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13 January 2011

Professor Layton and the Unwound Future [DS]

Plot Synopsis: 9/10
At the start of the third installment in the Professor Layton saga, Layton and his assistant, Luke, attend an outdoor scientific demonstration in London. The man holding the demonstration asks the mayor to participate. Unfortunately, something goes awry, there's a rather large explosion, and the mayor vanishes. Of course, Layton and Luke immediately begin to investigate. As they do so, they stumble upon a large clock that seems to propel them forward in time. The investigation sends them bouncing back and forth between the present and the future, as they try to find the missing mayor.
I'll give the story a 9 out of 10. It really kept me guessing as to what was actually going on, more often than not.

Game Play: 9/10
The game play in Unwound Future is identical to the previous installments in the franchise. Moving about your environment and interacting with people are both done by a simple point and click system. The puzzles that need to be solved in order to proceed are all over the game.
The game play gets an 9 out of 10. The only real change to the set up is that there was just a little bit more of everything More puzzles. More information to be discovered, regarding the various mysteries. Nice and simple.

Graphics: 8/10
Again, the graphics are exactly the same as in previous installments. I saw no noticeable differences whatsoever. The animations ran smoothly. Visually, it was easy enough to understand what was what. Once again, the graphics score stays the same. 8 out of 10.

Audio: 9/10
Much like the graphics and game play, there were no major changes to the audio, either. The music still had a distinctly European flavor, and tied in to the game well. The voice acting was still very well-done. And so, yet again, the score stays the same. 9 out of 10.

Overall Score: 8.75/10
Another great game in the Professor Layton franchise. The developers don't make many changes, from one game to the next, because they really don't need to.

12 January 2011

Epic Mickey [Wii]

Plot Synopsis: 7/10
Much like in the classic Disney movie Fantasia, Mickey Mouse's curiosity has caused him to make a mess of things. After stumbling upon a world, created by powerful wizard Yen Sid, to serve as a home for Walt Disney's forgotten creation's, Mickey has dabbled with Yen Sid's paintbrush, and accidentally created inkblot creatures who have laid waste to Yen Sid's creation. Now, Mickey has been dragged into the strange world, and must repair the damage he has done, with the help of some trapped gremlins he frees along the way.
If any of you die-hard Disney fans find yourselves sitting there saying that that is very similar to the plot of Fantasia… you're right. It is. And the game even acknowledges that fact during the introduction. The details of the story are different enough, though, and make for an interesting game.
I'll give the plot a 7 out of 10. It's entertaining, but not terribly original, even for Disney.

Game Play: 8/10
Epic Mickey is a three dimensional, third-person point of view game. Personally, it always takes me a few minutes to get used to the control scheme of games like this. Beyond that, Mickey spends the game using paint or thinner to either rebuild or destroy parts of the world around him, in order to move from one level to the next. I enjoyed the concept, and it was fun trying to figure out what needed to be done in order to proceed.
I'll give the game play an 8 out of 10. I can't come up with many objective reasons to complain about the game play. I just don't care for a fully three-dimensional, third-person point of view set up.

Graphics: 9/10
The graphics are quite good. The animation is smooth. The characters are all immediately recognizable. It's easy to tell what's what. The visuals aren't grainy at all. There are certain segments that are very stylized, but they still look good. It's clear that Disney put a lot of time and effort into the visuals of this game. Of course, as the biggest, most well-known animation studio in the world, that shouldn't be a surprise.
As such, the graphics get a 9 out of 10. Visually, the game is quite impressive.

Audio: 9/10
The music is about what you'd expect from a Disney game. Fully orchestrated. The music always fits the mood and intensity of the scene. It all sounds as good as one would expect from Disney. The voice acting is minimal. Nothing ever sounds overacted or half-assed. The voices sound like the respective characters, as necessary. Again, Disney's available budget is apparent.
The game's audio gets a 9 out of 10. At this point, my only complaint is that I'd have liked to hear just a little more of the voice acting.

Overall Score: 8.25/10
Epic Mickey is definitely a well-made game. There is no denying that. Disney has essentially limitless funding, and clearly used it to make sure they put together a quality game.

Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions [DS]

Plot Synopsis: 6/10
As the game begins, Spider-Man is just catching up to Mysterio as he attempts to steal a powerful tablet. In the process of stopping him, Spider-Man accidentally breaks the tablet into pieces, sending the fragments into different timelines and realities, where his counterparts must help him retrieve them.
I'm going to have to give the plot a 6 out of 10. First of all, as a long-time Spider-Man fan, I have never been particularly impressed with Mysterio, as a villain. Secondly, having read the titles, and knowing what I do about the characters, it's hard to imagine some of the villains we see in the game working together. I can't help but feel like the story was written by someone who didn't know a whole lot about the world of Spider-Man.

Game Play: 7/10
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is a third-person point of view platformer. As such, there is a lot of running and jumping. However, as you are playing the part of Spider-Man (or three different Spider-Men, as the case may be), there are also a lot of web swinging and flinging, throwing your enemies, and a host of other character-specific powers to be used. Unfortunately, the developers threw in so many different abilities, that it becomes rather difficult to keep track of how to do everything. I occasionally found myself learning a new ability, only to stop and say "I won't bother practicing that one, because I can't imagine I'll ever bother using it, unless I absolutely have to." Luckily, I was ABLE to say that, because you can go into a tutorial for every ability you've learned at any time, as a refresher.
I'll give the game play a 7 out of 10. The basics that you need to use just to get around are simple enough to figure out, but the extra abilities can be a little overwhelming at times.

Graphics: 6/10
The graphics in this game were a little disappointing. The need to be able to see a relatively large amount of the surrounding environment at once, to accommodate the use of Spider-Man's abilities, becomes a bit of a problem on such relatively small screens.
Also, as Spider-Man is, first and foremost, a comic book character, in places where other games would use fully-animated cinematic cut-scenes, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions simply shows unmoving illustrations overlaid with speech bubbles. While I certainly understand the logic behind such a decision, I feel that, in combination with other issues, it tends to look a little half-assed.
Unfortunately, I have to give the graphics a 6 out of 10. They're good enough to get by, but unfortunately, things can get a little tough to read at times. Considering how far along in the DS's lifespan the game was released, I can't help but feel that the graphics should have been handled a little better.

Audio: 7/10
The voice acting is okay. It's about what you'd expect from a game based on a comic book. Some of it is a little over-the-top, but so are the characters, so whatever. I don't believe that any of the voice actors felt particularly challenged by what they were asked to do, for this game.
For the most part, the sound effects are fine, but the particular effects heard as you pass the tablet from one reality to the next are, in my opinion, incredibly annoying.
The music seems to have been written by someone who really wants to be Danny Elfman (The Simpson, virtually everything directed by Tim Burton) when they grow up. I'm not criticizing the music. It was just very heavily influenced by Elfman's work. That's not a bad thing.
I'll give the audio a 7 out of 10. It does the job, I suppose, but there's room for improvement.

Overall Score: 6.5/10
Not a bad game, for the most part. I always enjoy a decent platformer. And, as I mentioned, I am a fan of Spider-Man. I just don't feel as though enough effort went into making this game. It's passable, but that's about as far as it goes.

11 January 2011

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks [DS]

Plot Synopsis: 8/10
As the game starts, Link is, as usual, a youngster just going about his fairly mundane life. In this particular instance, he is training (no pun intended) to become a train engineer. However, not as many people use the train, these days, and there are some who feel that it is pointless to continue certifying new engineers to drive the trains. Also, the tracks that the trains run on are slowly vanishing.
Just as Link is graduating, and getting his certification from Princess Zelda, Zelda is attacked. The attack causes her spirit to leave her body, which is unceremoniously hauled off by her attackers.
Link is one of the only people who can still see and communicate with Zelda's spirit, and so they decide to work together to reclaim her body and stop those who attacked her. While doing so, they learn that the vanishing railroad tracks have actually been serving as a device to keep a particularly evil being locked away from the rest of the world, and that they must be restored in order to keep the world safe. Of course, the ones who attacked Zelda are also the ones causing the tracks to disappear. And so, the quest begins…
I'll give the plot an 8 out of 10. There's only so many ways you can have Link save the world from an all-encompassing evil. However, I did appreciate the fact that, at the beginning of the game, we see Link in the process of establishing a long-term career for himself, instead of just being a seemingly aimless youth, as in most games in the franchise.

