Friday, 24 July 2009

Wii Sports Resort - Wii

Nintendo's decision to bundle the original Wii Sports with the Wii was an undeniable success. It introduced people to motion-sensing controls and helped launch sales of the console into the stratosphere.

Wii Sports Resort expands upon the original game and gives players more control thanks to the packed-in Wii Motion Plus - a small peripheral which clips on to the Wiimote to give the player a greater degree of accuracy.

With a total of 12 main events set on the sun-kissed Wuhu Island, this heightened degree of control adds a huge amount to the game's playability. Backhand serves and smashes can easily be pulled off in Table Tennis, aiming in Archery is intuitive and responsive, while adding curve to a Frisbee throw is a breeze.

Along with the above events, Wii Sports Resort also features Swordplay, Wakeboarding, Basketball, Power Cruising, Canoeing, Cycling and Air Sports, while old favourites 10-pin Bowling and Golf make a return - the latter now featuring a full 18-hole course.

Playing most of the events unlocks new modes or difficulty levels for the 12 main attractions, such as the wonderful Frisbee Golf or Three-on-Three Basketball.

Wii Sports Resort has a definite focus on multiplayer, although the single player modes are still compelling and fun.

It's easy to initially dismiss events such as Wakeboarding, Cycling and Canoeing as throwaway fluff, but dig a bit deeper and these events begin to shine.

The Air Sports events also deserve a mention. Sky Diving and Free Flight are great activities to relax with, and while shooting at planes in Ariel Dogfighting has its moments, flying at different times of day around Wuhu Island searching for points of interest evokes memories of Nintendo's classic Pilotwings.

While unlocking new modes and improving your scores is at the centre of the game, every event has mini-achievements called Stamps to collect.

These range from simply getting five consecutive shots in basketball, to harder challenges such as getting perfect 10s in every round of archery.

Visually, the game ticks all the right boxes. Wuhu Island's sun-drenched beaches, lush green hills, and brilliant blue skies make the game instantly appealing, while full Mii support means your gaggle of Mii creations can be found scattered across the island.

The only disappointment I have with Wi Sports Resort is a lack of online leaderboards or rewards for collecting Stamps, while some might find the lack of stat tracking a missed opportunity.

Still, despite these minor niggles, Wii Sports Resort is a triumph. It may not be the deepest sports game on the market, but it's certainly the most fun.

Nintendo sent me a copy of the game two weeks ago, and I've played it every night since. It's charming, entertaining and instantly accessible. Go buy it.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Katamari Forever - PS3 - Demo

The demo of Katamari Forever - or Katamari Tribute in Japan - went live this morning on the Japanese PSN store.

The demo features two levels, with the now robotic King of All Cosmos issuing you with more absurd demands.

The first thing you'll notice are the new look visuals. Both levels feature sketchy pastel-shaded graphics which have a similar look to Sega's Valkyria Chronicles. Word is the final retail version will feature various filter effects.

In case you are a Katamari rookie, the aim of the game is very simple. With the help of the Prince, you must guide a large sticky ball - the Katamari - around the levels collecting everyday objects as you go. The more stuff you roll up, the bigger your Katamari becomes.

The first level of the demo tasks you with filling the Katamari with water and turning a nearby desert into a blooming oasis, complete with palm trees, tulips, lions and zebras.

The second is more traditional Katamari Damacy territory. Set in a kitchen - in a level I'm sure I've played before - the Prince rolls up objects such as deep fried prawns, orange segments, sushi rolls, sugar cubes and milk cartons.

Katamari Damacy is known for its brilliant off-the-wall soundtrack, and judging from this demo, Katamari fans will be in for an audio treat when the games hits store shelves in the UK this September.

From jazz influenced beats and Latin grooves to bright and breezy electronica, Katamari Forever sounds wonderful.

I'm sure the demo will make its way to the Euro PSN store in the coming weeks, and I really can't wait for another Katamari fix.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Retro Game Challenge - DS

Retro Game Challenge is based on the bizarre Japanese videogame TV show GameCenter CX, starring videogame masochist Shinya Arino.

In the show, Arino takes a game from the past and attempts to complete it within 24 hours. Arino deliberately tracks down obscure and almost impossible games for his challenges and plays on bravely - occasionally aided by one of his assistants - until he cracks it, or cracks up. It's thoroughly entertaining viewing and genuinely funny.

The game is a spin-off from the show and is a little slice of brilliance. It was released in Japan in late 2007, and a translated version came out in the US back in February. Unfortunately, there is no word on a UK release, which is a real shame. Still, as the DS is region free, I'd urge you to import.

At the start of the game, Arino sends you back in time to the Eighties, where you team up with his younger self to play games of the era and try and beat his challenges.

While all the fully-fleshed out games are fictional, they all bear a striking similarity to games of the era. The first game you'll encounter is called Cosmic Smash, which bears an uncanny resemblance to classic shooter Galaga. Other titles include Robot Ninja Haggle Man, Rally King, while 12+ hour adventure Guadia Quest is a nod to the classic Dragon Quest series.

Once challenges are completed - such as completing a certain stage, getting a certain score, or performing specific actions - the story progresses and new games become available - complete with their own set of unique challenges.

To help you on your way, you can browse game manuals, while new issues of fictional games magazine GameFan become available as you make progress. Each issue can be read cover to cover and feature tips and cheats for certain games.

