Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth3: V Generation - PS Vita Review

The latest Hyperdimension game for the Vita makes the most of the handheld and series

Farming Simulator 15 - PC Review

Down on the farm - again. This simulator provides plenty to do for fans of the series

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - Xbox One Review

The latest in the Witcher series does almost everything well - a definite Game of the Year contender


This shooter gets almost everything right, throwing lots at you but making it fun

Big Pharma - PC Preview

A fun simulation game with some social commentary to share as well

Thursday, June 24, 2010

News and Notes from 6-24-10

Just a few tidbits of particular interest while I was scouring the web the last day or two:

Hulu is close to reaching an agreement with Sony for the Playstation 3. They’ve already recently come to an agreement with Microsoft on the Xbox 360. Between this and Netflix, does anyone even need cable tv anymore?

The God of War Collection was both a critical and sales success by most accounts, taking a beloved Playstation 2 game (well, two of them actually) and giving them the high-definition treatment and putting them on the Playstation 3. Given the overall results, it should hardly come as a surprise as Shuhei Yoshida, the President of SCE WWS, announced that they are looking to continue making these kinds of HD collections for the PS3. Considering that the God of War collection was sold at the very reasonable price of $30 for two games and a pretty facelift, the potential here is incredible.

I played and enjoyed White Knight Chronicles. I didn’t make full use of the online aspects, but I enjoyed making a village and at least having the option to play with others online when I wanted to. I also bought my copy used at Gamestop about two months after its release and saved $10. Sony has just announced that the White Knight Chronicles: Awakening of Light and Darkness sequel will be using Online Licenses for access, much like the recently talked about EA Sports Pass and some of the other online initiatives (I bought Mass Effect used as well and lost out on the Cerberus Network options – unless I wanted to spend $15 extra and essentially pay $5 more than buying it new). This looks even more strict according to the article I read – only allowing one account on the PS3 to go online with the White Knight sequel – something that I suspect would not go over well with my son. I’m a frequent shopper of used games, and this new initiative perhaps rankles me a bit more because of it, but I don’t like buying a game used only to find out it may not include all of the content I thought I was getting. Worse yet, it sounds like if you guy this one new, you can’t share the experience with your family? The overall comments I’m finding online are very negative about this, and I have to say I fall into the same boat currently. A lot of people are saying they won’t buy the game at all. To be honest, I might not either until a year or so later if it’s heavily discounted used and feel like perhaps the value is better represented then. What are your thoughts?

Lastly, Sony has released some information on the PlayStation Plus – a new service meant to be competitive to Xbox Live. It certainly does a few of the same things, but more as well. As someone who just recently let his 360 Gold account lapse for the first time since getting a system 3 years ago, I’m going to be very curious what the response to this is. The good news is, they’re not taking anything away from the network. Want to play Lost Planet 2 online? You can still do that on the Playstation 3 network (unlike the 360 if you only have a Silver account). For this, I give tremendous props to Sony. Many people have picked on Sony for not offering a ‘nice’ of a system as the Xbox Live, but I have to tip my hat to Sony thus far. My kids can play Little Big Planet and Peggle and whatever else they like online without needing me to shell out for a Gold Account. I did just read yesterday that Microsoft is looking into a family gold package where 4 accounts can be made for $100 a year (which is a good deal when one considers that a single 1 year account generally runs around $50). But, I’d rather spend the $100 on a few games and just play for free on the Playstation Network if it’s all the same.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII review

I am an unabashed fan of Final Fantasy. I haven’t played all of them – but I’ve played and beaten quite a few of them over the years – starting with Final Fantasy on the old NES. I was one of the many who had a first day of release copy of Final Fantasy VII and like many thought it was the best game I had ever played at the time. Years later, it’s story and game mechanics are among my most fond gaming memories. So when I heard that a prequel was coming out, I was really excited. That excitement was a bit tempered however when I saw my traditional RPG turn-based systems turned into a more live action game during trailers. I’m happy to say those particular fears proved to be unfounded.

Graphics – 9:

The in-game engine is good, you don’t suffer any breakup and the full motion video scenes that the Final Fantasy series have become well-known for hold up beautifully on the small screen. Don’t let the fact that this is a PSP game fool you – it holds up very nicely in both artistic direction and execution.

Sound and Music – 8.5:

The voice acting was good, though many of the sounds were a bit repetitive after awhile. Final Fantasy games are known for their quality music and this one while not among the best from the series, is still pretty good. I found the combat theme to be surprisingly catchy.

