Tag Archives: PS2

SingStar Strikes! My Life 15 DEC 2009

So like I mentioned ages ago already, we had invited all the friends over on the Saturday evening preceding Chantelle’s birthday for a bring and braai in celebration of C’s upcoming 29th birthday, and as per usual, it quickly degenerated into yet another night of SingStar battling as Terrance and Trish once again had their way and managed to convince us (or should that be twist our arms) into hauling out the microphones and letting them loose on the poor, unsuspecting public!

As it happens, I actually managed to capture some photos for a change, so where better to post them than here?

So here goes then:

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The main SingStar instigators battling it out!

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Damen and Michelle were clearly entertained...

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...as was Karl and Zania (even if they refused to partake!)

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It proved too much for Evan (and a strain for Natasha and Dean by the look of it!)

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And Chantelle? Even on her birthday someone has to make the food!

The point? Well, we all had fun, the night was a success, and our neighbours probably still haven’t forgiven us! :)

Review: Justice League Heroes Games | My Reviews 06 MAY 2009

Justice League HeroesThanks to Ravensoft’s excellent work on the X-Men Legends and Marvel Alliance games, we all know that the superhero genre can translate beautifully to the classic dungeon crawler-style game, and as such it comes as no great surprise that Snowblind Studio’s 2006 Justice League Heroes is an exceptionally enjoyable game.

Of course, dungeon crawlers rely on a solid, enjoyable story to make them really work well and draw in the player and thankfully Snowblind Studios have recognised this fact and come up with a highly entertaining and clever storyline that combines some of the biggest threats in the DC Universe and pits them against the powerful Justice League of America.

While the game certainly doesn’t feature as large a roster as Ravensoft’s Marvel offerings, Justice League certainly features enough playable characters to choose from, targeting all the DC heavy hitters like Superman, Batman, Flash, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and complementing them with some nifty little unlockables like Aquaman, Huntress and Hawkgirl. In total there are 13 playable characters, six of which you have to unlock by collecting JL shields littered about throughout the various game levels.

Now if you are familiar with Snowblind’s previous titles, namely Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, Champions of Norrath and Champions: Return to Arms, then you’ll know exactly what to expect in terms of graphics and gameplay.

As per usual, the action is from a top-down, slightly isometric viewpoint with three levels of zoom and the game plays out on a variety of stages, each drawing on the particular point in the story for reference to layout and theme. There are two heroes assigned to each stage, with you as the player controlling the one and letting the A.I. Handle the other, though of course you can freely switch between the two at any point in time. However, the story does dictate that certain heroes handle certain missions and it is only occasionally where you’ll actually be given the option of selecting a hero for a particular stage.

Combat is the usual light and heavy attack button bashing affair, complemented by the single press jump and double press fly (if able) triangle button and the square pickup option. You are given a pretty powerful R1 block to use if necessary but more fun than that is the L1 modifier that allows you to deal out each character’s mapped special abilities, some which are pretty damn awesome to behold (once you’ve levelled up the skill of course!).

Each character levels up as in any other RPG dungeon crawler, though you do have the added task of locating, fusing and slotting in special ‘boosts’ that amplify your character’s attributes. The stages themselves are pretty easy to navigate, none are too big such that they become frustrating and in general aren’t particularly hard to get past. Every now and then you’ll have to deal with a boss character or tap into a little ‘mini-game’ to proceed, but for the most part the puzzles are pretty few and far between.

Graphically, Justice League Heroes is pretty par for the course when it comes to PS2 dungeon crawlers, though thankfully for a change Snowblind have decided to go to the extra effort of actually creating some nifty little in-game graphics cutscenes for us to enjoy, thereby helping to move the story forward and give you a little something to look forward to every now and then.

As per usual, the ambient sounds and backtrack are all customised to the current location and the whole game has quite an easy, enjoyable soundtrack to immerse one’s self in, with a capable selection of music compositions to enjoy. The voice acting on the other hand must be noted for not being particularly strong. A lot of the voice choices simply don’t feel as if they belong to a particular character and this is a bit of a pity because one comes into the game with voices already learnt from other DC universe resources like the myriad of animated series’ already available. Still, for the most part the voice acting is not overly forced and certainly doesn’t harm the game in any way.

In summary Justice League Heroes is a polished and very capable, action-packed dungeon crawler that will appeal heavily to fans of the DC comic book universe as well as to those gamers who enjoy a good hack/slash and level up adventure. The package as a whole is nicely polished, features a good story line that doesn’t try too hard to be overly clever and isn’t particularly hard or take too long to complete.

Enjoyable and certainly worth a look if you are a big comic book fanboy like I am.

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Related link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justice_League_Heroes

Review: SingStar 80’s Games | My Reviews 26 NOV 2008

Seeing as I’ve been a bit light in the pants with regards to flowers and chocolates for poor old Chantelle as of late, I decided to try and make up for this by buying something completely different for her – SingStar 80’s.

Seeing as she is so enjoying the other two that we already have (SingStar 90’s and SingStar Rock Ballads), a release proclaiming “The Soundtrack of your Youth” on its back cover must surely be just as good – and I’m happy to report that it most certainly is.

