skate (360) – Demo Impressions

I know that right now Tony Hawk’s skating games are trying to work their way back from the THUG and THAW titles, and Project 8 was pretty decent.  But at the end of the day, it’s still a Tony Hawk game and its very obvious that the usual methods aren’t going to go away soon — Project 8’s only major interesting addition was the create-a-trick aspect of skating but even then, that took a lot more work.

skate takes a different approach to the skate games.  The first major difference is that instead of pressing a button to ollie and jump or land a grind, you have to use the right thumbstick to initiate most of these.  A quick down and up flip gives a short ollie; a long movement gives a bigger jump , and depending which way you flick the stick back will give you a flip trick or the like.  Landing a grind is actually a matter of landing a jump onto a rail, instead of being 4 feet away from it and being rewarded for it.  Buttons, for what I’ve played in the demo, are mostly to build up speed (which includes which specific foot you use to do so).   It’s definitely different, but feels a bit more in control of your skateboarding.

The levels, within the demo, don’t feel as artificial as  many Tony Hawk levels.  I’ve yet to find an infinite grind line, for example.  Here’s a game where bloom looks like it helps as it takes the hard edge off everything.  Of course, the demo seems limited to the skate park, but the (UNQUITTABLE) movie when you quit the demo shows some pretty interesting other areas.

The Bigs (360) – Initial Impressions

I’m not a huge sports game fanatic.  I’ll play golf games like Hot Shots and Tiger Woods, but generally the major pro sports games are interesting but generally have the problem of being too realistic and too slow.  I did get the MLB07 game and it looks great, but again, there’s a huge time investiment to play a game.

Enter “The Bigs”, which is still based on major league baseball (though you start in the minors) but removes some parts and adds others to make it a great pick up and go arcade game.   You don’t wait between pitches to repitch (speeding up that process), and as there’s less focus on making the game presentation like a TV presentation, there’s few if any cuts to celebrations or replays that MLB07 has.  Pitching and batting are simplified significantly.  For pitching, you have 4 pitches and you set where you want them to go; how well they are thrown is set by a meter.  Should you miss the target area, there’s a good chance the batter will hit it, and if it’s a successful hit or worse, you’ll lose some ability on that pitch eventually making it unavailable.  Batting is basically swinging at the right time (but not worrying about area as long as it’s in the strike zone) and directing where you want the ball to go.  Both batting and pitching can active a power shot that boosts that one pitch, the power earned by making successful strikes and outs and hits.  I’m still working out trying to win a game in the career mode, but I’m getting close to that point, and it only takes maybe 15 minutes for the game.

I haven’t tried out all the modes, but there is a mode called “Home Run Pinball” where you are playing in Times Square in New York City; a pitcher repeated pitches balls to you, and you want to hit them to hit signs and other features in the Square to get points.  You keep playing until you miss so many pitches, so it’s a matter of aiming for a high score.  It’s a very simple addition to the game but it definitely is one of the fun aspects of the game.

SSX Blur (Wii) – Initial Impression

While I’ve had this game for a few days, I really wanted to wait until I figured out a part of the game to put down my initial impressions, for good reason.

SSX Blur is more like SSX 3 – there’s 3 mountain peaks (though I don’t know yet if they are connected like the one big 30 min uber-race you could do in SSX 3), and several different events: big air, half-pipe, slopestyle, racing, and new to the game is the shalom event where you basically need to weave through flags, getting time penalties for missing flags.  There’s also a handful of pick-up events more like from SSX On Tour against other racers or just to do specific goals on the course (“Grind so many meters of rail…”).  Many of the characters from the SSX series are back with a few new ones as well.

The controls use the nunchuck for most of the movement with the remote used for pulling off tricks once airborne.   The combo meter is back (adding bonuses for pulling off tricks in short succession) as well as ubertricks…

Now, here’s where the make-or-break part of the game is going to come for people and why I waited until I could pull off ubers without too much difficulty.  For uber tricks, you need to draw (with no indicator on screen until after you’ve done it successfully) a shape, such as a ‘Z’, a simple loop, or more complex shapes, while holding down the remote’s A button, releasing it only after you’re done.

