Red Steel 2 - Nintendo Wii review

Happy New Year!

Hope you are all in for a very nice evening, whether it's going out with friends, having family visit, or just hiding indoors and playing some video games - here's to a great if all-too-fast 2010 and what we hope will be an even better 2011. With that out of the way, I wanted to slip in my last game review of the year.

Red Steel 2 was one of those games that I think slipped under the radar a bit. It got pretty good overall scores from professional game sites, and overall players seemed to enjoy it, but I'm sure Ubisoft had been hoping for better overall sales. There were a few things probably working against the game though - from the Teen rating, to its requirement of Wii Motion Plus to the underwhelming public opinion of the first game. Now however, might be a good idea to pick this one up if you have had any interest in it. I've been seeing this game relatively cheaply on a variety of sites now, most Wiimotes come with Motion Plus, and many people now already have the Motion Plus, due in part to Wii Sports Resort. And don't let the name fool you - this game may share some principle ideas from Red Steel, but it's not a sequel and the quality is much, much higher.

Graphics - 10:

The game oozes style with its unique visuals - combining the Old West with Eastern/samurai influences. There's a flat, cartoonish look to the graphics that is not my personal favorite, but it works for the game and runs at a beautiful clip. I've read that it runs at 60 frames per second, and I don't doubt that. The engine used works well, never showing pop-in or tearing of any kind. The colors used are also vibrant most of the time. I would have to say overall, this is probably one of, if not the best-looking Wii game I have had the pleasure of playing to date.

Sound & Music - 7:

This was a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, the sound effects got the job done without ever being overwhelming - or terribly memorable. The music was quite good however, as I found myself on several occasions pausing and thinking how cool/atmospheric it was Like the graphics, the music was among the best I've enjoyed for the Wii to date. So why not a higher score? Well, the voice acting. It was bad - almost to the point of irritating me at times. I've heard some people say that it was an intentional choice to make it campy in order to compliment the cartoony graphics, but if that's the case then I think it was a poor design choice. In a game where your actions are so immersive, having voice work that takes you out of that feeling of 'being there' hurts a lot in my opinion. I'm usually a huge fan of voice work in games as much as possible, but here it was more detraction than advantageous.

Gameplay: - 8:

There is a lot of positive to take away from this part of the game. The Motion Plus is beautifully realized here. The sword motions are well-represented on the screen. This is no Wii Sports Baseball where clever animations hide the fact that controls are not precise - here your sword stabs and slashes all respond very nicely. There are times the motions are misread, and it can be somewhat frustrating when it happens, but I can't even say for certain that the game was misreading it - or if I was just being a bit too frantic in my handling of my weapons during some of the more chaotic combat scenes. I will admit I enjoyed the swordplay a lot more than the gun mechanics. Pointing and aiming is fine, if a bit too touchy at times, but swinging, blocking and counterstriking were a lot more fun for me personally. It should also be noted - this is not a game for sitting on the sofa. A lot of Wii games can be done sitting down - do not count this among them. I'm sure you could, but you'd be cheating yourself in doing so. You should be moving your arms about as you square off with a group of thugs. That being said, some people really rebel at the 'get up off of the sofa' ideal, even if they have a Wii - one of my buddies at work is like that. The controls do not work nearly as well from a seated position in my opinion - you have been warned.

Intangibles - 5:

The game takes a sizeable hit here for me. For all of the things done right above (except the voice work) - the game is just too short. I think I beat it in about thirteen or fourteen hours. There's some challenge stuff to add to it, but not much and with a lack of online modes, once you're through the story - there's just not much to do beyond that. I also enjoyed the early part of the game more than the latter quarter or so. The progression system is nice, allowing you to improve in a variety of ways such as new techniques, but by the last quarter of the game or so I felt too strong. I do not recall many fights at all that challenged me - I was just mopping the floor with all of the bad guys by that point. Lastly, the storyline of the game itself was somewhat lacking - I was completely into the gameplay and the combat, but it felt like the mechanics deserved a better game around them. I was doing a lot of contracts and side adventures more for the sake of the combat than any sense of story or game progression. If the experience could be slightly refined and dropped into a much longer, deeper storyline, I think we'd have an all-time title here.

Overall - 7.5:

I really wanted to give this game a higher overall score. I bought it shortly after it released, and it was one of those games that sat on my game shelf several months longer than anticipated. Once I gave Red Steel 2 a chance, I thoroughly enjoyed it - but with its lack of replay value, it's now in my stack of games to be traded in sometime in the next couple of weeks. It's one of those titles that if you can pick it up cheaply, it's worth a play and will give you a couple days of solid, entertaining action. It's not one that you'll put away and forget - in fact I'll likely recall Red Steel 2 fondly for some time to come. However, I can say right now that I have little interest in picking it up for a second round of adventure, diminishing the title's long term value when I have plenty of other games to play still. For those considering this title for kids, there' a bit of language and there's plenty of violence to be had - though this may be where the cartoon style is a boon. It doesn't strike me as visually 'worse' than some of the more action-oriented cartoons you find on TV nowadays.