The software simians back at London Studio must be getting pretty tired of churning out the same product over and over again, but to be honest, it is this standardization of the SingStar line that makes it as popular and accessible as what it is. Every couple of months it is a new release, essentially the same game but just with an updated playlist, and thanks to the universal truth that EVERYONE (when applied with the correct dosage of alcohol in their system of course) loves karaoke, Sony and London Studio seem to have an essentially eternal sure-fire hit on their hands!

Anyway, back to the SingStar 80’s incarnation. They really aren’t lying when they say that this is the soundtrack of your youth. Featuring all the big hits from the 80’s, this version of SingStar will have you belting out tunes long since lost from the airwaves but still fresh in everyone’s head and if you are aged anywhere from 28 years and upwards, I dare you not to WANT to join in on the fun! :)

As per usual all the standard SingStar bells and whistle and gameplay mechanics are present and if you’ve played any of the other versions of SingStar before, then you’ll be right at home with this version. (In fact, you probably will be home when playing it. My preference is to keep all the blinds shut whenever Chantelle coaxes me behind the microphone. I still think the system is faulty though. There is just no way I can keep garnering such shockingly poor scores! :D)

Oh, and the playlist for all you people who care about things like that:

P.S. Chantelle loves this one. Looks like I’m off the hook for now! :P

Conquering Romans and FIFA My Life 03 SEP 2008

FIFA Night1Seeing as the plan is to make the most of my rather unplanned holiday, a FIFA 07 game at Karl’s place was an absolute must and thus last night saw me hitting the road and driving through to Ryan’s place where I quickly annihilated him in Table Tennis on the XBOX before we grabbed our stuff and popped over to Mr Brown’s house in order to collect our fourth player for the night and in so doing make sure that he can’t escape our clutches at the allure of the ever present Newlande’s online gaming shadow.

Now I’ve been salivating for a taste of my beloved Tangy Russian pizza from Romans’ Pizzas for ages now, and last night was the perfect opportunity for realising this dream of mine – and it was surprisingly with little difficulty that I managed to convince the other two that Romans should be our supper destination for the night.

Of course taking a three man party to a place which makes pizzas in doubles was always going to present us with a rather unique problem, but we quickly overcame this particular hurdle by deciding on taking a single box of two larges, the one being my tangy Russian (with added pineapple) and the other being something completely foreign that I don’t remember the name of because it had mushrooms on it. I don’t eat things that grow in shit you know!

A bit of a wait, a bit of a trundle through Pick ‘n Pay, and soon the three of us were seated down, devouring the hapless pizzas before us as if there was never going to be pizza ever again. Unfortunately for me, dreams and memories always taste better than the real thing and I had to admit there and then that the fabled Tangy Russian was nothing like I had remembered it being, meaning that this was in all likelihood my last ever visit to the fabled emperor’s pizza palace. Sorry guys, looks like you’ve just lost a customer – not that I ever went there that often anyway, so I guess it doesn’t really matter. My bad.

Ryan then proceeded to gingerly navigate us through to Karl’s place and after a lucky wide open parking space which saved Ryan the embarrassment of having to try and parallel park Mom’s Camry, we were in, Mission Football Quite Possible in progress.

Having fooled Karl into opening his front door thanks to a sly missed call I gave him, Terrance, Ryan and I stormed in and immediately overran the place’s defences, with Mr T. and I seizing the couch before anyone could even think of objecting. Luckily Karl had already had the foresight to evacuate poor Patricia out of the premises before we arrived, meaning the unenviable task of making coffee and pouring the beverages then fell to him.

Now as I reported the last time when we crashed Karl’s flat for a night of FIFA with Jeremy in tow, playing on Mr Storbeck’s huge flatscreen TV can only be described as gaming heaven and as such we didn’t leave all that much time for talking and instead got stuck in almost straight away.

Having already decided the team arrangement that would cause the least amount of friction, Karl and I took on the mighty Ryan and Terrance combination of old and while the first couple of games played out pretty equally, the superb teamwork of RT soon overwhelmed the lesser mortals of KC and by the end of the night Karl and I found ourselves pretty much at the end of the whipping stick. Still, the games remained for the most part pretty tight, with more than a few last minute stolen victories and thus the inevitable celebrations to get over with (which took a while to get going thanks to Karl possessing a ‘high five’ with the consistency of a wet Marie biscuit). For a change we also allowed penalty shootouts to take place, and as per usual this left Ryan cursing the system which for some reason seems determined to block him from shooting in any other direction than straight at the keeper. Thankfully the rest of us don’t suffer from the rare medical condition – though I did manage to welly the ball past the posts on more than one occasion! :_)

Without Jeremy’s constant politics to distract me, I actually managed to concentrate for far longer than what I usually do, something Terrance quickly figured out the secret to and then much to Karl’s frustration it was all downhill from there, thanks to a couple of well-timed (and sometimes offish) jokes. Thankfully though we had more than enough snacks (though not enough time between goals and half-time to stuff them into our mouths) to make up for our losses, though I must mention that Terrance was very sneaky in supplying sour cream and cheese pretzels as a snack, full well hoping that he would in fact be the only one willing enough to eat such a devilish combination – a plan soon dashed when Karl and Ryan laid their hands on his packet.