It is, needless to say, very tricky to accomplish correctly.

Pretty much every review that pans Blur comes back to this point, but after reading this article on which actually explains how one guy spent time to learn the uber system and then perfected it, I followed some of the same tactics and have just got around to pulling off ubers maybe about 33% of the time I try them, which is better than not at all.  You can also collect more ubers by collecting all the tokens for that uber around the mountain, and a special screen allows you to practice the drawing aspect of each uber, letting you know if you got it right or not.  And as the same article indicates, once you can do this on a more regular basis , the game becomes extremely fun, nearly as good as SSX Tricky (aka SSX 2) or SSX 3, with the added bonus of the controls becoming instinctive after a while.  I think that if anything, the on-screen display of what you were drawing while you were drawing it would have helped, or at least as a optional handicap for the game.

But for those SSX fans disappointed by On Tour, Blur definitely goes back to the right direction for what made the SSX series fun.  Just stick with and practice the controls before giving up on it.

Super Swing Golf (Wii) – Initial Impressions

If you’ve ever played Albatross Golf, a free online multiplayer golf game for the PC, you’ll be quite familar with 90% of what Super Swing Golf has – it’s basically a port of the game to the Wii, using the same characters, graphics, courses, and other features, but adding in a story mode and, of course, using the Wii mote as your golf club.   It doesn’t have online competitve play though you can play with 3 others.  The swing is a bit less forgiving than that in Wii golf, but also gives you a bit more control of how you can play up the ball.  Plus with the larger number of courses, computer opponents, and other features, it’s a nice, if easy, adaptation of the game.

Tony Hawk Project 8 (360) – ~2hrs

I’m glad to see that there’s (literally) classic Tony Hawk mission modes (the ones that you have to complete SCORE, COMBO, and the like) in the various sections of the town (oh, and yes, no loading screens between sections, but less obvious where the section boundaries are, unlike in American Wasteland).  The new ‘make a trick’ mode is nice if a little difficult to get use to, but it allows you to control how your feet move, and thus how the board spins, in order to make up tricks on the fly.

I had to look around but I was rather surprised to find that Jason Lee in virtual persona was in the game (he was in the skating world before he turned to acting).

I much prefer the general attitude this game has compared to the “lets make chaos” that the last several Tony Hawk games had.  Instead, focusing on you becoming a rising star is a good way to approach a skating game.

Nintendo Wii Release Titles – Initial Impressions

Finally got my pre-ordered Wii from Amazon last night after some question of where my order had disappeared to within the Amazon system.  Thankfully, it arrived when I expected it, and within a few minutes I was up and running with it.   (My Wii code is 8538 8031 5411 6139 for those interested).

I really really like the Wii interface, when compared to the PS3 and the 360.  And getting used to the Wiimote is rather quick; the rumble feedback is probably the thing that makes this work really well in addition to the visual indicators and the speaker in the Wiimote.

Wii Sports – I used to bowl and had a decent average (150 range), and I’m rather impressed how well using the Wiimote can simulate the bowling movement  and other physics of just the bowl itself (though I have to back off a bit on my spin since there’s nowhere close to the same weight as with a real ball.)   Golf feels natural as well, and definitely a different take compared to most console-based golf games.  Tennis, baseball and boxing feel a bit weird but likely I wasn’t giving myself enough room (as I was mostly testing the games out).  Nintendo definitely did right in including this game with the base system – it makes the Wii usable out of the box and demonstrates the power of the Wiimote, plus adds a significant physical element to actually playing the games.

Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz – The gameplay itself is not much different from any other Monkey Ball title, but the use of the Wiimote is what makes this unique, and may be the best game you can get to learn how touchy the Wiimote is and how to fine tune your movements with it.  I’m also pleased to see a lot more minigames with this (at least 20 it looks like), though I’ve only played a handful so far.

