Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Coming Soon

Sorry there hasn't been an update in quite some time. I hope you had a great Christmas! In the new year, I will be back with reviews of Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap and Jak 3. That's just for starters. I will also have a round up of the best games of 2004, and as soon as it arrives I will have a report on the Nintendo DS and Super Mario 64 DS. Finally, Hidden Gems and Best Game in the World... Ever! will return.

See you in 2005!

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Tis The Season Part 4

Budget and preowned games

Welcome to the fourth part of my Christmas gaming round up. This time, I will be taking a brief look at the best budget games currently available for each system. Firstly, the budget titles. I will only be focusing on two per system and then I'll do a short list of the others, or we'll be here all day!


The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Link's cel-shaded adventure is now available as one of the Player's Choice titles. It may not be the best Zelda game ever, being too easy, but it's still a fantastic experience and up there with the best the Gamecube has to offer.

Metroid Prime
Many would argue that MP is the best game available for the Gamecube, and I would have to agree. The sequel may beat it when it's released next Friday, but it won't have the advantage of being just £20. If you are a Cube owner and you haven't played it yet, then treat yourself.

Other Gamecube games under £20 that are worth checking out: Pikmin, Luigi's Mansion, Super Mario Sunshine, Star Fox Adventures, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Soulcalibur 2, F-Zero GX, Skies of Arcadia Legends, Eternal Darkness, Wario Ware Inc. Mega Party Games. There are many more that I may have missed/forgotten, so if you know of a game that I haven't included here post a comment and let everyone know.

Best Gamecube Preowned Bargains
I'm using Gamestation as a benchmark here, but other stores may offer different (better?) prices.
Beyond Good & Evil - £14.99
Billy Hatcher - £12.99
Gladius - £6.99 - BARGAIN!
Ikaruga - £16.99
Super Monkey Ball - £9.99


Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
One of the best Star Wars games that LucasArts have ever produced and also an essential purchase for RPG fans. The main quest will last you an estimated 40 hours on your first play through, and the storyline and quests change depending on whether you travel down the path of light or towards the Dark Side. If you missed it first time around, pick it up as part of the Xbox Classics range now.

If you're new to Xbox, no doubt you will have heard all about Halo and the over-hyped Halo 2. In my humble opinion, the original is still the better of the two, being less glitchy, but the one player modes are really quite similar in both. If you have the money, I recommend you get both Halo's at the same time and go on an epic battle against the Covenant over the Christmas period.

Other Xbox games under £20 worth checking out: Project Gotham Racing 2, Top Spin, SSX 3, Dead or Alive: Extreme Beach Volleyball, Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Mashed.

Best Xbox preowned bargains
Again, these are based on Gamestation prices.

Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon - £12.99
Colin McRae Rally 04 - £12.99
Fable - £24.99 (not quite a budget price, but pretty good)
Flatout - £19.99
Ford Racing 3 - £12.99
Panzer Dragoon Orta - £12.99
RalliSport Challenge 2 - £16.99
Secret Weapons Over Normandy - £12.99

PlayStation 2

I'm back, finally, to try and finish this post. It's turned into something of a behemoth. Anyway, PS2 budget games, here we go:

Jak 2: Renegade
There are way more PS2 budget titles to choose from, which makes selecting just two to focus on even harder. One of my favourite games earlier this year was Jak 2, which to the original protagonist, tortured him, gave him dark powers (and a voice) and then sent him into Haven City to do battle against (dum dum duhhh) sinister forces. What followed was an excellent blend of the platform action from the orignal Jak & Daxter, gunplay which was similar to Ratchet & Clank, and a huge living city to expore ala GTA. The gameplay is fun, and I don't agree with critics who said there's too much walking about (a jet bike is never far from you). The visuals are up there with the best PS2 titles and the voice acting is spot on.

Kingdom Hearts
You can't beat a good RPG, and is is one. Uber corporations Square and Disney joined forces to produce the stoy of Sora, a boy who wields a huge key as a sword, who has to band together with Donald Duck and Goofy in order to find out what happened to King Mickey and his friends Rikku and Kairi. There are plenty of familiar faces, from Alice, Tarzan and Hercules to, Aeris, Cloud and Sephiroth. This is truely a magical game, and is perfect for playing at Christmas time. Two sequels are on the way, one on the GBA and one on the PS2.

Other PS2 games under £20 worth checking out: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Ratchet & Clank 2, Burnout 2, Hitman 2, Zone of the Enders, SSX 3, Final Fantasy X.

Best PS2 preowned bargains
As before, these are Gamestation prices.

Battle Engine Aquila - £7.99
Beyond Good and Evil - £6.99 - BARGAIN!
Dancing Stage Fusion - £16.99
Drakan: The Ancients Gates - £7.99
Final Fantasy X-2 - £16.99
Ford Racing 3 - £12.99
Gladius - £7.99
Gradius V - £16.99
Legaia: Dual Saga - £12.99
Mashed - £16.99
Onimusha 2 - £7.99
Project Zero - £12.99
Rygar - £12.99
Shadow Hearts - £12.99
Summoner 2 - £4.99 - BARGAIN!
The Mark of Kri - £6.99 - BARGAIN!

So there you go. These are some seriously good prices for some seriously good games. If you've always envied Nintendo owners for having the Zelda series, then I urge you to try Beyond Good & Evil, as it's the closest your going to get. It has it's own original aspects though such as taking photographs of wildlife for money.

This is taking way too long. Once again, I'll be back soon with the GBA and PC sections.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Tis the Season Part 3

Here I am back again with part 3 of my 4 part Xmas special. This time I'll be taking a look at 5 games for the Game Boy Advance and PC that you should consider pestering your loved ones into getting you for Christmas.

The GBA Xmas Season Top 5

5. The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap - out now
For once, lucky Europeans will be able to play Link's latest adventure months before fans in the US! I haven't had the chance to play the game yet, but from all I've seen and read it seems to continue the tradition of excellent gameplay from previous titles, with a much needed injection of originality due to the inclusion of many new items and the fact that you can shrink to tiny size with the aid of the titular Minish Cap.

4. Mario vs Donkey Kong - 19/11/04
Part platformer, part puzzle game, MvsDK features tons of tricky levels and shows that when it comes to gameplay, yet again Nintendo are the masters.

3. Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls - 03/12/04
The two games that started the huge Square-Enix series are together on one cart, with improved graphics, sound and new areas to explore. If you already own Final Fantasy Orgins for the PS1, then don't bother because this is exactly the same, but otherwise, you can have hours of quality RPG on your handheld!

2. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga - out now
Okay, so it came out last year, but if you haven't played it, then this is the ideal time. Equally as brilliant as Paper Mario 2, but with the added benefit of being portable. GBA games don't get much finer than this.

1. Pokemon Fire Red and Leaf Green
Another quality RPG offering. Pokemon might not be to everyone's taste, but you do enjoy it (and there's no shame in it) then these reworkings of the original classics will be right up your street.

