Saturday, 31 January 2009

Boom Blox - Wii

It's easy to be cynical when you hear that Hollywood legend Steven Spielberg is behind a videogame. However, you needn't worry, as Boom Blox is one of the most fun and addictive games on the Wii.

Since the sequel was announced this week, I thought I'd take a look back at this modern classic and tell you why Wii owners should pick up a copy.

Boom Blox is a physics-based puzzler and each of its colourful levels features a structure made out of blocks.

Before starting a level, you are given an objective. This could task you with destroying the entire structure with a well placed shot or two, grabbing individual blocks and sliding them out of the pile, taking care not to topple the lot - a bit like Jenga, or taking shots to knock off a series of numbered blocks.

Boom Blox is another game which makes great use of the Wii's unique controller and it really couldn't be done on any other system.

Pointing the Wiimote at the screen brings up a crosshair. By locking on to an area, you then make a throwing motion which sends a ball whizzing towards the target. The same system applies for the Jenga-style levels, with you having to gingerly pull the Wiimote back to remove the targeted block.

Some levels add special blocks to the structure, such as explosive blocks or blocks that vanish as soon as the ball makes contact with them. Another important block is the green chemical block. When two chemical blocks collide, they explode.

Hitting these at the right strength and angle is sometimes key to setting off huge and spectacular chain reactions, and it becomes something of an obsession trying to perfect your angles and throws to send the structure toppling to the ground with one well-placed shot.

Now looking at the screenshots, you're probably wondering why there's a bunch of funny looking animals on the levels. Well, they are just background decoration on some of the 300 levels, however, on some, you have to help them reach their destination safely by removing blocks that stand in their path, or sometimes you'll have to create stairs for them to walk down.

All these different gameplay objectives is what keeps Boom Blox fresh.

Along with main Adventure and Explore modes, there's also an excellent multiplayer mode and you can even create your own levels and share them with friends via Wi-Fi.

From casual players to seasoned gamers, everyone will love Boom Blox. The graphics might be a little cute for some. But don't be put off. The physics engine is spot on and that makes for some real laugh out loud moments.

Boom Blox is innovative,and above all,fun. Check it out.

images courtesy of Electronic Arts

Friday, 30 January 2009

Rise Of The Argonauts - 360 / PS3

Plundering the rich world of Greek mythology for ideas should be a gift for games developers - an epic story, heroes doing great deeds, mighty gods and mythical beasts are, after all, perfect material for a video game.

The God of War series has drawn upon this source material with fantastic results, however, Rise of the Argonauts doesn't fare quite so well.

Following the murder of his wife, King Jason of Iolcos sets out on a quest to find the fabled Golden Fleece, which holds the power to bring his dearly departed back to life. Joining Jason on the journey are a cast of characters which include the hulking brute Hercules, and the pipe-playing Satyr, Pan.

So far so good, but things don't get off to a good start, with the player having to undertake several laborious quests, which involve Jason traipsing back and forth across his island, delivering messages to his subjects - not exactly the actions you'd expect of a king.

While these monotonous errands aren't much fun, things start to pick up slightly when it comes to combat. Jason has the ability to wield a spear, mace and sword and initially it's interesting swapping weapons in and out to figure out opponents' weaknesses - but unfortunately it soon degenerates into mindless button mashing. 

To help flesh out the story, Rise of the Argonauts features dialogue choices which are similar to those used in the excellent 360 title Mass Effect.

Unlike Bioware's engaging sci-fi epic, though, the conversations here tend to drag on a little too long. Add to that the fact you'll end up chatting to identical looking characters, and the whole experience quickly becomes a chore.

Visually, the game is a mixed bag. At times, Rise of the Argonauts certainly looks above average, with some nice graphical effects and interesting locations to explore. However, you'll encounter plenty of restrictive invisible walls on your travels, while Jason's running animation is clunky and looks completely out of place from the rest of the game.

The absence of any sort of HUD or on-screen mini-map doesn't help matters, while framerate issues and graphical glitches plague the adventure. You'll have to pause the game regularly to access the map, which just feels clumsy. 

As you progress, Jason stumbles across new weapons and armour, and you're able to assign abilities that enhance your character's stats. This is a nice touch, but it lacks the depth and range of customisation you could achieve in a game such as Final Fantasy XII

Rise of the Argonauts has a strong core concept, but unfortunately the experience as a whole just doesn't tie together. There's a decent game waiting to burst out, and I can't shake the feeling that with a little more time in development this could have been a very good game. But as it stands there are too many flaws to make it a must-have.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Legend of the Princess - PC

If you like old-school 2D action platform games, you might be interested in The Legend of Princess. It's by Joakim Sandberg, the genius behind Noitu Love 1 & 2, and is free to download.

