CSI: Deadly Intent

November 16, 2009 by Susan Taylor  
Filed under Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, PC, Reviews, Xbox 360

Overview

Title: CSI: Deadly Intent

Release date: PC/Xbox 360 – Oct 13th DS/Wii – Oct 20th

Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS

Genre: Point-and-click Adventure

Developers/Publishers: Telltale Games / Ubisoft

**Please note: I am reviewing the Xbox 360 version of this game**

Storyline

It’s time to pick up your bottle of Luminol once again and show the team of CSI Las Vegas what you are made of. As with the previous CSI games, you are the new kid on the block, but this time you are no longer a rookie. As a seasoned investigator, each case sees you working alongside one of the main characters  from Season 9 of the hit TV show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation; Nick Stokes, Greg Sanders, Catherine Willows, Riley Adams and Robert Langdon. There are five cases that need to be cracked and it is up to you to get your hands dirty, work out who is lying through their teeth and put the criminals behind bars.

Gameplay

It will not take you long to realise that the gameplay has not changed much (if at all) since the first CSI game as Telltale Games have continued down the rather limited route of the “point and click” genre. From the first person perspective, you will be investigating crime scenes, examining the evidence in two separate labs, getting warrants at Jim Brass’ office, hearing about your victims at the morgue and giving suspects  the third degree in the interrogation room.

So expect to click, click, and click some more as you move between locations, review case files in your inventory, search for clues, use the lab equipment to examine and enhance your evidence and initiate conversations with your team, witness and suspects.

Graphics

I was not expecting much from the graphics and I am glad I kept my expectations low. While there is an increase in the quality of the graphics over the last few games, it is not a significant improvement and looks very out of place compared to other next gen games.

Environments are very basic, the character models are very outdated, although I will say that the main characters do look similar to the actors they are supposed to portray from the TV show.

Audio

The soundtrack seems to have been recycled from the previous game, with very few minor changes to the songs themselves. The music does fit in with the TV show however and fans of the show will enjoy the soundtrack.

The voice acting is good though and it should be; Telltale Games have got the cast from the show on board to voice their game counterparts. I was a little more impressed with the emotions displayed in the game compared to the previous games, the witnesses/suspects actually sound like they mean what they are saying.

Overall & Replayability

This is a rather short game (I completed it in under 8hrs, with 100% achievements obtained) and would only recommend renting this game if you are a fan of the series and/or the point-and-click detective genre. Having said that, it is not a bad game by any means and I could not put the controller down once I started the game.

Scrabble Interactive 2009 Edition

October 21, 2009 by Laura Broome  
Filed under Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, PC, Reviews

Overview

Title: Scrabble Interactive 2009 Edition

Release Date: 2nd October 2009

Developer/Publisher: UBISOFT

Genre: Boardgame

Platform[s]: PC / Nintendo DS / Nintendo Wii - Please note, I am reviewing the PC version of this game!

Objective

The main objective is to make words using a random selection of  letters! No matter whether you play the classic mode or any of the puzzle games this really is the aim. Obviously there are tactical moves to be thought of and ways to make low scoring words in to higher scoring ones by placing them on double or triple score squares.

Basically it is the classic game of Scrabble, but on the computer!

Gameplay

This game has 3 main modes, Single Player, LAN or Multi-player. So far I have only been able to play the single player mode as nobody I know has the game yet, I am really hoping this changes. This doesn’t mean however that you are playing all by yourself. You are able to choose your opponents and they have avatars,  names and are of different abilities. There is a Tutorial Mode that unlocks characters and wallpapers as well as guiding you through all of the types of tactical play.  All in all this is a good word puzzle game with some interesting twists that keeps you mind working whilst playing the hours away.

In Single Player mode there are different games to play. The Classic version plays the same as the board game but is never easy, well for me anyway! I was dubious that the computer version of this game would spoil the real live aspect but actually I feel it enhances it, mainly because you never actually look or feel stupid when you spell something wrong you just get a little box that pops up telling you that the word you have entered is not allowed, and yes this does happen to me quite a lot! You also don’t have to wait for what seems like a life time for your opponents to play their turn as it is automatic. Personally I feel that I could get hooked on it. When I first began playing I was really finding it difficult, I had not heard of a lot of the words that the computer was playing and was missing obvious moves which would increase my score. At this point I did not think I would like this game and would end up putting it on the shelf to gather dust but unlike me (probably because I had to review it) I stuck with it and with a bit of practice I have adjusted to playing a computer and I have actually won a game now!

Along with the Classic Version there is also a selection of other mini games to play. There is something for everyone. The game that struck me the most was Scrabble Hold’em. This is a take on the poker game Texas Hold’em and it works very well. You play the computer which plays the part of the different characters. You then are given some money with which you can bet. The dealer button is passed round after each game and there is a small and big blind just like the real game. The basics are that instead of cards you have letters. You are dealt 2 letters with which you can bet, check or fold and then three more letters are drawn and again you can bet check or fold etc. This carries on and once 5 community letters have been drawn then you put in the word you wanted to make using your 2 letters and the community letters. The person with the highest scoring word, which is worked out using the numerical values for each letter, wins the pot. It is a fun way to pass some time and if like me, like poker and word games then you may just find it hard to stop playing.