Hope you all had a great holiday!

I certainly did. I got a few days off from a very busy recent work schedule, and I have a few more incoming this weekend. So, for the holidays? I must have been a really good boy this year, becuase Santa did ridiculously well by me. Aside from the new computer my wife got me (thank you hon!) - I got a ton of new games. Now, the computer's been amazing (pretty sure the old one was hamster powered, and the poor little critter was on is last legs), but the setup for all of my files and programs has been a fairly lengthy process. On top of that, I have a bunch of games I've been collecting over the last few years, but that my old cpu could never seem to manage without fear of smoke billowing out of the backside. So, I may have some older cpu games to comment on soon (got Neverwinter Nights 2, The Witcher, a bunch of older games from Good old Games at - so that'll be fun.

What do we have to look forward to on the console side of things? Well - a ton of newer and older games, ranging from Culdcept Saga on the 360, to the Uncharted games and Mod Nation Racers for the PS3, to Kirby's Epic Yarn and Metroid: Other M for the Wii - not to mention the Sony Move we won for our PS3 we're just now dusting off too (Eyepet has been a ridiculous hit with my younger 2. I may ask them to write me up their thoughts in a paragraph or two as well when I review that one).

So, I'm definitely around, just 'suffering' through the amazing good luck of games and computer for now. I do have a handful of other games to toss up reviews on that I'm about done formulating thoughts and taking notes on as well, and if all goes well, I'll have a lot more content to toss out there over the next month or two. I hope you had a great 2010 and I look forward to 2011 with those of you out there who read this blog of mine!

Take care!

Nick / Chalgyr

Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn - Nintendo Wii review

I’ve long been a fan of turn-based strategy/rpg games. I’ve written in the past about some of the older ones I played, like the Shining in the Darkness series, and I couldn’t begin to tell you how many times I played Warsong on my Sega Genesis. To this day, Dragonforce is easily my most fondly remembered Sega Saturn game (I’ve thought about getting a Saturn again just to play that particular disc, and have long lamented that the sequel never made it to North America). More recently, I’ve played and reviewed some games that were fun, but left me a bit disappointed in places (like Record of Agarest War and Vandal Hearts: Fires of Judgment).

Somehow over the years, I’ve missed the Fire Emblem series. I did some research on it recently and realized it’s been around for quite a few years, on systems I had and just never picked up on it. I remember first discovering the Marth character in an early Super Smash Brother’s game. So, a couple of months ago when I stumbled onto Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn for the Wii, I decided to take it for a spin and see if I liked it.

The short answer is that yes – I liked it quite a bit. The game’s characters were interesting, and it led me to research the prior games. It’s then I realized that this particular title is a direct sequel to the Fire Emblem game for the Gamecube that I recall getting great scores when it came out.

The game itself is pretty straight forward. You follow a band of characters through some storyline elements that lead to set piece turn-based combat. There’s units that vary in weapon use and skill, and you try to take advantage of their strengths while masking their weaknesses against computer controlled units. There’s level progression, stat increases, a large variety of weapons and skills and quite a bit more.

The pros were pretty numerous for me. The game had quality built-in tutorials, several very deep systems (like the support system where if you have two characters who spend some time around one another and supporting one another in combat, then before their next map deployment you might get to pair them up, offering some bonuses when they are close to one another on the map. Have them converse on the battlefield and support one another and you may get an option to strengthen their support then later – and this is a process you can do a couple of times until they reach “A” level support). There’s a weapon forging system, lots of spells, a skill allocation system and more.

Overall, I felt like the graphics were better than Vandal Hearts, and the depth far more impressive than what Agarest War provided. That said, it is not all roses. The game is tough. I’m not new to strategy games, but like the old Warsong game, if a key character dies, you have to restart the level. If a non-key character dies, they are gone forever. This is a far cry from Agarest War, which almost requires that some of your characters die in bigger fights, so you can bring them back to life and chain ridiculous super moves. Not the case here. If you support character dies, there is no bringing them back on that map – or ever again. And you will have characters who die in just 1 hit if you don’t protect them adequately. There are times the combat just feels cheap, and you may have to go entire maps without making any mistakes, or risk having to start the map over or progressing without a supporting character anymore.

