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21 July 2009

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed [DS]

Plot Synopsis: 8/10
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed takes place between Episodes 3 and 4 of the Star Wars saga. It tells the tale of Darth Vader's secret apprentice, who he takes on as a bid to overthrow the Emperor. In the movies, in Episode 3, we see the Emperor's true rise to power, then in Episode 4, the Empire is in the midst of a full-fledged war with the Rebellion. This game addresses some of the gaps between those two chapters of the saga. Unfortunately, there really isn't much more I can say without giving away some major plot points and twists.
I will give the story an 8 out of 10. As I mentioned, the game does address a couple of holes in the saga, as a whole. But, in all, there isn't a lot to the story. In spite of the relative lack of story, there are a few well-placed details that will make any die-hard Star Wars fan question certain elements of the entire mythos.

Game Play: 10/10
The controls are pretty intuitive, here. The directional pad does exactly what you'd expect. The A, B, X, and Y buttons act the same as the directional pad, to compensate for left-handed players. All of your attack functions are handled via a sort of button display on the touch screen. As you progress, you learn combos, where you can press certain "buttons" on the touch screen in a specific order to unleash more powerful attacks. And, in case you forget how to perform those combos, you can pause at any time during your missions and pull up a menu that lists all of the combos you've learned so far with a diagram showing how to perform them.
I'll give the game play a 10. It wasn't buggy. It was very easy to learn. It had easy access to the more difficult aspects of fighting. Most importantly, for me, it actually utilized the DS's touch screen, which not enough games do, in my experience.

Graphics: 8/10
The graphics are about as good as one can expect from a handheld. Anyone familiar with the Star Wars franchise will be able to tell what's what. Most of the time. Admittedly, there was one planet whose inhabitants were a bit hard to read, on such a small scale, but for the most part, the graphics were clear enough.
I'll give the graphics an 8 out of 10. I strongly suspect that the size of the screens hurt the visuals, in a few spots.

Audio: 10/10
There was no voice acting in the DS installment of this game. The music was exactly what you'd expect from a Star Wars title. Big, orchestrated pieces that always fit well with the scene.
I'll give the audio a 10. No complaints what so ever. The folks at Lucasarts perfected the blending of background music and sound effects a long time ago, and this game doesn't disappoint.

Overall Score: 9/10
This game is so well-assembled, that I'm tempted to pick up the Wii version just to see how much better it can get, when there are fewer limits on the visuals. I think this is the highest score i've ever given a game, and I really hope that's not just the Star Wars geek in me coming out.

16 July 2009

The Dark Spire [DS]

Plot Synopsis: 7/10
A tower has arisen near the town. Rumor has it that within the tower resides a former aide to the king, who has stolen a treasure that was very dear to the king. Many adventurers have tried to climb to the top of the tower to reclaim the treasure, to no avail. As the player, you are tasked with creating a team of four characters to make another attempt at the tower.
Fairly unoriginal, as far as RPGs and dungeon-crawlers go, but some of the side-quests make things pretty interesting. I'll give the story a 7 out of 10, mainly for the side quests.

Game Play: 9/10
The game play is pretty straight-forward. You start by creating your party. You choose every detail from the characters' names and races to their classes and stats. A true old-school RPG. Strangely, though, Atlus did not opt to allow players to choose the characters' genders, but oh, well. Once you create your characters, there's a bit of training, then you're sent off on your own, at which point, you stock up, in town, then head for the tower. Once inside, you make your way around, mapping out each floor and fighting the monsters that dwell within the tower as you go. You generally have to complete certain tasks before you can proceed to the next floor, but once that is done, it doesn't need to be done again the next time you visit the tower. At any time, you may choose to vacate the tower and return to town to heal up and replenish your stock of helpful items, or buy newer, better equipment. Fighting the monsters within the tower will give you experience points that you may use to level up your character class, improve a character's stats, or learn skills that may become necessary later.
I'll give the game play a 9 out of 10. Everything about it is old tried-and-true dungeon-crawler RPG fare. I just wish that, since the game was developed and released for the Nintendo DS, that the developers made a little more use of the touch screen.

Graphics: 8/10
There are two sets of graphics for this game, that you may switch back and forth between. The first is a white-lines and text on black background style from the earliest days of polygon-based video game graphics. Personally, I find it a bit tough to play the game using this set-up on such a small screen, but it's a nice throwback to the early days of gaming. The other graphics are more current, and actually look like whatever you're supposed to be looking at. The visual style is very dark, with a lot of shadows. While, it looks fine after you've have a little time to get used to it, it can be tough, on occasion, to make out what you're supposed to be seeing. Unfortunately, I can't tell if that was deliberate or not, on the part of the developer.
I'll give the graphics and 8 out of 10. While I never use the older-style graphics set, I like that Atlus included it. If the other graphics set was a little... i don't know... less dark, i guess, i'd probably score it higher.

Audio: 7/10
While I can't find anything technically wrong with the music, I do have to admit that the music annoys the hell out of me. But again, on the rare occasions that I try playing WITHOUT the volume turned all the way down, I can't find anything technically wrong with it. The volume of the music and the sound effects tend to be pretty evenly matched, so that neither one drowns out or overpowers the other.
I'll give the audio a 7 out of 10, because it's technically fine, but annoys me to no end.