Most of the other mini games are fairly generic for word games. There is one variation called Duplicate this is available to play in Single –Player mode but is the form that is also mainly played in Multi-Player mode. In this mode all the players are given the same letters to make words with. Once you have decided the word you want to play, you place it on the board, the person who comes up with the highest scoring word has their word put on the board however everyone’s score is added to their total. Once the highest scoring word has been put on the board everyone receives their next set of seven letters, again everyone is given the same tiles and the game carries on in this fashion until the bag of letters is empty. The winner is the one with the most points.

Other mini games include Anagrams, where you have to find all of the possible anagrams from the set of letters, you can move on to the next set of letters if you get stuck but you earn bonus points if you find all of the possible anagrams from the set. This is a good method of training for the real game.

Another game is Escalators which is where you have to form successive words by adding one letter at each step. You do get a time bonus if you manage to get all of the words on the grid without passing. I am not a massive fan of this mode but this is personal choice as it is not the type of word puzzle I favour.

The other mini game is called Puzzleletters and this is fast becoming top of my favourites list. In this mode you have a board of letters and you have to find words by linking adjacent letters together. You begin by having to find 2 words in 100 seconds and this increases as you progress. It is reasonably difficult and you have to try to ensure you don’t block yourself out of making further words as you can only use each letter on the board once.

It is a shame that at present it has not been possible to play the Multi-Play function however I keep popping online in the hope that other people have been out and purchased the game and I am confident that this will soon become quite popular.

This game is very easy to play and it is not a game that becomes frustrating, it allows you to place words in letter by letter or you click all the letters you want to use in order and move them to the board in one go. I have found that you can play this game in two mind-sets, if you want to just click away without much thought and the television on in the background you can although be warned you will probably get beaten! But you can put a lot of thought and concentration in to it as well. My advice would be not to play this after one too many drinks though as the words you try to put in are not usually accepted!

Graphics

The graphics are clear and straightforward and there is a useful bar at the top which gives a description of the words used, this helps when the computer plays something you have never heard of and also aids in helping you to remember the words that are high scoring. There are different backgrounds which you can choose from and most of these are unlocked by playing the tutorial mode. The backgrounds are nothing particularly special but you can change them to spice things up if you want to.

Sound

The audio for this game  is nothing to write home about, fairly usual for these type of games, however it is nice to have them there, especially if you are sitting at home by yourself with no other sound around you and helps you to focus. I tend to play with the sound off and the television or music on in the background but this is down to personal preference. The sound would probably get a little tedious after a while though.

Overall Score & Replayability

Overall this game is highly playable. You do lose track of time quite easily so if you have to be somewhere at a certain time then make sure you set yourself an alarm.  It is always nice when a classic board game hits the computer world but sometimes they can be hugely disappointing, this is not one them. Yes, it is another game that stops us playing with real people whilst having real discussions but lets face it there are times when you want to shut yourself away from the rest of the world and just have some time to yourself. At least if you are playing this you are giving your brain a work out at the same time.

If this was just purely a version of classic scrabble I would say that after a few goes you would become slightly bored, however because of the mini games and the Multi-Player functions then there always seems to be something else to entertain you. So on that note I shall sign off  here and get back to trying to beat my personal best score.

Wish me luck!

Super Mario 64 DS

September 21, 2009 by Aaron Green  
Filed under Nintendo DS, Reviews

sm64dswp1024_2

Overview

Title: Super Mario 64 DS

Release Date: December 2, 2004 (JA) November 22, 2004 (US) March 11, 2005 (EU)

Developer/Publisher: Nintendo

Genre: Platformer

Platform[s]: Nintendo DS

Storyline

Back in ’96 a well known plumber made his three-dimensional debut on quite a popular gaming platform, namely, the N64 – in 2004 a Nintendo DS remake was released.  Essentially the plot is mostly the same.  Despite her tendency to spend significant portions of time in Bowser’s prisons, Princess Peach (apparently a domestic goddess now) decides to bake a cake; she then sends a letter inviting Mario for a little munch on the said cake.  The moustached Plumber promptly heads to the castle, closely followed by Luigi and Wario… and so the story begins. Overall, the plot is typical of the Mario series – light-hearted, consistent fun!

Gameplay

Chances are if you’re reading this that you’ve already played the original, or at least know what the game is about.  So I’m going to begin by summing up the main additions to the DS version and then build on my explanation of the gameplay experience from there.

  • Super Mario 64 DS now has four playable characters.
  • The amount of Stars found in the game has increased from 120 to 150.
  • Controls.  After all, the player no longer has access to an analogue stick.
  • Character Caps which allow you to transform into other characters mid-level.
  • Multiplayer.
  • Minigames

The four playable characters are: Mario, Luigi, Yoshi and Wario with the game initially forcing you to play as Yoshi until you free Mario (which requires 8 Power Stars).  Each character has unique moves, and also controls differently in terms of speed and power.  As it happens Luigi has the advantage in this respect.  He manoeuvres a little easier and can jump significantly higher letting him skip certain platforms and challenges.  Diehard fans won’t like this I’m sure!