Import Corner
This time the Yankies get Metal Slug Advance and Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories before the year is out, whereas we have to wait until next year. I'm really looking forward to the new Kingdom Hearts game personally, it's visually one of the finest games available for the GBA.
Sad thought - this Christmas could be the last "big" Christmas for the GBA, as the DS is likely to steal a lot of its thunder over the next year. Nintendo say that the GBA isn't going to be phased out, but I'm not convinced.

The PC Xmas Season Top 5.

You'll have to bear with me here, as I'm really not much of a PC gamer. These are the games that appeal to me most, though.

5. Half-Life 2 - out now?
If there's one game that's been more eagerly awaited over the last few years than Halo 2, then this is it. Early reports say that it doens't dissapoint either, unlike the Master Chief's new game. The Source engine that powers everything is amazing, and the game is polished like no other, but is it really worth buying a brand new PC just to be able to play it? Almost.

4. The Sims 2 - out now
The Sims are back in full 3D with many more things to do. I love games like Rollercoaster Tycoon etc, but in this one there doesn't seem to be much of an overall goal, so I think eventually I might get bored of it. Of course, that's where the expansion packs come in.

3. Medal of Honor Pacific Assault - 19/11/04
Can the new Medal of Honor redeem the series and steal back some of the glory that was captured by the likes of Call of Duty? I don't know. Go by the game and tell me!

2. Star Wars Galaxies: Jump to Lightspeed - out now
The orignal MMORPG sounded more than a bit dull but now you can pilot starfighters, freighters and many other vechicles things sound much more interesting. I still haven't got the time or money to spend playing it though.

1. Platypus - out now
One of the most enjoyable PC games I've played this year, Platypus was put together by just one man and features fantastic claymation graphics. It's a classic 2D horizontal shoot 'em up, featuring some excellent retro music by Chris Abbott (of Back In Time fame). Go download the demo from http://www.squashysoftware.com/platypus.php, and then buy the full version!

Import Corner
Nothing much to say here - I told you I don't know much about PC games, sorry!

I'll be back again with Part 4 - focusing on retro and budget titles for those of you with cash flow problems around the Christmas period!

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Do not adjust your set

Normal service will be resumed when I regain some energy, as I've just had a rather nasty bug for the last few days and I'm still recovering. Hopefully tommorow things will be back to normal, and then I shall try and regain some of the lost ground over the weekend. I've had no indication that anyone actually reads this blog, so it's not as if anyone is really missing out anyway.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Tis the Season Part 2

Wotcha! It's time for Part 2 of my Christmas gaming special. This time, I'm going to cover both the Xbox and PS2. In Part 3, I will take a look at the GBA and PC scene, and finally in Part 4 I will look at the "alternative" gaming Christmas, which means Retro and preowned titles (ideal if you're a bit hard up for cash).

The Xbox Christmas Season Top 5

5. Halo 2 - 11/11/04

Bungie's big budget sequel will be a no-brainer for most people, but not everyone can afford to pick it up on release day, and will be relying on friends or relatives to see them right on Xmas day. Expect the air to be filled with the sounds of multiplayer battles on Christmas Day, and many days after that.

4. FlatOut - 05/11/04

If you've been missing an orgy of vehicular carnage since Destruction Derby when the PS1 launched, you'd do well to check out FlatOut. There's a variety of game modes, including races where two teams go in opposite directions around the track, and mini games where your drive is thrown violently through the windscreen. These include a giant game of darts and the high jump!

3. Prince of Persia: Warrior Within - 26/11/04

Also in the Gamecube section. The original was overlooked when it was first released on the PS2, but fared much better when it eventually came out on the Gamecube and Xbox a few months later. This time Ubisoft aren't making the same mistake, and the sequel is being released across all formats at the same time. The game is much darker than the original - whether that's a good or bad thing remains to be seen.

2. Goldeneye: Rogue Agent - 26/11/04

I must admit, I haven't been terribly impressed with any of EA's Bond offerings so far, but I'm always willing to give them another chance. The chances of Goldeneye living up to the greatness of the N64 game by the same name are pretty remote, but I could be pleasantly surprised.

1. Fable - out now

It's been out for quite a while already but if you haven't played it yet then it's well worth a look. It's a hack and slash RPG with plenty of humour, and your decisions can completely change your character and determine his look, and whether your good or evil. The actual game is more linear than you'd think, but it's still fascinating to see how your character develops.

Import Corner

Might one suggest Sonic Mega Collection Plus or Call of Duty: Finest Hour for Sir/Madam's delectation? The first one is a sugar sweet collection of platforming classics, while the latter is a rich roulade of blood and bullets set in, you guessed it, World War II.

Santa will definitely be coming down the chimney when he checks out this little lot (he'll probably have to change his underwear!).

The PlayStation 2 Christmas Season Top 5

5. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas - out now

This is officially Sony's Big Gun in the battle against Halo 2, and it's almost a match for the Master Chief. I've already played over 20 hours worth since buying the game last week, and I've not even begun to exhaust all the possibilities in the first city alone. Pool, track racing, gang wars, betting, racing down a huge mountain, parachuting, hauling cargo around the state and much much more than you ever thought the PS2 is capable of. Completely essential!

4. Jak 3 - 26/11/04

I've always been a fan of Naughty Dog's platform/shoot 'em up series, and Jak 3 looks like it's going to take the series out with a bang. If you have kids that are too young to enjoy GTA, then the Jak games are a very good alternative. This time Jak, Daxter and Pecker have been cast out into the Wasteland, and must find a way back into Haven City to try and save the population from yet another nefarious scheme!

3. Sega Superstars - out now

Christmas is an ideal time to whip out your EyeToy (no innuendo implied) and enjoy some party game madness. Sega Superstars contains 12 different games each based on a gaming classic, such as Sonic, Samba de Amigo, Virtua Fighter, Puyo Puyo, Space Channel 5, or my current favourite, Nights Into Dreams.

2. Killzone - 26/11/04

For me the jury is still out as to whether this is the Halo beater everyone is making it out to be, but it certainly looks impressive at the moment. The market is being saturated with FPS's at the moment, but when they're all of such high quality who cares?

1. Dancing Stage Fusion - 05/11/04

Another excuse to look like a total tit in front of your friends, the latest version of the dance mat game also incorporates EyeToy moves at the same time, guaranteeing that you will be completely and utterly exhausted!

Import Corner

The americans get the decidedly dodgy lessie wrestling game Rumble Roses in time for Christmas, but personally I'm much more jealous of the fact that they get Growlanser Generations and we don't. I loved Arc the Lad Collection, which was the previous release from Working Designs, and Growlanser looks just as promising, with all sorts of bonus goodies chucked in (which is a WD tradition).

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Hidden Gems Volume 9

Firstly, apologies for not having posted for so long. It's not entirely my fault, honest! I came on twice on Friday to try and post the weekly release list, but the servers must have been down so I couldn't get access.

This week I plan to post up another part to my Tis The Season strand, as well as actually getting this weeks new release up in time! With that out of the way, let's get on with this weeks Hidden Gem...

