ... and having a blast in the process. The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest has an interesting look -- one I didn't expect. It looks a lot like Kirby's Epic Yarn and shares the same fabric aesthetic. In this minigame (I am remiss to even call them "minigames" as they feel like more), three players have to work together to make it through a series of dungeons. The game is "on-rails," meaning you don't control the forward movement of your character at all. That part is controlled for you. This is not a huge deal, though, as the game is not about exploring. It's about working together, fighting monsters, and solving puzzles. Two players control with the Wii Motion Plus controller and one plays with the Wii U GamePad. The players with the Wiimotes have swords and swing the Wii Motion Plus to attack. Just like in Skyward Sword, the angle you strike is key, as the one-to-one movement will help you make sure you are attacking the enemies in the right spot. Also like Skyward Sword, your shield can be activated by holding down the trigger to block incoming attacks. The player with the GamePad is the archer, and this is admittedly the most fun part. By holding the GamePad upright, players can actually look through it like looking through a sight and move the entire controller around to aim. A cross-hair appears on the GamePad and players can use it to shoot arrows at enemies. Holding down the trigger button longer to fire will result in a much more powerful and long-reaching shot. While shooting and/or stabbing, the players move slower through the world. By not doing anything, the on-screen Mii Links (Liinks?) move much faster. This can be used to get through the dungeons quicker if needed. In addition to battling enemies, puzzles can also be solved. The only ones I saw in the demo were simple "switch" puzzles, but there were fun and provided some much-needed variety to the action. By hitting switches (some at the same time), locked doors can be opened to move on. Some switches are high up, requiring the use of the archer to access. In addition to all this, a health meter is shared between the players, meaning they have to work together to make sure the life is not depleted. If all hearts are gone, everyone perishes. From what I played, I had fun with The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest. It wasn't the deepest thing in the world, but the variety in play made it interesting. I am not sure how repetitive this will get, but if the dungeons have a large variety of enemies and puzzles, this could be really fun! Check out my hands-on with the other four Nintendo Land games, coming later today!

Nintendo Land: The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest is one of the twelve Nintendo character-themed minigames that will appear in Nintendo Land for the Wii U. Five of these minigames were playable on the show floor. The other sev...

