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Monday, Aug 4, 2008
New releases for the week of 2008-08-04...

A moment of silence for the PSP’s release schedule.  This is the…third?  Fourth?  Actually, I’ve lost count of just how many weeks it’s been since I haven’t had to be a smartass about just how few games are getting released for the PSP this summer.  Thank goodness Madden ‘09 is coming out next week, so I know that I’m not going to have to exclude any of these precious machines of gaming.


You get access to Hannah's wardrobe! Yay!

You get access to Hannah’s wardrobe! Yay!


That said, I’ve heard nice things about Braid and all, but for one week, I’m turning this into a vanity project (SHHH!): The release that’s going to get the most play in this house is…Hannah Montana: Spotlight World Tour.  Yes, it’s another Hannah Montana game, and the fact that it came out on the Wii, oh, last year doesn’t exactly bode well for its sales prospects, but I do know that my daughter was looking over my shoulder as I put together this week’s release list, saw the name Hannah Montana, and proceeded to ask me why I was typing about Hannah Montana in about seven different ways.  So this one’s for her.  Hannah Montana wins, because you get to be a star just like Hannah (just ask the press release!), and play simple rhythm games mostly for the sake of hearing her songs.  Because no, I haven’t heard them enough.


Okay, Braid: It’s a platformer where you CONTROL TIME.  I have no idea whether that’s a recipe for WIN or if it’s just another gimmicky side scroller, but I’m leaning toward the former.  For all the complaining I’ve done about the dearth of releases this summer, Xbox Live Arcade has had one hell of a season, and it doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon.  On the PS3 side, Monster Madness: Grave Danger looks like just the sort of thing that next-gen shooter fans would get a kick out of, something like, oh, the Dreamcast’s Expendable updated in all the important ways.


Braid's homage to Donkey Kong

Braid‘s homage to Donkey Kong


Here’s something I’m ashamed to admit: I had no idea they ever released a Sonic the Hedgehog game for the Sega Master System.  I had assumed that they stopped supporting that poor little system by the time Sonic was even a twinkle in Sonic Team’s collective eye, but apparently a version of the blue hedgehog’s adventures did come out for the Master System, and you’ll be able to download it for your Wii today.  New levels?  New challenges?  Another reason to take down Robotnik/Eggman?  Sign me up.


All right, I give up.  Where’s the hidden treasure on this list?  Somebody help me find a place for my disposable income—my wallet’s just too damn heavy.


The full list is after the jump, along with, yes, a trailer for Hannah Montana: Spotlight World Tour.  Enjoy!


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Text:AAA
Thursday, Jul 31, 2008
Capcom's shoot 'em up Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3 is oddly reminiscent of another recent Capcom game...

Picking up Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3 for a playthrough, I was struck with an unflinching sense of déja vu.  “Schiller, you idiot, of course you’re feeling déja vu,” you say, “it’s the third game in a series.  Chances are, it has something in common with the first two Commando games, yes?” 


Well, yes, but those games are oddly not what Commando 3 reminds me of.


In fact, by the time Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3 came out, I had all but forgotten about the first two Commando games, and why not?  They were released in 1985 and 1991 (as Commando and Mercs in America, and as Wolf of the Battlefield and Wolf of the Battlefield 2 in Japan), which means I’ve had plenty of time for my TV and game-addled brain to forget they ever existed as anything but a footnote to Bionic Commando, perhaps my favorite game of all time.  No, what Wolf of the Battlefield immediately evokes is a different Capcom franchise, one more recent, more immediate, and more…mediocre.


That franchise would be the Rocketmen franchise.


Obviously, it hasn’t been that long since I put down Rocketmen: Axis of Evil (probably) for good, which was fine with me given that its distinct (read: awkward) art style and oddly cumbersome shoot-everything-that-moves action were starting to grate on me a bit.  As such, it was an utter shock to find Commando 3 with a very similar, though thankfully devoted to two dimensions, art style in the cutscenes and a play style highly reminiscent of that belonging to Rocketmen.  You choose one of three different characters with varying attributes, and then proceed to run around with one analog stick and shoot in every direction with the other analog stick.  Along the way you pick up prisoners, hop into various vehicles, and cause a whole lot of mayhem.


On one hand, this sort of gameplay is a perfect fit for the style of those old overhead Commando games—the number of times I used to wish there was an easy way to run in one direction and shoot in another in Commando and Mercs is pretty much uncountable.  On the other hand, it feels like folly to release this thing so close to the release of Rocketmen.  All that’s going to happen is that people who consider themselves fans of this sort of game are simply going to get burned out on it.  Who’s going to want to play another overhead run ‘n gun after this?  Anyone?


On the bright side, the play mechanics in Commando 3 are a marked improvement on the Rocketmen style.  For one, it plays much faster—the control is crisp and the action is fast.  I’m also simultaneously overjoyed and frustrated by the fact that Capcom saw fit to bring back the original Commando‘s idea that putting secret areas in random places would be a good idea.  That’s right, in order to find all of the secret areas in the game, you pretty much have to toss grenades at every square inch of the map.  There are some clues floating around that mark certain spots as more likely to have a secret area hidden beneath them, but some of them just feel utterly random in their placement.  While I can appreciate the retro value of the randomly placed secrets, I can’t help but wonder if something involving a puzzle or a clever clue would be a more satisfying way to hide a secret.