Gameplay – 7:

Sometimes deaths feel cheap. The actual action-oriented combat works well; certainly better than I expected. My biggest complaint from this department though was the camera. Sometimes I just could not get it into a good position, especially in narrow spaces. Also, the combat was a bit predictable in terms of how it was triggered. In earlier games, most combat occurred at random while walking. In later Final Fantasy games you are on an active field with enemies you can engage or try to avoid. Here? It’s things like intersecting hallways that trigger the usually-random group of monsters you fight. You find yourself hugging the walls awkwardly, battling the camera angles if you’re in an area where you don’t want to fight. It’s not all bad though. The action comes in perfectly sized smaller chunks that fit with the handheld platform. I had played this game for nearly a year on and off. I’d just pick it up some days when I had fifteen minutes to kill and do a few missions. The PSP is not one of my primary systems, so its games tend to get neglected, but this one’s content felt just right for on-the-go gaming.

Intangibles – 9.5:

There is a ton to do. The main storyline itself is not terribly long, but there are a bunch of side options to chew up your time. There’s missions that unlock over time or when certain criteria are met. There’s a fusion system in place that lets you upgrade items and materia (think of them as magic, skills and stat boosts). You get emails throughout the game from characters as well. There’s a handful of mini-games tucked in there as well throughout the storyline. To top it all off? There’s a New Game+ mode as well – always a favorite discovery of mine.

Overall – 8.5:

To date this was probably my favorite PSP game. The characters and world were sentimental favorites of mine. The overall production values were high. All of this was expected. The unexpected? That the action-based combat would work so well. That using one character throughout the game instead of a party would feel so involving. That you don’t collect experience and level up in traditional fashion, but that levels, boosts and special attacks are all managed through a perpetually running slot-machine like system that augments the action itself. Last but not least? The ending is fantastic. After I beat the game, I was just really taken with the ending and did some searching on the topic online. I was not alone in my sentiments there. A lot of people out there list it as their favorite ending ever. Mine? Maybe not, but probably top 10 to date, and getting there was a blast.

Video courtesy of IGN

Older game reviews - you interested?

We play a lot of games in our house – I suspect that’s a given at this point. Computer games, all the current systems (including handhelds like DS and PSP), back through some old Nintendo and Super Nintendo systems that have been lovingly taken care of over the years. The tough part about a blog reviewing games? Well… aside from getting readers – is getting current content. To play all of the latest games is tough. To do it for all systems? Well, until I win the lotto – I can’t do that. I have plans to take peeks into some newer games soon, like Lego Harry Potter, the new Transformers game, and a few other somewhat recently released games. In the meantime, this leaves me with a quandary – write reviews for older games or not?

I’ve opted for the former – I’d rather have content about older games than no content at all in between news posts and new games. Games like the one I plan to touch on shortly – Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII for the PSP – are still available on current systems and at good prices. So they are still relevant in my mind. I thought about other old, OLD games – like Shining Force for the Sega Genesis. Well that game was released in October of 1992 – so where’s the relevance besides my interest in old games and apparently need to blather a good deal? Well, this newest generation of systems has been introducing older games – like the Wii’s Virtual Console that re-released this particular game in mid-2007 and only recently got downloaded by me. So I may do some light mini-reviews on downloadable games too, since I have taken a crack at a lot of them – and in many cases still own the originals as well (like Shining Force 2 on the Genesis). Let me know if you like these reviews or not – if no one’s interested, I can certainly move on to newer topics and games, but as someone who frequently purchases used games for current systems, it seems relevant.

This particular post is just lead-in to another I plan to put up in an hour or so. I’ve been pulling some screenshots and digging up some video links to it to give it a nice review, and felt this would lead into the topic nicely before I call it a night. Be back in a couple of hours.

OnLive - console-less gameplay?

I've been hearing about OnLive for about a year now, right after it was first announced. The idea was certainly interesting - but like many people I had my doubts that it would work as well as advertised. Yahoo! just ran an article on it, talking about some of the pros and cons they found with it. What is OnLive? In short, it's a way to play top end computer games without having a console system or top end computer. The games are actually run on their servers and the video is streamed back to your screen. Basically, it does all of the work behind the scenes for you. It apparently supports Mac computers too, so they would have access to some cool games they might not normally.

The good from what I've seen? No consoles, no top-flight computers needed, it's easy to purchase stuff and it seems to run pretty well.

The bad? Well, for me these stand out - you buy the games and pay for a service. Decide to quit paying for the service - you lose access to your games. As someone who does a lot of used game purchasing and selling, this makes me a bit twitchy in and of itself. The graphics are not as good as having a top end machine (I'm sure there's some scaling done to help smooth out the transfer of data) - and I am a bit of a snob with my graphics and sound (isn't this one of the main reason we traded in our Xbox's, Playstation 2's and Gamecubes for 360's, PS3's and Wii's?).