I recently got a chance to play a little game on the PS2 by the name of Gitaroo Man, and boy am I glad I did. I've long been a fan of rhythm action games, from Parappa the Rapper, Space Channel 5, Rez and more besides. If I had to compare Gitaroo Man to any of these, it would have to be Parappa, but it's much better than that game. It has a similar off the wall Japanese sense of humour, and vaguely similar graphics and art style, but it's much more fun to play and it will take you longer to finish.

The idea of the plot is that you are the last in the line of beings that are able to wield the Gitaroo, a guitar shaped weapon. Aliens have obtained all the Gitaroos except yours, and you must protect it from them by beating 10 of their best warriors. By day, your character is a rather sad individual, unlucky in love, lacking in self confidence and bullied by his "friends". When his talking dog gives him the Gitaroo however, he's transformed into Gitaroo Man, the superhero charged with saving the universe!

Basically each song is made up of several parts - Charge, Battle and Final. In the Charge phase, you play along as best you can in order to build up energy in your electric guitar/weapon hybrid, and you can't actually be hurt here. In the Battle phase, you take turns attacking and defending whichever enemy you're battling against, and here mistakes will cost you energy. If you manage to survive this phase, you enter the Final, and a bit of good playing here is enough to see of your opposition.

The guitar playing itself is deceptively simple, but can get very tough indeed after the first few songs. In the Charge and the attacking part of the Battle phase, you will see a dot in the middle and a wavy line protruding from it. You have to move the left analogue stick in the same direction as the line and keep it on there. While doing this, you also have to press and hold the circle button as indicated. Later, when you're defending, a barrage of button symbols head towards your dot in the middle and you have to press them as they reach the dot. It can get very tough very quickly, which is one of the main drawbacks of the game as you will probably have to try some of the songs dozens of times before you succeed.

It's worth practicing until you get it right however as the completely bonkers story, settings and graphics will keep you entertained from start to finish. The music styles are suprisingly different from one track to the next considering they all involve guitar, and vary from Rock, J-Pop, Reggae and many others. There are about 10 different stages altogether, and two different difficulty levels.

Gitaroo Man should be fairly easy to find in the shops, both preowned and new. For a new copy, your likely to have to spend around £15, and a little bit less for a preowned copy. If you like this sort of game I heartily suggest you give it a try, it's up there with the best the genre has to offer.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Tis the Season Part 1

As most of you already know, the Christmas season and the months preceding it are the busiest time for the games industry. All the big releases (and many not so big) are squeezed into October, November and December, and all vie for the customers cash. If you haven't yet decided which game (or games, if you're lucky) you want for Christmas, then this multi part guide is here to help. I will go through what I consider are the five biggest releases on each format, starting today with my favourite console, the Nintendo Gamecube. These aren't in any order of preference, by the way. Later on I will also do a feature on the best looking games of next year.

5. Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door - 12/11/04
Okay, I've been going on and on about how good this game is recently, but believe me it does deserve all the praise. It's the perfect game for both RPG novices and experts alike, as well as children and adults. What's more, it just feels like the perfect Christmas game.

4. Tales of Symphonia - 19/11/04
Another epic RPG, this time from Namco. The real-time battles keep things lively and there's plenty to see and do. Your quest is likely to last around 60 hours, so there's enough to see you through many cold winter nights!

3. Metroid Prime 2: Echoes - 26/11/04
Nintendo are really bring out the big guns this Christmas - quite literally in this case. The original was one of the only games to get a perfect rating the notoriously strict mags Edge and GAMEStm, and surely that says it all?

2. Prince of Persia: Warrior Within - 26/11/04
The original was overlooked when it was first released on the PS2, but fared much better when it eventually came out on the Gamecube and Xbox a few months later. This time Ubisoft aren't making the same mistake, and the sequel is being released across all formats at the same time. The game is much darker than the original - whether that's a good or bad thing remains to be seen.

1. Mortal Kombat: Deception - 05/11/04
The MK series hasn't really been up to much since Mortal Kombat 2 all those years ago, but the latest entry shows lots of promise - with a puzzle mode, kombat chess and an RPG thrown in. Is it in danger of becoming a jack of all trades, master of none? Time will tell.

Import Corner
For those of you with access to an NTSC Gamecube or a Freeloader disc, you can get your hands on Mario Tennis and Baten Kaitos from the USA before the year is out. Mario Tennis is looking much, much more exciting than the N64 version, and Baten Kaitos is Namco's other big RPG project this year.

That's it for the Cube

Thursday, October 28, 2004

New Releases - 29/10/04

Okay, it looks like I'm going to have to out this lunchtime so what I will try and do is write some of the new release list now, and some later. Let's get on with it shall me?

PlayStation 2

Driven to Destruction
Ford Racing 3
Future Tactics: The Uprising
Gadget and the Gadgetinis
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Hot Wheels Stunt Track Challenge
Knight Rider 2
Midway Arcade Treasures 2
NBA Live 2005
Premier Manager 2004/2005
Project Minerva Professional
Sly 2: Band of Thieves
Total Club Manager 2005
Trivial Pursuit Unhinged
Ty the Tasmanian Tiger 2: Bush Rescue

Wow, the silly season has definitely started in earnest this week! The biggie is of course Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas but personally I'm finding it hard to get excited about it. I never got around the finishing the last two so having three on the go doesn't really appeal to me. If you do buy it, you're virtually assured a good game judging by the strengths of the previous entries to the series. Also possibly-maybe worth a look are Ford Racing 3 and Sly 2: Band of Thieves. I must also mention Hot Wheels Stunt Track Challenge, as one of my closest friends was one of the programmers. Can't wait to try it!


NBA Live 2005

Hmm, a rather different state of affairs in the Nintendo camp, but don't worry Cube owners, PAL versions of Tales of Symphonia, Paper Mario and Metroid Prime 2 are too far off now.


Ford Racing 3
Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders
Midway Arcade Treasures 2
NBA Live 2005
Street Fighter Anniversary Collection
Total Club Manager 2005

I'd recommend checking out Kingdom Under Fire - it's the sequel to an old PC RTS, but this time the gameplay is more akin to something like Dynasty Warriors with more tactical options thrown in. If you're into you're retro games then check out Midway Arcade Treasures 2, which includes Mortal Kombat 2 (the best game in the series) and many more. Finally, Street Fighter Anniversary Collection is a very good deal. I had bought the PS2 version just as this version was announced, which was extremely annoying as Xbox owners get Street Fighter 3: Third Strike thrown in.


Duel Masters: Senpai Legends

I'm afraid I haven't got the fogigest what this one is about - but if I had to guess, I'd say it was a card battle game of some kind. Do I win a cookie if I'm right?


Ford Racing 3
Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude
Premier Manager 2004/2005
Star Wars Galaxies: Jump to Lightspeed
The Moment of Silence

Leisure Suit Larry
looks interesting in a tasteless, tacky kind of way, and if I could afford the monthly fees, I would definitely consider getting into Star Wars Galaxies now that star fighters and other ships have been added. It's now much closer to the films it's based on.