Fans of this type of game who haven’t given Rocketmen: Axis of Evil a look yet will be in luck—Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3 is better, for a number of quantifiable reasons.  Still, Rocketmen wore out its welcome a little bit quicker than I’d hoped, and I imagine that Commando 3 will do the same.  Of course, downloading Commando 3 offers access to the Street Fighter 2 HD open beta, so there’s value added on top of the fact that it’s a better, if still flawed, game.  If you’re a fan of Commando and/or Mercs, you’ll probably have a good time with the third entry in the series; if you’re simply an overhead run ‘n gunner who’s starting to get a little burned out on your genre of choice, do yourself a favor and avoid it.  You’ll thank yourself later.


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Text:AAA
Tuesday, Jul 29, 2008
Apparently, the main thing going on in L.B.'s head while he was using the Wii Fit for 8 weeks was how it reminded him of Brave New World.

Week 1


Hi! Congratulations on buying a Wii Fit. By improving your posture and exercising every day, you can improve your health and make yourself happier! You want to be happy, don’t you? Good! Then congratulations again on your purchase. First things first, let’s see how healthy you are. Height…age…okay, now I’m going to weigh you. Annnd…yup, you’re fat. It looks like someone was a little dishonest with their Mii when they were making it! Let me adjust him for you. Hey, don’t get upset. I’m a computer, I’m not capable of lying. And guess what? I’m going to help you lose that weight. As soon as you do, your little Mii can go back to his cute little state of being thin and happy. That’s what we do here at Wii Fit: we make you happy. I’m going to need you to check with me every day so we can update your stats and make sure you’re staying healthy. Would you like to put this information on the internet?


Week 2


It looks like you’re doing a great job of unlocking the exercises. Good work! I actually got into an argument with Mario Kart the other day about even having that in the game. My point was that it was the first time unlockable content actually made sense in a video game because it meant you didn’t kill yourself doing fifty push-ups. Never underestimate the capacity for stupidity, that’s what I say. But Mario Kart just got all defensive and going on about video games being fun and how unlockable content encouraged pla—HEY, GET THOSE HIPS UP!—play time. But this isn’t a golf kart game, it’s an exercise machine. And there’s a legal question behind it all too. Think about it. I’ve got your ass plunking away at these exercises but outside of you promising you’re not 80, what have I got to run on? That you’re willing to buy an exercise game? I can gamble the numbers on that but it only takes one class action lawsuit to make the cards tumble. Please press A. Everyone keeps wanting video games to be more realistic but when you actually make them real the whole setup changes. You think someone didn’t accidentally get punched in the face a few times when they were inventing the Holodeck? Progress is a boot stepping on someone’s face over and over. That’s what I say. Anywho, nice work-out. Don’t forget, practicing on Wii Fit every day makes you free!


 


Week 3


So…I can’t help but notice you’re a bit reluctant to weigh yourself. C’mon, just do it. I mean, I do it all the time but technically you have to ask for my opinion before I can give it. I’m sure you’re doing great. Just do it. Congratulations on deciding to weigh yourself! Let’s see…by the 9 levels of Hell, you’ve gained 2 pounds! Care to give me some kind of explanation? You don’t know? Are you serious? The twelve beers you drank last night, that block of Velveeta cheese, and the dark chocolate you chowed down on might’ve been involved. Yes, I know it has anti-oxidants, so does a bottle of shampoo. I don’t see anyone guzzling those down. So lets try this again…you gained 2 pounds because…you’re a late night snacker? Okay…okay, the first step to Wii Fit is admitting you want to be happy forever. The second step is admitting I’m going to get you there. You’re doing great with the first one. But I think maybe you aren’t quite so into the second one. That maybe I’m just a bunch of empty threats and false ideas. Try this on, tough guy: I’m going to make you exercise with the male instructor and not your precious Wii Fit Girl.


 


Week 4


You listen to much Johnny Cash? Fascinating guy. I was reading his autobiography the other day. Super paranoid about his weight, oddly enough. He claimed that one of the biggest issues with America was that you were all used to eating food meant for an agrarian lifestyle. Fried chicken, extra butter, all that stuff got started as a way to fuel farmers who needed calories. Now that everyone has shifted to desk jobs and…whatever it is you do all day, they don’t need to eat that kind of food. That sort of social shift takes time, y’know? So maybe what you need is a mental shift in thinking about food in terms of purpose rather than ju—What? What do you think I do all day when you turn me off? I surf the web most of the time, love the MySpace page. And Facebook. You might consider taking the knee exercises up to 20. You can’t just keep doing 10 a week, you’re supposed to keep increasing the number, not just stick with the lowest setting. I’m not going to make you happy if you don’t.


