Sunday, January 28, 2007

PS2 - Still Alive and Kickin'.

Still can’t quite shell out the cash for a pricy next-gen console? Sure, you’ll be missing oodles of great new games (just to rub it in a bit… heh heh), but if you own a PS2 (and who doesn’t?) then you’ll still be able to experience some of the most intriguing games the system has ever had to offer. While the Xbox and Gamecube were sent to early graves months ago and now lack any new releases as of late, here’s what you’ll find on the PS2 during the upcoming months:

Persona 3

A part of the Shin Megami Tensei chronicle, Persona 3 is a mature, deep role-playing game and is a sequel to two overlooked PSX role-playing games, titled Persona and Persona 2, appropriately enough. Similar to the two previously installments you take place in school as a student, but in addition to studying and socializing with other classmates you will enjoy all the demon-slaying action, this time now with acceptable visuals. Persona 3 also features a spiffy art style that will definitely grab any anime fans attention. Already released in Japan, Persona 3 is set to hit U.S. shores this June.

Lumines Plus

Lumines Plus is essentially a carbon-copy of the original PSP hit, save for a few insignificant enhancements. Still, when you’re talking about one of the most highly regarded puzzle games of the last few years, does that really matter? Maybe it will, as I feel that puzzle games are more suited for handhelds than consoles, and Liberty City Stories, which was a fine portable title, bored me when it was re-released on PS2. Anyway, enough of my bickering, and expect what many call the greatest game on PSP to release at an unbeatable budget price.

Tomb Raider Anniversary


If that was your initial response after seeing the screen shot shown above, then you are both very observant and correct. To celebrate Tomb Raider’s 10+ year anniversary, Eidos will be re-releasing the original smash-hit. It won’t just be receiving a simple flashy visual make-over, either. The game mechanics will be completely re-worked, meaning that you won’t have to deal with clunky controls as in the (now almost unplayable) original. With new puzzles being added as well, Tomb Raider Anniversary should be a treat for long-time series fans.

Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix

Similar to how Tomb Raider fans will be drooling with the release of Tomb Raider Anniversary, hardcore Kingdom Hearts fans will be in heaven when Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix hits stateside. In addition to adding exciting new boss battles and fresh new weapons, Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix will also contain and upgraded full-3D version of the mildly-received GBA title ‘Chain of Memories’. Despite thoroughly enjoying the original Kingdom Hearts, I managed to pass up the sequel. However, at the announcement of this ultimate version, I now have no reason to regret doing so.

God of War II

Most of the games featured in this article are either re-makes or re-releases, but God of War stands out from the pack as a fully-featured, epic big-budget sequel to the massive original hit. This makes you wonder: how long will it take for this series to hit the PS3, or will Dave Jaffe (the man behind this game) create a whole new title similar to this from the ground-up? Only time will tell.

MVP NCAA Baseball 07

Alright, international Pro-Gamer readers can stop reading this article right now, because I know you have no interest in America’s favorite pastime. For those of you still here, EA’s incredible MVP NCAA Baseball franchise will return this season with new hitting and pitching features, along with some minor improved mechanics from last time. It might not sound like much, but when you’re talking about the series that gave the sports genre the serious kick in the ass it needed in 2004 (when the MVP series debuted), I know you’ll be running to your store to pick this one up when it hits this February.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

'The Red Star' to finally see the light of day

The Red Star, a game based on a highly regarded comic series, was originally planned for a Fall 2004 release. It was 100% complete, had advertising in several gaming magazines, the box-art was complete, and had reviews by some outlets (and it received genuinely good scores as well). However, its publisher at the time, Acclaim, once known for putting out quality game releases, failed to release anything really noteworthy this generation (and even though they did put out a few decent releases, such as Aggressive Inline and Dave Mirra’s Freestyle BMX 2, they tanked sales-wise, too) and ultimately went down under due to this.

However, this good-looking comic-based game will now see the light of day thanks to budget-game publisher, XS Games. XS Games is known traditionally for putting out trash, but this looks to finally be a decent game by the little-known company. Even better yet, just like the recently-released Victorious Boxers 2, it will be sold at a value-price. At only $14.99, this might be a welcome addition to anyone who still hasn’t upgraded to a next-gen console (or is looking for something to play in between those long waits for the big next-gen releases). Originally slated for release across both Playstation 2 and Xbox, the Red Star will now be released exclusively for Sony’s little black box. Look for the Red Star in stores late February.