The extra added Power Stars present much more of a challenge, as before the aim is to complete levels (often multiple times) to earn stars which then unlock more levels.  Sure you don’t need every star to complete the game but to unlock every level hidden within Peach’s castle and to get the full Super Mario 64 DS experience it’s certainly something worth considering.

Controlling your character in Mario 64 DS is not going to be easy for everyone.  For some people the lack of analogue control is actually going to be what stops them enjoying the experience as whole.  As a player you’re presented with two ways to direct Mario & Co. one is via the d-pad (and remember the original M64 was designed to steer away from this) then another is through the DS’s stylus which is the only way to get precise accurate movements.  At first this is somewhat difficult as to pull off all the required move the player must juggle use of the Stylus, D-Pad and buttons – after a while this does become second nature but only once the initial learning curve has been conquered and lets face it, there are some who wont stay that long!

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In the original SM64, Mario could collect caps which presented him with a number of abilities.  There was the ‘Winged Cap’, ‘Metal Cap’ and ‘Invisible Cap’ now however our plump plumber is limited by only being able to float whilst Wario can turn into metal, Luigi can turn invisible and Yoshi can shoot fireballs. Much like N64 hit these “character specific” abilities aren’t available where and when the player chooses them but only when the character touches a special object before this was various ‘Power Caps’ this time it’s a ‘Power Flower’.  There’s also the Feather which enables Mario to fly.  Finally there are ‘Character Caps’ which are (obviously) unique to the NDS – with these characters can take the form of other characters (in appearance and ability at least) mid-level, these caps can be knocked off the character and must then be re-attained.

This is a Nintendo DS launch title.  Certain aspects were required in order to advertise the handheld’s true capabilities.  Touch control is one and wireless multiplayer is another.  As you know by now SM64DS has both!  Only one cartridge is required; everyone else can join via downloaded play.  Well, when I say everyone else I actually mean three other players.  Basically four different coloured Yoshis are dumped onto a map and have to battle it out for stars, to add variety the maps also contain Mario, Luigi and Wario Caps which means a variety of attacks in order to steal those stars.  It’s all great fun but more maps would have been nice.

Everything about the original SM64 is as you’d expect from a platformer.  Levels were filled with complicated jumps, traps and obstacles as well as numerous enemies.  All this remains the same for the NDS remake but with a special added extra: mini-games.  These said minigames are accessible in a room within Peach’s castle but can only be unlocked by catching rabbits in the main game.

Graphics

The Nintendo DS could probably have presented Mario 64 DS with slightly better graphics but the fact of the matter is it’s a remake and an improved one at that, as the texturing and polygon counts are clearly superior to Super Mario 64.  Yes there are bugs, errors and graphical glitches but that’s to be expected really.

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Sound

The audio is mostly the same as before but with a little bit of remixing here and there.  The soundtrack is upbeat as per usual with Mario games.  Peach now opens the game with a fully voiced introduction, something entirely uncommon with Nintendo and phasing effects have been added to emulate a multi-speaker environment with the console’s stereo speakers.

Overall Score & Replayability

Well, what we have is an enhanced remake of a Nintendo classic.  Graphically this is a better version, acoustically this is a better version and in terms of replayability this is a much superior version – the extra stars and extra characters mean more of a challenge and for those that choose it much longer gameplay.  Is this a perfect game?  No, the controls just take too much getting used to, but all-in-all this is definitely one of the best Mario experiences remade for an altogether richer experience… and it works.

Mystery Case Files: Millionheir

September 21, 2009 by Aaron Green  
Filed under Nintendo DS, Reviews

MysteryCaseFiles

Overview

Title: Mystery Case Files: Millionheir

Release Date: September 8, 2008 (US) February 6, 2009 (US) October 16, 2008 (AU)

Developer/Publisher: Big Fish Games/Nintendo

Genre: Adventure/Puzzle

Platform[s]: Nintendo DS

Storyline

The official plot synopsis attached to the game opens up something like this:

Eccentric millionaire Phil T. Rich has disappeared!  Only one person can find out what happened, and that’s you, Detective.”

Basically, the above mentioned millionaire is missing, is he dead? Has he been kidnapped? Well, that’s up to you to find out. It’s all a little cliché yes, but that doesn’t stop it being a whole heap of fun!

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Gameplay

The MCF games have been around since 2005 now; they all share the same basic principle – the player is presented with a mystery which they must solve by completing multiple hidden object puzzles.  The larger mystery is usually composed of several smaller ones.  Millionheir presents more of the same, but this time the series moves from the PC to the Nintendo DS, which works brilliantly, there are few examples of the NDS being used to its full potential but this is one.  Perhaps this is why Nintendo decided to include the game in their “Touch! Generations” franchise?

Gameplay is a combination of hidden object, jigsaw and slider puzzles accompanied by the obvious mystery theme but what makes Millionheir a step-up from PC counterparts Huntsville, Return to Ravenhearst and Madame Fate is the use of the stylus and microphone.  Having trouble finding a banana in the hidden object scene?  Then use one of your detection tools, such as the X-Ray machine – guide it with the stylus and find the object.  I won’t spoil the experience by saying what other tools there are and how they’re associated with the console’s features but this make the game feel very much interactive.