E3: Hands-on with Pikmin 3

Jun 06 // Chad Concelmo
There were two levels to play in the E3 demo. The first was a more traditional Pikmin level and the second was an extraordinary boss battle. Let's get into the first, more classic level first. Pikmin 3 can be played with either the new Wii U GamePad or the Wiimote-and-Nunchuk combo -- very similar to the way the Pikmin Wii re-release plays. Actually, exactly like that. The GamePad was great and comfortable (and the map on the touch screen wonderfully helpful), but I actually preferred the Wiimote and Nunchuk. It felt great and made controlling the Pikmin easy and accurate. But I have to reiterate: the GamePad is fantastic and I will most likely use that when the final game is released. Not being that familiar with it yet, though, the Wiimote and Nunchuk made it easier for me to jump right in. The first thing you will notice about Pikmin 3 is that it is DROP-DEAD GORGEOUS! The animation and colors on the Pikmin are slick, but the backgrounds -- my God, the backgrounds are exquisite. The lush foliage and swaying grass are so detailed and almost photo-realistic that they need to be seen to be believed. Everything just looks so amazing. I can't imagine how incredible everything will look once more varied areas are introduced in the final game. As far as gameplay, things were instantly familiar. For the demo -- a level that is most likely not in the final game -- some things were left out. Your Pikmin couldn't die (and, if they could, not easily at all), and there was no respawning by growing Pikmin from the home base onion. There was only a limited time with the demo, so some sacrifices had to be made to let players do as much as possible. But keep in mind that this stuff will be in the final game. I mean, what is Pikmin without growing and managing your multi-colored troops? The classic Pikmin we all know and love will be back and better than ever. This was just a simple demo. In the level on display, you must use your red Pikmin to collect fruit and kill enemies. The blue and yellow Pikmin were absent from the demo, but they will, of course, be in the final game. After traveling through the gorgeous level, you run into a giant floating jellyfish. Throwing your red Pikmin on the jellyfish to destroy him unlocks the newest member of the Pikmin family: the rock Pikmin. Outside of being AWESOME, these rock Pikmin are very similar to the purple Pikmin in Pikmin 2, as they are super-strong. Instead of just using them to easily kill enemies, though, these new rock Pikmin can do so much more. There are glass walls and rocks everywhere that can only be broken with these powerful Pikmin. This use of specific-colored Pikmin adds more strategy to the proceedings. (More on this deep mechanic when I get to the boss battle later.) A wide variety of enemies and environmental obstacles was present in the booth demo, each more beautiful and daunting than the last. One nice change to the formula comes in the form of bridges and slides. In the last two Pikmin games, bridges were automatically made by Pikmin in certain spots. In Pikmin 3, there are piles of rocks that much be carried to make the bridge. Each rock piece forms the bridge, so it all feels much more realistic than before. The slides are fun pieces of the environment that Olimar and the Pikmin can slide down. (In the demo it was a blade of grass formed in a fun spiral.) These slides are great as shortcuts, but can only be used one way and Pikmin cannot carry certain items down them. They just add to the subtle strategy of the level layout. I really can't stress enough how beautiful and polished this game looks and feels. Everything just comes together perfectly and truly feels like a classic Nintendo game. After collecting a bunch of fruit, killing a bunch of meddlesome creatures, and traveling through a gorgeous world, the demo came to an end and I couldn't have been happier. It felt exactly like Pikmin, just more detailed, smooth, and BEAUTIFUL! Everything I could have asked for. And then I played the boss. And I think I may have died from happiness. The boss in the Pikmin 3 demo was a giant caterpillar/scorpion/beetle kind of thing. Huge, fluid, and gorgeous. The bosses in the other two Pikmin games were great and well-designed, but this boss took things to a new level. Both the red and rock Pikmin needed to be used in this fight. The rock Pikmin had to be thrown first to break apart the hard metallic shell of the monstrous creature. Once the individual sections were shattered, the red Pikmin had to be used to do damage. You see, the only way to damage the boss was to have the Pikmin grab onto the exposed skin and attack away. The heavy rock Pikmin, with their skinny arms, could not grab onto the fast-moving beast, and therefore could not do damage outside of breaking the shell. This attention to detail made the boss even more fun and challenging than I could have imagined. I loved it so much. There's no word on whether the final version of Pikmin 3 will be more like the first Pikmin with its above-ground levels and more straightforward goals, or Pikmin 2 and its deep, wonderful dungeons and higher challenge. I am hoping for something closer to Pikmin 2, but, either way, Pikmin 3 promises to be an unbelievably welcome sequel and an outstanding addition to the early Wii U library. I adored my time with Pikmin 3 and think it is my favorite game of the show so far. I can't wait to play more. No, seriously, I am going to lose my mind waiting for this to be released.

This is it. The moment I have been anticipating for years. I am a giant fan of the Pikmin series. GIANT! And every year for the last few years, I have hoped and prayed Pikmin 3 would be official and announced at that year's E...

E3: Hands-on with New Super Mario Bros. U

Jun 05 // Chad Concelmo
If you have played New Super Mario Bros. Wii, you are familiar with the basic formula. Hell, if you have played any 2D Mario game you are familiar with how it works. Run right while jumping over obstacles and stomping enemies as you make your way to the flag pole at the end of the level. The gameplay is as smooth and joy-inducing as you would expect. The first thing you will notice when playing New Super Mario Bros. U is the graphics. They are gorgeous. They don't have a super original art style like Kirby's Epic Yarn or Rayman Origins, but the game still looks fantastic. The colors are bright and vibrant, the textures are crisp, and the layered backgrounds are stunning. Once you see a Mario game in HD for the first time you will kind of lose your mind. Especially if you are a huge fan of the Mario games. As far as gameplay, there were three levels on display on the show floor. One was a traditional forest level, one set in the cliffs on the Mushroom Kingdom, and the third was in a star-covered world at night. Each level showed off something new to do and really focused on how cool the new Wii U features are. As a single player, the game can be played with either the Wiimote turned on the side or with the brand new GamePad. Both are great and work pretty much exactly the same. You run with the directional pad and jump with the face buttons. The real features of the GamePad come into play when a second player joins the fun. This second player uses the GamePad to create small platforms which the first player can jump on or use to trap and redirect enemies. This happens with a simple press of the finger on the touch screen. Since the entire game is being streamed on the GamePad touch screen, all the second player has to do is touch anywhere on the screen to create a platform. It is a very simple concept, but really helps add a touch (hehehe) of strategy to the proceedings. It reminded me a lot of the two-player option in Super Mario Galaxy. Yeah, the second player is not doing much, but it is fun to have a friend help you out as you try to make it through a tough level. It wasn't playable, but the menu screen had the option for more than two players, meaning four player co-op like New Super Mario Bros. Wii is likely (and all but confirmed in the screenshots for the game). Heck, five players may even be possible, with one on the GamePad and the rest on the Wiimotes. No confirmation, but I think it will happen. As for the levels themselves, they were classic Nintendo: well-designed and so much fun to play. Outside of the Wii U features, there were two new "power-ups." The first was Flying Squirrel Mario, which is as cute as it sounds. After picking up a special mushroom, Mario puts on a flying squirrel costume and is awarded special powers. He can float in the air when holding down the jump button, or take flight for a short time by shaking the Wiimote. It is awesome and really easy to control. In addition to this, there was a baby Yoshi that Mario could carry around. By shaking the Wiimote, Yoshi blows up into a huge balloon and gives Mario an extra high jump. As far as I could tell, this is infinite and can be used continuously until Mario dies or Yoshi is thrown into a pit by accident. Yes, I did this. BUT IT WAS AN ACCIDENT! Not much was shown of New Super Mario Bros. U, but the stuff I played I totally loved. Even looking past the fact that the game looks amazing in HD, the gameplay was so solid and the new Wii U features so fun that this is shaping up to be a great addition to the classic Mario series. I wish I could have played more.

