DEMOlition – Katamari Forever

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Katamari Forever is a game that a lot of fans have been eagerly waiting for. While already out in Japan, Forever promises to deliver all kinds of nonsensical awesome mixed with the requisite Katamari flair.

Sony has kindly released a playable demo on PSN today and though I have already beaten most of the Japanese import (That’s right, I’m awesome……), I decided to give this demo a try to see what Sony has in store.

The demo has a generic title screen that is essentially the logo and “Press Start,” (along with some strange Notice about taking breaks and not using projection televisions). Once you skip that, you are taken to the main map that looks sort of like a pop-up book. It’s pretty neat, but it definitely gets annoying to navigate. You only have one option (other than Vibration settings) to play with, so once you click there, the mission select screen appears.

Thankfully Sony decided to include levels exclusive to Forever in the demo, so everything you play is brand new content (if you didn’t know, Katamari Forever works like a “Best Of” collection with levels from the first two games mixed with new things). The main level is a generic roll everything until you reach the goal and it definitely isn’t challenging. The goal they set for you is something that the first game had you doing in the 2nd level, meaning a Veteran of the series should have no problem.

The second level is where some of the unique charm of the series comes in (and is sort of inspired by We Love Katamari). You are tasked with rolling your Katamari into some water and then rolling across a desert to water up the place. While it’s not the most difficult thing you will ever do, it’s definitely a fun diversion from just rolling over stuff like a monster.

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The grass is always greener and Katamari proves that.

This desert level, in particular, brings out the best of the 1080p graphics. There is definitely some slow down (which doesn’t hurt as much as you would think), but the textures have a nice filter over them that makes everything seem like watercolor. Now, the final version features 4 different graphical filters, but the demo only lets you tinker with one.

The game’s controls have been literally unchanged from the previous Katamari titles, except that now you can jump. You jump by either using SIXAXIS or just pressing R2 (which definitely makes more sense). It can let you get to higher places in levels so that you can roll more and it even lets you clear some obstacles in your path (allowing you to soar over a pesky zebra or human).

The musical selection for the demo is a little lacking, but you can rest assured that the final title provides enough tracks to keep you satisfied. The demo has remixes for “Katamari on the Rocks” and the main theme, but neither one is really that outstanding. It kind of hinders the experience of Katamari when the songs are a little subpar.

In the end, though, Katamari Forever is definitely a fun little title. I may not be able to call it a classic like the first two, but the demo does give you something to bite into until the game comes out.

If you’re wondering what else the final game has, I will enlighten you a bit. There are about 24 levels of rolling madness that is composed primarily of We Love Katamari. Along with that you get a neat co-op mode that only has 6 levels, though it kind of wears thin after a bit.

The other graphical filters are things like a Wood finish and a Comic Book style and they definitely are a sight to behold in HD. The musical selection takes most of the tracks from We Love Katamari and gives those 2 or 3 remixes each (making for a colossal amount of music).

You also have the different cousins to change between, though there are really not any more than in We Love Katamari (the demo also lets you change, but you get about 7 of them). Along with the cousins, the presents return and let you change your character on 3 different levels (Head, Body and Feet).

So even though the demo is extremely short and lacking in much of a first impression, the final game will provide for fans clamoring for more. Give the demo a shot just to see how Katamari HD looks and maybe to get yourself acquainted if you’ve never tried a Katamari game before.

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Beatles: Rock Band – Review

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After a few days of completely destroying The Beatles Rock Band, I can rest assured that a final verdict is ready. I’ve seen nearly all of the games challenges and conquered them and I’ve managed to play the harmony sections with a friend, so I definitely think everything is covered.

The Beatles Rock Band is Harmonix’s next game in the highly regarded Rock Band series. Instead of trying to focus all their effort into creating a mixed setlist, Harmonix focuses their efforts on one band and does everything to the fullest. You will not be displeased with this title if you are a Hardcore Beatles fan.

