Sunday, April 30, 2006

Review: Tony Hawk's Underground 2 (Xbox)

Platform: Xbox
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Neversoft Entertainment
Release Date: October 2004
Genre: Extreme Sports

This is a rushed, mediocre effort that could have been much better if it had spent more time in development.

The Tony Hawk series has recently been declining in quality as of late, and Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 was the game to lead the downward spiral. This is a rushed, mediocre effort that could have been much better if it had spent more time in development.

After a disappointing fourth entry in the series, Tony Hawk’s Underground really seemed like it turned the series around for the better in 2003. It had a great story mode that warranted a few play-through sessions, a terrific soundtrack, and brand new game play elements that brought the series up a notch. However, Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 takes the series back a few steps with boring yawn worthy level-design, a mediocre story mode and a total lack of any online play whatsoever.

Instead of continuing the last game’s interesting story, Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 attempts to cash in on shows like Viva La Bam and Jackass. While many of you might think this would make for an extremely funny, out of control storyline that mimics those shows, it actually makes for a goofy and mostly annoying story that is only occasionally funny and joyful to play (unlike how the first Tony Hawk’s Underground’s story line was entertaining the whole way through).

The level design is also sorely lacking. Neversoft (the game’s developer) really dropped the ball on this aspect of the game. Many would argue that the level designs in the Tony Hawk games are one of the most important parts of the game. Even locations such as New Orleans, which you might think would be fun to play and full of character, are generic, boring metropolitans that you’ll definitely not want to replay after you’ve completed all the level’s missions (or enough to pass).

Tony Hawk’s Underground 2’s second portion, the Classic Mode, is a mode where you complete goals in a timed matter just like the original three games in the Tony Hawk series. While old-school Hawk fans may be stoked to hear that this mode has returned, they’ll be turned off after an hour or so because it’s extremely boring and tedious to play through. While the original three games had well-planned goals and extremely great level design to the make the timer based-modes fun, none of that applies here, as the level design is awful and the goals feel half-assed at best. This mode does not warrant a play through of any kind.

On top of all that, this game fails to truly take advantage of the Xbox’s power and strengths. Although it contains the typical custom soundtrack feature, the graphics wouldn’t look out of place on an average Playstation 2 game and there is a total lack of any Xbox Live online play.

A big reason why the Tony Hawk’s games are rapidly dropping in quality is that this ill iteration was released exactly one year after the original Tony Hawk’s Underground. With such short development time, it’s no wonder why the games are being released with such a dramatic shift in quality. Instead of releasing well-planned, extremely thought through games, Activision is simply churning out sequel after sequel and ruining this once-great series. Unfortunately, the gaming mainstream is eating these sequels up and they’re selling great, so it’s unlikely the company will have to worry about releasing a top-notch game in the series again.

At least Neversoft got the soundtrack right. A great soundtrack has always been a series trademark, and with artists like Faith No More, Less Than Jake, Dead End Road (whatever happened to that band? The only song I can find off them is “Sin City” which is included on this soundtrack. It’s a great song though), The Doors, Ministry, Sugar Hill Gang, Metallica, Ween, Rancid, and Johnny Cash (among dozens other various artists) the great soundtrack will get you through even the most boring parts of the game without a problem. Of course, even if you aren’t a fan of the artists featured on the soundtrack, you can always use your own music as this game supports the “custom soundtrack” feature.

Unfortunately, Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 does very little else right. While it may have a few redeeming qualities such as the series’ trademark game play, a terrific soundtrack and a few great story mode moments (such as a hilarious grand finale), it also includes an average story mode, an awful classic mode with mundane tasks, horrific level design, and low replay value (you can’t even play the game online). Even die-hard series veterans may have a tough time playing through this one.

Rating: 5.8 (out of 10)

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Wii Will... Rock You?

Wii.. A name as unique as the console itself. Still, I think it’s certainly an odd choice of name for a gaming system. Revolution fit the name of the system like a glove – after all, it was meant to be a new revolution crashing into the gaming industry where original concepts are declining at a rather fast rate.

“We” is how you pronounce the fresh new name. A name that is easily remembered by different cultures around the world and that is unique form everything else out there. At least, that’s Nintendo’s reasoning behind the new name.

Most people that I’ve talked to about it are certainly expressing unfavorable opinions on the new name, but it’s definitely getting people talking. Maybe Nintendo knows something we don’t know, or maybe the name will grow on us. Still, I won’t be putting down any money on that.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Silent Hill Game's Values Skyrocket For the Moment

Before the Silent Hill movie made its way into theatres (which looked laughable when I saw commercials for it), no game in the Silent Hill series really sold for much money (they all were in the $10 range, and every used Used Game Store U.S.A. had many copies of each title in).

However, now with the release of the big budget movie, the games are selling like crazy all of a sudden and are going for ludicrous prices on eBay! Silent Hill’s 2 (Xbox ‘Restless Dreams’ version included) and 3 are going for nearly $45 each on average and the original 1999 PSX release is going for about $60! (Even Silent Hill 4 is going for reasonable rates on eBay. What I’ve played of that game is awful, though).

It’s amazing how much the value can increase when the hype of a big movie or another game release surrounds it (just a few weeks ago I posted about Final Fantasy VII’s value going up as well, probably due to the incoming release of the Advent Children DVD). Will these games fetch the same amount of money a year from now (or even mere months)? Not very likely. However, it may be wise to snatch up a copy and sell it off (or sell one from your personal collection and re-buy it again in a few months) as there is a good amount of profit to be had.

Hmmm.... Maybe All Ads Aren't That Bad After All...

Looks like Sony is trying new tactics to attempt to increase the PSP’s appeal over in Japan. The video shown above is the tried and true method: Add hot chicks to a popular existing product in a commercial and boom! You’re instantly successful. Hey, this video sure is more entertaining than those annoying squirrels with nuts commercials we have to deal with over here….

After watching it again, though, I must ask: what exactly is being sold here? I mean what… oh yeah… PSP…. There’s PSP’s in this video somewhere… however, I’m sure most of you didn’t even notice…

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Shamefully Bad Game Boxart Of the Moment (#3)

Capcom’s history in boxart design has been a double-edged sword. On one hand you have great-looking art like Viewtiful Joe and Mega Man X8. Then on the other hand you have horrendous looking trash like the original Mega Man on NES and this…

Trouballs. Like Viewtiful Joe, it contains a made-up word in its title. And unlike Viewtiful Joe, its box art is awful. Maybe someone at Capcom thought it looked funny, but from the little info I’ve hard on this game the gameplay is certainly not humorous or explosive (both things the box arts display). Take a look at the screens:

Looks like a forgettable, cookie-cutter puzzle game to me. And that’s what it probably is, since within a month of its release it became practically forgotten. I can’t say the box art helped it market-wise in the slightest bit.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Katamari Damacy Creator Not Showing Interest in the Nintendo Revolution

Are you excited about the Revolution and its controller? Keita Takahashi, creator of the quirky roll-any-random-item-into-a-ball simulator, Katamari Damacy, sure isn’t.

"I'm not really interested in it. I don't think a controller should have that much influence on the enjoyment of games."

This means nothing to me since its coming from the creator of Katamari Damacy, who doesn’t normally play video games on a regular basis (he apparently finds most of the games out there boring). Also, I found Katamari Damacy to be highly overrated. Sure, it was unique, quirky, and interesting, but hardly fun. Even though I feel this way, I still think it would be the type of game thats game play would be greatly enhanced if played with Nintendo’s Revolution controller (Wouldn’t the tilt sensor be a perfect fit for this type of game?).

Also, before you let this quote above process deep into your brain, let it be known that Takahashi is not very fond of the Nintendo DS, and most of us would agree that the system is the best handheld on the market right now (I think it’s far superior to Sony’s PSP).

In the end though, we’ll just have to use the controller and play the system for ourselves when Nintendo actually releases the Revolution sometime this year. Right now though I think that the controller will be a great break from the norm, and that the Revolution will finally kick start my interest in the next-gen (as the Xbox 360 currently hasn’t).

Friday, April 14, 2006

Review: Street Fighter Anniversary Collection

Platform: Playstation 2
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Release Date: August 2004
Genre: Fighting

Although it could have been even better had Capcom put a little more effort into it (and didn’t enjoy milking gamers for all they worth), for what it is it is worth owning and deserves a spot into your fighting game collection.

As a huge fan of the ‘Street Fighter’ franchise, I was stoked when I first heard about Anniversary Collection. Take two of the genre’s greatest 2D fighters of all time, add in an interesting anime film, and put it onto one disc and you have a must own collection. Although it could have been even better had Capcom put a little more effort into it (and didn’t enjoy milking gamers for all they worth), for what it is it is worth owning and deserves a spot into your fighting game collection.