Import Corner - nothing noteworthy this week I'm afraid!

So there you go. I hope there's something amongst that lot that will keep you happy. With any luck, I'll be back tomorrow with another post.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Mag Watch - NOM Issue 146

Nintendo Official Magazine #146 November 2004

This is a fantastic issue of NOM this month because it not only features my favourite game of the moment, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door on the front cover, but it also has an 8 page review of the game inside. I have to take issue with a few of their comments though. "Let's be honest, RPG's are rubbish" it begins. This guy goes on to spout such drivel that only goes to demonstrate that he hasn't played many, or at least not recently. Still, he did love PM, so I'll let him off.

Also, continuing their 3 part Mario special are reviews of Mario VS Donkey Kong and Super Mario Ball. I agreed with their criticism of Mario Ball, but I haven't played MVSDK long to enough to form a solid opinion about it.

Further into the mag, there's some launch details about the Nintendo DS, and an actual-size picture of it, which is interesting to see. Previews of note include Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap and Mario Tennis, while in the reviews section are Def Jam Fight for New York, Donkey Konga and little top-down racing game called Racing Gears Advance for the GBA which looks fantastic. It truely is the season for Nintendo fans to be jolly!

Rounding off the mag are a couple of very interesting previews of Resident Evil 4 and Yoshi's Universal Gravitation (which features a tilt sensor in the cartridge, a bit like Kirby's Tilt & Tumble a few years ago). Finally, there's the promise of a cover DVD next month, which I think is a great idea. While I will miss the free gifts that usually come with each issue, I must admit they were rarely of any real use, and a DVD full of clips of new games is better value overall.

As soon as I've finished reading it I will do another Mag Watch feature on the latest Games(tm) and then it will be time for Edge once again!

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Hidden Gems Volume 7

Oh dear, it's been exactly a week since the last post! I shall try and remedy that this week with a whole stack of content for you. The weekly release list will now be posted on a Thursday, mainly so that people can see what's coming out the next day, but also because I sometimes go out on a Friday and don't have time to write anything.

At least I've managed to post up a new Hidden Gems article for seven weeks running. Speaking of which...

Up until recently, my knowledge of the Sega Saturn almost nothing. A friend of mine at University had one (hello, Simon) and I played a few of his games, but I never owned one myself. I have intended to pick one up on ebay for almost a year though, and a few weeks back I finally bought one, along with a copy of Nights Into Dreams, which is the subject of this weeks article.

"In the nights, sweet delight..."

Like many classic games throughout the years, Nights Into Dreams suffered because it came out late on in the lifetime of the Sega Saturn, when things were winding down for the console. As such, not as many people played the game as it deserved, and so it became a bit of a sleeper hit. It was developed by Sonic Team, and in my opinion it was their last truly great game (Sonic Adventure and Billy Hatcher have their moments, but there's still something missing). The idea of the game is that two children, a girl named Claris and a boy named Elliott, are having nightmares about certain events in their real life, and they have to explore their dreams and conquer the nasty Mares with the help of the mysterious Nights.

Once you've chosen which of the two you want to play as, the stage begins. Each stage follows a certain structure - firstly, you must collect 20 blue chips as quickly as possible and take them to the "Ideya capture". Then bonus time begins, and you can zoom around the level flying through rings, defeating enemies, collecting starts and doing paraloops to build up your score as high as possible. You must enter the "Ideya palace" as soon as possible though, or you will lose everything. One you do, you're rated for that part of the stage and the next part begins. Each stage is divided into four smaller sections, and then you face the boss. The bosses in Nights are extremely imaginative - especially Puffy, who looks like a cross between an opera singer and a space hopper. You have to grab hold of her and through her through the scenery behind her until you trap her at the end.

The theme for each stage varies slightly - from a green and pleasant countryside environment, to a snowy stage, a museum, and more. There's ony 7 stages in total, which won't take you much time at all to beat. In fact, you're likely to feel short changed the first time you finish the game, but it's actually much deeper than you first realise. There's the whole grading system to begin with, so you can constantly try and beat your best score, and there's also the A-Life system. This keeps track of how the "Nightopians" feel toward you. Nightopians are little harmless creatures that live in each stage, and their feelings can be effected by how many you accidentally fly into during a stage, or how many you hatch out their eggs. This has a really clever effect on the game - depending on how these little creatures feel about you, the music changes, so each time you play the results will be a little different.

Speaking of the music, this is fantastic - really funky, happy, stuff in true Sega style. The ending theme, while a little corny, is great too. I was also really impressed by the visuals - considering that is on a console that's almost a decade old, and that the Saturn was supposed to be crap at doing 3D graphics, they're amazing. They'll remind you a bit of the Sonic games, but they also have character of their own, and match the best graphics that I've seen on the PS1.

If you do decide to track down this game, I also recommend you find a copy of Christmas Nights too. This was a demo disc with a difference - rather than just a quick level, you had all sorts of bonus presents to play with, like sound galleries, a menu to keep track of the Nightopians and their feelings, videos, and more. They also made the masterstroke of making the game keep track of the internal clock, with the game changing on certain days. These included Christmas itself, and also Halloween, New Year's Day, Valentine's Day, April 1st and a day in the year 2099! Christmas Nights can be used in conjunction with original game too, so you'll be finding hidden stuff for absolutely ages!

Finally, let's talk about price, and where to find it. My copy cost me about £15, and I got the 3D controller with the game, so that's not at all bad. Copies of Nights crop up on ebay on a regular basis, so you shouldn't have too much trouble finding it. As for Christmas Nights, that was a bit rarer, but is still fairly easy to find. I wouldn't spend more than £5 on it though, considering it was originally given away free with certain magazines.

Tomorrow I plan to do the Mag Watch article on the latest Nintendo Official Magazine, so hopefully, I'll see you there!

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Hidden Gems Volume 6

Right, here we are again. Before I get started, I just thought I'd mention that my copy of Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door has arrived from the States and it's every bit as fantastic as I had hoped. I shall report back once I have finished it, which could take a while because I play to savour every last drop of gameplay that this beauty has to offer. So, on to this weeks Hidden Gem!

This time my attentions shifts over to the PlayStation 2, which is a pretty good place to find a bargain as so many games are released that a lot of good stuff gets lost amongst all the crap. This happened to an RPG called Shadow Hearts not so long ago, which is a great shame as there is much to enjoy here. It's another game that takes it's influence from the works of H P Lovecraft (see also Eternal Darkness), and it really does make for a compelling setting for a game.

The player takes the role of the protagonist, Yuri, who rescues a girl named Alice from grisly torture and death from the evil Roger Bacon, all during the opening FMV. Your journey proper begins after you jump from the speeding train you were on and begin to explore the area of Japan that you're in. Eventually you find yourself at the gates of a sinister looking village, where the residents hide a nasty secret.