Overall Score: 7.75/10
This game is an old-school RPG, and nothing more. There's nothing wrong with it, per se. However, in this day and age, with games that have cinema scenes that last for several minutes at a time, and have all kinds of plot twists and big, drawn-out fight scenes, a basic dungeon-crawler RPG like this, while good, tends to fall a little flat.

Patapon 2 [PSP]

Plot Synopsis: 6/10
Patapon 2 continues the story, where the first game left off, of the Patapons' search for Earthend. The game starts off with the Patapons being shipwrecked in a new land, and finding a new enemy tribe to face off against. The basics are just more of the same, really, with the Patapons fighting their way through one stretch of land after another. Some of those areas become hunting grounds, once the enemy tribe is cleared out. The rest become a chance to simply re-fight the same battle again, for crucial items. This continues, mission after mission, until you finally reach the final boss.
I'll give the story a 6 out of 10. It's fun and interesting, but I find other aspects of the game keeping me engaged more than the story.

Game Play: 9/10
Okay. So, the basics of the game play are identical to the first game. Press the buttons in time with the beat to command the Patapons. The commands you give them are what determines their success. Easy enough. However, there are a few differences in other areas. First of all, there are more bosses in Patapon 2 than there were in the first game. Secondly, some of these bosses are FAR more difficult than anything in the original Patapon.
One difference I found myself grateful for is the fact that it seems like Patapon 2 is a bit more forgiving, should your button-pressing fall ever-so-slightly off beat. The game won't let it slide forever, mind you. But if you press a button a fraction of a second off the beat, you won't necessarily screw up your army. There were even a few times, while playing, that I missed the beat so much that I thought for sure I was going to trip up my army, but the game registered it as still being on beat, and they continued on their way as though nothing happened.
Another major difference is the way you construct your army of Patapons. This time around, there's an entire gridwork through which you can evolve existing Patapons to new forms. You do have to create certain forms before you can unlock other forms. Each new form has it's own strengths and weaknesses that can be either an advantage or a hinderance, depending on the boss you are fighting at the moment. Luckily, once a given Patapon has taken a particular form, if you find yourself having trouble with a particular boss, you can go in and change your Patapons back to other forms that may do better in the battle.
I'm giving the game play a 9 out of 10. It seems like they took the ideas they had in the first game, and expanded on them rather well, making for a well-rounded experience.

Graphics: 8/10
The graphics are identical to the original Patapon, and, for what the game is, didn't need to be improved at all. Thus, I'll maintain my rating from my review of Patapon and give the graphics an 8 out of 10. Simple and stylized for a unique look. What more do you need, for a game like this?

Audio: 9/10
Again, not much has changed, in regards to the music. It is all still very tribal and percussion-heavy. The music is still catchy enough to make you bounce and tap your foot a bit as you're playing. The voices and music tend to mix and blend just a bit better than the first time around.
I'll give the audio a 9 out of 10. The sound wasn't mind-blowing, but it was incredibly appropriate for the overall feel of the game.

Overall Score: 8/10
This game is very well put together. I think they could have done just a bit more with the story, but they made up for that with the improvements and changes to the game play. Personally, I think this is a very good game, and well worth the download.

12 July 2009

DS Lite vs. DSi

Okay. For once, instead of my usual game review, I'm going to do a side-by-side comparison of Nintendo's DS Lite and DSi handhelds.

Shared features
Both systems are hinged, so that they can fold closed when not in use, to protect the dual screens. The bottom screen is a touch screen, for which a stylus is included with the system.

First of all, the screens on the DSi are ever-so-slightly larger than the screens on the DS Lite. Honestly, I don't feel that the larger size makes enough of a difference to matter.
The DS Lite has a slot for Game Boy Advance cartridges, allowing the player to play GBA titles on their DS Lite. This slot has also been the focus of developers interested in creating peripherals for use with DS games, such as the guitar controller for the Guitar Hero On Tour franchise, the pedometer included with My Weight Loss Coach, as well as Nintendo's own Rumble Pak, for use with certain games. Unfortunately, the DSi has eliminated this feature, thus preventing users from taking advantage of all of the features of some games, or even preventing them from even playing the Guitar Hero On Tour franchise entirely.
One of the features added, with the extra room made from removing the GBA slot, is a camera. While this could possibly make for some interesting game features, in the hands of the right developers, I'm a bit disappointed in the quality of the camera. My Blackberry has a better camera than the DSi.
The DSi also has access to Nintendo's new online DSi Shop, where you can download apps and games for use on your DSi. I must admit, I like the idea of the DSi Shop, and kind of wish it was possible for the DS Lite to access it. Oh, well.
Another nice addition to the DSi is the SD card slot. This comes in handy when you want to save the apps and games you've downloaded from the DSi shop externally to make room for more downloads, or if, for whatever reason, you want to save the low-resolution pictures you'll get from the DSi's camera. The addition of an SD card slot only makes sense, next to the DSi Shop and the built-in camera, so I have no complaints, there.

Final Opinion
In case you couldn't tell from everything I've said so far, personally, I prefer the DS Lite to the DSi. I like the DSi Shop, and I like that I can save my downloads to an SD card. Unfortunately, I still have some Game Boy Advance games I enjoy playing, and do not like losing the GBA slot that the DS Lite has. Also, from what I've seen so far, I think there is a lot of untapped potential regarding the idea of developing peripherals to be inserted into the GBA slot to make for a more interesting DS game.
In my opinion, I feel that the DS Lite is better for us long-time gamers, while the DSi is better for those who just recently started getting into video games.