Game Play: 9/10
The control scheme is essentially identical to Phantom Hourglass. The player uses the stylus to move about the screen and attack. While it does take a little bit of getting used to, once you get the hang of it, it's like riding a bicycle. The inventory screen is also controlled entirely by the touch screen, making it far easier to navigate than by using the directional pad and two other buttons to either confirm or cancel. When using the spirit flute, as you will often have to, in the game, the player simply blows into the microphone to play the note, and move the flute back and forth with the stylus to determine which note to play. Personally, I felt that this was a well thought out use for the DS's capabilities.
I'll give the game play a 9 out of 10. Nintendo didn't limit themselves to a control scheme that would have been exactly the same on a Game Boy, but they didn't go overboard, making it overly complicated, either. The controls were different, but still easy enough.

Graphics: 9/10
The graphics, in Spirit Tracks, are done in the same visual style as Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass. Admittedly, it has been a while since I played Phantom Hourglass, but I didn't notice any drastic differences in quality between it and Spirit Tracks. The animations ran smoothly, and there were no glitches to be seen. Spirit Tracks' graphics earn themselves a 9 out of 10.

Audio: 9/10
The music is on par with the rest of the franchise. Very well orchestrated, and always appropriate for the mood of the scene. Some of the classic sound effects that serve as one of the franchise's staples also make a return. Finally, we do not have the annoying repetition of Navi yelling "hey!", or Midna's constant yawning. I give the audio a 9 out of 10.

Overall Score: 8.75/10
The Legend of Zelda is one of Nintendo's biggest, most popular franchises. As such, they don't half-ass anything, when adding a new game to the franchise. Everything looked good, and came together well. The story was well-written. Overall, another great addition to the Zelda franchise.

Nostalgia [DS]

Plot Synopsis: 8/10
You play the part of Edward Brown, son of the world renowned adventurer, Gilbert Brown. It seems Gilbert's airship has crashed, and Gilbert himself has gone missing. You, as Edward, are about to set off on an adventure of your own in order to find your missing father. Much like most RPGs, in the process, you stumble upon other characters whose intentions seem to intertwine with your own, and thus you all band together. While looking for your father, of course, you find out that there is an evil organization bent on world domination, and, surprise surprise, they are somehow involved in your father's disappearance.
One thing I will give this game credit for, however, is that unlike most fantasy RPGs, Nostalgia uses real-world locations, such as London, Tokyo, Cairo, and several others. Sure, they are clearly not based on the world we live in, as there are monsters and airships and such. But either way, it's still a nice change of pace from the purely made-up locations that so many RPGs prefer to use.
I'll give the plot an 8 out of 10. I like the fact that it isn't your typical Final Fantasy-style blooming love story, or an overused save-the-princess type of story. I also like the way some of the characters interact with each other. Sure, there are details all through the game that have been done before, and are a bit cliched, but it all works.

Game Play: 9/10
Nostalgia uses a fairly basic turn-based battle system. Anyone who has played at least two Final Fantasy games should have no problem figuring out the control scheme. The world map is generally only accessible by way of flying around in your airship, though battles certainly still occur in the air as well as in the various temples and such. Overall, the controls are quite intuitive, for anyone who enjoys playing RPGs, and the game doesn't make much use of the system's touch screen.
I'll give the game play a 9 out of 10. Very simple to figure out. Very easy to use.

Graphics: 8/10
The graphics are perfectly adequate. I don't feel that they necessarily push the boundaries of the DS's capabilities, but you can easily tell what everything is supposed to be. They are also slightly stylized, and not overly realistic.
Nostalgia's graphics earn themselves an 8 out of 10. No complaints to be had. They do the job perfectly well, and I can't see how I'd do anything different.

Audio: 9/10
No complaints about the audio, either. The music was intense where the action was intense, mellow where the mood was more laid-back, and saddening where the mood was somber. Frankly, the game is quite well scored. There really isn't any voice acting, that I can remember.
Thus, the audio gets a score of 9 out of 10.

Overall Score: 8.5/10
Nostalgia was a fun game to play. With the Final Fantasy franchise wandering further from what ties it had to the real world, it was nice to see an RPG that still had some connection to our world, while still incorporating some of the same standard RPG concepts that the Final Fantasy games always use. All in all, a well made game.