Another downside the article pointed out, and a primary concern for most people in general, has been the potential for lag. Game lag is frustrating, and by the very nature of the service there is going to be some. A lot of people won't care. Some, like me, would probably find it rather annoying. One thing the article didn't touch on is if the lag gets even worse than 'normal' when playing online matches or you get to a very graphics intensive part where even on a console you experience tearing or dropped frames.

The last deal killer for me? You have to be on broadband with ethernet. No dial-up, no wireless. My 360 and my wife's computer are the only wired systems. My laptops? My desktop? Nope - and I don't sit anywhere near our router, so that would be a a major shortcoming as well.

It's an interesting idea, and with console costs being rather expensive, but I think this is an idea that would have gained more traction a couple of years ago when the costs were higher. Now that there's been price cuts to the big 3 consoles and a decent computer doesn't really cost too much to build - it almost feels to me like OnLive may have come out a bit too late for its own good - but time will tell I suppose.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

New Super Mario Bros. Wii

So I’ve had a few requests now to try and do more detailed game summary breakdowns, like my earlier reviews. I probably won’t do image and video embeds for now – but if people do want to see them I can generally make it happen (my computer is super slow though when I try to record game footage. Definitely need an upgrade, and with the whopping 2 cents I currently have stored away from Google Adsense, I am so on my way there)… Anyway…

New Super Mario Bros. Wii has been out for awhile – so why am I just now reviewing it? Well, I picked it up as a release date title for my kids for Christmas last year and have only recently begun to play it. Plus, I needed a Wii game review on this site, so why not start with this excellent one?

The overall game so far has proven to be a lot of fun. I admit, I’ve been away from the Mario games for quite awhile. A couple decades ago I was blasting through Super Mario Brothers, parts 1-3, Super Mario World, etc – and I’ve played some of the others along the way that were Mario related: Yoshi’s Island, Paper Mario, Mario 64… but I didn’t beat any. For the most part, I hardly played them. Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 are supposed to be great games, but I haven’t gotten either yet (even used, if you can find them, they’re still pretty pricey). This one? I get the feeling I’ll beat rather soon…

Graphics: - 8:

Probably the category I flip-flop on the most. The visuals are nothing we haven’t seen before. Mostly 2d stuff with some 3dish elements in there. Given that the Wii is not exactly a graphics powerhouse, that should knock the score down kind of low – but the colors are vibrant, the art direction is a lot of fun and I constantly found myself simply enjoying the world visually. It immerses you in a world involving a plump Italian plumber, riding a little dinosaur while jumping on or eating turtles. Job well done on that front.

Sound & Music – 8:

It sounds good – the effects are nothing amazing, but there’s enough variation to keep them from getting annoying. The music? It’s Mario music. Love it or hate it (I’m more of a love it) – it’s classic video game soundtrack and it sounds great.

Gameplay – 8.5:

Mario revolutionized platforming and has reinvented itself so many times over – but it always comes away feeling good. Jumps and controls feel like they should, though the waggle/spin takes just a bit of getting used to.

Intangibles – 9:

It’s Mario. In many instances, that’s enough for people. But the addition of multiplayer is a gas, and really – a very welcome change. Single player mode is still a bit of a challenge, and in some ways multiplayer makes the game even harder. But there’s a brilliant implementation to it that just adds to the experience – as long as you’re gaming casually. My son who takes games a bit too serious at times? Not a good match for his younger sister. But overall, we have a ball with it. Big creative worlds to explore really add to the overall depth and add replay value to the game. I bought this new – I haven’t seen it used in any of our Gamestops – and I think the above is largely why.

Overall – 8.5:

I don’t play a lot of platforming games anymore. Somewhere along the way I decided to quit beating myself up with the need for perfect jumps and fast-moving level memorizations. This particular game however remained fun – not only for me, but for the entire family. I’m sure there will be a good deal more to uncover as we get further into it as well, but overall it is fairly hard not to recommend the game if you have a Nintendo Wii and enjoy Mario, platforming and group games.

Sony Move and Microsoft Kinect - are you buying in?

With the Kinect finally being listed and Sony having announced the pricing and packages for the Move - the gauntlets have been thrown and while E3 certainly covered games (with tons of sequels listed) – the technology was also being discussed. While the 3DS was the talk of many blogs, it doesn’t quite fall into the same category as the above two additions which seem to signal that as good as the graphics and sound are coming out of the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 – that there is a market for a different kind of gaming experience. The Wii has been a top seller and many of its best games have proven very hard to find (I still recall what a pain Mario Kart for the Wii was to get for our household). The question is – are these additions worth their price tags?