The gameplay itself is somewhat traditional, but the story is unique enough to keep you interested. There are a few innovations to the standard Final Fantasy style battle system, including the judgment ring (a ring appears when you attack, and you have to stop a moving line within a green wedge to score a hit), the Fusion system and the fact that you have Sanity Points. If these should run out during a battle, your character will go beserk and you will lose control of them.

Graphically, the game can look a little rough around the edges at times, but some of the prerendered backgrounds are very nice to look at. The music is almost faultess, one of the best game soundtracks I have heard thus far. Voice acting is a bit hit and miss, sometimes it's bad enough to make you wince, at other times it's perfectly serviceable.

Shadow Hearts shouldn't cost you too much of your hard-earned, maybe around £12.99, which is pretty good value for money for a game that is lilkely to keep you entertained for around 30 hours. A sequel, Shadow Hearts: Covenant was recently released in the USA and is pencilled in for a European release early next year. I'm looking forward to it.

For more in-depth information about Shadow Hearts, check out the link in the article heading. It will take you to a review I submitted to RPGamer.com a while back.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Mag Watch - Edge #142

Edge Issue #142 November 2004

This month's issue of Edge features Ico 2 (or Wanda and the Colossus) on the cover, and you can find an 8 page article on the game inside the magazine. It's beautifully designed and layed out on the page, and features concept art and screens of the towering monsters that you will have to do battle against. Players will have to climb these behemoths (a puzzle in itself) and find a weak spot to do damage to.

The other main articles this month include a look at "the last of the bedroom coders" Introversion, who are working on Darwinia, an extemely interesting look at the phenomon that is Second Life, a look at how peripherals have evolved and whether the new ones are just fads (such as EyeToy, Gametrak, the Nintendo DS, the Donkey Konga bongos). Finally, in Word Play, they explore the role of words in games, both in story rich genre's such as RPG's and also how words can enhance more "simple" experiences like Pong. A very interesting read.

Preview highlights include GTA: San Andreas, while reviews of note include Fable, OutRun 2, Phantom Brave, Star War:Battlefront and Colin McRae Rally 2005.

The mag is rounded of with The Making of WipeOut, which was a fascinating read for me because I've played each of the different versions of the game for many hours over the years, and the series has always been one of my favourites. None of them made quite as much impact as the original however.

So there you go, I hope this tempts you to go out and buy a copy - it's a very entertaining and enlightening read. Next time I write a Mag Watch article it will be on the next issue of Official Nintendo Magazine, so stay tuned for that!

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Hidden Gems Volume 5

Back once again it's the renegade master, d for damage-a, power to the people...

Er, sorry, got a bit carried away there. Are you sitting comfortably? Then let's begin these weeks Hidden Gems, boys and girls.

Divine Divinity is our focus this week, and it's a quality little PC action RPG by a group of Belgians collectively known as Larian Studios. Imagine Diablo, but with a much deeper range of conversation and more thoughtful puzzles, and you're almost there. Throw in better graphics, an utterly amazing musical score and a mind boggling attention to detail and you will begin to see just what a steal this game is.

You are one of the three Marked Ones, chosen to be the mortal embodiment of the Divine one's powers. You must travel through Rivellon, helping people and slowly putting together the bigger plot. Several times during the game I was strongly reminded of The Lord of the Rings, such as when you have to meet up with your wizard friend at a seedy pub, only to find he didn't make it, and having to gather a Fellowship of all the different races. This is no bad thing however, as the story is well told and the voice acting is quite adequate. No one is in any danger of winning an oscar for their performance, but you won't be cringing either.

The music most certainly is oscar worthy though (or BAFTA, or whatever the gaming equivalent is). Beautifully orchestrated, at times rather sad, and at others upbeat or foreboding, the score will keep you playing just so you can hear it. You will be playing for quite a time too, as there are plenty of quests and acres of land to explore.

The best bit is that Divine Divinity can be found for £4.99. I would recommend going for the original box with the paper manual rather than the Xplosiv rerelease though, as it's a lot less hassle than printing .pdf they stick on the disc. If RPG's are your thing, and this one slipped you by, now is the ideal time to dust off a copy and get stuck in.

Friday, October 08, 2004

New Releases - 08/10/2004

Okay, I don't have a lot of time to hang about today so I'll get straight to the point.

PlayStation 2:

Crash Twinsanity
FIFA Football 2005
Gradius V
NHL 2005
Tony Hawk's Underground 2

The only thing of slight interest me here this week is Gradius V, made by the geniuse at Treasure who have also made classics like Radiant Silvergun, Guardian Heroes, Ikaruga and more. If retro shooters are your bag, then go for it.

On the Gamecube:

FIFA Football 2005
NHL 2005
Pikmin 2
Tony Hawks's Underground 2

Yay! Pikmin 2. I'm looking forward to playing this one day, but alas, time and money are in short supply at the moment so it will have to wait.

What's on the Xbox?

Club Football 2005
Crash Twinsanity
FIFA Football 2005
Tony Hawk's Undgerground
Trivial Pursuit Unhinged

Fable - that's all there is to it. Don't bother with all the other pap, just hack and slash to your hearts content in a beautiful fantasy world.

PC time!

Arena Wars
Dark Fall 2: Lights Out
FIFA Football 2005

Hmm, I don't know a lot about it but Dark Fall 2 sounds intriguing - it's a new adventure game and we don't get many of those over here these days.

Anything of note on the GBA?

FIFA Football 2005

What a surprise. I really don't like football, and even if I did I'd go for PES instead, which many people consider to be better.

Import Corner

The release of Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door for the Gamecube is imminent, which is fantastic because I'm looking forward to it more than Halo 2. No seriously, I am!

That's it for this week - sorry to be so brief. The promised article on the new Edge is on the way, I just got a little sidetracked.

Now go and play some games!

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Hidden Gems Volume 4

Although it gained almost universal high praise on its release, Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requeim was overlooked by a lot of people. This is because either they'd never heard of it, or they didn't have a Gamecube and they were of the (incorrect) opinion that it's a kids console.

I bought this game back when it was released and completed it three times in quick sucession. There are three different routes through the game depending of which dark god you align yourself with, and when you finally complete all three you are treated to an extended ending sequence.

The game itself finds itself rather awkwardly inserted into the Survival Horror genre alongside Resident Evil and Silent Hill, but it is quite a different beastie to those two. It's much easier to control for one thing, and the story is much better. It tells the tale of Alex Roivas, as she travels to her grandfather's mansion only to find that he has been brutally murdered. She decides to stay at the mansion and explore to try and piece together what might of happened to him, and you are taken through a series of playable flashbacks from throughout the ages covering her family tree.

Each chapter is like a self contained mini game, and you will be in Rome, France, Greece, England and many other places. The monsters your encounter, and the storyline in general, were heavily influenced by the works of Gothic short story writer H P Lovecraft, so expect words such as "chittering" and "gibbous" to be used a lot.

A lot of the frustrations that plague the genre were neatly circumvented by Eternal Darkness, such as the usually cheap difficulty level. Through the course of the game you learn various runes, which can be used to cast spells. As soon as you figure out how to cast the heal spell, and the one to increase you attack power, you should have no difficulty in getting through the game. This mean the game doesn't offer much of a challege, but the atmopshere and the puzzles mean it remains entertaining all the way through.