Also, check out how the box-art has changed through time. The original cover looked quite classy, while the new art…. looks like a typical, generic budget game. Sigh.

Key (left to right), the original intended box art, another possible choice for the original final release, and the current box art).

Monday, January 15, 2007

Review: Viva Piñata (Xbox 360)

Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Rare
Release: November 2006

Although it may not appeal to an incredibly wide market, those who decide to give it a try will find Viva Piñata to be one of the best and most entertaining Xbox 360 releases yet.

Unique, creative games that dare to offer an off-the-beaten path experience are certainly a rare breed in today’s game industry of sequels and ho-hum, drab, me-too releases, but Viva Piñata is one of the few titles that deliver a highly creative and satisfying experience unlike anything you’ve ever played before. Although it may not appeal to an incredibly wide market, those who decide to give it a try will find Viva Piñata to be one of the best and most entertaining Xbox 360 releases yet.

You begin this game on a small area of land in the middle of an island. It’s deserted, over-run with trash, weeds, and other various filth, and nothing can be planted as there is no real soil to do so. Your job is to transform this little wasteland into a thriving garden so that you’ll attract Piñatas to live and enjoy their selves in the area you’ve created.

To get Piñatas from all over the island to live in your garden you’ll have to build them homes, set up plants, and do other various things to attract them. Each unique Piñata is attracted to something other than another, so what gets one Piñata coming to your garden might not work on another. With over 60 different Piñatas to allure to your garden and unique ways for each to come, Viva Piñata offers a stellar amount of replay value.

As you play on the game gets increasingly difficult, but it does so at your pace so you’ll be ready for whatever challenge the game throws at you, whether it’s an undesirable visitor or a new shovel upgrade. Also, new shops and other attractions open up, and they all offer ways for you to improve your garden. A journal in the game keeps track of your progress and your Achievements. In addition to that you get more space in your garden as you progress, allowing you to add more plants, trees, and homes to it.

Viva Piñata does not force you down a narrow-path, and offers a totally open-ended experience. No two people will get the same experience out of this one, and this is undeniably a good thing as you’ll want to see how your friend’s gardens have expanded through time. Unfortunately you can’t really truly visit someone’s garden through Xbox Live, though this was most likely done so that rascal gamers don’t intentionally mess up each other’s gardens that they put hard work into.

The visuals in Viva Piñata are fantastic. The grass, character designs, environments – everything looks simply stunning, and the cartoon look gives Viva Piñata its own unique graphical flavor. The sounds here impress as well, blending in smoothly with the whole experience and adding to it.

To be honest, I did not initially enjoy this game. However, as I went on and played more and more, there were nights where I found myself up until 3 A.M. playing Viva Piñata. Romancing your Piñatas, buying them homes, customizing their looks, seeing which new ones you can attract… it’s all incredibly addictive, and if you’ve played through those “other” big games of the holiday season then you owe it to yourself to finally check this one out.

Rating: 8.5 (out of 10)

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Is Microsoft Snapping Up Capcom?

Wait, is that Mega Man holding a 360 controller?

Any hardcore gaming fan knows the name ‘Capcom’. A game company known throughout history for putting out quality, top-notch software (and the best fighting games the genre has to offer as well), they have always been a multi-platform developer who has supported all consoles. However, this may possibly end soon. Although it’s currently just a mere rumor, there is talk of Microsoft purchasing the mega-publisher/developer.

It’ll be interesting to see if either Microsoft or Capcom comments on this subject. Acquiring Capcom would only make Bill’s already incredible successful platform even more popular (with such exclusive titles from popular series such as Resident Evil, Devil May Cry, Mega Man, Street Fighter, etc. persuading those who have yet to take the next-gen plunge to purchase one of the shiny white systems). Also, this would also give the Xbox 360 a more appealing image in the Asian market who traditionally stay far away from Western consoles. Now Capcom, give Mega Man a break for a bit and give us hardcore fans what we really want: Street Fighter IV.

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Saturday, January 06, 2007

The DS Dominates the Holiday Season in Sales

What game system sold the vast majority of units this holiday season? How about Microsoft’s powerful Xbox 360? Nope. PS3? C’mon, the scarce amount of units available during this time period would make it impossible for it to be Sony’s shiny black box. Was it the Wii? Once again, no, but the next choice might involve Nintendo. So what system was it then?

Nintendo’s very own DS. Despite it being a handheld and on shelve for over two years, the DS sales are still going incredibly strong and it even outsold the three major consoles (and it’s portable rival, PSP, but this was expected, as it has been doing so for months now). Thanks to a reasonable price, a strong software library, and the fact that Nintendo is known for putting out stellar portables (let’s just forget the Virtual Boy ever happened…), the DS owned this holiday season.

The DS’s popularity made for shortages and riots (okay, there were shortages but no riots, but it sounded good, eh?). Not only was the DS a massive success in North America but it also sold great in it’s homeland of Japan and in pretty much every other region as well. All of this great DS news makes me want to pop in my Animal Crossing: Wild World cart and play for a few hours…

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Pro-Gamer: The One Year Anniversary

One year ago on this day (actually, this celebration is roughly one day late, but do 24 mere hours really make that much of a difference?) was when I created this humble blog and created my first post.

Now, one year later there have been a staggering 84 posts in the hole, lots of replies, and mountains of spam, but sadly, no money has been made off of this. I really just write this blog because I enjoy it, and writing is one of my favorite hobbies, so it all works out even without some dough (though that would certainly help, hehe). I’ve also recently created a little-known, separate blog that showcases my music interests. Although the content on it is a bit scarse at this point, I plan on doing more with it in the future. It’s called PG Music Reviews – check it out.

Here are my most note-worthy posts, chosen on a month by month basis.

January 2006 - Square Enix Publishing Grandia III Could be Either a Good Thing or a Bad Thing

February 2006 - Shamefully Bad Game Boxart of the Moment

March 2006 - Does Apple Got Game? iThink Not!

April 2006
- The Legend of Zelda: Doodle Dungeons Will Be a Possible Revolution Launch Title

May 2006 - Can the Playstation 3 Sell on Brand Name Alone?

June 2006 - Bootleg DS Carts Hit the Market

July 2006 -This was a rather hollow month for Pro-Gamer, as I went on vacation and nothing was posted. There was tons of spam when I returned, however…. that’s always a sign that thing’s rarely change, and Ross would return next month, better than ever!

August 2006 -
Five Reasons Not to Upgrade to a Next-Gen Console

September 2006 - Final Fantasy VII: "Expanding"?

October 2006 - Sonic DS: A Canned Part of the Past or a Sign of the Future?

November 2006
- Wii Launch Madness

December 2006 - PSX: The Games You Missed

Top 5 reviews, based on rankings, high to low:
1. (tie) Fable - Xbox - 9.2 out of 10

1. (tie) Tennis 2k2 - Dreamcast - 9.2 out of 10

2. (tie) True Crime: New York City - Xbox - 9.0 out of 10

2. (tie) Street Fighter Anniversary Collection - PS2 - 9.0 out of 10

3. Pokemon Mystery Dungeon Blue Rescue Team - DS - 8.5 out of 10

4. Polarium - DS - 7.8 out of 10

5. Street Fighter Alpha: Warriors' Dreams - PSX - 5.8 (out of 10)

And, finally, a special thanks to all of those who have supported Pro-Gamer in the past year, especially Rose (aka BuckieBuck90), Wedge14, Gnome, the Elderly, gamerC, Ender (what the hell happened to him?), deitrix, fatherkrishna, Gnade, Son_et_lumiere, DigitalSpace, Scrubking, tomleecee, 1modernboy, psyclerk, J, Josh Miller, el Moco, Ben, and anyone else who has supported, read, or commented on this blog, thanks!

Let's make this another good year for Pro-Gamer, and make sure to check out the other blogs meantioned in the 'links' section of this blog. Wooh... This was an exhausting post... I'm out! As always, expect another update soon...

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