Patricia soon arrived home and found her beloved flat overrun by us four hooligans, stopping long enough only to grab our remaining Niknaks, polish them off, take a few snapshots for Terrance and then dive for the safety of her room. Smart move. You can see why Karl doesn’t have the balls to stand before her and ‘Pat’ her on the head then! (Chantelle, I finally got the answer to this burning question last night – now we know!)

After about 3 hours of solid FIFA gameplay, Karl finally declared an end to the night’s proceedings and kicked us out, a sentiment that was welcomed by Terrance in part, seeing as he happened to be the only one out of the four of us who actually needed to go into the office today.

And so it ended, another terrific four man FIFA 07 foray. This time the team of KC might have been on the losing end of the proceedings, but never fear – one day I’ll learn the art of multitasking (as in playing and speaking simultaneously), this I promise!

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Review: The Red Star Games | My Reviews 12 JUL 2008

The Red StarBased on Christian Gossett’s graphic novel of the same name, The Red Star plunges you straight into an alternative Soviet Russia, known as the ‘United Republics of the Red Star’… and right in the middle of a battle between the Red Fleet’s flagship Taktarov and the mutinying Konstantinov Skyfurnace.

Sorceress Major Maya Antares and her faithful guardian, combat and weapons expert Kyuzo, have devoted their lives to the service and defense of the United Republics of the Red Star. Under the command of Skymarshall Urik Antares, Maya and Kyuzo have led the crew of the Skyfurnace Konstantinov through countless battles. But now, while entrenched in the war to control the rogue Republic of Nokgorka, Maya and Kyuzo meet a Resistance Fighter name Makita. This ferocious young warrior holds the key to a dark conspiracy that reveals the entire U.R.R.S. to be under the control of the Dark Lord Imbohl and his chief assassin, Troika, the Harvester of Souls.

Makita, Kyuzo and Maya unite to defeat Troika’s tyranny as the Konstantinov and crew mutiny from the Red Fleet. Troika, at the helm of the fleet’s flagship vessel the Taktarov, unleashes a deadly assault to bring the rebels to heel. Under the watchful command of Urik and Maya, Kyuzo and Makita embark upon a final fight to unite the scattered Republics of the Red Star and liberate them from Troika’s rule.

To say that The Red Star had a troubled path in reaching the shelves is a bit of an understatement. The game was in a near-final state and approaching its original 2004 release date when the embattled Acclaim Entertainment group filed for bankruptcy and basically sold off everything it had, including unfinished games. In the process, The Red Star seeming got lost in all the commotion, and quietly sat unfinished on some dusty shelf wherever it is that lost games go. That was until XS Games unexpectedly announced that they were going to pick up and finish the game and hurriedly released it to the PlayStation 2 crowd in 2006.

Basically, if you remember the two old staples of the arcade gaming era, namely side-scrolling fighters and top-down shooters, then you will know exactly what The Red Star is all about. What Red Star does is cleverly take these two genres, mix them all together and then present an unrelenting, fast-paced action game that plays in a way that gamers of old will instantly feel at home with but at the same time look and feel exactly how a more contemporary title should.

At the start of the adventure you get to pick between two characters, namely Kyuzo and Makita, each possessing differing skills, those being power and speed respectively. The game itself is a lesson in simplicity to be honest. Each character has a block, a shoot and a melee button, with a powered up attack button thrown in just so that the triangle button doesn’t feel left out.

From there your character (or characters if you feel like playing two players, ala the classic arcade experience) get dumped onto a fairly linear level, facing ever increasing numbers of specialized villains that all can only be defeated in their own certain way, but in return, can only attack in one single way. Thrown into the middle and end of these stages is the ever present boss battle, which basically takes the form of those old top down type shooters that will have you maneuvering through complex bullet patterns while firing back in the hopes of taking the bugger down.

Now if this sounds a little boring to you so far, this is precisely what makes The Red Star such an interesting experience – the game is forever mixing these two genres up, constantly switching between them and changing the camera angle, doing it often enough to ensure that you never get bored, even after taking down score after score of the same enemy types.

It must be said that the blend of these two fairly simplistic genres is incredibly well done, and it immediately appeals to both casual and veteran gamers alike. Stage lengths and layouts are continuously chopped and changed, so that you will never know what to expect next, and it helps that each and every stage although simple in design, is lavishly detailed. Exactly the same can be said for the character models, because the game pulls off a colourful, cartoonish feel while at the same time looking wickedly detailed. Character animations although relatively few are all beautifully done and as a visual whole, The Red Star certainly appears a polished package. A special note need to be made regarding the multitude of boss designs as well, from deviously simple tank to the whacky floating head, you’ll probably see it all during this game.