One other unique gameplay element of note are the Sanity Effects. If you sanit meter should run out (by seeing nasty monsters or getting hit by them), then various strange effects will occur. These include blood dripping down the screen, the game telling you that the console has had a fatal error, and many other unnerving events. Running out of sanity can be quite easily avoided if you stand around and wait for the bar to refill after each enemy encounter, but it's good fun finding all the different effects.

Eternal Darkness crops up fairly regularly in places like Gamestation, and I have seen second hand copies for as low as £7.99. If you don't usually get on with Survival Horror games, it's worth a look because of the slightly different approach it has to genre. If you are a fan, then this may be one of the best games you play this year.

Monday, October 04, 2004

The beautiful journey, phase 2

First of all, apologies for the lack of an update on Friday. I usually add a post during my lunch break, but this time I went into town to buy the latest issue of Edge and a copy of Outrun 2. It's a shame that Sega's remake of their 1986 classic is likely to be overlooked due to all the hype surrounding Burnout 3 as they're both excellent games well worth your time. The Arcade mode is an almost flawless port of the machine that was doing the rounds last year, and the Mission mode is full of quirky (and sometimes frustrating challenges) to keep you busy for some time to come.

Each level of challenges completed unlocked something - be it a new route, a car, more music or other secret items. I found that while the arcade mode is a five minute blast from one end to the other, the choice of routes and the five different difficulty settings will keep you coming back. On Saturday, I kept promising myself "one more go", and was there all afternoon.

Admittedly, there's a certain amount in nostalgia involved in Outrun 2 and if you missed the original game back in 1986 you may well wonder what the fuss is about. For retroheads however the game is unmissable. Everything, from the stages, the branching routes, the music, the ferrari, the girl in the passenger seat, is back with modern day polish.

I do have to stress that the multiplayer is a bit of a let down. I don't have Xbox Live, and I imagine that part of the game is great, but the system link mode is completely impractical (you need one Xbox and one copy of the game per player, for up to 8 players), and the Party Mission mode is unlikely to satisfy you and your mates in the same way as the Crash mode of Burnout 3 can. The one player mode however is sublime, and once you get the fine art of the power slide down, you will be tearing through the countryside with a big grin on your face, with Magical Sound Shower blaring out of your speakers.

Normal service will be resumed tomorrow for another entry in the Hidden Gems series, and then on Wednesday I plan to start a new semi regular series on the new issues of various gaming magazines and what they contain, starting with the issue of Edge I just bought.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Hidden Gems Volume 3

This weeks entry into the Hidden Gems hall of fame is a little game by the name of Startopia. Many moons ago, there was a little game company called Bullfrog. Over the years, they produced many classic games, including Magic Carpet, Populous, Dungeon Keeper, Syndicate, Theme Park, Theme Hospital and more. Eventually, they were bought out by EA (which happens a lot), and several smaller groups of employees left their parent company to go it alone.

One of these groups was of course Lionhead, fronted by Peter Molyneux. But there was another company who didn't share as much of the limelight by the name of Mucky Foot. Their first game was the rather uninspiring third person adventure/fighter, Urban Chaos. However, after that, and unbeknownst to me at the time, they made a truly fantastic game called Startopia. It shares many similarities with some of the Bullfrog games of old (mainly Theme Park & Theme Hospital).

Basically, you are put in charge of a space station, and it is your job to keep your residents & workers happy, your equipment ticking over, and invaders at bay. You can do this over the course of many missions, or you can just play the Sandbox mode and play however you wish indefinitely. The range of different play styles on offer is staggering, as the missions to a very good job of showing you. Your station could be a leisure resort, a trade station, a maximum security prison, a research station, a hospital, and much more. It can even have elements of some or all of these functions at the same time - but managing everything could get a little difficult.

The whole game is put together with flair and wit, and the guy who does the voiceover of the computer that helps you out during the game reminds me of the voice of the book, from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The graphics are fantastic, and I can quite happily just sit there and watch my residents going about their business - it's fascinating to watch. If you've played and enjoyed games like the afore-mentioned Theme Park & Theme Hospital, or Transport Tycoon, Rollercoaster Tycoon or any of the other games of this genre - then you will be in heaven playing this game.

Now for the really good news. This amazing game is part of the Sold Out range - which means it's only £4.99. What's more, if you buy it directly from their web site (www.sold-out.co.uk), you can buy two games at get one free, and they have loads of worthwhile titles. You can expect more games in the Sold Out range to be featured as Hidden Gems in the future, as I have bought and enjoyed many of them which were sadly under rated when they first appeared. Startopia delivers months of high quality gameplay at the same price as a copy of your average games magazine, and as such, is utterly essential.

Monday, September 27, 2004

The Best Games in the World, Ever Part 2

With Star Wars currently having a bit of a revival at the moment thanks to the DVD box set, I thought I'd talk about one of my favourite PC games of all time - TIE Fighter. While X-Wing was the original space combat game, TIE Fighter improved on it in may ways, with better visuals, sound, slightly easier missions and a more varied structure.

The biggest change of course was that instead of fighting for the goodie-goodie Rebellion, you played the game as a TIE pilot for the mighty Empire. Initially you were at a disadvantage when you went up against X-Wings and other rebel starfighters because basic TIE's don't have any shields. As the game goes on however you get to take control of TIE Bombers, Interceptor's, Advanced and Defender's, each better than the last.

The great thing about the X-Wing/TIE Fighter games if you ask me is the amount of strategy that the missions involve. They're not just straight forward shoot 'em ups, but instead you have a wide range of keyboard controls for juggling shield, engine and laser settings. You have to trade one off against the other - if you want fast shield regeneration you will have to suffer a reduced top speed or slower laser rechage. Then there are all the different wingman commands you can use to order the rest of the fleet to defend you, attack your target, etc.

It's a shame LucasArts stopped making these games just as 3D acceleration was catching on in home PC's. X-Wing Alliance is the most recent offerering and is also a very good game, but I can't help but wonder what a proper X-Wing sequel with all of todays bells and whistles would look like. I think it would be amazing, and a darn sight more playable than any of the recent Rogue Squadron series. Hopefully Totally Games will go back to the series after a long enough rest and dazzle us with their game design. Maybe they could even create a new story instead of reusing set pieces from the original story, or perhaps use Timothy Zahn's trilogy of books as the basis?

You can find the X-Wing Collector's Edition package if you look around on the net. Not many shops sell it new anymore but it should be around on ebay. You get X-Wing Collector's Edition, TIE Fighter Collectors Edition, and a cut down version of X-Wing VS TIE Fighter. The B-Wing, Imperial Assault and Defender of the Empire expansion packs are also included. This is vast amount of game to enjoy. After that little lot, you could also go for X-Wing Alliance, also still available second hand quite often. Until a new game comes out, TIE Fighter will remain my favourite of the series - I still have fond memories of being Darth Vader's wingman toward the end of the game. Note: The closest thing to a new game in the series is Secret Weapons Over Normandy - it's by the same team, but of course it's not quite the same because it's World War II rather than Star Wars.

