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Weekly Geek Exclusive Interview: Nester's Long and Winding Road

It actually took me the better part of six months to track down Nester, the mascot for Nintendo Power magazine between 1989 and 1993. The first attempt to contact him, via his agent, ended in disaster when it turned out that the address given me was actually a slaughterhouse in Arizona. After hiring a private detective (at Chris' personal expense no less... whatta guy), we finally tracked down the man that for four years stood as the gateway between the obfuscated world of Nintendo's products and the common man.

Facing Nester is an exercise in suspension of expectation. He is a broad, bespectacled man in his early 30s, the only remnant of his child-star presence being the roundish head that made him famous. I catch up with him at an undisclosed location in Tacoma, Washington.

SECKSCAB: It's been twenty years since you premiered in Nintendo Power, as a sidekick to Howard Philips in the "Howard and Nester" comic. Do you still keep in contact with Howard?

NESTER: Sadly no. I haven't seen him since he left Nintendo in 1991. I heard he was working for Lucasarts.

SECKSCAB: Apparently. Wikipedia agrees.

NESTER: I never got to say goodbye. One day he was polishing the gigantic brass Shigeru Miyamoto statue, and the next day he was gone. His desk was completely atomized, after blinking three times.

SECKSCAB: That's... odd.

NESTER: It was like he never existed. Or if he had, it was like he was killed with the Silver Arrows.

SECKSCAB: Were there any other strange occurrences at Nintendo that you can recall?

NESTER: I don't really want to talk about what they did to Donkey Kong.

Awkward silence.

SECKSCAB: So, you left Nintendo in 1993. What have you been doing since then?

NESTER: Just trying to keep afloat, I guess. We try to keep things turning here in Nester Headquarters. I did return on a consultancy basis in 1996 for Nester's Funky Bowling on the Virtual Boy.

SECKSCAB: I'm sorry, I was not aware...

NESTER: Not many are, sadly. Michael Jackson was the only one who pre-ordered it.

SECKSCAB: Really? Did he send you a note or anything?

NESTER: I think he was dismayed at the "Virtual Boy" not exactly turning out to be what his imagination assumed it to be.

Nester sips the cup of coffee that I purchased him, and looks somewhat saddened.

SECKSCAB: What was the high point of your stardom?

NESTER: Referring to my genitals as "The Rumble Pak".

SECKSCAB: Nice.

NESTER: Feel free to use that. Hasn't worked for me in fifteen years.

SECKSCAB: Do you still play video games?

NESTER: I do, yes. I have a Death Knight on Ethelon named "AwesomeKillz", if anyone wants to hit me up. We have a Tabard now. Now accepting all classes and levels, seeking serious players with no drama.

SECKSCAB: So you like World of Warcraft?

NESTER: Keeps me busy, ever since my wife left me. It's just me and the WoW and the Social Security Administration these days.

SECKSCAB: I'm sorry, I was not aware you were married.

NESTER: Twice. I have a son now, Lester.

SECKSCAB: How old is he?

NESTER: He's four years old, (Amy Schultz; localization editor for HAL) is keeping him hostage for the time being. Apparently I'm a "deadbeat dad". So the judge says.

SECKSCAB: That's... er... what was your favorite game you ever reviewed?

NESTER: What the hell does it matter, man? It's all blown to Hell. It's all over. Nester the man is a broken shell and a failure. A heartbroken supertanker full of misery and regret. My spirit has been crushed, every day is a roaring success if I can find the gin.

SECKSCAB: I had no idea.

NESTER: I'm kind of bleak these days.

SECKSCAB: Obviously.

NESTER: No need to be snarky, man. I know the score. I know the motherfucking score. There's something fishy going on in Maniac Mansion. Grab the remote control on the third floor to summon Robo-Duck. It's a bad night for a curse. Dodongo dislikes smoke.

Nester is nodding back and forth oddly, as if his whole equilibrium is off.

SECKSCAB: So then, do you have any projects for the future? Anything that the fans of Nester would like to hear about?

NESTER: I am going to lay a gigantic dook in about an hour. Inform the press. I will accept the laudatory praise of the universe with all due humility.

With his fifteen minutes up, Nester returns to the Suncoast Video where I found him lurking.

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Fallout 3 DLC Is Less Than Amazing

Fallout 3 Operation Anchorage

Fallout 3 is not a first person shooter. Fallout 3 is a first person RPG, a FPRPG if you will. In a recent interview with MTV Multiplayer, Executive Producer Todd Howard confirmed that Fallout 3 is at best mediocre when you judge it as a first person shooter. Why, then, did Bethesda feel the need to create the largely FPS-focused Operation Anchorage DLC? This add-on creates a new side quest in the ruins of DC, and puts you into a simulation of one of the great battles of the big war constantly referenced in Fallout lore. The issue is that Operation Anchorage strips out what makes Fallout 3 exceptional. It removes all of that pesky moral choice and becomes an exercise in "go from point A to point B."