My only complaint with regards to the visuals is the complete and utter lack of cutscenes or videos whatsoever. With only static load and mission briefing screens available, one can’t help but feel that XS simply picked up the title, polished it up and released as is, without going to all the extra expense of adding all the little visual extras you would expect from releases nowadays.

Aurally, while The Red Star features a pretty decent soundtrack, it must be said that some of the sound and voice effects leave a lot to be desired, including a lot of the voice acting as well. Still, as I mentioned the background score saves it from being a total mess and in the end it sounds okay enough for a title of its quality.

The game isn’t all that long, consisting only of 19 missions in total, but what it loses in length it more than makes up in difficulty. While the first couple of levels certainly are easy enough, the game quickly ramps up the difficulty level until you are left with some extremely torturous levels at the end, made all that much harder by the fact that The Red Star does completely away with any sort of checkpoint system whatsoever. In fact, the game is more than a little stingy when it comes to player health, and you’ll find yourself doing your utmost to conserve your puny health throughout most of the game, lest you die at a mid point boss and have to do the whole level from scratch again!

The developers also make an effort to add some depth to the game by adding a ranking system for each mission completed, with each rank giving you a certain amount of points to spend on upgrades to your health, weapons or armour. Because of the fairly low amount of points dealt out, you’ll be forced to choose wisely as just what to spend your money on, decisions that could very well effect you throughout the latter, more difficult stages of the game.

Another little added touch to the game is the introduction of overheating limits, which get placed on both your shield and guns. This means that you can never just sit and block everything that comes your way because after a couple of hits your shield will disintegrate and you’ll be left a sitting duck while it slowly rebuilds, and similarly you can’t just lock on and strafe your opponents to bits without pause as your gun has a nasty habit of overheating at the most inopportune of times, leaving you with only your melee attack to make do with while it cools down.

In summary, The Red Star gets a thumbs up for being a competent, polished, highly exciting and addictive game to play, particularly as it strives to resurrect two long lost genres from the arcade era. While it starts out easy enough, it can get quite frustrating to play the further you get into the game, making it ideal for both casual gamers (for the first couple of stages) and veteran gamers who like a stiff challenge. Add some fun two player co-op play in the mix, and you are left with a great, bargain priced game that is well worth the play.

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http://www.gamespot.com/ps2/action/redstar/index.html

Review: Marvel Ultimate Alliance Games | My Reviews 05 JUL 2008

Marvel Ultimate AllianceDoctor Doom has assembled some of the most evil super-villains of our time together as the Masters of Evil, and has set upon some secretive plan of destruction and possible world domination which looks set to shake up the very planet itself. A direct assault on the S.H.I.E.L.D helicarrier forces S.H.I.E.L.D director Nick Fury to call in the help of all available meta-humans – in the hopes that this alliance of superheroes may be enough to stop Doom and his cohorts in their tracks before it is simply too late!

Following up on their superb X-Men Legends and X-Men Lengends II: Rise of Apocalypse releases, Raven Software returns once more to bring us Marvel Ultimate Alliance, perhaps the biggest chunk of Marvel comic ‘fanboydom’ to ever grace any game console before. Expanding on the already hit game mechanics from X-Men Legends and X-Men Legends II (themselves having borrowed heavily from dungeon-crawling RPGs like Diablo and Champions), Marvel Ultimate Alliance ends up being a thoroughly absorbing and exciting game that will easily suck up more than a few hours of your life and leave you all tingly at the end of it all – particularly if you happen to be a comic book fanatic.

What makes Ultimate Alliance such a treat is the sheer variety of characters and locations that have been jam-packed into it, as well as having a complex and intriguing enough storyline that will keep you guessing right until the end. There are more than 20 customisable, playable heroes to mess about with, countless villains and bosses to battle against and locations that vary from the Norse Gods’ fabled Asgard right through to Doom’s Latverian lair. The designers have gone out of their way to keep as many people as happy as possible, including a wide variety of heroes to play with, including the heavy hitters like Wolverine, the Fantastic Four, Captain America and Iron Man, but at the same time tipping the hat to the slightly lesser know characters like Dr. Strange, Luke Cage, Deadpool and Spider-woman. The same idea applies to the villains, where you face off against the major players like Ultron, the Mandarin, Mephisto and Galactus, but also get to go up against the lower-profile villains such as M.O.D.O.K, Grey Gargoyle and even Arcade! This sheer variety of characters and locations does well to touch just about every corner of the vast Marvel Universe and truly ends up being a treat for any true fanboy.

As was mentioned earlier, the gameplay sticks pretty closely to the genre established by heavy hitters like Diablo, Baldur’s Gate and even Raven’s X-Men games of before, basically leaving you with an ‘area exploration from a fairly top-down view while controlling a team of four heroes to contend with’ kind of game. As with their previous games, the environments are all nicely destructible and on that note, be prepared for a lot of barrel smashing should you wish to take advantage of all the collectible items, gear and S.H.I.E.L.D currency lying around.