What may displease you is the gamer inside. Now, I’m a massive fan of the Beatles. I own all of their albums and even their 2 B-Sides collections and Live Albums. There is not a Beatles track that I don’t have in my possession. But what irks me about Beatles Rock Band is how nothing is dramatically changed over the previous titles in the series.

To start off, the game launches you into a story mode where you and 3 friends will follow The Beatles throughout their career with some animated cutscenes that detail little to nothing about the actual event you will be playing. The arenas and areas you play at are locations like “Shea Stadium,” “Abbey Road Studios” and “Apple Corp. Rooftop,” which all take the form of Chapters (there are 8 in all). While this is definitely an amazing touch in providing fans to see how the Beatles existed, it definitely leaves out the parts where Ringo and Lennon quit or any of their in-discrepancies.

Still, the setlist is what matters the most in this game and it definitely delivers the goods. Every song is a hit, though some may be a bit boring on Bass or Drums. The only real problem I have is that not enough is offered. The Beatles have 14 studio albums and while every one has at least 1 track in the game, some albums only have 1 track in the game. The game offers up 45 hits and this is a marked improvement over both Guitar Hero band based games, but it still amounts to about 3 hours of gameplay, at best.

Why not pull more from the catalog to give fans a more enticing package? Considering Rock Band 2 shipped with 84 songs and another 20 for free as DLC, thinking about why Harmonix chose to leave out such a large chunk of their work (and even singles like “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “Penny Lane”) is puzzling.

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Never been better.

The graphics in the game are something to behold. There is definitely a slight cartoon edge to the look of the group, but their charm has never been capture in a digital form any better than it is here. Each song showcases its own music video of sorts in the background and the more trippy songs from the catalog have equally trippy backgrounds to accompany them. The only problem you may run into is running this on an SDTV, as the bright colors can often be distracting.

The note charting on the instruments is the weakest part for hardcore fans of Rock Band. Virtually nothing will give you challenge other than trying to 100% a few songs. But, even at my worst, I managed 98’s on songs (even on Drums, which I am quite awful at). The way this game tries to add challenge is by giving you achievements that relate to songs.

The achievements sort of work like the challenge based career mode that Guitar Hero 5 exhibits. Things like, “Play Dig a Pony and hit every hammeron/pulloff without Strumming” is neat, but relegating them to the achievement screen means a lot of players will simply never bother to figure out what is next.

There is a challenge mode in the game, but it simply tasks you with playing each chapter from the story mode with the songs running back to back (almost like an endless setlist). You never have to play the entire game from start to finish, but even replaying the game without any added challenge makes it worthless. Why not give gamers something unique to perform while replaying the game?

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Harmonies can definitely be a pain, but they also provide some fun.

The one new addition to the gameplay is vocal harmonies. While these are not a dramatic change, their implementation is flawless. Harmonix made the game so that you can connect 3 microphones to your 360 and have 3 players singing at different pitches all at once. But instead of just assigning mic 1 to harmony 1, the game never tells you which part you need to specifically sing. This allows your friends to help you out of tough spots or even just have 3 players singing 1 single part.

Even with that innovation, this feature is not something that a lot of music games will adopt. There is limited appeal to singing in the first place, but having a group of people who even want to try singing together is just asking for trouble. What doesn’t help with the harmonies is the way the screen looks during these sections. Words for Mic 2 and 3 are shown on top, but Mic 1 is at the bottom. Since we’ve been trained to stare at the bottom of the screen since Rock Band 1, trying to look at the top is just confusing (there is no real other way to fix this, though).

What does help this game along is the promise of DLC. Harmonix plans to release full Beatles albums in the coming months to further flesh out the games catalog of music. If the entire discography of the group were to be released, this definitely would be the ultimate band based title you could ever buy. What hurts this feature is how the music is not exportable to other Rock Band titles (nor does the DLC even work in other games). You will always need to have this disc, which means that you can never expect a sequel to improve upon any aspect of the game you feel is weak.

Also, you have to think about the appeal of this title. If you truly don’t like The Beatles, there is absolutely nothing in here that will change your mind. I have nothing against all Beatles songs in a game about them, but trying to market this to other players seems impossible.