Let's get this out of the way right now: Seeing a brand new, 2D Mario in HD is surreal. I have been waiting for so long to finally see a Nintendo franchise in high-definition, so seeing Mario run around the Mushroom Kingdom d...

Preview: LEGO The Lord of the Rings

Jun 01 // Dale North
LEGO The Lord of the Rings (Wii, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)Developer: Traveller's TalesPublisher: WB GamesReleases: 2012  In a hands-off demo we saw the gang in a castle, where they've been looking for a key to be able to move on in their exploration. They were well on their way until silly Frodo fell into a water hole. As you can imagine, Gandalf was annoyed. Frodo's friends worked to get him out using the LEGO game mechanic that lets players build useful objects with collected blocks. In this case they needed to build a well, and Gimli was more than happy to help out by throwing hobbits into walls to find more blocks. Dwarves are handy like that. LEGO The Lord of the Rings has the entire Fellowship traveling together, letting players take over any character (or any two with co-op) to use their particular strengths in various situations. We only saw a few in action, though. As you'd imagine, Legolas has his bow and arrow, and Gimli has his axe and crazy strength. Sam has the ability to set fire to brown LEGO, which will help in solving puzzles and uncovering new paths for exploration.  Once out and safe, Frodo hears something in the distance. Probably orcs, right? The whole gang works to block the castle interior door with objects to keep the orcs from busting it down. They did this all by torch light, which showed off the game's slick lighting engine. The team worked hard to keep the door closed, but the orcs came in anyway.  Unfortunately, following these orcs was a huge cave troll, and he didn't want to go down as easy as the others. Taking this sub-boss down involved some simple puzzle solving; the player needed to stand on one of may points in the stage so that the troll would be tricked into swinging at him. A quick dodge by the player left the troll anchored to this point, leaving it vulnerable to attack. Legolas took point, waiting for its swing and running down its anchored chain to its face, and then shooting it in the eyes.  LEGO The Lord of the Rings will tell the story of the full trilogy, from Fellowship of the Ring to Return of the King. And, as anyone that has played LEGO Batman can tell you, the treat here is going to be how the story will be retold with the LEGO game's snarky sense of humor. This is one that both LOTR and LEGO fans should definitely keep an eye on.

LEGO hobbits! Why haven't we seen LEGO hobbits until now?  An early look at LEGO The Lord of the Rings showed the full Fellowship in LEGO form, with all speaking using the movie voices. You haven't lived until...

