Crush (PSP) – Review

Crush - CoverCrush, developed by Zoë Mode and distributed by Sega, is a platform puzzler for the Playstation Portable, and may be one of the most unique, challenging, and playable games for the system in a long time.   The game features the ability to “crush” a 3D level down into a 2D platformer, along the lines of Super Paper Mario but with many different elements and tactics that can be used.  It is not easy, but nor is it difficult nor unforgiving, and really makes for a great puzzle game for the PSP.

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Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashii Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2 (NDS, Import) – Review

Ouendan 2 - CoverWith the success of Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan!  in both the Japanese market as well as an import title to English parts of the world, iNIS, the developer of the game, worked with Nintendo to bring Elite Beat Agents to the Western world based on the same gameplay and approach.  It comes as no surprise then that iNIS expanded upon the improvements made in Elite Beat Agents and applied those to the sequel to Ouendan, called Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashii Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2 (henceforth referred to as Ouendan 2).  The game is just as fun as both predecessors, a notch more difficult, and definitely shows the the series still has good legs despite the rather simple concept.

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Lumines II (PSP) – Review

Lumines II - CoverWith the success of Lumines as a launch title for the PSP last year, it was no surpise to see a follow up to the game, though surprisingly with the game out for XBox Live and soon for the PS3, it may seem a bit much Lumines overkill. Particularly with the fact that the core gameplay hasn’t changed, the only direction that Lumines can be taken is to add more “skins” and visual improves to the game. For the most part, that’s what Lumines II, developed by Q? Entertainment and distributed by Buena Vista Games, for the PSP offers; old skins have been included and redone, but the game features a lot more skins as well as licensed music from a variety of modern artists. Unfortunately, while the core game is still good, it doesn’t have the freshness that the first game had, and the inclusion of sort artists, over others, feels more like a way to push the music as opposed to selecting the best music for the game.

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Grim Grimoire (PS2) – Initial Impressions

Just a note that this is slightly spoilerish, though if you’ve read any pre-press literature for the game, it’s not revealing anything new.

The game is done in a very similar graphics style as Odin Sphere including what appears to be the same artist, but also the same use of 2D “living” art, and the like.  It is definitely up there among the pretty games.

The game as far as I’ve gotten is a simplified RTS.  There’s resource gathering (using elves to mine mana), offensive units, and more.  So far, I’m still in the “training” portion of the game where each unit is introduced, but so far nothing terribly hard.

What I’m waiting to see is how the time loop comes into play.  Your character, after 5 days, will be brought back to day 1, and will try to prevent events from happening a certain way, but I don’t know if you make choices or gameplay decisions that affect the direction of this plot.  I’m really hoping for something like a Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask type experience where, as you play, you learn what you need to and when you need to be at places to stop events, but in this game, the time resolution is by “days”, each day comprising a bit of story/plot and then an RTS battle, so I don’t necessarily see how that will play out.   I’m going to try to at least work through one loop today to see if it’s just a linear plot or if there’s more flexibility given what the player does. If Odin Sphere is any indication, there’s more than just a linear plot involved, but we’ll see.

Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree (Wii) – Review

Wii Degree - CoverWhen the Nintendo DS gained both Brain Age and Big Brain Academy last year as alternative games – ones that aimed to improve the player’s mind, it launched numerous copies and sequels. It comes as no surprise that with the unique Wii control, such games could easily be taken onto the Wii. Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree, created and published by Nintendo, is just that; while it compromises different activities as its DS predecessor, the aim of the goal is pretty much the same. The game does provide some unique multiplayer modes that allow you to virtually play against friends, but for the most part, the game feels much like a rehash of the DS version without too much focus on making the game a more unique Wii experience.

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The Darkness (360) – Initial Impressions

Played through about 2 or so hours of the game so far.   It’s got a weird combination of Deus Ex and Condemned: Criminal Origins to it in that there feels like there’s some non-linearity and that you have a couple opinions besides pure firepower to deal with tight situations (including some stealth attacks and the Darkness powers).  The setting (in this case, NYC late one night) also brings these games to mind.

I’m a bit odd about what the game considers “dark” where your powers are supposed to manifest themselves better; the graphics don’t see to have a strong contrast between light and dark, but there are several profiles that can be set depending on your TV along with a gamma setting to adjust this further; however, there’s no ‘guide’ (eg, selecting a profile to make a near-black square disappear or the like) to help with the lighting setting.

My only concern in the longevity of the play is how many more powers the character manifests.  When you defeat a foe regardless of method, you eat their heart, and eating so many hearts raises your Darkness level, but there are only 5 such levels in the game; the fact I hit one within a couple hours makes me hope this game isn’t too short.