I would expect the casual and family markets to take a strong interest in MCFM, though fans of the smash hit Professor Layton and the Curious Village will find themselves a little bit disappointed I think, this is a one trick pony which although engaging and fun is more focused on the “Where’s Wally/Waldo” style gameplay… everything else is just an added feature!  Obviously this would mean that the difficulty is not too extreme and that someone with a bit of experience looking for cleverly hidden objects amidst a jumble of similar and random objects would beat the game in a weekend of play.

Oh and guess what?  The game even has a fun competitive multiplayer!  Battle it out against friends.  Same gameplay – more pressure.

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Graphics

Visually there isn’t all that much to say, the graphics are all quite comical, there is subtle humour with almost every image and in regards to the actual puzzles themselves – well – expect an awful lot of pictures and though cluttered (as they’re intended to be) everything is interestingly, solidly designed.

Sound

Acoustically everything fits into place absolutely perfectly. Music can be heard eerily populating the background. Sound effects accompany every scene as they should and all-in-all these things help to pull players into the atmosphere of the game.

Overall Score & Replayability

MCFH will remain fresh even after multiple playthroughs. It always provides something to do and yet where it lacks is by being a little bit too easy and by not having a serious storyline (just a sequence of clichés and puns). This is a game that you should buy; it’s worth owning but not as a serious title of which you pour your effort into, you can buy Professor Layton for that, but rather it’s a pick-up-and-play experience for car journeys, relative visits and rainy weekends.

mystery_case_files_millionheir

New Super Mario Bros.

August 20, 2009 by Aaron Green  
Filed under Nintendo DS, Reviews

Overview

Title: New Super Mario Bros.
Release Date: May 15, 2006 (JA) May 19, 2006 (US) June 30, 2006 (EU) February 24, 2005 (AU)
Developer/Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Platformer
Platform[s]: Nintendo DS

Storyline

Rather than Bowser kidnapping the princess – in an interesting twist – Bowser Jr. does and as per usual our pint-size plumber Mario gives chase.  The plot is completely minimal but it is existent though more so in subtle cues than full blown storytelling.   

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Gameplay

In the most recent entry in the mainstream Super Mario series since Super Mario: Sunshine we see a return to the NES style gameplay which propelled the series into the public eye.  Basically the player travels from level-to-level as Mario or Luigi, breaking blocks, collecting coins, jumping on enemies and travelling down giant green pipes.  In this case eighty levels are split across eight worlds (obvious maths would suggest ten levels per world) don’t worry though – it’s not a requirement to complete all levels to finish the game, with each world displayed on an over-map consisting of a mid-way boss and then a final boss before progressing to the next.  Oddly enough this makes the game itself a perfect blend of Super Mario World and the original Super Mario Bros; this is for the fans and what’s interesting is the fact that moves introduced in the 3D outings (wall jump, ground pound and triple jump) have been included in the game but work undeniably perfect in this format. 

To make things more interesting the traditional power-ups have been included: Super Mushroom – makes Mario/Luigi grow, Fire Flower – let’s Mario/Luigi toss fireballs and Starman – enables Mario/Luigi to become invisible for a while.  New power-ups added to the series are the Blue Koopa Shell – lets Mario/Luigi become a Koopa, Mini Mushroom – shrinks Mario/Luigi and the Mega Mushroom – enlarges Mario/Luigi to gigantic proportions).  The previously mentioned power-ups are one of the few aspects in the main game which utilize the touch screen features of the NDS, as the player collects their first it becomes immediately active thereafter it is stored on the bottom screen and can be switched on by tapping on it. 

On a side-note there are mini-games akin to those from Super Mario 64 DS which take full advantage of the stylus and microphone.  These can be tackled with one or two players along with the battle mode in-which Mario and Luigi fight it out for stars! 

Graphics

What we have is the perfect blend of 2D and 3D.  Character models and key objects are three-dimensional, backgrounds and such are two-dimensional.  It’s all very cartoony yet nicely presented.    

Sound

Nintendo knows what the fans want.  We have retro sounds remixed to a modern standard.  Sure there are the usual clichéd fake Italian voice effects introducing and ending each level but these can be easily overlooked!

Overall Score & Replayability

This is a fantastic platform game which can only be flawed in respect that it doesn’t fully embrace the Nintendo DS’s features.  However this is retro-Mario re-presented to a modern audience.  Ten years down the road I can see this being remembered as one of the consoles defining moments just as Mario 64 was for the Nintendo 64.

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games

August 20, 2009 by Aaron Green  
Filed under Nintendo DS, Reviews

Overview

Title: Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games
Release Date: January 17, 2008 (JA) January 22, 2008 (US) February 7, 2008 (EU)
Developer/Publisher: Sega
Genre: Sports
Platform[s]: Nintendo DS, Wii

Storyline

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games on the Nintendo DS much like its Wii counterpart does not feature a story or any plot whatsoever.  This however is mindless sports button mashing and because of such requires no storyline is required.   