Friday, September 24, 2004

New Releases - 24/09/04

Here I am again with these weeks releases - is there anything amongst this lot that will tempt you to part with your hard earned cash? Let's take a look-see...

It's PlayStation 2 time!

Adiboo & The Energy Thieves
Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone
Star Wars: Battlefront
Terminator 3: The Redemption
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005

I'm sad to say I don't know a whole lot about the Adiboo game - I think it's an edutainment title for the young 'uns, but don't quote me on that. I was quite tempted myself by the Forgotten Realms game, as it's put together by the same team that made The Lord of the Rings (both of them) for EA. It looks like more of the same, but the graphics are notably better and there's more freedom to explore the levels.

Star Wars Battlefront also looks like great fun if you have a load of mates or a Network Adaptor, as it's main focus is the multiplayer battles. I've had a brief go on the Xbox demo, and shooting Ewoks was brilliant! Terminator 3: The Redemption is reportedly a great improvement over the previous T3 offerings, but then that's not difficult as they were utter bilge. Finally, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005 features some excellent golfing action - but if you already have the 2004 version I'd skip it, as the small amount of changes don't really warrant a purchase.

Now it's the turn of the Gamecube:

Animal Crossing
Bad Boys: Miami Takedown
Medabots Infinity
Terminator 3: The Redemption
Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf 2005

Animal Crossing! Finally, it's out on these shores. I've had this game for over two years now, ever since it was released in the US, and pressure from fans has finally made Nintendo release it over here. Was it worth the wait? Not really. After a month or two the novelty of the "game" wore off, as there's really very little to do.

Let's take a look at the Xbox:

Colin McRae Rally 2005
NHL 2005
Star Wars: Battlefront
Terminator 3: The Redemption
Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf 2005

Ooh, Colin McRae Rally 2005. If I wasn't already buying two games this month, I'd get this for sure, even though I already have 04. The career mode is much longer, the graphics have been improved even more, and this time you can take it online.

It's the GBA's turn now:

Action Man: Robot Attack
Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper
Star Wars Trilogy: Apprentice of the Force

Not much going on here this week - the Star Wars game is a ropey 2D blaster/platform thing, made to cash in on the DVD release.

Anything exciting happening on the PC?

Call of Duty: United Offensive
Hidden & Dangerous 2: Sabre Squadron
NHL 2005
Silent Hill 4: The Room
Star Wars Battlefront
The Saga of Ryzom
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005
Trainz Railway Simulator 2004: Passenger Edition
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War
Yu-Gi-Oh! Power of Chaos 3

Two games stand out on this list - The Saga of Ryzom and Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War. The first is a new MMOPRG (yes, another one) with fantastic graphics, and the second is an RTS by the creators of the excellent Homeworld games, of course set in famous table-top game world.

Finally, it would appear that there's nothing much worth importing this week. However - it should be a different matter next week as there's some rather exciting games on the horizon.

Whatever you decide to buy, I hope you enjoy it. Over and out.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

May the Force be with you?

So, I just finished watching the new Star Wars DVD's last night. The films anyway, I haven't got around to the epic documentary yet. This is approximately the 50th time I've watched them during my lifetime, but only the second time have seen the Special Editions. While I must admit I would have preferred to have the theatrical versions, or at least a choice (perhaps via seamless branching that was used on the Aliens and Terminator 2 DVD's), it certainly didn't bother me enough to boycott the set altogether.

The only change that really doesn't work is the added Jabba scene in A New Hope. This is because most of the lines during the conversation were said seconds before during Han's showdown with Greedo. Also, the line where Han refers to Jabba as a human being is a jarring giveaway that the scene isn't supposed to be there.

While I bought the set regardless of all the changes (both old ones and even more new ones), many people I know aren't getting the DVD's precisely because of them. I think LucasFilm will lose more than a few sales a result, but it's not likely to cause George Lucas to lose any sleep, as he must be rolling in Galactic credits anyway.

As for myself, I'm going to continue to enjoy the films (all five of them so far) regardless of what other people think. A lot of people have got it in for the prequels, but I really didn't think they were that bad. Granted, the acting and the script were pretty poor compared to the snappy dialogue between Han, Leia and the others, but there's still a lot to enjoy. I didn't even mind Jar Jar Binks that much (and I don't care if you have a problem with that). Personally, I'm not one to stop liking something just because it's currently the fashionable thing to do (if I did that, I wouldn't own a Gamecube, or even play games at all). I look forward to the day that the gap between my copies of Episode II and episode IV is finally filled.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Hidden Gems Volume 2

Hi everybody, it's Tuesday again so that means it's time for another Hidden Gem!

Last year, LucasArts released a game that was played and adored by thousands of people. That game was Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. However, in the same year they also released another RPG by the name of Gladius, and this time I'm here to talk about that.

If you are a fan of the film Gladiator, Tactical RPG's or indeed both, then you absolutely, positively have to check out Gladius. At the start of the game you choose one of two heroes - either Valen's from the Imperia region, or Ursula from the Nordagh region. You begin the game in training to open your own gladiatorial school, either to maintain the respect of your family name or to build it, respectively. During the course of the game, dark tidings are afoot and your skills will be called upon to put down a malevolent dark god once and for all.

Gameplay is rather similar to other games in the genre (such as Final Fantasy Tactics, Arc the Lad, Disgaea or many others). You take turns between your group of gladiators and the enemies, and move around on a grid system. The distance you can travel depends on the movement statistic of your character, which is naturally higher for certain classes, and also increases as your character levels up. You can use a wide variety of weapons, magic spells and other abilities to crush your foe, as well as taking advantage of terrain that is above the enemy, or position (by stabbing the enemy is the back or side for example). The game can be quite challenging because quite often you will be outnumbered and you will therefore have to use tactics to win the day rather than brute force.

The game has a fantastic musical score, and the graphics, while not the best I've ever seen, do a good job of setting the scene and keeping you immersed in the fantasy world which is heavily inspired by ancient Rome. Replay value is high, because the challenges and route you take through the game depends on the character types you choose to employ and train up. Plus of course there are two main characters to choose from at the beginning of the game. Ursula's story is supposedly for beginners, although having played a little of both they don't seem to differ much as far as difficulty is concerned.

Gladius is available on all three of the major consoles, and can be found at a very reasonable price if you look in the right place. For around £10 - £15, you can have yourself a game that will keep you entertained for at least 30-40 hours (even more if you replay as the other character or are determined to finish every last challenge in the game).

Note: Do not confuse this game with Gladiator: Sword of Vengeance, they are quite different games (this is an RPG, and that is an action hack 'n' slash game).

