Sunday, September 24, 2006

(Mostly Horrendous) Wii Game Box Art Revealed

Just a little over a month and a half and we’ll finally be able to get our scrubby little paws on Nintendo’s highly anticipated new console, Wii. I already have mine pre-ordered and will be getting it on launch along with some fresh new games for it. What will some of the Wii cover arts for some of my choices of release look like, though? Well, to be brutally honest, abominable (except for the Zelda Twilight Princess box art, which is the only half decent-looking cover out of the bunch). While they may not be worthy of falling under my famous ‘Shamefully Bad Game Box Art of the Moment’ series, they’re still pretty horrendous looking, especially for games that will be sold alongside Nintendo’s shiny, slick new console. Well, enough of my yapping…. take a look some of the Wii box art, read my opinions on each one, and well… pretend you never saw any of this or wonder what the hell was going through minds of the marketing teams who designed these pieces of filth.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess box art is very nice-looking, and looks to fit the “feel” of the game like a glove. Though with a little more work it could look beautiful, it is definitely the most exquisite looking box art of the bunch.

Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam
Now this is where the “horrendous” part of the line-up comes in…. If the box art for Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam is to judge, then it will be a corny, kiddy skateboard romp that no one will want to touch because of how atrocious looking the cover is. Activision…. I know you’re trying to make it into my ‘Shamefully Awful Box Art of the Moment’ section, but it’s not really “good” enough for that… revise this cover, please.

Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz
If you’re planning on buying Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz, make sure to bring your little cousin or brother with you to the store… otherwise, what other excuse would you have to buy purchasing a video game with cover art like this?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Final Fantasy VII: "Expanding"?

Final Fantasy VII made quite a momentous splash when it was first released on Sony’s little grey box in 1997. Cherish it or loathe it, Final Fantasy VII single-handily changed and redefined the role-playing genre with its big-budget cinematic style. While some old school role-playing fans weren’t pleased by the new change, most loved the fresh style. Not only that, but Final Fantasy VII’s mature story and memorable characters signaled a refinement to video games, offering characters you care about greatly (have many references have you heard that apply to Aeris’ death?) and a story that captivates you nearly the whole way through.

So what is a publisher to do years after arguably the most popular and well-known role-playing game is released? Do they try to live up to fans expectations and remake it, offering a familiar though fresh experience in the next generation? Or perhaps, do they try to expand the original story in some sort of way on a more recent platform, and create another 40+ hour epic release? Of course not! While the ideas that were mentioned above may seem logical and fitting for Square’s classic, Square-Enix has decided to milk the Final Fantasy VII name for all its worth, releasing atrocious off-shoots and spin-offs instead of actually pleasing its original fan base that has supported it for years (even though they’ll buy anything bearing ‘Final Fantasy VII’ in the title or relating to it). Here are the games Square-Enix has released lately that tie in directly to the Final Fantasy VII universe.

Before Crisis: Final Fantasy VII

An original mobile release for specific cell phones (read: advanced Japanese phones that were one step ahead of other region’s at one point), Before Crisis wasn’t exactly received very well in its homeland of Japan and since then has not found a release anywhere else. A U.S. version has been long-rumored, but it has not yet seen the light of day. The reason for this may be because the game itself isn’t very fitting with an international market outside of the Land of the Rising sun (it was designed specifically for working Japanese people that take trains and buses to work on a daily basis and need some time to kill here and there) and that the cell phone it was released for may (A powerful Panasonic phone) may be too expensive for other regions of the world or other phones haven’t quite caught up to it yet in terms of specs.

Final Fantasy VII Snowboarding

An enhanced port of the min-game found in the original Final Fantasy VII, I, like many other people, have no desire to relive this quirky mini-game in cell phone form. Not only that, but this piece of fluff was severely lacking in the options department and came with a hefty price tag for what it was – ten bucks.

FF VII Snowboarding in
all it's glory.

Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children

This beautifully computer-animated DVD is known to be the high point of the Final Fantasy VII tie-ins. Nostalgic fans ate this DVD up, resulting in high sales and increased prices of the original Final Fantasy VII PSX game on eBay (the game was selling for around $15 on eBay for years but when Advent Children was released the values for the game sky-rocketed, sometimes for more than four times what it was worth before the DVD was put on the market).

Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII

If not for those forgettable cell-phone releases, Dirge of Cerberus would definitely be the red-head step child of the Final Fantasy VII tie-ins. A shameful third-person spin-off, Dirge also incorporated some RPG elements into its design. However, the game, in no way, could compare to the countless number of far superior action games already clogging the store shelves. The U.S. version was superior to the original Japanese release (Square-Enix fixed a number of features wrong with the version that hit Japanese retail stores), but that’s not to say it was a game worth playing in any way. If not published by Square-Enix and not bearing the behemoth of a name, then Dirge of Ceberus would have been quickly forgotten not long after release (remember X-Squad for the PS2? How about Hidden Invasion? Urban Chaos: Riot Response? Yeah).

Monday, September 04, 2006

Review: Polarium

Platform: Nintendo DS
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Mitchell
Release: April 2005

While Polarium may not have the audio/visual extravaganza of Lumines or Meteos, or the tried and true game play of Tetris DS and Puyo Pop Fever, Polarium is certainly a unique breed of puzzler, offering a great game play experience and breathing new life into this rapidly aging genre.

Polarium came out during a very bleak time period, at least for the initial and newer owners of Nintendo’s intriguing-looking yet still undefined handheld system. While the DS certainly did have a unique charm that made anyone who say it want to pick it up and play, due to a library cluttered with abysmal licensed fair, shoddy ports, and lack of killer apps (Super Mario 64 DS, Wario Ware Touched!, and Feel the Magic XY/XX being the only titles that most would consider decent), the DS sold mostly by having Nintendo’s logo printed on the box rather than the quality of its library.

While not quite a well-known title now, when Polarium came around, despite the fact that its visuals were sub-par and it looked a bit abnormal from the screen shots, many DS owners didn’t care at that point. There was a severe drought of quality titles for the handheld and anything that looked interesting and got above-average reviews for once captured their attention. Polarium was released at the right place and right time.

Polarium is certainly a unique style of puzzler. Even if you looked at every screen shot released for this game you might not have the slightest clue of what it’s about and what the main objective is. The game play is certainly fresh, and far and above more enjoyable than the plethora of Tetris clones that have been plaguing the puzzle genre for years now. You have to flip blocks back and forth on a black and white grid. The only thing is, you have to analyze them to see if it fits into your current puzzle or objective at the time of play. Like any good, well-made puzzler before it, it’s simple in concept but it requires a great amount of skill to fully master it.

There are three modes of play in Polarium, each delivering a highly unique style of play from one another. In the main puzzle mode, you must flip back white and black blocks before you fill up your grid. The more you knock out at once the more of a benefit you get score-wise. However, blocks fill the screen up rather quickly, so you must move swiftly through the blocks. The challenge mode will challenge even the most seasoned fans of the puzzle genre, but it still delivers an exceptional experience and is the main meat of the game.

Polarium’s puzzle mode has you going through puzzles, trying to clear them in a single stroke of the sylus. While the initial puzzles are child’s play, used only to familiarize you with the concept of play, the later ones will test your intelligence and sometimes make you feel highly dense. The ability to create and edit your own puzzles will keep you engaged to an excessive degree, and trading puzzles with another person increases the replay value even further.

The versus mode is done far more unusually and diversely than the other two modes of the game and what you’re used to in typical puzzle titles. It’s a bit of a mixture of the two main game play modes, but stands out in its own way. You must battle a second opponent by clearing out blocks before your rival can and dropping them to your screen. This mode is more intense than the other two, and while it is highly enjoyable, you won’t be able to play it more than fifteen minutes a session because your hands will be as exhausted as your mind will by the end of it.

Being a touch-screen and stylus focused puzzler, Polarium sometimes feels limited because of its design. The fact that Polarium is strictly-stylus based means that it will tire your hand out very quickly, resulting in shorter game play sessions. Also, the gameplay grows stale far quicker than classic, traditional puzzlers like Tetris and Puyo Pop.

While Polarium may not have the audio/visual extravaganza of Lumines or Meteos, or the tried and true game play of Tetris DS and Puyo Pop Fever, Polarium is certainly a unique breed of puzzler, offering a great game play experience and breathing new life into this rapidly aging genre. It’s a challenging, if sometimes mind-boggling, experiences that will keep you busy in decent-sized game play bursts from time to time.

Rating: 7.8 (out of 10)

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