Let’s break down the gaming components and render a verdict now, shall we?

Graphics – 5:

I have always felt that some games benefit more from graphics and sound than others. If you’re playing a first person shooter or an atmospheric survival/horror game, then you need graphics and sound to help immerse you in the experience. RPG and strategy games don’t need these elements to be successful because they pull you in with other convesions like their story-telling and character progression systems. That said, it doesn’t hurt to have nice graphics, and this game does – in the cut scenes. The occasional full video gets played before chapters and key events, and they have a neat ‘events to come’ prelude that really worked for me in the context of the game, but honestly the in-game visuals looked like something that would have been right at home on the Gamecube or DS. Even my son at one point got that mixed feeling. He watched a round of combat, and said that the characters looked silly, but then a screen popped up showing the experience gained and showed a nicely illustrated portrait and my son immediately said, “His armor looks a lot cooler here.” The overall graphics just look muddled and relatively lacking in detail. One thing I did like is that the backgrounds were a notch above most other strategy games of this ilk, at least in art direction if not technical execution. They actually reflected some of the background scenery nicely and I recall one area where I was fighting in a swamp that characters were standing knee-deep splashing around in the water as they fought, which was cool.

Sound & Music – 7:

The music is okay, but again just has a last-gen feel to it. Nothing I can put a finger on, but nothing terribly memorable either. Except later in the game – I got to a chapter and suddenly I noticed the fight music was different. This made me wonder if the entire game’s fight music to that point had been pretty much the same or not – and I found I could not recall. The combat sounds are pretty minimal as well. The voice work is not bad, but you seldom get any. Between chapters there’s sometimes a narrator voicing over a map about the story’s broader events, but those sections are usually lacking in character and did little to really pull me into the story. The cut scenes had some decent voice overs, but they were too lacking in number to help bring the score up much.

Gameplay – 8:

Some people picked on this game for not making use of the Wii remote’s capabilities – I personally have no problem with that design choice. Like a sports game or a shooter, the aiming mechanic draws you into the game. I don’t see waggling a remote at the screen to march my units around as a terribly immerse component. The menu’s are good, there’s no slowdown, and I never had trouble operating my units, so to me the game succeeded in what it was trying to do.

Intangibles – 8:

When you gain levels, the stats improved are random. There are class evolutions your characters can experience too. The battle maps felt so much more organic than anything I saw in Agarest War, where I felt like my 6 guys were dumped into a small, level battle field. Here there were houses, roads, paths, terrain elements, varying win conditions and unit allotments – it felt much more in-line with the actual story that was being presented. That said, the story was a bit odd – it was not the best story ever, but there are chapters where you change parties and perspectives, and that lends itself to seeing what could have been a horribly cliché storyline into something a bit more interesting due to the varied vantage points experienced. There’s no online or multiplayer to be had, though to be honest I would not expect those things from a game like this. You can save mid-battle too, which is not only a huge time saver, but a sanity one too since there are times you will lose someone to some unforeseen circumstance, and you’d otherwise be faced with the decision to start the level over, or press on without the lost character. I’ve read that you can import saved data from the Gamecube version – Path of Radiance. I didn’t get to test this myself, but if so that is a cool feature for fans of the series. There’s also a new game plus that lets you slightly alter the storyline at one point and enlist the help of a few more characters from what I read. There’s also slight variations to the end storyline depending on which characters have formed support bonds and if their score is an “A” or not.

Overall – 7:

The ending was pretty cool – it was nearly a 20 minute affair if you, like me, sit through the credits after a long, hard fought game. I dropped about 55 hours into it, according to the save data, though I’d guess I spent an extra 10 over that on replays from last save due to the annoying death of a character. I games like Shining Force or Vandal Hearts, you lose a character for a round – not the game. To me that’s always been a slightly harsh game mechanic and one that definitely caused me some frustration here. It’s a tough game, but deep and it rewards you for time, patience and forethought. It’s an older game, but one that I enjoyed more than most of the recent ones I’ve played from the genre.


Gaming News and Notes from 12-20-10

If you are, like me, anxiously awaiting news on the Nintendo 3DS (I have a stack of games awaiting trade-in), then you will be excited for the news… that is unfortunately not coming until Jan 19th. I wish I was kidding. Is it going to keep the ridiculous price tag they are going to pay in Japan? ($299) – wait 3 weeks and find out…

The Black Ops First Strike DLC comes to Xbox 360 first, and it hits Feb 1st. And yes, it's $15.

Dragon Quest VI is coming as a remake to the DS on Valentine's Day.