Preview: Injustice: Gods Among Us

Jun 01 // Dale North
Injustice: Gods Among Us (Wii U, PS3, Xbox 360)Developer: WB GamesPublisher: NetherRealmReleases: 2013  The first battle we saw had Superman going up against Solomon Grundy. Both looked to be a fair bit larger than your standard fighting game character, and the artwork for the characters and the stage leaned more toward photorealism than comics or animation. That's not to say that these guys took up too much screen space, but they definitely gave an impression of being bigger and badder, which actually works towards them being superheroes and villains.  Boon told us that one of the goals of Injustice was to make the stages as pivotal as the characters are. Superman and Grundy fought in the Batcave, where there were plenty of interactive points to change the balance of battle. Fighting actually causes damage to the backgrounds, and in this case some punches near containers for Batman's Batsuits caused them to break, releasing hand grenades that could be picked up by either fighter and used in battle. The far right side of the stage also featured a console with a large red button on it, and when a fighter is backed into this corner, the button gets pressed, sending missiles flying out to hit the other fighter. Consider yourself warned, corner trappers. The stages in Injustice all have multiple tiers. In the Superman vs. Solomon Grundy battle, a punch from the Man of Steel sends Grundy down into the floor, through it and into a lower level of the Batcave. There were even more background objects to use in this section. For example, Grundy used a floating power generator to attack Superman, bashing it over his head. The assault continues with a super move: Grundy grabs Superman, smashes him to the ground, pulls out a gravestone from his chest, and hits him over the head.  Superman's comeback super move was quite a bit more exciting. His eyes turn angry red, and then he picks up Grundy and punches him into space, sending him flying through the clouds and into the stratosphere. The view pans out into space, where we see Grundy start to sink down towards Earth at high speed. The view follows as he crashes through the roof of the Batcave back into the stage, where Superman finishes him off. The next demonstration, a fight between Batman and Wonder Woman, made the previous one seem tame. Batman has all his neat toys, like his grapple gun and Batarang, which he can throw forward or upward. Wonder Woman has two fighting states to make full use of her most popular equipment. Her lasso mode has her being more of a ranged fighter, but with her sword and shield she has some very SoulCalibur-ish, close-ranged moves.  In this stage, which was a wide open city street-style arena, Batman found himself backed into a corner where there just happened to be a car. He used that car to his advantage by taking Wonder Woman's head and bashing it into the car's body. Another option for him would have been to throw explosives into the car to blow up on his opponent. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, would have picked up the car to slam it over Batman's head.  For as good as the fighting was, the stage was really the highlight of the match. This city stage features three arenas: one street scene, another two blocks away on the top of a building, and the last in the reception area of a building. The fun lies in how you get to these areas of the stage, though. We saw Batman kick Wonder Woman at an upward angle, sending her out of the stage's first area, up into the sky, through several floors of a nearby skyscraper, out the other end of that building, and onto the roof of another. The fight continued there for a bit until Batman turned really mad. He used his grappling hook to grab Wonder Woman and slam her down through some 30 stories of this building, and we watched on, laughing, as she continued to plummet down in this cross section view until she hit the ground floor, where the fight continued. To finish her off, Batman kicked her backwards, sending her back to the stage's first area,  knocking her through other buildings' plumbing and pipes, with her knocking her head on several of them. Batman finally ends it by hanging her upside down with his grappling hook to kick her. While what we saw of Injustice was fantastic (and hilarious), there are still plenty of questions to be answered. We've only seen four characters of the full roster (Harley Quinn and The Flash have also been announced), and we have next to nothing on story details. Boon did let on that the story will explain how, say, Superman could take a beating from Batman. We'll have to wait for that, though.  So far, Injustice looks to be right in line with what any fan of the Justice League would want in a fighting game. Through it, the timeless "who would win in a fight between X and X" questions can now be answered definitively.  With a modified Mortal Kombat engine behind it, and its focus on ridiculous superhero-type super moves and crazy multi-tiered stages, Injustice: Gods Among Us could take fighting games to a new level. See what I did there? I'll get a chance to get my hands on Injustice next week at E3. Stay tuned.

[Update: New screenshots added.] Injustice: Gods Among Us is a fighting game that brings together the DC Universe characters for a beatdown festival that only world-class superheroes and villains could give us. Ed Boon himsel...

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.