While the majority of gameplay consists of you walking around, button-mashing and just generally beating up horde after horde of villain, the game does occasionally throw in the little mini-game to complete or puzzle to solve and these are generally quite a fun distraction from the main branch of gameplay that seems to never let up on the action. A nice interactive touch is the inclusion of those button-press interrupted cutscenes ala Resident Evil 4 style, which has you pressing specified buttons displayed during a cutscene in order to advance the cutscene and hopefully avoid an untimely and unexpected death.

The actual combat mechanics itself is fairly simple in that you have an assigned button for light attacks and an assigned button for chargeable heavy attacks, the two of which can be mixed up to provide for simple combos. You also have a button for jumping, the same button which causes your character to fly should they possess the power of flight. The last button is used for grabs and throws, which can be utilized against both opponents and objects. Of course, the basic block and roll buttons are also present, and is the equally more important power modifier button. Each hero has four powers assigned for use at any point in time, all mapped to the same buttons you use for normal combat but triggered by holding down the power modifier button. This is kind of the crux of what makes a superhero game super, because you get to play with all those powers and abilities you have so loved to see in the comics. From freezing things around you to throwing fireballs at your enemies, the wide variety of powers on display is really the thing that makes this game so much fun to play. Each hero also has a super superpower ability that can only be triggered after the usual slow-filling combo meter fills up, usually triggering a visually stunning attack which can be chained together should other characters also possess a full meter.

As I mentioned before, you run around with a team of four heroes at a time, meaning that the AI controls the other three while you get to grips with walloping bad guys with your chosen man. Of course, you can instantaneously switch control to any of the other three characters and this makes for a nice game mechanic should you require a special ability to advance through a particular point or just happen to get bored very quickly. While the AI is fairly competent, it does perform a little sluggish at crucial times and you will often find your team members accidentally plummeting off bridges and getting caught in some of the stupid traps littering some of the stages. Of course, Marvel Ultimate Alliance supports the wonderful drop-in, drop-out mechanic from the previous X-Men games which means that your buddies are welcome to join in anytime they wish, making for some exciting co-op play.

The game follows the usual RPG rules of leveling up characters, stats and abilities and while the AI can be set to handle it all for you, for those of you who like dabbling and customizing your characters, this is an essential must have. The system itself is pretty intuitive to use and you can lose yourself quite easily in doling out the gear, stats and abilities your want your customized team to have. And on that front, Marvel Ultimate Alliance has introduced a ‘My Team’ concept which allows you to hand pick a team for which you are specially rewarded by sticking to them and grabbing as much XP as you can without changing the roster too often.

The game features a host of playable characters for you to control, some playable right from the get go and others you have to unlock as you progress. Each character comes with their own set of special powers which you can assign and switch between as you wish, as well as with a number of alternate costumes, all with their own special abilities. This multiple costume gimmick is a great touch for those of you who want to switch between the various guises that your favourite characters have carried through the years.

Lastly, when selecting your four member team at the plentiful S.H.I.E.L.D Access points littering all of the stages, you will note that picking certain team members results in specific bonuses. There are obviously the painfully obvious teams like the Fantastic Four and New Avengers to go for, but there are other, lesser obvious combinations like Femme Fatale and Forces of Nature to pick up on. These special teams give special bonuses, something that might just prove to be more than a little handy in the numerous boss battles you encounter throughout the lengthy adventure.

In terms of extras, Marvel Ultimate Alliance certainly doesn’t disappoint. The trivia game is a delight to all the comic book fans who get to test out their knowledge and gain some valuable XP points in the process, while the extensive list of training missions does well to extend the life of the game and also provide further incentive in that they release further locked skins for your characters. Then there is the usual gamut of cover art, loading screens and background art to collect, all which adds on to the experience as a whole.

Visually, Marvel Ultimate Alliance is probably not the prettiest of looking games on the PlayStation 2, but it is certainly polished and colourful enough and looks as if it jumped straight off the pages of your favourite comic books. The colourful environments are all lusciously detailed and the nicely detailed heroes with all their powers simply adds to what is one of the better looking ‘dungeon crawlers’ out there. The game also features some beautifully animated CGI cutscenes and these are well worth looking out for just on their own.

The game also features a brilliant score, subtly capturing the feel of each and every varied location you find yourself in, but also matching the relentless tempo of the game perfectly. And while it is great to have so many voice artists on board on one single project, it must be said that some of the voices and dialogue does lean towards the cringe-worthy campy side. The sound effects on the other hand are all beautifully full bodied and you will often find yourself sitting completely immersed in the environment in which you find yourself.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance just doesn’t seem to put a foot wrong and is certainly a further step up from Raven’s previously brilliant X-Men Legends and X-Men Legends II releases. It will satisfy any gamer who loves these top-down dungeon crawler type games, but even more so, it will particularly satisfy all of those who love the Marvel Comicdom. It has just about something for everyone, providing a satisfying button-bashing experience that lasts well over 20 hours and covers a host of different locations and boss battles. It looks good, plays easy and intuitively enough and is not so overly hard that it will leave you frustrated at any point during the game.

Simply put, if you love comic books and you love Diablo type dungeon crawlers, then you should simply not skip this one. Definitely one of the top games on any comic fanboy’s shelf!