So for my verdict, I have to say rent this game. If you truly are a hardcore Beatles nut who needs everything with the groups name on it, just buy the thing. If you are getting extremely tired of music/rhythm games, there is nothing here that will sway your opinion. The game is of extremely high quality, but the gameplay aspect is so unchanged to really make waning fans take notice.

First Impressions – Beatles: Rock Band

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The Beatles can easily be called one of the greatest bands in history. There is no questioning their impact on the music industry and their quality as a group. But will you be able to say the same thing about the newest Rock Band title, Beatles: Rock Band? Well, let’s take a first look.

The first screen the game gives you is a calibration screen. While my friends and I were using a CRT monitor (therefore no lag), the calibration seems to be equal to the system used in Rock Band 2. I can’t image that anything is terribly off with the system, but it’s nothing new and will probably still cause headaches.

On to the actual gameplay side of the equation. Unwilling to try any of the vocal harmonies out (and down about 2 mics anyway), we decided to keep it straight instrument play. We booted up the game to a screen that allows you to sign in 4 gamer profiles (one for each instrument) and pick a save file for your story progress. This was nifty as 1 person may be complete, yet the second player may still need something extra.

After selecting your save file, the game goes to a screen which has each instrument press a button to enter the game. This system is a little strange as to drop out an instrument requires you to go back to the main menu, which is 2 screens past the actual menu for selecting “Story Mode” or “Challenge.” Still, it’s not that awkward and you eventually get used to it.

Once at the games “real” menu, you can pick “Story” or “Challenge.” While my friends and I thought challenge would be similar to what Guitar Hero 5 had done (with cool little requirements), all the challenges consist of is playing the setlist back to back in the different venues. Anything consisting of “Play X Song hammering on notes” is relegated to the achievements, meaning most people will probably never figure them out.

So even though challenge mode is rather worthless, Story is a bit different. Trying to paint the timeline of the Beatles would be a hard task, but Harmonix seems to have gotten most of their story out there (excluding all the drugs and naked bed displays in Amsterdam). Before you can even pick a song in each setlist, you are treated to an animated movie that mostly just uses visuals and a song to paint the story. It really makes no sense, but you can easily skip them by pressing start.

When you finally do get to start playing a song, you come to one simple realization; this is just another damn rhythm game. While Guitar Hero 5 is certainly the same thing as previous entries, it tried to give you something new with the career mode or party play. Beatles: Rock Band takes the easy way out and just repackages Rock Band with flashy colors and different songs.

To its credit, the selection of songs is stellar. But, if you dislike the Beatles, this game is 100% worthless to you. While I can’t say that making a band related game focus on just the band is a bad thing, it does alienate people from wanting to pick this up if they have no interest in The Beatles.

Well, that aside, I love the Beatles, so I enjoyed what was offered. While I wished for more (there is no reason why 80 songs could not have been offered), Harmonix promises to have full albums available for download soon. This is a feature that both Guitar Hero Aerosmith and Metallica lack (albeit Metallica does have 1 album). This could keep you playing the game for a long time if you really have a hankering for Rock Band and The Beatles.

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While it may look amazing here, imagine this on a blurry, fuzzy, SDTV.

The visuals are pretty ridiculous, but we played on a standard def television. In SD, the graphics are too bright, vibrant and distracting. When activating star power in SD, you suddenly lose track of where Yellow or Orange are coming from. Not only that, but any sustained notes (ones you hold) are too soft to be seen, so you kind of just let go and lose out on points.

Even with losing those points, you will easily be able to 5 star everything in this game if you are an expert Rock Band player. Even with my love for The Beatles, I could not help but feel a little cheated by the lack of difficulty. I may have failed 1 song on drums (one of the earlier, more hard rock songs), but even so it only took me another try to pass it. Even the songs that say “Full Difficulty” for Guitar/Bass/Drums are really just like a tier 5 song in regular Rock Band.