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: The Last Story

May 12 // Steven Hansen
[embed]227298:43658[/embed]The Last Story (Wii) Developer: Mistwalker/AQ Interactive Publisher: XSEED Games Release: Summer 2012 I started at the beginning of The Last Story, eventually making it to what is to be the sole hub town. While only having one town to fully explore may seem like a disappointment, the town is huge, dwarfing, for comparison, Final Fantasy XII’s Rabanastre and certain portions of the town are locked off until story or side quest specific events unlock them. The game opens with a band of four mercenaries -- Zael, Dagran , Syrenne, and Yurick -- probing some abandoned, likely ancient site. This introductory chapter allows you to get more familiarized with the controls, as there’s a surprising amount of things happening at once early on, and offers a nice, explicit tutorial with some lovely 2D art. The default control scheme employs an auto-attack system that requires only you to approach enemies and push your body towards theirs to attack them. Though functional and more elegant looking, I opted to change to manual attack fairly quickly, as the busy, acrobatic nature of combat made direct input feel a bit more comfortable and organic, even though the main character is left a little less fluid and stylish for it (because occasionally I will miss and be slashing at nothing). The opening, introductory chapter is a rather formulaic dispatching of trivial-looking enemies, and a bit drab, given the underground nature of the scene. Soon into it, however, some appropriately interesting story things occur that set the framework for the game and its mechanics. Zael stumbles upon a rather strange, glowy-arm power that lets him attract enemy attention and revive (for a limited number of times per battle) downed party members. The way this power is used to explain some of the mechanics of the game is rather clever, and an important part of the main plot. Once you get the fancy arm power, combat depth increases immediately. While Zael can fight with melee and long range attacks, the newfound abilities make him the sensible party leader. You can issue commands to your party members on the fly and Zael’s special ability, “Gathering,” is incredibly useful to keep your enemies preoccupied, allowing your party time to cast spells or simply allowing them to fight with less resistance and build combo chains. This stood out in the game’s first (quite cool) boss fight against a giant who draws out the swords skewered in his back and throws them at you and your party. Aside from Gathering and its strategic implications, the combat seems standard fare. Zael can also use Focus to zoom in for a better look at things. When zoomed, Zael can use his crossbow, look at an enemy’s weaknesses, and give specific commands to teammates, like telling the magic user to use magic to destroy the supporting platforms underneath far off enemies. The sword play is acrobatic and exciting, though it’s largely just a matter of pressing A to attack. There’s also a dynamic dive ability, for attack avoidance, as well as a surprising amount of cover. Yes, as in “crouched behind a tiny wall” cover. Not quite sure how I feel about the latter, as it doesn’t seem to fit within the context of the game, but I didn’t suffer in ignoring it and just running around and fighting monsters. On the way back to Lazulis Island, chapter two takes a brief detour when you have to fight a cool-looking white tiger. Once that battle is over with, you can head into the city, and have idle chatter with people along the way, which is why I really began digging the game. Back in town, the party indulges in drinks and other merriment at the bar of the inn they’re staying at and you get your first real glimpse at all of your companions through (optional conversation). Dagran, for example, took Zael in when Zael was a young orphan (Dagran was an orphan, too) and the two got into mercenary work with hopes of eventually being knighted by Lazulis’ Count Arganan. Dagran also wears interesting chaps that show off the inside of his thighs. The dialogue in the tavern was lively and had me chuckling. Syrenne in particular is quite hilarious, as she’s something of an alcoholic and generally a bit insane -- great to talk to. When I finished talking to all the people of questionable sobriety inside and did some shopping in an adjoining room, I decided to go be a man about town and get my first glimpse of Lazulis. It’s really quite a lovely place and I found myself impressed not only by the art design of everything, but even the technical aspects. The Last Story is a gorgeous game. The city was also quite boisterous, boasting all sorts of distractions and points of interest. Occasionally a glint of light will flash over the screen and a quick "Seek" will allow Zael to randomly find items out and about. At one point, I went to a fortune teller and had my fortune read, then saw a bushel of fruit tenuously sitting on a crate. I knocked it over and all passersby, along with myself, proceeded to slip comically. There was just so much to do in the intricately designed Lazulis that I barely whet my appetite for exploration. Thankfully, there’s also an in menu fast travel system between points in the city for when you get tired of running to and from. While I still need a lot more time with the game, particularly the combat mechanics, before casting judgment, my brief time with The Last Story has demonstrated the potential for greatness that come along with all of the venerable names involved. I completely love gallivanting around Lazulis, as well as the game’s distinct sense of style and personality. Here’s hoping the end result puts everything together successfully.

As a lifelong fan of the JRPG genre, particularly Hironobu Sakaguchi and Nobuo Uematsu’s respective work on the Final Fantasy franchise, I’ve been as excited as anyone for The Last Story, especially in light of th...

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