There's no getting away from the fact that the protagonist bears an uncanny resemblance to Zelda hero, Link, and the graphical style is wonderful, while the music is retro cool.

There's only one level, but there's plenty of replay value, with some cracking bosses to take down.

As it's free, you'd be mad to miss it.

Get it from here:

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Fragile - Wii

Namco released their excellent RPG Eternal Sonata a while ago on 360, and the game is heading to the PS3 later this year.

It was a great looking RPG that featured bright, beautiful visuals, a wonderful musical score and a story that was a refreshing departure from the usual bog standard RPG fare.

It was developed by Tri-Crescendo, the same team behind Fragile, a gorgeous looking game on the Nintendo Wii.

The story centers around a young boy named Seto, who finds himself wandering through seemingly deserted cities in a post-apocalyptic world.

Seto is on the lookout for fellow survivors and trying to understand why the vast majority of people seem to have disappeared.

There is plenty for the player to discover, and as you explore, you'll discover mementos - which hold memories of their owner - and pieces of art and sketches left by the recently departed.

To aid you in the exploration of the city streets and buildings, the Wiimote can be used as a torch, helping to light your path.

As you can see, the graphics are lovely, and the main character looks as if he's been lifted straight out of Eternal Sonata.

There is no word of a European release, but as Namco have released Eternal Sonata over here, hopes are high that Fragile will eventually see the light of day in the UK.

Images courtesy of Namco/Bandai

Friday, 23 January 2009

Audiosurf - PC

Audiosurf is a puzzle game, but the real beauty is that it's different every time you play it, as all the action is generated by your own music.

Dotted across a three-lane track are blocks of colour. By positioning your constantly moving craft in the correct lane, you collect these blocks. Matching three or more of the same colour eliminates them and adds to your points total.

It's similar to the old classic Klax. Unlike Klax though, the blocks are all tied in with the beat of your own music.

Catering for a host of digital music formats, just about any music stored on your PC is available to play through. So you can kick back and chill-out with a bit of ambient electronica, or you could go all out with some rip-roaring heavy metal tracks. It's entirely up to you.

It's an ingenious way of incorporating your music collection in a game and it works incredibly well.

Another worthy inclusion is the presence of online scoreboards, which takes the name of the artist, song, your total score and posts it for all the world to see. As a result, every music track in the world has its own scoreboard. If your are knocked off the top of a song's scoreboard, an email is sent to you letting you know who has overtaken you.

The visuals are crisp, clean and smooth, and you can customise the look by adding a variety of effects. However, similar to games such as Guitar Hero, you won't have much time to admire the distinctive visuals, as you'll be too busy concentrating on collecting blocks of colour and getting maximum points.

The game is available through Valve's Steam network and also available to buy in stores. If you don't have a Steam account, it is very easy to set up and Audiosurf is also nice and cheap.

If you enjoy rhythm action games such as Guitar Hero, PaRappa or Gitaroo Man, you will love this.

Visit for more information and to try the free demo.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Flower (PS3) - it's almost here!

A few months ago, I wrote about Thatgamecompany's forthcoming PS3 title, Flower.

Well news reached me today that this PlayStation network title will be breezing its way to Europe on February 12.

I'm delighted that we're getting it so early, as usually, Europe has to wait considerably longer than the US and Japan to get downloadable titles.

In Flower, the player controls the wind using the Sixaxis. As you breeze across the landscape, you sweep up a solitary flower petal. You then guide the petal across a beautiful landscape and if it comes into contact with other flowers, their petals join yours and are accompanied by a musical note.

It looks gorgeous and could be the ultimate chill-out game. I can't wait.

To whet your appetite, check out the latest video below. Sit back, relax and enjoy

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Rez HD - 360

Rez was re-released in full high definition glory on Xbox Live Arcade for the ridiculously low price of 800 points (£6.80) last year. So I'm going to tell you exactly why you should be downloading this modern classic (if you haven't already).

Rez is a shooter, but calling it simply that would be missing the point. The whole journey is more of a visual and audio experience. Rez's creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi, is the genius behind games such as Lumines and Space Channel 5, so you know there will be a strong emphasis on sound and visuals.