I think the games will be the deciding factor. It’s interesting, but the Wii has shown both sides of the coin. I read a report recently that said the Wii had the lowest average ‘score’ on most gaming sites when compared to the PS3 and 360. So many of these games are created and sold at such a low cost and attempt to cash in on gimmicky controls that this “shovelware” detracts from what the Wii does really well when it gets games ‘right’ – generally first party games like Mario Kart or Metroid. Because of this, Wii sales have been strong. But it is not just the controller that makes the Wii appealing for gamers. The kid-friendly themes help for those buying for the family, sure – but the price has been a big point of contention. I recall several people buying a 360 and a Wii because it was roughly the same price as a PS3. Now that the Playstation 3 has come down in price, it has been selling well. But as I commented to another blog – these Move and Eye peripherals negate most of the recent price drop. With the Kinect (formerly known as Project Natal) weighing in at $150 – the Wii system still becomes the more far cheaper system (not to mention that the games then to ring in at $10 to $20 less, and really good Wii games can be found for $10 at Gamestop).

Do I think the Kintect and Move look cool? Absolutely. Do I want to try them? I do and hope to. But I own each of the big three systems. Gaming is my primary hobby. I am not the majority though, who look at it as something to be done on the side once in a great while. People will make their investments accordingly. The responses I have been reading for both the Move and Kinect on most gaming sites amounts to: Looks good, but we’ll wait and see if a) the price drops or b) the catalog of games utilizing these new accessories justifies the investment. I’ve seen a few blogs saying the Wii’s days are numbered – and maybe so but I have my doubts that it will be in the immediate future. One of my favorite comments today compared Kinect to the Virtual boy, 8 track, Betamax and HD DVD – good ideas that failed to gain traction – often due to prohibitive pricing. I think the Kinect has some amazing potential, and I for one don’t want to see it go the way of the aforementioned technologies – but only time will tell. I think a price point of $100 would be far better received – maybe if they pack it with a game or two that will help soften the blow.

What are your thoughts? Interested in the technology? If so – interested enough to drop that kind of money on it?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Am I back? Time will tell - also: Spider-Man game review

So, it’s been about 6 months since I last did anything with this site. I’ve been thinking on and off about what, if anything, I’d like to do with it. My initial notion was to put in a bunch of reviews flashing numbers in categories and adding some flashy video and image pieces to it. However, currently – I have almost no visitors. Somehow, the hours of recording, editing and uploading with a really, really bad computer did not seem worth it. So, I’ve decided to try a bit of something else for now. My wife (who has a very popular blog that mine could only hope to imitate if my views multiplied by… well, about ten thousand) will give me some pointers to hopefully increase potential traffic. And by increase I’m hoping for more than just… her.

So for now, what am I going to post? Well, still game news and rumors (I did like 2 whole of these but I think they’re interesting for gamers), brief reviews (think descriptions of the game and impressions. Maybe I’ll come up with some magical number at the end of the review to represent how I liked it. Maybe I’ll address magic 8-ball. We’ll see how that pans out).

Anyway – let me know what (if anything) you think – I’m certainly open to longer, more detailed reviews complete with media – but there’s got to be some demand for it, otherwise it’s just not really worth the effort. So, why I don’t start this off with a small review of a Playstation 3 game one of my co-workers loaned me, call Spider-Man: Web of Shadows

I noticed a trend when I looked this game up at one time – it got critically panned by most sites like IGN and Gamespot, but player review scores came out much higher on average. So which category do I fall into? More the player one – but really closer to the middle I guess.

Good points: animations are good, I like the customizations, there’s some replay value here (4 different endings based on your decisions), some cool characters and the open world play is fun (and very much reminds me of the Spider-Man game I played on Playstation 2 years ago and enjoyed.

Bad points: Graphics don’t always look clean during fast movements, and you’ll be moving around quite fast while web-swinging around the city. Side missions are pretty repetitive. Spidey’s voice actor kind of annoyed me for some reason.

Overall, most review critics were scoring this game between 5 and 6. Most sites I saw with reader reviews were coming out around an 8. I’d probably setting around… *shakes the Magic 8-ball: Absolutely!

Apparently this is not going to work for review scores. So for now, I’ll throw out a 7. It was fun, which is the key – and there’s replay value. But it could have been better with just a bit more attention to the finer points like voice and graphics. Anyway – I’m hoping to build some steam and throw out more random gaming notions on a fairly regular basis and see if it sticks. Hope you’ll join me!