The Sims 3 [DS]

Plot Synopsis: 5/10
It's The Sims. You make a character, choose a career path, and go to it. Pretty easy. I'll give the "plot" a 5. Can't really score higher because there IS no story. But, I feel like it deserves SOME points because it's open-ended, and you essentially make your own story.

Game Play: 1/10
Again, the game is very open-ended. It is also incredibly user-friendly. You create a character, starting with the appearance and gender. From there, you pick anywhere from 2 to 4 personality traits. Then choose a career path and a home to live in. Then, you create your own story, with how you choose to play.
My biggest problem with this game is that it is incredibly glitchy. First of all, one of the glitches appears once your Sim has a roommate/spouse, and you start switching back and forth between controlling the two. Occasionally, when the Sim you are controlling returns home, if the roommate had been sleeping, they will appear in the house, awake and about, but in their sleepwear, which they normally only automatically switch into when they go to bed, and switch out of automatically when they wake back up. Secondly, when you are done playing for a while, and select the "Go Back to Main Menu" option on the menu screen (accessed during play by pressing the Start button), nine times out of ten (if not more often), the game will freeze after closing out of your game but before pulling up the Main Menu screen. I have tried a variety of conditions, to see if I can determine what, specifically, causes this glitch, but so far, nothing is conclusive. There has also been one instance, already, where the game froze on me WHILE I was playing. Another glitch I saw, just this morning, was that the icon that represents a particular Sim's location, which normally appears as an image of their face within a green circle, appeared instead as a flat red square within a green circle.
Which brings me to the next glitch. There are occasionally times where placing a furniture item becomes, for all intents and purposes, permanent. I currently have a lawn flamingo outside my home that I can't move or interact with. I also have a barbecue grill outside and a stereo system inside that can't be moved from where they are, for no apparent reason. My Sims can interact with them. They just can't be moved while redecorating, like other items can. Finally (I think…), on occasion, the stink cloud that appears on dirty dishes left about the kitchen will also appear randomly in the middle of the kitchen floor, for no reason.
One other thing worth mentioning is that the inclusion of same-sex couples, which
has been a major news item for the franchise, in spite of having been expanded upon in the other versions of the game, appears to have been excluded from the Nintendo DS version entirely, from what I've seen, so far. If I am incorrect, then it is certainly far more difficult to achieve then a male-female couple.
The basics of the gameplay, when the game isn't glitching, are good. And so far, none of the glitches I've experienced hamper one's ability to actually play the game. However, due to the sheer number of glitches present, I just can't score the game well, here. A 1 out of 10.

Graphics: 8/10
The graphics are reasonable. I'd put them just about on par with the PC version of the original game in the franchise, which, for a Nintendo DS game, is decent. They COULD have been better, but they don't need to be. Everything was perfectly clear, and easy to read. I'll give the graphics an 8 out of 10.

Audio: 5/10
I'd really like to describe the music, in The Sims 3… but I can't. Unfortunately, this is because the music is rather plain and forgettable. On the plus side, it didn't stand out as being excessively bad, either. It seems to be more for a bit of background noise so that the sound of the various Sims speaking doesn't drive you nuts.
Which it will. That weird pseudo-language the programmers made, making it sound, if you aren't really paying attention, like the Sims may be speaking actual words, has the capacity to drive a person insane. You find yourself focusing in on it, trying to figure out if they're saying real words or not. It has an "uncanny valley" effect, where you know it's NOT real, but it sounds close enough that it unnerves you.
I have to score the audio rather low. I'll give it a 5 out of 10. And the only reason it's getting that high a score is because I at least appreciate what the developers and programmers were trying to do with the Sims' language, whether I like the end result or not. It's just too bad about the music, though.

Overall Score: 4.75
The Sims 3 for the Nintendo DS is very vanilla to begin with. The format itself is limited, so expansions are not possible, as they are on a PC. As a result, the novelty of playing wears off fairly quickly. Add to that all of the glitches I mentioned earlier, and you quickly end up with a game that seems, I hate to say, like a bit of a waste of money. If you're interested in playing The Sims 3, I'd avoid the DS version, personally.