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 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.