Mixing beautiful wireframe and vector graphics, your journey through Rez is strictly on rails. Your ever-changing avatar can lock on to enemies – up to eight at a time – before releasing a string of shots. It's a similar mechanic to that used in the classic Saturn and Xbox series Panzer Dragoon.

When enemies explode, they create a sound effect which blends in with the game's excellent music. The levels start quietly, but gradually build so that by the time you get to the level's boss, the music has been transformed into a rousing crescendo of trance music.

Now, Rez is not a long game. There are four main stages, with an unlockable fifth stage, but there are also various modes which will keep you playing, including Score Attack, Trance Mode, Direct Assault, Boss Rush and the Lost Level. There's even a mode you can play through where you can't die, so you can just sit back, relax and let the experience wash over you.

The game also features the original version so you can see for yourself the stunning changes that have been made to the visuals.

There are also a multitude of settings you can play around with in the options menu. You can change the sounds in the game and also tinker with all of the game's visual effects, giving the graphics blur, glare, sepia tone etc.

The controller's default setting has pad rumble set to 'off'. But to immerse yourself fully in the experience you should really have the rumble feature on, as every beat of the game pulses through your hands.

Although the main game is over quite quickly, I've never found this to be a problem. I've been playing Rez since 2003 and it's a game I go back to time and time again, sometimes just to see the game's fourth boss and the incredible fifth level, which are two of gaming's most incredible sights (and sounds).

Rez is one of my all-time favourites, but many people missed it the first time around. If you haven't experienced Mizuguchi's gem, then as a gamer, you owe it to yourself to play this.

So turn the lights low, crank up the volume and enjoy. It's one of gaming most unforgettable experiences. Absolutely essential.

Zack and Wiki: The Hunt For Barbaros' Treasure - Wii

Zack and Wiki has been out for around a year in the UK, but as people constantly moan that there are no good games on the Wii, I thought I'd dust off my copy and give it a bit of a push.

Since the Wii was launched, we've used the Wiimote in various ingenious ways. However, many developers have failed to make good use of the Wii's unique capabilities, leaving many games feeling as though the motion sensing controls were a last minute addition.

So it's refreshing to play through Zack and Wiki again, a Capcom game which makes great use of the Wii's controller.

You play Zack, a young chocolate bar-loving pirate who, along with his monkey sidekick Wiki, set out looking for adventure, and find it by stumbling across a golden chest hidden deep within a forest.

Inside the chest, Zack finds a skull. However, it's no ordinary skull - it's a talking golden skull which turns out to be that of legendary cursed pirate, Barbaros.

Glad to be out of the gloom of the chest, Barbaros invites the plucky pair to undertake an adventure to find the rest of his golden body, which has been scattered across the land.

Each puzzle-based level tasks the player with finding a golden chest. But to reach the elusive prize, the player will have to utilise the Wiimote in a multitude of ways.

You'll be turning keys in doors, opening umbrellas, sawing through trees, shaking objects, playing musical instruments, sliding puzzle blocks around and you'll even find yourself doing the odd spot of dusting. It all adds up to ingenious use of the Wii's controller but most importantly, it all works perfectly.

In some levels enemies will try and hinder your progress, but with a quick shake of the Wiimote, Wiki turns into a bell which is usually enough to scare them off.

The game also has a tonne of unlockables to discover, and everything you find can be viewed via the Hideout, which includes a library and a world map. It is also the place to go if you need help or if you want to check on your game stats.

Capcom have a rich tradition in producing great looking games, and Zack and Wiki continues this trend. The game's art style is beautiful, featuring bright, colourful cell-shaded graphics, while the music, again in typical Capcom style, rarely disappoints.

For older gamers, this title will bring back memories of old point n' click classics such as Day of the Tentacle and Monkey Island, and like those titles, the humour is firmly to the fore here, with some amusing sights and sounds to be discovered along the way.

Zack and Wiki may well have passed you by on its release last year, but it's a game that is well worth hunting down. You should be able to pick it up for a fairly good price these days and it's a Wii game that is not to be missed.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Line Rider - PC

Everyone knows about Line Rider, right?

Well, if you don't, here's a brief description of this free to play experience.

Using the mouse, players draw lines to create a course on screen. Once they are happy with their design, simply press play and watch as a young lad on a sledge tackles the player made creation.

Everyone usually starts with a simply diagonal line, but members of the Line Rider community have come up with some amazing course designs, which must have taken them hours.

If you want to give it a try, you can play Line Rider here:

Here's my favourite Line Rider video. This shows what can be done with a little patience: