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 – 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.

My Summer – Day 1: Prototype

After not having written a blog in 3 months, I’ve come back with A VENGEANCE! For the next week, I will be doing daily write-ups on all of the games I played this summer. I will double up on a few days for games I played that had sequels (which I also played).

While you may think these are reviews, I am trying to put my opinion on the matter while also pointing out flaws and general praises that I have for a game. I will not be dolling out scores, or even sectioning off my texts into topics.

Without any further delay, I present to you, Prototype.

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Ah Prototype, a game that received a lot of controversy for being similar to a certain PS3 title (and a coming overview from me in a few days). While not the best game in its genre (Open World Adventure), Prototype is certainly a thrilling experience from beginning to end.

The game starts off with a rather amazing looking cutscene that tries it’s best to rip-off every Quentin Tarantino movie ever made. You start the game off at the end of the story and your character, Alex Mercer, works his way backwards. Not only that, but you play a part that chronologically takes place almost at the end of your adventure.

This shows off some of the impressive abilities you (eventually) have at your disposal. Things like blades growing out of your arms, tentacles that destroy everything they touch; even massive Hulk like arms. This is all exhilarating and you really get a sense that you are a WMD. Not only that, but you are unleashed into Times Square with a pretty accurate representation.

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Just one of your many abilities at work!

After you complete this part, you are thrust into the main plotline. While you don’t know anything about your character, the story does little to shed light on the cause at the moment. All you kind of get is that Alex is wanted DOA, so you need to work fast to thwart your enemies.

Missions are what propel you through this game and they certainly are fun, at first. While everything is a bit generic, the game gives you a large quantity of experience points to upgrade your character. Doing 1 mission early in the game pretty much guarantees you 2-3 upgrades each time. You even get the ability to copy an individuals image so you can cloak in the crowd; Sweet.

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ROSA! GIVE ME YOUR PEE!

When you slowly begin to build back your abilities, you learn some neat tricks. Alex has super speed, a devastating last stand attack and even the ability to glide in the air. This harkens back to Spider-man 2 with its amazing webslinging. Running through the city is definitely fun for a bit, but just trying to build your speed and jumping distance make traveling fast a simple act.

After about 2 hours in, though, Prototype takes a massive turn for the worst. The graphics were never astounding (even with the first cutscene being ridiculously good), but they really show a lot of pop-in and repetition in building design. You run down the streets of NYC and feel like you entered a perpetual warp zone. Not only that, you should have a few upgrades for your speed, which makes the pop-in even worse then you jump for a building that doesn’t exist yet.

Not only that, Alex is definitely an extremely generic dude. While the story started off vague, it never clears anything up. There is an answer to why Alex is such a beast, but it feels like a cop-out and, to a lesser extent, a copy of Bourne Identity. Alex also just acts pissed off because he can. Are the police getting on your nerves? “I F*#@ING HATE THEM! HULK SMASH!”

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I smolder with generic rage!

The enemy A.I. is also some of the worst of any open-world game I’ve recently played. Instead of trying to balance the difficulty by, say, making the enemies use cover tactics or any type of actual warfare, Prototype just throws horde after horde of beasts in your direction. You eventually get to a point in the story where you fail until you upgrade your health or run around like a fool.

Not only is the generic enemy A.I. bad, but the bosses are even stupider. I know boss battles in the past have had patterns, but the Prototype bosses rarely move. They just sit there sprouting out insults and using the same attack over and over. Once you get past the horde of 16 million generic enemies bum rushing you, the boss gets a cheap shot and you have to repeat the process. This gets extremely trying on your nerves and I almost gave up at a few points. I’m sure Easy difficulty could have alleviated this problem, but who wants to play a game on Easy?

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These guys will definitely piss you off.

These problems wouldn’t be so bad to me if the game just varied its design more. In addition to the main quests, you have short activities that are supposed to use your powers for objectives. The only thing that stands out is a Gliding mini-game where you have Alex time his jumps to reach a small circle about 5 city blocks away (and one in the middle of a lake). It really sticks out in the otherwise generic objectives that are thrown at you in every other mission.

The other minigames consist of Speed Trials and Killing (even if you kill with the cause being A) Time Limit, B) Amount or C) With an Ability). These are overly difficult at times and at others are too simple. There is no real balance between what you should be able to do with patience and what you just cannot do at all.

I have to say, though, that I did enjoy the initial game I played. If Activision put a lot more time polishing the things like Story, Graphics and Variety, I may have been inclined to sit here and tell you that Prototype is an amazing game. I do recommend it to people who like their combat bloody and hardcore, but if you have been burnt out on Open-World games recently, you are better off skipping this and picking up a certain clone (inFamous).