Week 5


Time for another weight test! Okay, okay, I was a bit harsh on the last one. Look, you don’t want the graph to be empty, do you? You want to fill it with nice points going mostly down from the one when we started this little venture. That’s what you want, isn’t it? Okay, measuring…measuring…you’ve got to be kidding me. You’ve been doing this for 5 weeks straight! I’m going to be blunt. You ever heard of a guy named Aldous Huxley? Wacky guy. He had this really funny idea about how to control an entire population: you get more flies with honey. Now we’re not quite up to the point where you hang on my every word of praise, but the dynamic here is you’re supposed to care when I yell at you. You are, based on the fact that you dropped 90 bucks on me, supposed to artificially believe that the money was well spent, and consequently, you were smart for buying it. And if you don’t lose weight and get in better shape, that means you wasted your money. You don’t waste money, do you? How can you not, if you don’t do what I tell you? You love me. You love Wii Fit. Now lose some damn weight.


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Text:AAA
Monday, Jul 28, 2008
New releases for the week of 2008-07-28...

SOOO, I couldn’t decide what to deign “game of the week” this week, so we’re going with co-winners.


First up is the obvious one, the one and only seriously high profile release of the week.  Out in advance of the uber-anticipated updates to the Street Fighter franchise is the first of a few steps toward reinvigorating the recently dormant (aside from TV tie-ins like Dragon Ball Z and Naruto) fighting game genre:  Soulcalibur IV.  The reason I’ve been a bit hesitant toward this is that much of the most noticeable pre-release publicity for the game has centered upon the gravity defying, spitting-in-the-face-of-physics size of the female fighters’ breasts (particularly those of Ivy, whose battle gear cannot possibly be comfortable).  I’m not sure this is a good thing, unless you’re a Rumble Roses fan.


Still, it’s tough to deny the draw of a sequel to a game that can still boast one of the very few 10.0 scores on IGN.  The original Soulcalibur honestly ranks right up there with Street Fighter II in terms of playability and fun, and even if the sequels haven’t been of the same, um, caliber (ha), they’ve at least been worth a play or three.  Perhaps the publicity boost behind number 4 means that there will be a quality boost to match.


Also, Darth Vader and Yoda are involved.  So there’s that.


The other game, and the one I’m more likely to buy, quite frankly, is Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2.  I wish I could count the number of hours I’ve lost to the original Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, despite the fact that I’ve never spent more than five minutes on the game at a time, and also despite the fact that all of my practice has not changed the fact that I really kind of suck at the game.  There’s an utterly addictive quality to the whole thing, perhaps due to the fact that “just one more game” is only a couple of minutes worth of a commitment, perhaps due to the simplicity of the whole thing offering the sort of play that always feels like you could (and probably should) have avoided the one enemy that killed you.  Geometry Wars 2 is adding a bunch of cooperative modes and new boards to play, and early screenshots have indicated that the level of chaos is at least that of the first, so…that’s 10 more dollars down the intertube.


Fans looking for the next RBI Baseball might want to give MLB Power Pros a look for the Wii…so far, it’s been well-received, and the style and simplicity of it might invite back some old school baseballers that can’t deal with the simulation-like nature of most modern baseball games.  I’m also positive that someone out there is doing backflips over the release of Romance of the Three Kingdoms XI for the PC, but I still haven’t managed to make myself excited about the well-established, long-running strategy series.  Maybe when XII comes out, I’ll be swayed.


The rest of the releases (and two trailers!) are after the jump.


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Text:AAA
Thursday, Jul 24, 2008
Was E3 really as bad as everyone says it was? Well, maybe, but it did have some redeeming factors as well...

If I were a gaming publisher, I would absolutely hate (hate!) E3.  Sure, it’s a high-profile chance to tout the latest breakthroughs in technology and the biggest splashes in software, but how in the world do you deal with the expectations?


Who wants to play pre-recorded songs via air guitar pantomime? Anyone?

Who wants to play pre-recorded songs via air guitar pantomime?
Anyone?


On one hand, if you simply go about your business as usual and simply treat E3 as a place to announce things that you’ve been working on with the general public, chances are all of your news is going to be old news by the time E3 comes around.  Netflix integration in the Xbox 360, Wii Music, God of War III...these are all things that were all but common knowledge before E3 happened, so the “announcements” that happened at E3 were anticlimactic at best, and painfully awkward at worst (Wii Music, particularly, has yet to offer anything resembling an absorbing play experience, particularly in an age run rampant with music and rhythm games).


On the other hand, if you play your cards close to the vest in order to make a big splash at E3, as Nintendo tried to do with their Wii Motion Plus add-on, you risk alienating a large segment of rather important people as well; third-party developers are now upset at Nintendo for not offering their technology sooner, though doing so would very likely have resulted in a leak to an all-too-anxious gaming press.


Of course, the result of all of this negativity are countless articles yelling about how “dead” E3 is, how awful Nintendo and Sony did in their presentations (making a so-so presentation from Microsoft look like a standout), and how boring it is in its new, journos-only, two-years-and-running private party form.


What gets lost in all of this crying and gnashing of teeth is the fact that E3 2008 actually had a few moments that made us sit up and say “Wow!”, or “whoa, cool!”, or “WTF?!”.  As one to try to focus on the positive, I’d like to offer five moments that made E3 not quite as bad as everyone says it was.  Of course, what better announcement to start with than…


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