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Related Link: http://www.gamespot.com/ps2/rpg/marvelultimatealliance/index.html

Review: Naruto Ultimate Ninja Anime | Games | My Reviews 22 JUN 2008

Naruto Ultimate NinjaNaruto games have always been plentiful, but unfortunately just not that good, generally leaving a little bit of a bland taste in the mouths of the countless Naruto fans across the globe. Well that was until the original Naruto Ultimate Ninja came along.

Bandai has graced us with a stylish, frantic button-mashing fighter that is overly stylish, yet engaging and fairly simple to pick up. Based on the legendary Masashi Kishimoto’s enduring, ongoing series Naruto (which was unleashed on an unsuspecting public in 2003 and hasn’t looked back since), which tells the story of a brash, arrogant young ninja cadet who has the misfortune of having a nine-tailed demon fox sealed within him and how he aims at becoming the Hokage of his native village, the Village of the Hidden Leaf. Of course the stories have progressed far since those early days, but the premise of the story remains the same – super-powered ninjas fighting against one another.

Naruto Ultimate Ninja is set in the early arc of Naruto, when he was still a genin and as such features characters and scenarios from the first part of the long running Naruto anime series. Although the roster of ninjas that you can unlock and play with is not particularly huge, all the favourites are there, and you get to play with Naruto, Sasuke, Sakura, Gaara, Neji, Rock Lee, Hinata, Kakashi, Shikamaru, Zabuza, Haku and even Orochimaru himself! Of course, many of your other favourites make an appearance as support characters and for Naruto fans this game is indeed filled with fanboy material.

The game features all the various modes that a fighting game should contain, including a versus and practice mode, but it is the scenario and mission modes that provide the meat to this title. The scenario mode has you completing a number of storyline battles with a character, with each battle increasing in difficulty until you face a final battle to beat that scenario and hopefully unlock some content.

The mission mode on the other hand is split over a number of levels, with each level consisting of a number of missions, with each mission carrying specific requirements in order to pass. Of course, the level of missions gets increasingly difficult, but the money you earn from completing these missions more than make up for it.

Money is gained for each successful mission and every battle win, and is used to purchase the gamut of bonus content that the game comes with. There are literally hundreds of unlockables and only a true fan will ever be able to earn them all. Of course, purchasing these is sometimes a lesson in frustration because you need to go through a lottery system to win, betting an amount of money and hopefully receiving a random item instead of drawing a blank, which quickly becomes more than a little tiresome.

Back to the fighting however, and it is interesting to see Bandai pull back from pushing out what could have been just a standard fighter with two buttons for two different kicks and two buttons for two different punches. Instead, the buttons are laid out in a particularly simple manner. One button to make you jump, one button to throw your shuriken and other collected items/powerups, one button to raise your chakra level in hope of triggering a chakra-fuelled cutscene attack and one button that handles all the actual attacking (oh and a trigger button for blocking of course).

There is a slight attempt at adding in different combos by mixing up the attack button with directional presses, but other than that you’ll find yourself continuously bashing the same button over and over again in order to dish out maximum damage. Things become a little more interesting though when you manage to land a strike when in a chakra powered up state, unleashing your cutscene driven attack. Each character has three levels of chakra attack and each and every one of them is different and absolutely a joy to behold. However, just to keep things interesting, you’ll be required to frantically input the given button sequence in order to carry out maximum carnage – otherwise you’ll find the damage dealt reduced as well as some of the longer sequences terminated halfway through.

Some of the scenes are particularly humorous to watch while others are downright nasty (though never bloody), but all are wonderfully executed and stylish to boot. A lot of the special attacks come straight out of the manga and anime, making it an instant hit with any long time Naruto fan.

While the characters are all polygonal in nature, the game plays out as a 2D fighter, though each level has a number of different planes which you can instantly travel between by pressing a direction and jump simultaneously. This becomes quite tactical after a while, because your support character will continuously pop in at the various levels to provide you with some or other power-up or special item which may just be what you need to swing the match in your favour.

There are a number of different levels waiting to be unlocked, all from a particular manga location, and usually linked together as you will see when during a battle after getting significantly beaten up you get the ‘change level’ option flashing on your screen. Each location is unique in its presentation, all has its own traps and pitfalls and all are wonderfully fleshed out with hidden areas and secret breakables.

The pacing of the fighting is relentless and at times can feel a bit unorganized and a matter of simple button bashing. However, as with any game in this genre, the more you play, the more tactical your battles become, finally resulting in a thoroughly satisfying experience.

Visually, Naruto Ultimate Ninja is a treat to look at, going entirely for a comic book look which results in a colourful, cel-shaded presentation with thick black outlines which looks as if it leaped straight out of the manga or anime episode. Even the narrative cutscenes are presented in a comic book format which simply adds to Naruto’s ultimately stylish look.

Naruto Ultimate Ninja looks superb and instantly appeals to fans of this type of animated entertainment, which makes it all the more pity that the developers cheapened out to an extent and provide simple stills for each scenario beginning and ending sequences. At least we get an animated opening sequence that is pretty much plucked straight out of the anime series, but I’m afraid that is pretty much it. A surprising decision when you notice just how much of the bonus material actually comes from the anime series itself!