There's a ps3 remastering of the last few Tomb Raider games coming out in the future Don't knwo about this one myself. I'm pretty excited for the Ico collection, and thought the God of War collection was a solid idea. Still mixed on the Prince of Persia one - but these games are not that old and were released on these consoles already this generation. Feels almost like a double dip to me, but if it has a discount price, it might be worth a peek.

Does any MMO stand a chance to unseat World of Warcraft? Well, if there is - it might just be Titan - which Blizzard has announced as their next MMO project.

Fan of discounted Xbox Live games? I am - and Microsoft is hoping you are too as they listed a slate of discounted games starting tomorrow for an 11 day sale.

Super Meat Boy (800 MSP, normally 1,200)
Comic Jumper (800 MSP, normally 1,200)
Toy Soldiers (800 MSP, normally 1,200)
Banjo Tooie (600 MSP, normally 1,200)
Castle Crashers (600 MSP, normally 1,200)
The UnderGarden (400 MSP, normally 800)
Risk Factions (400 MSP, normally 800)
After Burner Climax (400 MSP, normally 800)
Borderlands: Claptrap's New Robot Revolution (400 MSP, normally 800)
Carcassonne (400 MSP, normally 800)

Several of these games have had good reviews, and I lucked out and snagged Carcassonne a couple years ago for free, but some games like Castle Crashers and Super Meat Boy in particular have been quite popular for awhile now and might be good buys.

Mass Effect 2 on the PS3 is looking good, and running on the Mass Effect 3 engine it seems.

Monday Night Combat - Xbox Live review

Monday Night Combat was an Xbox Live game I picked up with Limbo and the latest Lara Croft game some months ago. I played through Limbo a couple of times and posted a review on that, and still have to put some meaningful time into the Lara Croft game, but now that I’ve played some Monday Night Combat, let’s talk a bit more about it.

I thought I would try and preface my reviews a bit more talking about the modes and the overall game, and then break down into the actual scores at the end and see how I like the slight modification to format. Monday Night Combat is an over the top shooter where the objective in the protection of or taking out of a Moneyball, a target that is a glorified piñata with tons of cash in it. This is no Call of Duty or Halo, and you have a simplified objective that is more important than rattling off some headshots.

The Blitz mode is a cooperative mode where you (and some friends if you want them to hop in) fight off wave after wave of incoming bots. There’s defense guns you can set up and improve upon as well as your own powers you can upgrade, giving the game a sort of tower defense and 3rd person shooter feel at the same time. The better you do, the more money you earn. The more money you earn, the more turrets and upgrades you can afford.

Crossfire is an online versus mode that is a blast, but loaded with chaos too. Once again you have turrets and you can upgrade yourself as you attempt to take out the other team’s moneyball. Both games require that you be fast with your upgrade decisions while being a quick, accurate aim too. There’s a fair amount to do between matches too. You can make customized classes that have various ‘sponsorships’ or perks that give you some small bonuses while playing. The better you do, the more between-match cash you accrue. There’s also a ‘leveling’ system as well, which is kind of a fun addition.

Graphics – 8:

There’s a graphical style here that’s wonderfully cartoony. This game was not meant to compete with Modern Warfare or Battlefield, and the graphics help to give it a unique feeling that really works for the game. If they tried to be ultra realistic it might have come across as a weak, lightweight attempt, but by making things a bit more comically over-the-top it feels fresh. Animations are solid and the overall team color schemes are good, though I did see some slowdown during frantic online activity and the zones themselves do lack some visual variation.

Sound and Music – 6:

I’m going to hit this one a bit. Music’s okay I guess, not memorable but it doesn’t get in the way. The game’s sound effects are okay as well, though I never really noticed it feeling as immersive as those found in higher end shooters that make outstanding use of my surround sound. The announcer’s voice kind of grated on my nerves and he was really repetitive.

Gameplay – 8:
The menus are easy to navigate, and once you know what you want to do with your upgrades, it’s pretty easy to do them quickly. The actual combat mechanics are not as precise as some of the top shelf games, but they don’t quite have to be to function well. The classes all feel unique as well, which helps lend some variety to the action. Some of my online games, as I mentioned in graphics, can slow down a bit when the action really heats up, and that can be rather annoying. It can also take a long time to connect to matches, but I never had issues with having to drop out of a match once one started.

Intangibles – 7:

The leveling system is nice, and I liked the customization options. The different classes add some variety to the game and give you a reason to try different things. The online play helps out a ton, since the single player offline mode is okay, but not nearly as fun as the more chaotic co-op and competitive modes. The lack of maps and additional modes really hurt though, and the lack of variety in sounds and arenas do give a sort of ‘been there, done that’ vibe after awhile.