So without any kind of challenge other than achievements/trophies, Beatles: Rock Band is entirely for collector’s or people who are just hooked on the rhythm game craze. I hate to say this, too, but Guitar Hero 5 wins in my book. At least you can get some cool competitive modes or challenges to spice up the gameplay. With Beatles: Rock Band, you either play the songs or don’t. It’s really kind of sad.

I may have to sample the vocal harmonies before I can really give a final verdict on this (and I should probably try out some of the achievements as a few looked insanely hard), but I really don’t think this is worth a buy to the casual fan of Rock Band or even someone who has a waning interest in the genre. Skip this.

First Impressions – Guitar Hero 5

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With every month, Activision seems to be releasing a new Guitar Hero game. In rolls September and Activision has put out the next numbered sequel in their series, Guitar Hero 5. Today I’ll be giving my first impressions of the game and giving g1’s some advice as to whether they think their dollars are best spent on this new title.

Starting off, Guitar Hero 5 has heavily touted a new “Party Mode” all over the internet. This mode supposedly allowed you to use 4 instruments of the same or differing types to play all at once and even change difficulty on the fly and drop out whenever. The mode works just like that, even if it is a little misleading.

See, instead of having an option in the main menu that says “Party,” Activision put a button on the bottom of the screen that says it. So for the first 5 minutes, my friends and I were looking around for this fabled party mode. Once we figured it out, a song almost immediately launched and we found ourselves confused again.

The game gives absolutely no instructions on how to use the actual mode, so we scanned the bottom and top of the screen to figure out just exactly what was going on. We saw a yellow button for joining, so we were able to get 3 guitars going in seconds. The game automatically scrolled the screens and kept the song moving without any hindrance in framerate or even button presses.

Choosing a setlist requires one person to press start and pick “New Playlist.” You also press start to change your difficulty or instrument from Guitar/Bass (since you can’t switch from Drums to Guitar without first unplugging your controller). The menu also lets you drop out, or you can just walk away and let the game do it for you. Once you figure this all out, Party Mode is exactly what Activision said it would be. It works flawlessly and songs load at the end of the previous one, so you never have to wait around with pesky load screens. Once your list finishes, another random song starts and you can just keep playing or quit.

So as flawless as that mode is, the new career mode is definitely something special. While it may not be completely different (i.e. it’s the same thing) from Rock Band 2’s “Challenges,” having some kind of requirement to meet during a song is definitely a fun way to pass time. The only downside to this mode is that you cannot use 4 of the same instrument like in party mode.

Some of the challenges actually require a full band. Things range from “Complete a Song with X Score” to “Have Bass/Guitar perform X Hammer-On’s and Pull-off’s in X Song.” The challenges are definitely well thought out and help provide challenge to expert Guitar Hero players.

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Along with revamping the career mode comes some new character options. While I didn’t tinker with the creation tool, Guitar Hero 5 allows you to use your avatar (on 360 only) as a character. It definitely looks funky with how realistic the graphics are trying to be, but it’s also pretty funny to see your midget of a person strut around on stage.

As for the game’s actual setlist, there are definitely some amazing songs, but most of the list fails. There is a lot of modern and emo music, so if you are not into that, just skip this game. You can import songs from World Tour, but for some reason you are only allowed 35 of them. Your DLC from World Tour will work, but you just need to download a free update, which isn’t bad. That 35 song thing really kills any interest you may have in wanting to import, though.

There really aren’t any new features other than a “Band Moment” mode, but that simply works like Rock Band’s “Band Multiplier.” It works like flames over notes and just ups your points if you hit them. It’s nothing fancy, but it certainly helps in scoring well over 1 million points on some stupidly short songs.

In the end, my first impression of Guitar Hero 5 was generally positive. I may not particularly enjoy the graphics or really find anything innovative with the game, but the revamped career and the ability to play with 4 of your favorite instrument make the game more accessible. And hell, if you suck at drums, now you can just forget them entirely.

I’d say to give this game a shot if you are still interested in rhythm games or are a newbie to the whole fad. If you really have given up hope, this probably will not change your mind, but it never hurts to try.