Saturday, September 18, 2004

The Best Games in the World, Ever Part 1

This series of posts is to celebrate some of the best games ever made. If you have any suggestions for future posts feel free to let me know in the comments section and I will see what I can do. It's very hard to pin down exactly what is the single best game ever made as everyone has their own opinion on the matter, so each entry in this series is treated equally and no game is regarded as being better than the rest. Let's get on with the first entry, shall we?

The Secret of Monkey Island - Multi Format, but PC is easiest to come by these days.

Back in 1990, LucaArts took the adventure gaming community by storm when they released the first in the highly regarded Monkey Island series. The game saw you in the role of Guybrush Threepwood, as he attempts to fulfill his dream of becoming a mighty pirate and save his love Elaine Marley from the evil clutches of Ghost Pirate LeChuck.

It was the start of the golden age of graphic adventure games, and the easy to use interface and frustration-free design made the whole game an absolute pleasure to play from beginning to end. The gentle but entertaining sense of humour, the brilliant animation (which still holds up today), and the wide range of colourful characters such as Stan the used ship salesman and the Cannibals who are on a low-fat diet, all help make The Secret of Monkey Island one of the most endearing games ever.

I recently fired up the game once again on my PC and it's still a pleasure to play 14 years after it was first released. The graphics may be only 2D and in a fairly low resolution, but the gameplay, script, plot and attention to detail make sure it remains worthy of your time. If you've never played this game, and you're willing to try a more cerebral and slow experience than many of today's releases, then I recommend you hunt a copy of this game down on Ebay and enjoy a slice of gaming history.

Friday, September 17, 2004

New Releases - 17/09/04

Have you got some spare cash burning a hole in your pocket? Thinking of buying a game, but not sure what's come out today? Then you need this weeks New Release list.

First up is the PlayStation 2:

Cabela's Dangerous Hunts
Crisis Zone
Madden NFL 2005
Resident Evil Outbreak

Comment: Hmm, not a whole lot to choose from this week. The most interesting game here is Resident Evil Outbreak, but even that isn't perfect. As you may be aware the online mode has been completely removed from the PAL release, and the controls, interface and puzzles are as clunky as ever. The sooner Resident Evil 4 arrives on the Gamecube the better.

Speaking of the Gamecube, let's see what's out today:

Madden NFL 2005
WWE Day of Reckoning

Wow, what a selection. I don't know about you but neither of these float my boat. Let's hope this is just the lull before the Christmas season tidal wave of gaming goodness.

So, to the Xbox then - are things any better here?

Madden NFL 2005
Silent Hill 4: The Room

Hmm, oh dear. Silent Hill 4 could be worth a look I suppose but if you ask me the series is getting a little stale.

Let's check out the GBA releases:

Mario Golf: Advance Tour

Just the one game, but boy is it a good one. This game kept me glued to my GBA for months when it was released in the US, and now it's officially available in Europe. It even manages to breath new life into Mario Golf on the Gamecube, with its ability to carry your leveled up characters over.

How does the PC fare this week?

Barbie: The Prince and the Pauper
Final Fantasy XI
Kohan 2: Kings of War
The Sims 2

If you disregard Barbie, this is a pretty respectable selection. FF XI is way overdue in Europe, but at least in comes with the two expansion packs. Expect it to eat into your free time and money in a big way though. Another time-sink of a game, The Sims 2 arrives and it has a wide range of improvements over the original. If you like that sort of thing (and thousands of you do) it's sure to keep you happy for a long time to come.

Finally, for all you importers, Fable was recently released on the Xbox in the US. While initial opinions are that it doesn't quite live up to all the hype the magazines have been doling out over it for the last few years, it is still a very enjoyable game, so it's worth keeping an eye on.

So, a pretty poor selection all in all. I'll be back next week to see if there's any improvement.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

The Strange Ways of Sega and Squaresoft

A few weeks ago Sega announced that they would finally be continuing their much loved Shenmue series. However, rather than given fans what they've longed for ever since the credits rolled on Shenmue II, they've decided to make it a MMORPG, and now I hear they're only going to release it in China.

Today, Square-Enix, lords of all that is RPG and Final Fantasy, announced that yes, indeed, they are going to make a sequel to the mighty Final Fantasy VII. However, instead of another RPG featuring Cloud & Co, it is apparently going to be a Devil May Cry clone featuring Vincent Valentine, the moody vampire in the lead role.

Both of these decisions make me shrug my shoulders and say "meh". I'm not too bothered about the FF sequel, as I discovered since 1997 that the Final Fantasy series is not the be all and end all of RPG's, but the Shenmue news is quite upsetting. I, and many other fans the world over, have invested quite a lot of time and cash in the first two chapters of the game, so to be cut out completely is rather annoying to say the least. I can only hope that Sega will decide to make Shenmue III one day and finally bring Ryo's journey to a close. I would be interested to hear anyone's thoughts comments on these two sequels.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Movie View - The Cat Returns

I thought I'd take a break from talking about games to talk about a film I watched recently instead. The Cat Returns is the latest Studio Ghibli film to get a DVD release, at least in Asia. However, this one isn't directed by Hizao Miyazaki, but a new director named Hiroyuki Morita.

The film is animated in a slightly different style to Miyazaki's works, but it is just as magical and entertaining as his films. Basically, the story is about a young girl called Haru, who is struggling to come to terms with who she is and what she wants to get out of life. On the way home from school one day, she rescues a strange black cat who is carrying a parcel. Later, the King of the Cat Kingdom tries to thank Haru by arranging her marriage to the prince, who is the cat that she saved. What follows is a funny and charming adventure in the Cat Kingdom.

It isn't as deep and meaningful as some of Ghibli's previous films (such as Princess Mononoke) but is throughly entertaining, and absolutely essential viewing if you're a cat lover. I haven't heard any news about an english version yet, but the Ghibli back catalogue are slowly appearing in the West through Disney/Buena Vista, so hopefully it won't be too long before it appears on this side of the world.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Hidden Gems Volume 1

This series of posts is designed to make gamers aware of some excellent games that they may have missed. More often than not, these games didn't get much hype at the time of release and can now be found for a bargain price at the bottom of a bargain bin. Let's take a look at the first entry.

Rumble Racing - PlayStation 2
In the early days of the PS2, someone at EA made the rather uncharacteristic decision of turning the latest update to their NASCAR series into this arcade racer. The game features a generous number of tracks, each with multiple routes to seek out. It plays a bit like a kart game such as Mario Kart or Diddy Kong Racing with its range of collectible power-ups, but it also has shades of SSX with the stunt system. Holding the R1 button down in mid-air allows you to twist and turn your car, and as long as you land on your wheels you earn a speed boost. The afore mentioned power-ups included a twister, that travels ahead of you and wreaks havoc on the opposition.

The game also features and excellent multiplayer mode, with both competitive and cooperative options available. The graphics, while a bit basic by today's standard, at least maintain a fast and stable frame rate which means the game is playable at all times.

On the whole, Rumble Racing is well worth tracking down. It may have been overshadowed by the likes of the Burnout series, but for around £10 you can get yourself a fast, fun racer that will keep you entertained for quite sometime. That concludes this weeks Hidden Gems!