Aurally, Naruto is actually a treat, featuring a strong cast of voice actors for both the Japanese and English language versions (yes, for a change you can actually get a game with its original Japanese soundtrack intact!) and a musical score seemingly plucked straight out of the anime. The sound effects are also top notch, though it must be said that overuse of some of the voices and phrases do become a little annoying after a while.

In summary, while not necessarily carrying the in-depth punch you would expect from a fully fledged fighting game, Naruto Ultimate Ninja more than makes up for it in terms of style and presentation, resulting in a madcap button-bashing exercise that is fun to play and even more fun to watch – particularly if you are already a hardcore Naruto fan!

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Related Link: http://www.gamespot.com/ps2/action/narutoultimateninja/index.html

C Gaming My Life 18 JUN 2008

OnimushaNow as you know, I’ve always been a lover of playing games, be it computer or console games, but it has always been a pity that my partners don’t necessarily share this particular interest with me. It’s not a train smash of course, but it would have been nice.

However, I am happy to report that at least two of my current family members are now avid gamers – and possible a third one as well! ;)

The first two to whom I refer are none other than Coco and Olympus, who have now discovered that they are avid fans of me playing games on the TV, especially when I sit cross-legged on the floor as I usually do. It turns out that by sitting cross-legged, you inadvertently create the perfect little hollow nesting spot, the perfect place for a kitten to sit in, sleep in or chew a controller cable from. So it doesn’t matter when or where I decide to plug the old PlayStation 2 into the TV, both the buggers are soon to find me and make me their perfect resting spot of choice!

Of course, sometimes the hollow is a little too low down for them to properly watch the TV, which explains why I also often find the little furry buggers sleeping on my shoulders as I try hard not to strain my neck while playing games and simultaneously providing them with a stable platform in case they should fall and decide to break their descent with those bloody sharp little claws of theirs!

As it was, Sunday morning’s gaming session gave Chantelle a bit of a fright when she walked into the lounge and thought I had grown a big bushy beard overnight! The two of them can be such a pain in the neck at times! :)

And as to the third possible gamer in the family, I am of course referring to none other than C, who is now slowly but surely becoming obsessed with beating me fair and square at Burnout: Takedown. Having previously shunned other titles for appearing too complex for her to play, it would seem that C is okay with the classic car racing game, Tekken-like fighters or just a simple 2D adventure game (which would explain why she quite enjoyed playing The Red Star the other evening), a fact that I try my hardest to exploit and get her to sit down more often next to me, controller firmly in hand.

And while she is usually not so aggressive or competitive in real life competition, it would seem that there is just something about gaming that brings out the competitive spirit within her, making for some tense racing battles and some alarmingly big swear words to dodge should things not quite go her way! Of course, I won’t ever cheapen the experience for her by losing on purpose, but I have got to admit, I’ve been mightily impressed with the one or two victories that she has scored over me, the veteran gamer, in the last while.

Who knows, if I keep beating her the majority of the time then she might just keep playing against me in order to get those valued and elusive wins – an outcome that I know I’ll enjoy! :)

(Though I must admit to being a bit pleased that she isn’t quite as competitive as Andrea is. Apparently Andrea wakes up in the middle of the night to practice away on their Xbox 360 while Albert blissfully sleeps on, unaware of the frantic practicing that’s taking place right there in their living room!)

Review: Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Anniversary Games | My Reviews 22 MAR 2008

Tomb RaiderSeeing as Crystal Dynamics did such an outstanding job in resurrecting the Tomb Raider franchise with their stunning (and player-friendly) Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Legend, it would have been quite a shame not to keep the ball rolling and that is exactly what Eidos did to mark the 10 year anniversary of this popular game franchise by having Crystal Dynamics come up with their homage to the first ever Tomb Raider game released in the form of Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Anniversary.

Over the last ten years Lara Croft has become somewhat of an icon amongst gamers and remains one of the most popular female game characters ever created, both amongst male and female admirers. After the slump that was driven home by the appalling Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, Lara Croft looked destined to end her illustrious career on a rather low note, but thankfully Eidos wasn’t just about to mothball one of their biggest money spinners like that and instead brought in Crystal Dynamics to try and resurrect their fallen star. Of course, as history has it, they succeeded with the enjoyable Tomb Raider: Legend and thanks to that particular success we now get even more Tomb Raider action in the form of Tomb Raider: Anniversary, a direct homage to the original title that started the whole craze way back when.

For those gamers old enough to remember the original Tomb Raider, it was somewhat of a revolution in gaming as it marked the first real use of 3D polygonal, tightly designed levels with a 3rd person character model that pretty much had the freedom to move wherever the user pleased. Tomb Raider was also the hallmark of the puzzle quest genre as the game, despite its many action sequences, was as much about flipping switches and figuring out puzzles as it was about shooting things – in fact even more so. To many a gamer that experienced Tomb Raider in its original run, few games of that era will ever surpass it and it is upon this nostalgia that Crystal Dynamic builds with their latest release.