For many gamers the words ‘Street Fighter’ brings back nostalgic memories of spending hours upon hours at the arcades, spending tons of quarters (probably adding up to enough to buy a few arcade machines) and then enjoying the hell out of the home console versions that later found release on the Super NES and Genesis (even if the Super NES versions were superior to the Genesis edition). Sure, arcades may be out, but fortunately for you, Street Fighter Anniversary Collection includes five versions of everyone’s favorite quarter-waster and hour-sucker of yesteryear, Street Fighter II. Although each version’s differences are marginal (and only the hardest of the hardcore are likely to notice), it’s still nice to have them all in one place in one remixed game, titled ‘Hyper Street Fighter II: The Anniversary Edition’ (confusing enough?).

While the game play remains in act and as good as it ever was, there are a few problems that plague the Hyper edition from being totally flawless. The A.I. is noticeably a bit difficult than it was in previous versions of Street Fighter II (especially Blanka) and the fun mini-games such as the car breaking and brick-busting stages are unfortunately absent. Also, it would be better if you had to choice to play each version in its entirety instead of having to have them all smashed into one game. Still, unless you’re an extremely anal hardcore fan who can only live with playing the actual arcade version (because any other version of Street Fighter is inferior), then you should be able to get over these somewhat minor quibbles.

Next up in the collection is Capcom’s underappreciated 1999 effort, ‘Street Fighter III: Third Strike’ the third and best release in the Street Fighter 3 saga (Normal Street Fighter III was released first, then Street Fighter III: Double Impact, and now this, for those who do not know). The game play is noticeably more polished than in any other version of the series, and contains a mostly whole new cast of characters that most gamers who stopped playing after Street Fighter Alpha 2 wont recognize. While some of the characters are interesting and have fresh new techniques compared to the usual suspects, many are not nearly as enjoyable to play with as the usual fighters (Ryu, Akuma, Chun-Li, Ken, etc.). However, if you give them a chance and let their play style grow on you then you might find them very rewarding to play with in the long run.

Street Fighter III: Third Strike’s game play is sublime, and any 2D aficionado will enjoy its mix of new game play techniques, depth, beautiful soundtrack (Which I enjoyed so much I went on to buy the original soundtrack off Amazon) and crisp, well-designed 2D graphics.

While its true that this could have been a more robust collection and Capcom could have expanded it to be more than it is, it’s definitely worth owning. In fact, if Capcom simply repackaged Street Fighter III: Third Strike and sold it alone then it would still be worth the price of admission.
Rating: 9.0 (out of 10)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Ubisoft Unveils Thier Initial Revolution Offering

Ubisoft, one of the game industries heavy hitters, has unveiled their initial offering for the Revolution. An action game titled ‘Red Steel’; it’s by some of the former team that brought you Prince of Persia, Splinter Cell, and Far Cry Instincts, so obviously they know a thing or two about crafting quality action titles.

The screens that you can find somewhere on the internet are claimed to be actual real-time game play, so if that’s true, then the Revolution isn’t the far behind the Xbox 360 in terms of visuals. In the end though, we’ll just have to find out when it’s finally released. More information can be obtained in the May 2006 issue of ‘Game Informer’, available on newsstands now.

Note: Due to Game Informer apparently not being very happy with the various sites that have been posting scans of the mag, I was not able to provide you with any screens. However, I’m not saying you can’t find shots of the game by typing in ‘Red Earth Revolution’ on Google Images, either….

'Table Tennis' Brought to You By... Rockstar Games?

When you think of Rockstar Games, the sport of table tennis usually isn’t the first thing that comes to mind (it’s more like guns, action, violence, and, well… Grand Theft Auto!)
Well, know they may be slightly known for something other than gory action games, as they’re going to publish ‘Table Tennis’ for the Xbox 360. This title will hit shelves this May and will contain over 19 unique arenas, 11 different players, and hopefully a solid amount of modes to top it all off.

Although this game hasn’t been confirmed for the Revolution, I would definitely rather play it with the Revolution’s unique tilt sensor than with a normal Xbox 360 controller. Also, I doubt the game will look as good as the screen’s Rockstar posted on their official website (or check out the one I posted in the above left corner). All I have to say is Rockstar better make this game amazing (or at least really good) because I don’t really think that many people are going to be willing to blindly cough up $60 for a ‘Table Tennis’ title the same way they would for a football or baseball game.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

South Florida-man attempts to trade Xbox games for cocaine

Ah, Florida. Not only is the sunshine state filled with hot girl-ridden beaches (in addition to all the ugly people who go to them as well), hurricanes, alligators & crocodiles, lizards, swamps and substandard game arcades, but its also home to cocaine dealers exchanging crack for Xbox games. What a wonderful place.

