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DS Tokyo Beat Down 7.1
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MOVIE The Unborn 0
PC Left 4 Dead 8.7
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MOVIE Dead Space Downfall 3.5
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PSP Super Stardust Portable 9.7  CHOICE PICK
PSP Need for Speed Undercover 2.8
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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Game Review:Picross DS

Boot camp for your brain - organized with considerable success.

Admit it! You are totally sick of the mini-game compilation and puzzle game crap that the DS has been inundated with since day one. But wait, no, don’t go yet, because Picross DS has brought something else along with it – enjoyment. Amid the Sudoku craze, Nintendo has released Picross DS, which is coincidentally, another number puzzle game that puts both your mathematical and logic skills to the test. Let Picross DS take you along on a brilliant journey … …

Let’s give you an introduction on what Picross is. Well, you probably have not heard of Picross before since most of the games were released solely in Japan. Like Sudoku, a game of Picross features several rows and columns of squares, whose grids’ dimensions range anything from 5X5 to 20X25. At the top and left side of each row and column respectively are some numbers indicative of the number of squares in that particular row or column that you need to stamp a block on. For example, if there is a number 10, it simply means that there are 10 consecutive blocked squares. However, some Picross puzzles may feature more than one number. So, if ‘5,6,9’ are written, there will be 5 consecutive blocked squares, followed by a gap or more in between, then another 6 consecutive blocked squares, and so on and so forth. Complicated? Picross DS will get you started with some tutorials, so you need not worry, and they can still be accessed afterwards at any time. The blocked squares will eventually form a picture after the puzzle is completed and it can be anything – an animal, a spaceship, a fruit, a mobile phone, you name it.

Upon first look, the game may not be too compelling as there are considerably limited puzzles and the first few ones that you are going to attempt are going to be very easy, but dare play further and the game rewards you much much more content. You will be surprised to find out that the game contains more than 200 puzzles! As you progress further, more levels (each consisting of 15 different puzzles) will be unlocked and the puzzles become increasingly difficult. Another 3 mini-games will be awarded after you complete each level, but more on that later. There is also a Daily Picross mode serving Picross puzzles on a smaller scale (like spotting mistakes and a time attack). The puzzles in Daily Picross mode are unlocked based on how many days you have played the game, so in a way, the game is encouraging you to play it every day. Disregarding the Easy Mode (which is a no-brainer) and the first few puzzles in Normal mode, Picross DS is quite challenging, to say the least. Reach the higher levels and the Free Mode (where the game does not inform you of your error, meaning that if you make one, you can’t solve the puzzle) and a little bit or luck and trial and error come into play – to the point of frustrating, but there seems to be a certain charm in the game that keeps you tied into it no matter how hard the puzzles get – it is this prized possession of a guaranteed riveting experience that many puzzle games miss. However, if you think you are alright even if you take as long as 2 hours to solve a puzzle, think twice, because there is a time limit of an hour (or else no slight picture animation). Make a mistake of stamping a block on a square that is supposed to be a gap and you will be penalized time, with the largest time penalty being 8 minutes. Somehow, Nintendo has also managed to squeeze in My Picross mode, which allows you to make you own Picross puzzles and trade them with others online. Want to find out how much faster you can solve the puzzles than someone else? You can do that too, thanks to included online multiplayer. So, do I need to say twice how challenging the game is and how it actually maintains its charisma throughout?

The developer is thoughtful enough to ship the game with double control options, namely the usage of the standard buttons and d-pad and stylus utilization. The stylus option is good for the earlier puzzles where the grids are smaller (5X5 or 10X10), but problems emerge at higher levels when the grids get scaled in size (15X15, 20X20, 20X25). You will have to constantly zoom in and out of the big puzzles, which makes playing the game a chore. But then, if you refuse to zoom in, the game does not allow you to block any squares with your stylus (because each square is probably too small to be poked at!). The standard button and d-pad configuration becomes the best selection. You cannot use this configuration for the 3 mini-games (rewind to the previous paragraph if you cannot recall), though. And oh, I was left putting my heads into my hands several times! The controls are HOPELESSLY UNRESPONSIVE! This is bullshit as the mini-games require precision and response as you need to hit the targeted number of blocks (which will pop in and out just as quickly everywhere) in a strict amount of time. The stylus controls are implemented with disastrous results, so much so that that particular mini-game type known as ‘HIT’ is near impossible to win. The other 2 mini-game types, CATCH and SKETCH are fine, but HIT is a letdown. Definitely. Lastly, the art style in Picross DS is kept as simplistic as possible. It is an odd decision, but don’t ask me why. It is just bad. The music is cheerful, but repetitive, but you cannot really blame it since the game lasts so long and that the music is bound to get repeated over and over again.

Final Comments
Okay, not so brilliant afterall because of the flawed stylus-based controls and the basic art style that has ugly pixellated images all over it. But otherwise, the game is fantastic – it is addictive, fun and challenging. A huge amount of content, together with multiple online options will keep you occupied for a very very long time. What matters now is: Is your brain up for the test?


- Content, content and more content!
- Challenging, enjoyable and addictive

- Hopelessly unresponsive stylus controls for ‘HIT’ mini-game
- Wait, did I just say that standard button and d-pad controls are better than the stylus-based one?
- Art style is simplistic, basic, to be exact.

Friday, August 17, 2007

SUPER Rant: Are You Game Enough for PC?

^ Your Money Card needs to be changed every few years.

I was trying hard not to get annoyed as my units chugged along slowly on the screen. When I moved my cursor to view the other parts of the map, the screen stuttered along. There was a noticeable slowdown in the game performance. Supreme Commander just showed me why I should not be a PC gamer anytime soon. My computer was not able to handle the ridiculous demands that the game was throwing at it. If you do not already know this, ignore the recommended system requirements of 1GB RAM at the back of the Supreme Commander game box. Alright, you should have a minimum of 2GB RAM instead. And remember to have a high-end graphics card to experience the game in its full glory at almost maximum settings, anything lesser and you will have to contend with the watered-down version of the game (low settings) in order for your game to run smoother (take note: smoother only, not smoothly).

^ When Crysis arrives, it will be crisis for your PC!

See? System requirements are irksome. Year upon year, system requirements have been rising steadily and it is making me frown. Upgrading once every few years is the solution, but for very serious hardcore gamers, upgrading annually or bi-annually is a norm. Just when you think you have spent enough by splashing out on a high-end graphics card, you realize that it is too fat for its own good and cannot fit into your current CPU casing. Now, a new CPU casing needs to be bought. You want more juice with double graphics cards, but then you take a look inside your CPU and notice that there is only one slot on your motherboard. Now, the motherboard is screaming to be bought as well. And after you have bought the new motherboard, do not be too glad because when you try to utilise the graphics cards, another fact forces itself into your mind – the power supply is not ample. You are going have to get one of those with higher power output too. It is unavoidable when upgrading your computer that the costs incurred will gradually snowball themselves into an overall huge sum that will require you to sell your kidney. That was the kind of experience I had when attempting to upgrade my PC earlier this year. I added more memory (bumped it up to 1GB RAM from a previous 512MB RAM), put in a new graphics card, albeit one that is low-end (7300GT), but better than my previous one, nonetheless, and of course, the graphics card needed a bigger power supply, so I purchased one that outputs 450W of power. The cash spent may be considerably less than what you spent on your last PC upgrade, but I was on a very tight budget, and did not go all-out to change almost everything. But this had hurt my wallet. Oh yeah, I still need more hard disk space – that will have to wait. I know that in a year’s time, or perhaps, in just a couple of months, the latest games will edge out my set-up (it is not future-proof, to begin with – just short term) and I simply hate it. Hey, I cannot afford to have all those high-end computer components on a regular basis! I am talking to you, Crysis! This game is going to kill my PC. And what’s that talk about releasing games which are only compatible with Vista? Well, I will just play those games on my laptop (also with 7300GT and 1GB RAM).

^ Will your experience of BioShock be restricted by your set-up?

PC gaming is hardly appealing when you compare it to console gaming. Yeah, I am still a PC gamer, but on small portions. I have to admit that if I see a game releasing on both the PC platform and console platform, I will choose the console version any day. My PC is strictly reserved for PC-exclusive games or if I do not feel like paying more for the console package. The advantage of PC gaming is that the games cost substantially cheaper, but if you factor in the costs of upgrades, you are better off with console gaming if you are seeking value. Unlike PC gaming, a console will last you approximately 5 years or more (until the successive generation arrives), and no upgrades needed too! No installation required, and the best thing is that you will get to experience each game in its full graphical settings with no slowdown in performance. So whether you are playing F.E.A.R. or The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion, or the upcoming BioShock, you will NEVER be restricted by anything if you are playing on your consoles. On the other hand, whether you will be able to see all that a game has to offer depends on your set-up if you are playing on your PC. Is PC gaming or console gaming better? Go figure it out.

^ Keyboard and mouse the best combination ever?

However, there are still gamers who will still stand by PC gaming – regardless of anything. The keyboard and mouse is the best control scheme for FPS games and RTS games. I agree with that statement, but I have grown so used to playing FPSes with console controllers that I now prefer them over the keyboard and mouse. Oh yeah, I love the vibration feedback too! And recent arrival like the Wii-mote is challenging the keyboard and mouse combination for supremacy. But when it comes to RTS games, the keyboard and mouse control scheme is the indisputable champion. Of course, you may say that I can use my controller with the PC games, but the aforementioned problem of system requirements applies. And where are the PC fighting games? But I have to mention that the PC platform is the breeding ground for games released by lesser-known publishers – think the DS and Wii type system, where several small-scale publishers have also released their games. Some of these games may be fun, but most are not, judging from the many review scores from popular gaming websites. Are these lesser-known games worth it? It depends. But usually, these games have relatively low system requirements, giving everyone an opportunity to enjoy them – including ME.

At the end of the day, the reasons why I am still not totally into the idea of PC gaming are the fact that escalating system requirements are driving me crazy and that high costs are required to upgrade the computer every few years. Console gaming is more attractive because there is no set-up; the hardware is fixed, so I will always be able to experience a game in its full glory. The same cannot be said for PC gaming. Control-wise, I have no qualms about using console controllers for FPS games. The keyboard and mouse combination for games is excellent, but I can survive without them, thanks. One wish before I end this article: Crysis, please let me be able to play you!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Game Review:DiRT

This game is perfect. Almost.

Departing from Forza Motorsport 2, I opened the newly-bought DiRT and a certain sense of excitement tickled me. I was looking for a fresh experience after slogging through several energy-draining stages in Forza Motorsport 2. I was looking for something more thrilling, something more different, something more unique, and something more interesting. I popped the DiRT game disc into my Xbox 360. Right from the start, DiRT blew me away. DiRT is an amazing game, but what made the game so enjoyable?

Certainly, the developers of DiRT know how to impress players from the very beginning, but what is more astonishing is, how they have managed to leave me with that lasting impression even after I have completed the game. The art of good impression starts from the moment you create a save account for the game on your hard disk – the interface is, as I wished, different and unique from what the other games currently on the market have – it is simply, in a league of its own. The OMG interface is just the appetizer, though. Hey, wait, am I playing a Gears of War or Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 with cars? Oh, yeah, DiRT has just tricked my eyes with its graphics. Everything from tress to hills look so realistic in DiRT, but the visuals are more than eye candy: The shadows of rows of trees can actually give you illusions of a bend ahead when there is really none. This just adds to the realism of the entire package. Couple that with great vehicular damage effects and lighting, and you can say that DiRT is really an art piece by itself. In fact, this is one of the most gorgeous games on Xbox 360.

Speaking of the damage effects, DiRT is unrivalled by other racers besides the FlatOut and Burnout franchises. Windscreens shatter and a little hard knock on the side of your car will get your side door swinging loosely. Bumpers come off and bodyworks get huge dents. I can go on and on, but all you need to know is that the damage effects are a visual treat. Beware, though: Doing too much damage to your ride may affect the performance of your vehicle and terminal damage will force you to end a race prematurely. However, you will be relived to know that DiRT allows you to check on the damage status of your vehicle at any time of the race – just pause the game and a menu will show you detailed statistics. Now, that is helpful. When repairing your car in the garage, hit the X button on any vehicle part and the game will go on to inform you on how that particular component can affect the performance of your vehicle if it is damaged. Talk about having tutorials on car parts!

With such awe-inspiring visuals and damage effects, it is only appropriate that my expectations for the game shoot up. Fortunately, DiRT put my doubts to rest in no time. If Forza Motorsport 2 is designed around serious hardcore racing fans, then DiRT is created with both the hardcore and casual crowd in mind. The generous number of 5 difficulty levels and the ability to change it after any race should be a boon to casual players as jumping right into the heat of DiRT is anything but a simple affair. The higher difficulty levels provide ample challenge for the hardcore gamers, ensuring that no one gets left out of the game.

The crucial thing that most racers miss is variety, but rest assured DiRT has amended that. DiRT features various types of tracks from a humongous number of environments and countries. Unlike other racers, including Forza Motorsport 2, I like the way DiRT unveils several of its tracks bit by bit throughout the 11 levels in the career mode. In a way, DiRT prevents boredom from seeping in as you reach a certain level in the game. Many racers have failed to accomplish this simple act, and I am glad DiRT corrected it. I find rushing through the terrifyingly tight corners of the downhill slopes of Japan very satisfying. The secret? Drift – the game allows you to do that with ease. Just as I thought DiRT was all but done with showing its bells and whistles, I was hit with another surprise. Whoever thought of racing with TRUCKS? No, I did not thought of that, but the thoughtful developers of DiRT somehow conjured that idea up in their minds and I was (yet again) impressed. Not only trucks, there are the buggies as well. In a nutshell, DiRT has got lots of tracks, cars and vehicle classes for you to select from. It is a pity that DiRT does not have motorbikes on offer.

But all good things come to an end – and DiRT is no exception. Why? The driving mechanism is to be blamed. The handling of the vehicles just does not feel right – like in FlatOut 2. Alright, think about this – you are driving on the moon instead of on the Earth. The controls feel loose. You do not feel the difference between a light car and a heavy car because there is NO difference! It is unrealistic driving. Try to replicate the driving in DiRT in reality, and no, you cannot do it. This is a far cry from what was done in Forza Motorsport 2 – how you handle your car in the game is very similar to how you will handle yours in reality. This major flaw in DiRT has cast a pall over the other aforementioned accomplishments.

The other major flaw lies in DiRT’s forgettable multiplayer. In an age where most racers offer online multiplayer with the ability to output several other human opponents on screen together, DiRT inability to do just that is unacceptable. Perhaps this was done in order to meet an early release date for the game, but it would be apt if Codemasters had delayed the game so that the developers have more time to polish up DiRT’s multiplayer, which also has other tolerably limited options.

Final Comments
Overall, DiRT is a fantastic game. It holds the honor of having one of the prettiest visuals ever to grace the Xbox 360 and it boasts stunning damage effects as well. Tweaking the set-up of your car in a game can never get easier with detailed tutorials provided. DiRT is also a very accessible game, providing numerous options that are beneficial to both the hardcore and casual gamers. There is a whole lot of content in that package, including tracks of various types from several exotic locations, and it goes on to impress me with the number of cars and vehicle classes available, though the number of selectable cars are not as extensive as that of Forza Motorsport 2. However, a pair of serious blemishes prevents DiRT from being the perfect racer, namely the driving mechanism (needs a lot more work) and the multiplayer options. Had these double important aspects of a racing game be nailed, DiRT would be perfect – really.


Good points:
- One of the best graphics on Xbox 360 ever
- Great damage effects and lighting
- Detailed statistics on car parts and their sustained damage. Tutorials also provided on other car components. Very thoughtful.
- Accessible game. Suitable for both hardcore and casual gamers.
- Great variety of different types of tracks
- Great variety of cars
- Great variety of vehicle classes

Bad points:
- Seriously flawed driving mechanism
- Half-baked multiplayer

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Game Review - Dynasty Warriors DS:Fighter's Battle

Dynasty Warriors fail to fully conquer the DS.

EA’s and Square Enix’s love to milk their Need for Speed and Final Fantasy franchises respectively extend beyond the mountains, and so does Koei’s desire to milk its Dynasty Warriors line of games. The latest iteration of Dynasty Warriors has landed on the DS. While I am aware of critics slamming each Dynasty Warriors game for being far too similar, I have to admit that this is my first time playing a Dynasty Warriors game, but after diving into Koei’s franchise, I hold with me, a mixed bag of reactions.

For the uninitiated, Dynasty Warriors games usually throw you into the heat of a battle with endless hordes of enemies waiting to taste your blood, much like Xbox 360 game Ninety-Nine Nights (N3). You will need to dispose of the threat by using some fancy attacks, the occasional combos and of course, magic spells. The DS game does not deviate too much from this typical Dynasty Warriors structure, a fact that Dynasty Warriors fans will relish in. It is not all mindless hack-and-slash, though. As the other gameplay elements will prove, a little bit of strategy may be the deciding factor in your victory as well. What this translates into is that the game has 3 characters for you to pick, each with their personal strengths and weaknesses. After selecting your character, you will notice that there are numerous regions waiting to be conquered. Each region will be dominated by a number of camps, including yours and those of your opponent. What makes the game interesting is the fact that there is a pre-defined path or paths that you can take to travel from one camp to the other. For you to be able to conquer all the camps in a particular region faster than your opponent, there is a need for you to be able to choose the best path(s) to take. Strategy is involved here, and if you are unfortunate enough to have your opponent conquering areas at a quicker pace than you, you may yet have to fall back and slow down your opponent’s progress. To add to the depth of the game, Koei has woven a card-collecting element into the gameplay. Each card contains a certain general, whom you need to protect your camps (one general can only protect one camp). As usual, each card has its special abilities like confusion and ice wave, which freezes your opponent briefly, to name a few. Again, strategy is involved. This card-collecting element is also designed in such a way that you must play through the game in repeated times in order to be able to collect all the cards, but it is probable that you would only play through the game twice. Why would I say that? Because the game introduces more than just strategy … …

Yes, it has strategy, but on a negative side, it has repetition as well. One play-through will take you less than the time you took to watch Transformers the movie. Okay, the game will only last you 2 hours, to be exact. This is a terribly short duration, if you ask me. But there is a more pressing flaw at hand. Throughout the 2 hours, you will be doing the same thing over and over again (hack and slash countless waves of soldiers) and even the strategy applied will be repeated. Despite the involvement of strategy, the game has just relegated itself into a mind-numbing experience. Excluding the cards, no other bonus contents will be unlocked after completing the game, giving you no real motivation to play through the game more than twice. The game’s saving grace comes in the form of the variety of moves and magic spells.

On a sidenote, I find the game sound effects to be appropriate, but that does not mean that they are impressive – they are not. The graphics will not win any awards, but they are acceptable, nonetheless. However, animations are considerably limited. In fact, each character has only a few simple ones and that is it. As far as the A.I. is concerned, it is not very intelligent either. Skip Easy mode because the Normal level is already very simple (my 2 play-throughs were done on Normal level). In fact, you would be doing yourself a disfavor by playing the game on Easy level.

Final Comments
Dynasty Warriors DS: Fighter’s Battle mixes a little bit of strategy via its game structure and card-collecting element into an otherwise repetitive experience. The game is also severely short, with its duration standing at the 2 hour mark. Replay the game repeatedly if you want to collect all the cards, but perhaps the more suitable thing to do after defeating the game more than twice is to sell it away or put it aside – there is nothing more to play for. Sound effects are appropriate, but not impressive. Graphics are acceptable, but animations fare worse than it – truly limited. The A.I. is sub-par. Enjoyment of the game may depend on your preferences. Since I have never experienced any hack-and-slash games prior to this, Dynasty Warriors DS is indeed a little enjoyable to me, but not too much. Fans of Dynasty Warriors may want to get this game, but for others, I recommend you to borrow or rent it instead. The game is average at best.


Good points:
- A little bit of strategy involved
- Great variety of moves (experiment with the buttons more) and magic spells
- Sound effects are appropriate

Bad points:
- Repetitive gameplay
- 2 hours playtime
- No bonus content to unlock
- Acceptable graphics
- Limited animations
- Sub-par A.I.

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