Tomb Raider: Anniversary isn’t a direct port of the original game nor is it something entirely different that simply makes reference to the original. Instead, Crystal Dynamics have gone and taken the best of the look, feel and levels from the original and slightly updated them for today’s gaming complexity and then meshed these updated pieces with some new material that leaves you with a game that stands shoulder to shoulder with today’s best releases but at the same time invokes a very strong sense of nostalgia for all those who played the original.

For those of you who didn’t get to experience the first game, Tomb Raider: Anniversary retells the story of how Lara Croft goes off in search of the legendary Scion of Atlantis pieces, artifacts that her father was extremely intrigued by and that may very well hold some sort of clue to the mystery that surrounds his eventual disappearance.

As with the original, you basically get dropped into a number of tombs scattered across the globe and then need to work your way through each location solving a number of tricky puzzles, avoiding some nefarious traps, beating down any wildlife that sees you as a threat, battling any stage boss that you might be unlucky enough to encounter and generally staying alive long enough to grab the Scion and get the hell out of the place before it caves in on top of you. This generic formula for each level stays basically the same throughout the game, though obviously the further you go along the more secrets and implications of your actions gets revealed through the scattered FMVs and cutscenes, until you are quite literally dropped into the big finale sequence at the end of it all.

Tomb Raider: Anniversary takes a step back from Tomb Raider: Legend and strips all your high tech gadgetry away, although you do get to keep the magnetic grappling hook that becomes invaluable for some of the later tomb traversing. Naturally all of the weapon pickups that were available in the original are found in this release, and as before, getting ammunition for them is sometimes a tricky affair. And as with the original, Anniversary completely shifts the emphasis away from shooting enemies and squarely back on to puzzle solving and switch flipping.

This means a lot more thinking needs to be done, the path of progression isn’t all that clear and you are going to constantly be running, jumping or rolling to avoid some or other deadly tomb trap. And of course, as gamers familiar with the original know, Anniversary loves to throw in those surprise encounters with creatures, guaranteed to give you more than a small fright.

As with Legend, the controls for Lara are rather fluid and well animated, and she generally does exactly what you want to with the freedom of movement you’ve come to expect from Lara. There is a lot more jumping in this iteration of the game and you’ll need to become fairly adept at controlling her actions if you want to get through some of the more tricky exploration bits.

The shooting aspect of the game retains the new targeting system introduced in Legend and as such remains a pretty simple affair to pull off. A nice addition to the system however is the ‘killing shot’ bullet time that Lara can pull off when her enemies charge at her, slowing down time and giving you one shot at taking down the creature with a single bullet. It is something that has been done before, but it fits nicely into this world and is quite fun to perform, breaking up the long monotonous tomb exploring bits.

Visually, Tomb Raider: Anniversary hasn’t changed all that much from the Legend release, but it remains as stunningly beautiful as ever, with lush, finely detailed backgrounds and smoothly animated character models that ooze detail. The interactive cutscenes also make a comeback in this title, just to make sure you keep on your toes and don’t doze off during the usually non-interactive bits. The few FMVs that are thrown in are almost direct remakes of the original footage and you’ll often find yourself marveling in the nostalgia they introduce as the Lara Croft story unfolds.

And as stunning as the visuals are, the audio for Tomb Raider is just as good. Gorgeously rich compositions create a moody and wondrous atmosphere while the voice actor behind Lara does an absolute stellar job of bringing the character to life. The sound effects are also fully realized and help turn each tomb into an immersive experience, leaving nothing to imagination.

Tomb Raider: Anniversary looks good, sounds good and plays good. So it must be a brilliant game, right? Well, it certainly is an awesome game, especially for lovers of the series. Unfortunately if you are the type who doesn’t like scratching your head in solving sometimes abstract puzzles and retrying certain jumps and grabs over and over again, then you are in for a bit of a disappointing experience. Anniversary is a lot tougher than Legend and certainly does not look after casual gamers like the previous one did. Even for experienced games, the number of traps, the difficulty of the traps and mind-numbingly sameness of each room objective – i.e. find the switches to open the locks to open the door to the next stage makes for a surprisingly frustrating experience, particularly as you reach the later levels of the game.

Honestly, unless you are an absolute fanatic or have tons of patience and the willingness to try things over and over again, you are going to find yourself tossing the controller at the screen more than once in frustration and as such, makes Anniversary better suited as a hire than a purchase for the casual gamers out there.

However, to true fans of the Lara Croft mythos the game is a godsend and will create fanboys of them all over again. A polished title that is great fun to play and invokes a great sense of nostalgia, it is just a pity that the designers went out of their way to make it a frustrating experience to work through which ultimately detracts from the game a little.

A must for the fans, and it is an absolutely stellar action game, but it is not necessarily the greatest of purchases for casual gamers unless you particularly like solving environment puzzles and being frustrated.

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Related Link: http://www.gamespot.com/ps2/adventure/tombraider10thanniversaryedition/index.html