Overall – 7.5:

I enjoyed the game overall. It was fun, and there were goals that kept me coming back for more and tweaking my contestant. I mentally found myself thinking this was Smash TV for the current consoles, or at least a lightweight version of what a fleshed out modern Smash TV could be (I loved that game in the arcade). I came in to this game with modest expectations at the time, having decided to take part of an Xbox promotion at the time to buy 3 games. I picked up Lara Croft and Limbo and then waffled between Monday Night Combat and Castlevania for awhile, but finally opted for Monday Night Combat and definitely did not regret it. It lacks serious depth, but it fits my occasional need for a quick sit down and shoot something fix.


EA Sports MMA - Xbox 360/PS3 game review

Been a bit since I had any new reviews. Between the holidays and getting lost in a handful of very cool games, I haven't been at my cpu quite as much, but here's one that I've spent a couple of weeks on:

EA Sports MMA is a very different kind of fighting game. THQ’s generally well-received UFC game has been the sole occupant of the MMA space, and though I haven’t had a chance to play that game, I went more than a few rounds with EA’s MMA game and here’s my general thoughts on it.

Graphics – 8:

The overall motions look pretty smooth, and while I’d like to see a bit more variety in the styles overall, cosmetically there’s a lot you can do to give your fighter a unique look. The graphics and controls both reminded me of EA’s excellent Fight Night series as well. The replays look awesome and can be fun to save and watch later. The overall menus are nothing special, and the venues look okay at a glance but also don’t do much beyond that to impress. You can get bit hits in that have a nice disconcerting effect on the visuals and sound, which is nice. It might have been interesting to see physical development for your character, like a higher grade of muscle tone as they improve in certain areas, just to give the fighter a slightly more dynamic appearance over the 40 matches of your career mode.

Sound & Music – 8:

Plenty of good tunes make up the sound track, and the commentary and crowd sounds are pretty nice – though often repetitive. It’s a common trend with sports games – the commentary is very cool early on, but after awhile you’ve heard pretty much all of it. There’s not a lot of ring sound in and of itself, though. It seems like there could be some more in-ring sound effects to help vary things up, and I would love to see an extended commentary.

Gameplay – 7:

This was a tough one for me. I liked the overall scheme. The stick system was very reminiscent of the Fight Night games where you use variations of right-analog stick movement to make your strikes. Unfortunately sometimes it is just about impossible to pull off a specific move, no matter how many times you’ve tried. Most of the time the controls are good, but when they’re not responding the way you feel like they should, it can be very frustrating. The layout and pass system on the ground is pretty cool too. That said, the computer can be frustrating beyond belief during some of the training exercises, and it feels like people and the computer can somehow just button mash during the ground game. What’s disappointing is this game is not meant to be a button masher. The game is at its best when it’s experienced as a game with give and take, the fighting having a sort of ebb and flow – especially the wrestling components. The online connectivity was good – I almost never experienced any significant lag from it. Matches of al kinds seem short – it seems like either I win quickly or lose quickly, and the game does have a ton of load times. They could use some more load screens and dialogs, because you do spend a good chunk of your time staring at them.

Intangibles – 8:

The career mode was my favorite. They did a great job of making the training exercises something that once you get them perfected, or as close as you think you will be on one, you can then simulate them to get the full effect. In other similar titles, like Fight Night, you have to do the same repetitive training motions every time, and if you sim it you only get half credit, which is frustrating. This speeds up the affair a ton, which helps to compensate for the painfully long and frequent load times. The online mode has quite a few options to keep things fresh and the stable of fighters included is pretty solid as well. The accomplishments are by and large pretty easy to get overall, if that’s something of particular interest to you.

Overall – 7.75:

It’s a good game, but it could be better. For a first effort it’s definitely a series to keep an eye on, and with some additional polish to the career mode in particular, it will be a series that could gain popularity, just like the sport it is based on. The graphics, sound and commentary could use some touch up, and the presentation could use a bit more depth in the career mode (there’s a blogger of sorts who chronicles your progress with these big written posts. Not bad, but it feels like it could be a bit deeper on all fronts). I enjoyed it quite a bit and played it heavily for a couple of weeks, though the career mode and free fight did start to wear thin after that. The online mode helped to sustain the game’s value as well.


I'm still here :)

But, with the holiday stuff going on, and some extra business with work and all of that fun stuff - I haven't had quite as much game time of late, plus I've sunk in on a few games that are taking a good chunk of time to complete, like Fire Emblem. Older tactical strategy game, but I'm enjoying it so far. Anyway - I should have some reviews up this weekend, at least a couple of so. And well - then for Christmas? A whole lot more, so be patient and I should have plenty incoming soon. :)

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