Gameplay

Much like the earlier released Wii version of M&S the gameplay is still a simple affair.  Two headlining characters pit it out in a series of events taken directly from the Olympic Games and the featured events are mostly the same as the Wii’s but with a couple of minor exceptions such as the exclusion of relay racing and rowing though with the inclusion of cycling and the dream events: basketball, boxing, canoeing, long jump and Skeet Shooting.  Game modes included are: Single Match, Circuit Mode, Challenge Mode and VS.  In Circuit Mode the player chooses a pre-defined Circuit to play which consists of a series of events – the highest scoring competitor wins.  Single Match lets gamers choose individual events rather than the predefined Circuits.  Mission Mode offers character specific challenges (some quite hard) and VS mode is quite obviously the multiplayer option in which you can play friends either via DS Download Play or Local Wireless if they own the cart.  M&S takes full advantage of the DS.  Both screens are used (the lower for interaction in most events) and in many fast passed games (running, swimming, cycling etc) the stylus is used quite aggressively to ensure victory – this is a problem, I would like to think that my handheld can take such a beating but it just downright feels like I’m tearing the thing apart.  I know this is the “Touch Generation” and that the emphasis on consoles such as the NDS is entirely about getting physical but I’ve seen other people accidently drop or throw the their styluses and indeed DS’s whilst playing overenthusiastically and it just isn’t cool!

To conclude the gameplay consists of using the stylus, the buttons, the microphone and a degree of self-awareness.  It’s an enjoyable romp but little more than mutton mashing though not as fun as the Wii where you actually feel worked out afterwards.  The singleplayer does not have a steep difficulty and were it not for the aggressive controls I’d say this is a great game for the little ones. 

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Graphics

Cartoon imagery to suit the theme of the titular protagonists presented in your typical old-school 3D (e.g. PS1) which is absolutely fine bearing in mind the handheld’s hardware restrictions.  The only genuine gripe I have is that the action-replays are angled uselessly.

Sound

The usual sound effects coupled with mediocre music.  Clearly the acoustics are not the title’s key selling points.

Overall Score & Replayability

We at VGR found Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games to be an altogether enjoyable experience on the Nintendo DS but for a number of reasons it just doesn’t match the Wii.  The sound is inferior, the controls aren’t as great and the multiplayer just isn’t as enjoyable!

Professor Layton and the Curious Village

August 20, 2009 by Aaron Green  
Filed under Nintendo DS, Reviews

Overview

Title: Professor Layton and the Curious Village
Release Date: February 15, 2007 (JA) February 10, 2008 (US) November 7, 2008 (EU) 10 April, 2008 (AU)
Developer/Publisher: Level-5/Nintendo
Genre: Puzzle
Platform[s]: Nintendo DS

Storyline

Layton is big in Japan, its unfortunate that we’re so far behind them in terms of content.  This is the first episode in a series of the titular character – what we have is a puzzle game that’s engaging and interesting.  Professor Layton and his apprentice Luke visit the village of St. Mystere due to a letter request from Lady Dahlia, widow of the late Baron Augustus Reinhold.  The idea is that Lady Dahlia needs our heroes to solve the mystery of the Golden Apple and thus enable the inheritance of her husband.  Story is an ever-present theme in the game and it continuously allows the occasional break from the ever growing complications of sleuthing.     

 Layton-Screen

Gameplay

So, what is Curious Village all about?  Well – puzzles!  Via an assortment of traditional logic, graphic, jigsaw and brain teasing puzzles the player is continuously tested by the village who oddly enough seem to be bizarrely obsessed with them.  Luke and the Professor must explore St. Mystere and the only way to progress is often by challenging the locals (people and pets I might add) of course some puzzles are necessary while others are entirely optional but either way a keen eye is always required as many are hidden from plain sight.  Difficulty levels often spire and plummet – sometimes it’s all a simple flick of the stylus, other times it can be a ball-busting affair where the answer is nowhere within the reach of your seemingly limited intellect.  I struggled through and managed to resist the dire urge to Google myself out of these situations but I know my fiancée didn’t – then again she finished the full 120 brain-teasers whilst I only went for the bare minimum so it all depends on what you want from your experience… out of 120 I know that 19 she looked up online and to be honest that’s not so bad.  Don’t think that there’s no in-game help should you struggle though, there are Hint Coins scattered throughout the game but they’re all very limited so common sense dictates that you use them wisely.

This is a Nintendo Wi-Fi compatible game and should you conquer it, more puzzles are available to download.        

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Graphics

Professor Layton is a graphically stylized 2D puzzle game, which despite its Japanese origins is very much inspired by European cartooning.  You can’t fault it because in the end everything is designed as the developers intended – only this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea I think.

Sound

Crisp, faultless use of sound which all helps to aid the nature of the game.

Overall Score & Replayability

In conclusion Professor Layton and the Curious Village is a casual-friendly game, the pace is mostly slow and the puzzles are varied enough to guarantee themselves as engaging but replayable?  Well, not all of them.  You will remember some puzzles and they will remain the same second time around thus losing their effect.  Others like the slider challenges maintain difficulty through multiple playthroughs.  Obviously the use of Wi-Fi was included to combat this!  Not everyone enjoys puzzles and brainteasers but if you do this is a NDS must have.