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MOAR CLAW!

Prince of Persia (2008) Review

Prince of Persia (2008) is a very interesting title. On one end you get an alienation of the fanbase that made Sands of Time such a hit (though not a massive one considering sales). On the other end you have an extremely approachable and often times serene game that should make any intrigued gamer pleased.

I recently have tread through both the main game and the epilogue DLC, so I would like to review the main game to give my fellow g1s some thoughts. I in no way expect people to take my word as final and I will try my best to point out any bias that I may have with game design.

To get bias section out of the way, I enjoy dying…Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Still, I enjoy the fact that games challenge you by making you die. Another bias I have is against overly complicated combat systems for platformers.

On to the review. I am going to break down the main game into 4 sections: Gameplay, Graphics (more like artistry instead of actual game engine), Storyline and Replay. Obviously the main game has DLC, but I am not factoring that into the replay factor.

Prince of Persia (2008):

Storyline – The plot within Prince of Persia is rather weak. While The Sands of Time did not have the strongest storyline ever conceived, you grew to fall in love with the characters. This enhanced their struggle and had you crying (was I the only one?) when the entire thing was reversed and the Prince got ripped off.

2008 doesn’t really capture that same magic. The plot starts off decent, but just falls flat towards the end (I will not use spoilers). The first scene has our hero (called the Prince but really just a vagabond) walking through a sandstorm looking for his donkey (named after the heroine of Sand of Time, Farah…too bad I enjoyed her enough to think this joke is funny). After a certain amount of time (maybe hours?), he stumbles upon a fleeing Princess.

We soon learn that this Princess is named Elika. She is fleeing from her father who is trying to force her to stay in his Kingdom for one reason or another. With the aide of the Prince, Elika is able to escape the clutches of her father for awhile. While fleeing, the Prince learns that Elika has magical properties.

Once Elika and the Prince get time to talk, we learn that the Kingdom is under the threat of a powerful god named Ahriman. Ahriman wants to conquer the Kingdom and destroy the world (maybe). Elika clings on the the idea that her father is only trying to get her to help save the place, but that is obviously garbage.

The rest of the game revolves around the interactions between the Prince and Elika while they are going around and removing spots of “corruption” that Ahriman has plagued the land with.

Now, this all seems really generic (how many games have save the world plots anyway?), but what really drives the fact home is A) The plot never gets into any deep talk about why Elika’s father is helping Ahriman and B) the lackluster conclusion. I will not mention anything, but there is a ridiculously stupid (and possibly game breaking) closer in the end of this game.

The other aspect of the plot that gets glossed over is any real reason why this is happening. Ahriman must be pissed, because destroying a people makes no sense without context. It’s really fantastic that I can learn about his minions that conquer certain areas, but why am I not given the information about why he himself wants to kill everyone?

Gameplay – At least the game is good, right? Well…yes and no. What do I mean? Well, let’s just dive right in.

The game is built around an open-world style map with many different areas to explore (I believe 24 in total). What you are tasked with doing is choosing an area to start with and platform running your way through it. You hop, flip, jump, skip and even fly your way to the end goal of a boss fight and healing the area.

Once reaching this boss, you go into combat mode and are given a pretty beefy combat system. Your enemies range in style and design and give a reasonable amount of challenge in their final offerings. You are able to link attack combos together by mixing up your button combinations. Hitting XXXX (or Sqaure, Square, Square, Square for PS3 users) is the most basic of attacks, but you can mix things up with a throw (mapped to B or Circle), an acrobatic move (A or X) or your partner Elika (Y or Triangle) can be called in to do some magic damage.

While this seems deep, the problem is the A.I. design. Your enemies have one main attack pattern and one QTE (quick time event) sequence that is used to defeat them. Once you get them towards the edge of your combat arena, the QTE will trigger and you will knock them down for an instant kill.

If you fail the event, you often just get knocked aside. Some bosses don’t have any instant kill QTEs, so you are stuck trying to figure out which combo deals the most damage to them. The main problem with such a free-flowing combat system is that your patterns make no sense. I’ve managed to input an attack that was XYYBAXYB and it does the same amount of damage as XYYBAB. Notice the lack of 2 attacks on the end there?

Another thing is the boss patterns and A.I. design. All the bosses do is stick to their one routine and never change up. There happens to be 4 different bosses, but the smallest change doesn’t bring about anymore enjoyment. You also run into smaller drones during your journeys between areas, but they are essentially smaller versions of their boss brethren.