Along with specific games related info, GameFan also features a good chunk of unrelated stuff to read through, including a section titled Gamer's Voice, where 'readers' send in their questions.

This section is completely off the wall and features questions like: 'Whenever I eat snacks while playing games, my controller gets all sticky.' from Hugh Jass, Florida.

Answer: 'You should practice proper eating etiquette, or eat snacks on sticks like cheese fondue.' Completely unrelated to the game, but the attention to detail is brilliant.

All the games look and sound like their 8-bit counterparts, but all have a certain amount of style and charm.

A second Retro Game Challenge title is currently available in Japan titled GameCenter CX: Arino's Challenge 2, but there is no word of a western release.

It's a brilliant little package and is definitely worth hunting down.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Tales of Vesperia - 360

Despite the success of the 360, there have only been a handful of decent RPGs for the system, with Eternal Sonata, Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey being the pick of the bunch.

Tales of Vesperia is the latest Namco Bandai title to appear and it's arguably the best on the system.

Following an attempt to track down a mysterious figure who has stolen a magical artifact from his neighbourhood, rebellious lead Yuri teams up with a gang of diverse characters and finds himself entangled in a much bigger plot.

It's all standard Japanese RPG fare, but where Vesperia excels is in its visuals, story and excellent battle system.

The graphics may not carry as much charm as Eternal Sonata's, but they are still gorgeous. Beautifully cell-shaded, the towns, villages, enemies and surrounding countryside look incredible.

However, it's Vesperia's battle system which is the real star of the show. There are no turn-based battles here, with all fights running in real-time. Although you are only in complete control over one character at a time, your teammates can be commanded into different formations.

They are also adept at healing and getting stuck into fights, which takes a certain amount of pressure off the player.

While a button-mashing tactic sometimes works, victory in battles is easier if you run behind enemies, or flank them from the side.

All the main characters also have access to Artes - special powers which increase their attacks - while certain weapons have unique properties to aid you in battle.

When not roaming the countryside beating up enemies, the player can also synthesise weapons to make powerful items, while learning recipes lets the player cook stat-boosting food for the team.

There are plenty of other distractions away from the main thrust of the game, including a poker game which could net you lots of cash, and a bundle of side quests, all of which add to the game's longevity.

Not that you'll be finishing Tales of Vesperia any time soon. There is so much to see and do, that repeated playthroughs will be needed before you see all the game has to offer. Add to that a 60+ hour adventure, and Vesperia is great value for money.

There are also various difficulty levels, which means that even the most novice player will get maximum enjoyment out of the game.

Namco Bandai have given us a quality role playing experience and if you're looking for a sizeable adventure to get your teeth into, then Tales of Vesperia certainly fits the bill.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Overlord II - 360/PS3

With its tongue firmly in its cheek, the original Overlord proved to be a highly enjoyable romp through the darker side of the fantasy genre. This sequel is a much more polished take on the series, but it's not without its flaws.

Overlord's main inspiration comes from Shigeru Miyamoto's Pikmin series, but rather than controlling spacemen and strange plants, Overlord instead features a horde of cackling minions to do your bidding.

These Gremlin-looking bundles of evil come in four varieties, each one specialising in a particular trait. At first you start out only able to summon Brown minions, who are good all-round fighters. As you progress, you’ll gain access to Reds, who can used ranged fire attacks, Greens can sneak and do stealth-based damage, while the Blues can cross bodies of water and heal others.

Each particular type of minion is introduced individually, giving the player ample opportunity to get used to their nuances. However, once all four have been unlocked, a fair amount of strategy comes into play to get through the levels.

While the original game was set in the heart of a whimsical Tolkien-like world, with lots of fat halflings to kill, Overlord II is set in the realm of the Roman Empire.

While Terry Pratchett-inspired fantasy staples are scattered throughout - including peace-loving elves - the Overlord and his grinning monstrosities can often feel out of place taking on Roman garrisons.

However, at least the Romans prove to be a stiff challenge with their battle formations. Wading into these organised ranks is usually a bad idea, so careful though must be given on where to position your army - Placing fire-throwing reds on an overhanging ledge, while your browns wade into battle is a particularly effective early strategy.

Sweeping your army through ranks of Roman soldiers and plundering their gold is at the heart of the game, and controlling them is familiar ground for old hands.

The right stick is used to guide your army to its target, while the left stick controls the Overlord. Much like the original, this set-up takes a bit of getting used to, and sweeping your army around isn't the smoothest of operations - minions can disappear from view, and sometimes disaster will strike as you accidentally lead them into water.

A much easier way of controlling your mob is to fire them directly at their target, but there are times when you have no choice but to use the right stick.

Although a mini-map has thankfully been included this time - it was sadly lacking in the original 360 version - there is still a general lack of signposting. Not knowing what to do or where to go next is a problem which creeps in occasionally.

When not running riot through scores of enemies, there is plenty of scope to customise your experience.

Back in your tower of evil, new weapons can be forged, spells learned and minions upgraded - you can even redecorate the tower to suit your mistresses tastes! The game also keeps track of your individual army members, and even if your favourite dies in battle, he can be resurrected back at base.

Overlord II is a sizable, great looking, and enjoyable adventure, but there are several frustrating annoyances that really should have been ironed out. It's not a radical departure from the first game, but there's just enough here to tempt people back to the dark side.