Pokémon Diamond & Pearl

August 18, 2009 by Aaron Green  
Filed under Nintendo DS, Reviews

Overview

Title: The Pokémon Diamond/Pearl
Release Date: September 28, 2006 (JA) April 22, 2007 (US) July 25, 2007 (EU) June 21, 2007 (AU)
Developer/Publisher: Game Freak/Nintendo
Genre: RPG
Platform[s]: Nintendo DS

Storyline

Welcome to the fourth generation of Pokémon and the first mainstream title on the NDS.  This time around we visit the region of Sinnoh, an island divided in half by Mt. Coronet, the rocky and snowy landscape here makes everything feel much further north than the previous settings of Kanto, Johto and Hoenn.  As per usual the story revolves around catching Pokémon, collecting Gym Badges, defeating a crime syndicate (Team Galactic in this case) and finally winning against the Elite Four. The plot is hardly deep but it is existent.       

DP-Screen

Gameplay

Every mainstream title (Red, Blue, Green, Yellow, Gold, Silver, Crystal, Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, Fire Red and Leaf Green) has used the same format in terms of gameplay – albeit with a few new defining features – D/P are no different.

Navigation throughout the world itself is done from a top-down perspective, the player can control their characters movements, who they speak to and use special actions in the field (e.g.  ‘Rock Smash’ to destroy rocks, ‘Strength’ to move boulders and so on) that is of course as long as all necessary requisites are met.

Battles can occur in one of three ways; randomly whilst navigating through certain environments (grass, water, caves etc), legendary Pokémon present in the field and also in the form of other trainers.  All combat is turn-based and it is executed simply by selecting which move you would like to use, this can be selected via the ‘d-pad’, the stylus or even your finger.  It’s all very minimalistic but there is a science to it all.  Most players rely entirely on attacks (taking into consideration elemental affinities) but others will expertly take down rival trainers/potential Pokémon with expertly chosen status effects.  Capturing those crafty little Pokémon is a simple affair, weaken it, throw a Pokéball (or one of its many variants) and pray you’re lucky.  This can only be done in battle of course and the tension really builds up when there’s a risk of one of your six being wiped out or worse still your target running away.  With 493 monsters to catch though you’ll definitely be busy – well, you will be at least if you have friends to trade with, the GBA games, a Wi-Fi connection or a Gameshark cheat device!  As legitimately you cannot catch all these alone but more than half are available and the rest can be picked up from the in-game Global Trade Centre (Wi-Fi connection required) through importation of your caught Pokémon found from Fire Red, Leaf Green, Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald (the mentioned carts just slipping in the GBA slot of the NDS after a certain point in the game.  Nintendo have tried to keep newcomers and diehard fans enabled in this respect!

Now for the NDS specific features: movement is not like Pokémon Ranger (which utilized the stylus) it’s all about the d-pad, instead the stylus is saved for combat (though optional), beauty contents, the Pokétech and the ever present Pokédex.  More the trivial features rather than general mechanics.  In regards to the earlier mentioned Pokétech, it is basically what you will come to know as the primary occupant of the NDS’s bottom screen.  It’s a clock, time, pedometer, map, drawing pad and more, not really revolutionary but certainly more interesting than nothing at all!  The internal microphone also gets the chance to be used in the optional underground environment of Sinnoh, as do a number of other NDS features.  Basically the underground is an MP area with treasure, minigames and challenges – something from the usual battling.

All-in-all Diamond and Pearl are basically the same old Pokémon experience with some shiny new features.  There’s the simple adventure for those who just want to collect and complete or the EV/IV obsessed stat mongering for those drawn towards competitive battling.

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Graphics

Without a doubt the mild use of 3D does make a difference but for the most part Game Freak have visually kept the style as the series always has been.  Whether this is a good choice or a bad one is nothing but personal opinion… I however feel its time it updated itself.

Sound

Catchy tunes, annoying tunes and the usual sound effects (Pokémon noises, jumping noises and the like) – everything is simple in this respect but that’s not a bad thing, is it?

Overall Score & Replayability

So what we have is more of the same.  Both games are great fun to play whilst shallow and deep at the same time just as long as either way you know the only difference between the two is aesthetic the overall content is the same and so you’ll still get the same experience in the end.

Overlord II

Overview

Title: Overlord II
Release Date: 26/06/2009
Developer/Publisher: Triumph Studios/Codemasters
Genre: RPG
Platform[s]: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii (Note: I am reviewing the Xbox 360 version)

Storyline

Overlord 2 is a game about domination, and not the kinky gimp mask kind either. The original was darkly humorous and became an underground cult smash which was missed by a lot gamers, which is a shame because it was a good game – albeit a slightly flawed and glitchy one. It was instantly likeable though, and offered something new in the form of The Minions, a rick-raggedy band of Gremlin-esque creatures you could send off to do your bidding on all manner of people, places and cutesy animals (mainly sheep). The new sequel sets out to address those flaws and glitches, expand on the dark humour and mythos of the franchise and (hopefully) entice some new gamers into the cold, oppressive arms of the Overlord…and The Minions.

Cast as the original Overlord’s offspring (Overlord 2 is set some years after the end of the first game’s last round of DLC), you set off to follow in your father’s footsteps and take revenge on the town of Nordberg after they cast you out as a weird, glowy-eyed youngster. The first level serves as a mini-tutorial where you play as the toddler version of the man himself, wrecking havoc on your similarly aged chums as they attempt to pelt you with snowballs. It also introduces you to some of the mechanics and humour of the game and the mischievous but destructive nature of The Minions.

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Gameplay

Those familiar with the demo (out now on Xbox Live) or the original game won’t find the controls too hard to pickup, although Overlord virgins may struggle with the Camera/Minion control to begin with, as they’re both allocated to the right stick. Nudging the stick forwards before making any further moves puts you in control of your Minions, although in several places the computer appears to select either the camera or Minions for you, regardless of which way you nudge the stick. You can move the camera by holding LB and rotating the right stick however, which is a far easier option – and can be done while moving the Overlord himself, who attacks using A and casts magic using X. So, the real stars of the show are the Minions – as mentioned previously, you can control them specifically as a group with the right stick (also known as “sweeping”) in which case they will attack anything in their paths, be it parts of the environment, your enemies, or (as in the previous game) cutesy animals…in this case, Baby Seals. And although you may feel slightly dirty at watching your Minions club a batch of the fluffy white blighters to begin with, once you begin reaping the rewards (glowing orbs known as lifeforce, which gives you more Minions) it will all become part of the Overlording process.

Minions can also be “sent” in a particular direction to do their own thing by a tap of RT to individually send Minions, or the whole group can be sent by holding it down until they have all scurried off. In this case, they will usually carry out whichever task they think is best – be it attacking/killing, picking up dropped items from the enemy (to use as weapons for themselves) or moving key items to their relevant locations. Triumph studios has made a point of trying to improve the AI of your rabble, and 99.9% of the time they do what they expect you to do, although in the case of some areas where there is more than one key item to control/pick up, you may find yourself calling them back to you (by holding the B button) in frustration as you watch them try to leg it off with a keystone when you were actually trying to get them to turn a wheel.

There are four main Minion types on offer in the game, each unlocked as you progress further and each offering strengths and weaknesses to help you overcome enemies and tasks. The first and most common type are the Browns, which are your typical grunt type Minion – able to take a fair bit of damage, are good in melee combat and the only type able to wield dropped items as weapons. The Reds are fairly weak and tend to die quickly in hand to hand, but they are able to shoot fireballs and can suck up fire (if something in your way is ablaze and you can’t get past, send the Reds in) as well. The Greens are your Stealth option, able to blend in with a lush, green environment and if left standing for a short period of time they will become invisible – good for infiltration missions. The Blues are your Mystics, the only type able to cross expanses of water and can reanimate dead Minions lost in the field – but they are tremendously weak. All the types work well together, and you will find yourself sending the Browns in to start a fight off while you station the Reds on a high plateau to rain fireballs down on an enemy at the same time while the Greens sneak in to steal a key item, and for the most part it is quite a satisfying tactical addition to the gameplay.

Frustrations arise in sending the wrong Minion for the job, or losing a complete Army of tooled up cretins to a particularly annoying Boss character and then dying yourself, which can be a regular occurrence in Overlord 2. Much the same as the bosses in the first game, some (but not all, mind) of the bosses in Overlord 2 are all too easy and predictable – most usually a case of finding their weak spot, working out the right Minions to send into the fray and then taking advantage and chipping away at them with your Axe/Spiked Bat etc until they die. And there is an alarming amount of this in the game as well. One other minor quibble is that the maps are big, but also fairly linear- a sandbox version of Overlord would be awesome, however…and with an RPG element built in (a la Fable 2) it would be a serious force to be reckoned with – and you do get the feeling of being hemmed in at points. Triumph have attempted to offset this by improving the draw distance and some of the vistas are quite impressive, but more on that in a bit.

One of the original games major flaws was the complete absence of a map (and by Lennart Sas’ own admission, he has no idea why they didn’t put one in), which led to a good amount of time lost running round in circles while you searched for your next objective – and this is thankfully one of the problems that has been addressed in the sequel, and by god it’s a welcome addition. The map is a godsend, but also hard to read at some points, whereas the road you should be taking is not immediately obvious to you, leading to some retreading, and retreading, and retreading of steps – followed by kicking of one’s self for not finding the path in the first place. Also worth mentioning are the different Mounts available to your Minions, starting off with Wolves (as per the demo) and progressing up to other nasty creatures for each type of Minion as the game goes on.

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Graphics

As mentioned earlier, the draw distance has been greatly improved and it really shows – some of the settings (although not up to Fable 2 standard, for example) are great, and the tone and feel of each level is perfect, and fits in nicely with the Overlord universe. New to this game is the ability to travel to different lands and countries (by boat), offering up some really nice stuff to look at. The Minions are well animated, but in places the Overlord can look a bit wooden, and some of the animations where he is jumping from area to area in his lair are wholly unnecessary. Some of the bosses are simply awful, too. The smaller enemies are great and look the part, however – and if you’re an Arachnophobe then watch out for the Everlight Temple level! Ultimately though, when compared to something like Dead Space or even Assassin’s Creed, Overlord is left looking like a slightly unattractive cousin that doesn’t use the 360’s processor power to its full capacity.

Audio

The sound in Overlord 2 is superb – the incessant chatter of the Minions in the battlefield is a constant source of amusement as they smash their way around the place, and even though the Overlord himself is silent the rest of the cast more than make up for it. The dark humour of the game is present throughout, and some of the voiceovers and jokes are well placed and raise a giggle or two. The music has also been well scored, and in places (particularly the Overlord’s private quarters) is quite beautiful – and it’s one of the main factors that make the game feel “right” and in context.

Overall Score & Replayability

The Overlord idea is a great concept, and despite a shaky start in the first offering, Overlord 2 redresses the balance with about 95% of niggles from the first game tightened up this time around. Despite a few minor quibbles here and there, none of them are particularly game-breaking and the new features will please the Overlord fans out there as well as offering a bit more bang for the newcomer’s buck – so if you were unfortunate enough to miss out on the first game, I would wholeheartedly recommend you head to your nearest game Shoppe on the 26th of June and purchase. If you don’t, I’m sending my Minions around…

The Lord of the Rings: Conquest

August 17, 2009 by Aaron Green  
Filed under Nintendo DS, Playstation 3, Reviews, Xbox 360

Overview

Title: The Lord of the Rings: Conquest
Release Date: January 13, 2009 (US), January 16, 2009 (EU), January 15, 2009 (AU)
Developer/Publisher: Pandemic Studios/Electronic Arts
Genre: Action
Platform[s]: Nintendo DS, PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360

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Storyline

By now we all know the plot of LoTR, even those who haven’t explored the books or seen the epic movies must have a general idea and let’s face it Peter Jackson owes us more than he knows.  Why?  Well, since the release of the first film we gamers have been drowned in tie-ins related to his vision of the franchise.  Conquest is basically a game which borrows heavily from the films’ most epic battles, plot-wise there’s nothing new to be seen as each level begins and ends with movie footage accompanied by narration from Hugo Weaving.  So, to sum-up – no true storyline exists but rather recycled footage conveniently tacked on with a familiar celebrity narrative as an overlay.            

Gameplay

Those who’ve played the Star Wars: Battlefront games will notice a lot of familiarity in both the single-player and multiplayer of LoTRC.  This is unsurprising considering the developer yet somewhat disappointing too.

 In campaign mode there are two campaigns, this is something we’ve come to expect particularly after Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth.  As I’m sure you’ve guessed one is focused on the forces of good and the other evil.  Both sides essentially have the same gameplay which is just repetitive battering of the same sequence of buttons but split across four classes (Warrior, Archer, Mage and Scout).  There are minor variations between each but nothing significant.  Then there’s the game’s biggest selling point, the heroes which are nothing but the previously mentioned classes with boosted statistics and familiar faces of which Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, Frodo, Sauron, the Balrog, the Ringwraiths and Saruman are but a few to name.  Character models are ugly and often distracting (much on-par with the PS2 version of The Two Towers) and combat is for lack of a better word ‘clunky’, which isn’t helped by enemies who just adore running into your attacks then finally there are the character movements which are well… very poorly animated to say the least.  General gameplay is far below the standard set by other big hitters in the genre, if it’s a taste of Middle Earth you’re after then I’d suggest LoTR: the Return of the King which was designed and executed in a much better way than Conquest, shame.

 It is often a sign when a game is built with such simplicity that multiplayer is the focus, thus justifying less animations etc because it decreases the rate data transfers over the servers, theoretically nullifying lag.  I believe that in development Pandemic Studios probably had this in mind especially considering LoTR Conquest’s immediate connection with Star Wars: Battleground.  However, despite the multiplayer being the best feature of the game it fails to offer anything truly redeeming.  The idea is that sixteen players (eight-per-side) battle it out through Team Deathmatch, Capture the One Ring and Conquest modes.  We all know how TDM works and it takes little (if any) imagination to guess what Capture the One Ring is all about but its Conquest mode where any real fun can be found!  Basically there are points in each map where players must capture to increase score and earn heroes; it’s a little bit like Call of Duty’s domination only with a tad more variety and perks.         

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Graphics

In terms of film location and the like, LoTRC is spot on visually and an absolute pleasure to see but as mentioned earlier, character models and animations are hideous – sometimes on par with early Playstation 2 titles even.

Sound

The soundtrack is borrowed from the movies so obviously it’s the same fantastic score we know and love however voice acting from the heroes is terrible, as are the grunts heard during attacks and such – Hugo Weaving (though mostly brilliant) even sounds bored on occasion as he voices the familiar Elf Elrond.

Overall Score & Replayability

Experienced gamers will have conquered the game in well under nine hours and apart from a scenario where the player gets to kill Gimli in the Mines of Moria there really isn’t much in the way of originality – it’s hardly worth playing the game once let alone again afterwards.  Multiplayer is sure to keep young people entertained as is it likely to keep some busy during a dull weekend at home but beyond that there isn’t really much to offer.  Fans may find a great rental, that’s all – I’m sorry guys this just isn’t a keeper!

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