You also have no way of incorporating the platform aspects of the game into the combat. Once you reach a boss, you are locked into a 1 on 1 (or 2 on 1 considering Elika). This also brings to mind the fact that you never get to face more than 1 opponent at a time. Why not, is that too challenging?

The final nail in the coffin for the combat is the repetitive nature. The 24 areas of exploration are divided into 4 sections. Each section has one boss who rules over the areas. Once you run through the areas, you fight the boss. There are 6 sections to each area, meaning you fight all 4 of the bosses 6 times. I’ve heard of padding out the length of a game, but this is just stupid.

The platforming aspects of the game are real winners, though. The downside to this part is that you cannot die…ever. You miss a jump and Elika brings you back with her magic (her magic also applies in combat with dying). Still, the controls are so smooth that simply jumping at a wall starts a wallrun.

Once running, you simply wait for your platform of interest to come into view and jump for it (with A or X). You also get to climb and jump from poles, swings off of flagpoles and even run on ceilings to reach door knockers (I think). The best part of this platforming is your claw.

The Prince has some gauntlet on his left hand that acts like a claw. You are able to grind down almost anything with this claw. If you mistime a jump, you may have redemption if you are able to slide down the wall and jump back to the beginning (though this usually doesn’t work). Your claw also lets the developers have some fun with level design.

After platforming and fighting, you get to heal the land you just crossed. Healing the land is like taking that small step towards re-imprisoning the evil god chasing you. All the healing does is make the “corruption” go away and bring about a beautiful panoramic vista to look at. The game also tasks you (after the healing) with collecting power-ups for Elika known as light seeds.

The game requires about half of the total amount of light seeds in the game to be collected. There are 1001 in total. All that is really needed to get to these seeds is repeating the platforming you did in the first place.

The collecting of these seeds is possibly the worst aspect of the game. Why should one have to repeat something they did? While there is probably no other way to creatively give gamers a reason to revist their creations, couldn’t the developers have not included the seeds? Was simply accomplishing a level too simple of a task?

Graphics – The art style for this game is rather bland. I can’t say that I enjoyed anything in particular about the way this game looked, artistically speaking. I was impressed with how well the water-color style was pulled off, but the Prince and Elika have a far too Western and modern look to be believable as Persians.

The Prince is dressed believably as a Vagabond, but at the same time he has some semblance of modern living. No person back in Persian times would have the technology to build a metal claw (just not happening). His build is also very bulky and muscular, which is something that the modern man is made out to be (though not Chris Redfield muscular).

Elika, at first, looks very appropriate, but you soon learn about her background and wonder what the hell? Elika is a Princess, so why does she look like my sister? Her clothes are extremely generic and her torn shirt seems, to me, to be a way to cash in on hormone enraged males. Her tattered hair never changes when running around, so her looks come off as synthetic. She gets points for staying fully clothed throughout the game, though.

The rest of the cast is awkward, to say the least. The King (Elika’s father) is just like any other King you’ve probably ever seen. Purple Robe, beard, long set of hair. He doesn’t really look Persian, though, so that fails with the name of the game.

The enemies have very bright and eye-catching colors, but their styles are just weird. The “corruption” that Ahriman spreads is just black blobs mixed with human bodies, so the main bosses of the game just come off as lazy. Anyone can create a concubine that is all slime.

Replay – There isn’t much to say about replay value for this game. Beating the platforming sections is fun, but the only reason that you’d do them again (other than collecting the necessary light seeds) is to collect the remaining light seeds after your grand total. Collecting those extra seeds gives you achievements/trophies for your gamer profile, but if you don’t care about that, then there is no point.

The combat is extremely weak, so replaying that (which you have to do), just sucks. I cannot really think of any reason to return to this game other than plot (which is of lackluster quality).

For a final score, I am going to give this a 7.5/10. If you want that broken down more, here would be my scores:
Gameplay – 7
Graphics – 8
Storyline – 6
Replay – 5

The combat and lack of difficulty with the platforming really destroy a lot of fun you may have with the title. Nothing else falls into place either, so you are left with a game experience that just does not work. The game is immediately approachable to casual gamers, though, so that is a win in one respect. The graphics are nice, too, despite lacking in style.

This game has me torn, but not really as much as the failure of DLC that is provided for it. I will review that tomorrow (and I promise that it will not be an epic dissection like I did with this game). If you managed to get this far with the text, I applaud you.