Recently a Boca-Raton (a city located in the southern section of the state) man was attempting to trade Xbox games for cocaine with a local drug dealer when the dealer fired a gun and shot the man he was trying to trade with after an argument.

Well, I’m happy to report that Denver, the man who got shot was not killed and was treated at a local hospital. Maybe he learned something after this whole fiasco, maybe not, but it’s interesting to know that now Xbox games may work just as good as plain ol’ U.S. currency when attempting to buy drugs. And no, I do not condone the use of drug related material or exchanges. So don’t send any hate letters this way!

And in my attempt to brighten the mood of what some will feel is a rather dark post (compared to my usual fare), I posted a picture of some Florida palm trees. Enjoy.

April Fools!

Unlike Jester’s, I don’t perform for kings. However, much like them, I have a sense of humor and I enjoy joking around. Maybe I joke around too much; maybe I don’t do it enough. Nonetheless, I do it.

So with April Fool’s coming up, what would be a better time to write a post about Nintendo releasing a new game titled ‘The Legend of Zelda: Doodle Drawers’ (with just a game title alone that would make hardcore series fans cringe) than on April 1st?

Yes, the post bellow us was just an April fool’s joke. However, I found the replies funny, and for you who are just too lazy to click on the comment box (you know who you are!), I’ll post them here:

Tomleecee - hmmm...april fools joke?! =D

Ender - (replying to one of "Miyamato's" quotes regarding how the new art puzzles will be "beyond anything gamers have ever experianced). Hey, guess what? I've also never painted with my own shit, but I'm pretty sure that it's not something I want to experience. Miyamoto seems to get a tad full of himself sometimes, like nothing he touches can be sucky. Wrong, kind sir.

Gnome - Still... it is a funny title. Perhaps the guy's getting self-sarcastic??

Happy April Fool’s 2006 everyone! I hope you were all safe last week and no one tried any of the “classic pranks” on you, such as the “Cobra in the Cash Register” (that old gag!), attempting to “fake” light yourself on fire while realizing that you are actually burning up (ouch!), and of course, writing a post on your blog about a fake Zelda game (something that may cause hardcore Zelda fanatics to take their lives). Here’s to next year!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Legend of Zelda: Doodle Dungeons Will Be a Possible Revolution Launch Title

Now, I’ve enjoyed many of Nintendo’s innovative ideas throughout the years, but sometimes I don’t know what in the world they’re thinking. This would be one of those moments. Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo’s widely-known head guru of Nintendo, has recently announced what is a “Possible Revolution launch title”. It’s a new Legend of Zelda title. No, they’re not porting the Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess to the Revolution. It’s a totally new idea, unlike any other Zelda game we’ve seen to date. Ladies and Gentlemen: The Legend of Zelda: Doodle Dungeons.

Yes, you heard that right. Doodle Dungeons (though that is just a working title). Announced about a week ago, it utilizes the ‘tilt’ feature in the Revolution controller to draw outlines through enemies and solve ‘art-puzzles’ with it as well. What “art-puzzles” are is beyond me, but Miyamoto says “These new [art puzzles] will be unlike anything you’ve ever experienced”. The other part of the Revolution controller which was dubbed “the Nun chuck” will also be used to change directions on the doodles.

Miyamoto said it will have more of a “puzzle game” feel (as in Tetris-like) that other Zelda titles, saying that “You will want to play through story mode… however, working on outlines in a separate mode and trying to break other people’s records will play a bigger role in the game experience, such as classic puzzlers like Tetris were”.

So, basically, this is a “draw an outline through an enemy with an innovative controller” simulation. It sounds way too shallow of a game to me, and like many other launch games through history, will serve very little purpose other than showing off what the system may be able to do at launch. I have to ask, “Do you like titling things and drawing outlines”? This sounds like a mess to me, but heres what Nintendo had to say to the haters and doubters:

“Many of our ideas… dating back to the Famicon days, were doubted… including another game in the [Zelda] series, ‘The Wind Waker’. However, I’m 120% sure this will be a huge hit, and will bring Revolution consoles into people’s homes. Even if the game is very simple, its innovative beyond anything we’ve seen to date on the other guy’s consoles….”.

So Miyamoto just admitted it’s a shallow game? Wow. Does anyone know what that man is thinking? Game play is more important that simple innovation and drawing outlines through characters just doesn’t sound exciting to me. I’ll leave it up to you to decide what you think about this.

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