Trauma Center: Second Opinion – I know this is basically a remake of Trauma Center: Under the Knife for the DS with an added chapter, but the game plays a lot differently from the DS touchscreen to the Wiimote, in that you have an easier time of selecting the tools you need for the operation with the nunchuck, but you have a little less accuracy with the pointer from the Wiimote, though the game appears to be giving you a lot of sensitivity.  To me, despite knowing the cases, it still feels like a whole new game.  It also seems to show that it is possible to take a game concept that relies strongly on the DS touchscreen and make it into a Wii game  (Kirby’s Canvas Curse and Ouendan/Elite Beat Agents are two titles that come to mind immediately; I also wouldn’t mind seeing Phoenix Wright brough to the Wii in this manner).

Red Steel – Take a standard first-person shooter, and add in the elements of stand-up arcade shooters that have gun controls (like Time Crsis or House of the Dead) and you get the foundations of Red Steel; you use the nunchuck to move (WASL style), the Wiimote to look (the mouse in conjunction with WASL), and then use objects and reload by moving the nunchuck up or down appropriately.   Haven’t got a katana yet (though I know it will be there!), and the controls are a little tricky at first but if I spent a bit more time, I’m sure they would start to come naturally, but in general, these add a new level of interaction with first person or third person shooters that isn’t possible with controllers on the other systems.  Unfortunately, the graphics are a bit clunky, and maybe I rushed too fast through the look calibration proceedure as the sensitivity for looking is just a bit too high, though I know I can change this in game.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess – Still at the first village, but so far this game works nicely with the Wiimote/nunchuck, and still has the same feel as any Zelda game (though closer to Orcania of Time and Mogana’s Mask in terms of art and stylings, even when you look past the cel-shading issue from Wind Waker – it’s just the feel of the game; maybe it’s just the fact that most of the world you’re in isn’t underwater and thus feels less sparse than Wind Waker.  Still haven’t gotten to combat but I expect that to be interesting.

At this point, with some time on both the PS3 and the Wii, and what I’ve done with the 360 to date, I think that Nintendo is going to come out on top in this round.  The Wiimote is a rather ingenius device and, like the touchscreen on the DS, will offer new ways to play game genres that have otherwise become stale; and yet you can still fall back to classic controls for titles that really need them.  I’ve heard good things about how EA’s done Madden 07 for the Wii, and also good things on Rayman, so I will likely pick these titles up as well.  However, I can’t wait for Super Mario Galaxy and in particular the next Metroid game – if Red Steel is any indication, first person shooters are going to be completely revolutized on the Wii.

New 360 Games (Gears of War, Need for Speed Carbon, Tony Hawk Project 8, Call of Duty) – Initial Impressions

Finally got to my batch of new 360 games with an hour or so into each to get the feel of them:

Gears of War – Definitely one of the best looking games in a long time – all the detail that a game like Doom3 could provide but without being massively specular or reflective – more gritty like a war-torn land should be!   So far, I’ve yet to get the groove of the gameplay (single player for right now) but that could just be a matter of still being jet lagged.

Need For Speed Carbon – While I’m not 100% thrilled with the return to an “Underground” racing approach, they seem to have taken good elements from Hot Pursuit/Most Wanted along with the territory issues that were introduced in GTA:SA and also in Saints Row, and so there seems to be more than just racing going on – but it’s too early to tell on that.  The addition of the crew member with you during races may be rather interesting to see how it works out.

Tony Hawk Project 8 – Yay, no “wreck the city to win” type storyline – this appears to be just providing who you are as a skateboarder.  Only have done a handful of goals, but the system seems to be better this time around compared to American Wasteland.  And wow, Tony’s reaaaaally aged badly.

Call of Duty 3 – I’m liking the more impressive approach they’ve used in the in-game cutscenes (being in the truck as it blows up, watching your squad commander hoist you over a wall into the middle of a battle zone).  Plays the same so far as CoD 2, which is just fine for the most part, but it will be interesting to see what more they add.