I was almost tempted to see how long into “To Kill a Mockingbird” (the movie with Gregory Peck) is used within the game, shown somewhat early in the game.

Haven’t tried multiplayer yet.

DiRT (360) – Initial Impressions

I will say this, that while the demo actually came out before the game (what a surprise!), the demo only had a single race mode that really didn’t display the best of this game.

It’s NOT as graphically amazing as the PS3 Motorstorm, but it’s sufficiently pretty for a next-gen title.  And after play Forza 2 a lot, having two different in-the-cockpit views, including the safety meshing, makes for an interesting gameplay experience (there’s also bumper view, hood view, and two trailing cam views incase you need to see more of where you’re going).

There looks like there’s about 6 different single player modes, including a full-on race mode against other cars at the same time, “crossover” tracks against 1 other car, and then timed courses where you need to go as fast as possible on twisty terrain which can be quite harrowing.   Career mode is a large pyramid structure; you need to complete races and accumulate points going left to right and down to top to get to the single ultimate career race series.  Like most racing games, you earn cash to buy new cars, 43 in all.

Haven’t tried online yet.

I will say that the menu system/loading screens are the most interesting and beautiful ones to look at (same as in the demo)  in a long time, like floating panels within a large 3D environment, yet they move fast from one selection area to another.  Plus at the start of career mode, the announcer quickly (5 minutes) gives you a low-down of how everything works from the menus side, which is pretty nice as well.

Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories (PS2, PSP) – Review

Liberty City Stories Cover (PS2 version)Adapting the Grand Theft Auto games to the PSP seems like a no-brainer particularly to help boost the lagging sales of the portable console, just as Grand Theft Auto 3 was successful in boosting sales of the PS2. Certainly, one can expect certain concessions to be made to work within the limited PSP scheme, but with Liberty City Stories, developed by Rockstar’s Leeds and North divisions, and published by Rockstar games, there may have been too much made in the graphics department and too little in the controls. Furthermore, the game adds little new to what GTA3 provided, making the game feel like a rehash rather than a sequel.

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Forza Motorsport 2 (360) – Review

Forza Motorsport 2 - CoverGran Turismo has been known to be the most realistic console racing simulator to date through its various incarnations. When the original Forza Motorsport came out on the original Xbox, it did make an impression due to its strong realistic physics and was given very positive reviews, but was still overshadowed, in the overall console market, by Gran Tursimo 4 for the Playstation 2. Now, Forza Motorsport 2, developed by Turn 10 Studios and published by Microsoft Game Studios, has hit the market and may have flipped the tide for good in its favor. The game’s physics engine is even further improved, and allows for not only tuning and improvements of cars, but physical damage to cars (something that is generally missing in realistic racing games), and a huge number of options to adjust the game from a detailed racing simulation to a fun arcade racing game. It also sports one of the best Xbox Live implementations that ties in well to the single player mode. By far, Forza Motorsport 2 is a definitely must have for any racing game fan and may easily surpass Gran Tursimo as the best racing game ever.

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Crush (PSP) – Initial Impressions

The concept behind crush is very very similar to that from the recent Super Paper Mario, but I have a feeling the market of people that own a Wii and own a PSP is rather slim.  But still…

The story’s a little weird to start, basically an insomniac using a virtual reality device to try to cure him.  Each 3D level is a small platforming around with colored marbles about.  To open the exit of the level, the player needs to collect a certain number of marbles, and then make it to the  exit.  There are also special bonus items one can collect.  In this fashion, the game’s similar to other puzzle-action PSP titles like Gripshift.

The feature of this game is that you can have the player “stomp” to flatten whatever view you are looking in from 3D into 2D.  The views are fixed to top down and the four directions parallel to the ground.  When you do this, you end up either as a simple top-down maze (if starting from the top view) or a 2D platformer from any of the sides.  This causes platforms that may be separated by a great distance in 3D to be a step away in 2D.  Some blocks are impassible, and your stomp will be canceled if it leaves you in a precarious position.  There’s monsters that roam some of the levels that a proper stomp will crush them.  Unstomping can result in you being on a platform you could have never been on in 3D mode, so this allows you to get the necessary marbles to get the exit opened.  Unlike SPM, you can spend an indefinite amount of time in either mode without damage, which is good for collecting all the extra goodies that are available.

So far, through the tutorial and first handful of levels, there’s nothing impossible, though I think I’m still learning the “rules” of the game and most of the steps I take are by trial  and error.   But compared to some of the other puzzle games, this one seems to offer the first unique variation on the theme, and with Super Paper Mario still fresh, it’s easy to think on how the puzzles work here.