Maybe the way I play Fallout is different. I am not especially interested in the combat aspects of the game. I like exploring the various environments and scrounging whatever is lying around. See, I'm a crafter. In MMOs it's the same way. I enjoy deviating from the main quests and crafting items to prepare for the journey ahead. Operation Anchorage strips you of your items and gives you a whole set of new objectives. You can no longer scour your environment for items to collect, you can only interact with whatever is blinky and orange. Here's a BIG FLASHING BRIEFCASE, maybe you should pick it up! The objectives here are akin to a series of quick time events. Effortless and ultimately unrewarding. The levels are designed to be linear and come off feeling like a level from the N64 classic Goldeneye. Unfortunately, Goldeneye was made to be a first person shooter. Fallout 3 just plain fails at it. That is not to say that Fallout 3 is a bad game. As a matter of fact, it's my favorite game in recent memory. It's just that this DLC focuses on the wrong elements and becomes an exercise in un-fun.

You know how Dreamworks animated movies tend to rip off Pixar movies? They take what they think makes Pixar movies work: madcap characters, semi-adult humor and state of the art graphics and animation. What they don't steal is what actually makes Pixar movies work: engaging, classic stories and themes, memorable and endearing characters and stunning artistic composition. Operation Anchorage is Dreamworks to the boxed content Fallout 3's Pixar. It's just taking the wrong elements. It is literally giving you a different game to play.

Remember the snowboard mini game in Final Fantasy VII? Imagine if that was stripped out of FF7 and offered to players later, as DLC. In a magical world where Playstation 1 DLC existed. Imagining the crapfest? That's Operation Anchorage.

Why? Why was this a good idea?

Now usually I'd say "Hey! More Fallout is more Fallout, right?" Being that I am so engrossed in Fallout lore at this point I obsessively read every dialog option and every single menu in computer terminals while looking at the Fallout wiki to piece every bit of lore together. Operation Anchorage's lore consists primarily of throwaway techno-babble, and after completing Operation Anchorage you really don't feel like the story has been expanded in any way. Add this to the fact that the end sequence is so glitchy once you exit the simulation chamber that I had absolutely no idea what was going on. There was some sort of mutiny and no one told me about it until it was over.

The ending does allow you to obtain a few choice items, however. The Chinese Stealth Suit is exceptionally useful, allowing you to have a bit of Metal Gear or Bioshock-esque active camouflage when crouching. The gauss rifle has a nice bit of knockback, and the Winterized Power Armor certainly is... winterized.

This should have been free DLC. The first DLC pack for Crackdown was more fun and added more to the game than this did, and it was offered gratis. Operation Anchorage is more Fallout, yes. But is it fun? No. No it is not. For completionists I highly recommend setting the difficulty down to "very easy" and ripping through it, nabbing the extra achievement points, the fancy new armor and continuing with your obsessive exploration of every nook and cranny of the DC ruins. Hopefully the final DLC offers more, as it raises the level cap and all... but I have my reservations about the DLC to come before that. If it's anything like Operation Anchorage... no thanks.

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Lost Odyssey - Don't Ever Leave

LostOdyssey_Header.jpgIt's been a while since I settled in to the turn based reality of a proper JRPG. This is very likely due to my last experience being both sexually charged yet tragically marred by a girlfriend's decision to walk out with my entire system after bearing witness to some sweet moves in Final Fantasy VII. My heated relationship with Cloud simply wasn't meant to be and I never got him, or my PS, back.

I bet she overwrote my game right away, saving in the same slot over, and over, and over. A scar formed and I became damaged goods, keeping cautiously distant lest a new RPG come along only to be quickly snatched away.

Naturally there has been some progression in the genre since but the original formula still sings in Lost Odyssey which I picked up - beyond all irony - at the recommendation of the same soulless harpy that stole Cloud from me all those years ago.

I try not to dwell on that as the hours with this newer, flashier experience fly by.

Despite a sprawling disconnect with anything recent to the genre the first hour found me at home, entrenched in a womb of familiar battle casting and rich story. Lost Odyssey remains vastly formulaic and really only deviates in two areas which in turn lend to its appeal. The primary protagonist, Kaim, uncovers forgotten memories that span his thousand years spent as an Immortal. These "dreams" are presented as animated text, a lot of text, but offer a surprisingly profound back story I welcomed despite the break (see: hours) from gameplay. The other involves a timing aspect to battle scenes in the form of rings (think materia) whose benefits are unlocked with precise timing.

The rest of the game sports glimmering polish on the rest of its many facets; cut scenes are plentiful as they are beautiful (across 4 dual layer disks), musical score sufficiently reminiscent, voice acting surprisingly tolerable, and menu system instantly usable to a player that hasn't touched a JPRG in a decade. Though not everything was perfect. Some of the navigation involved either stealth movement or obstacle avoidance, low points in the game, but these are brief. Battles are random, a boon to the grinders and a curse to explorers.

As I continue through the fourth disk the experience finds me comfortably satisfied in this world, a feeling of intimacy well established with all the members in my party I find strikingly different compared to any of the characters in either Fallout 3 or Fable 2 despite heavy time spent in both. Thus far I've truly enjoyed my time spent in this technological magic revolution and find myself welcoming boss fights and back story alike. The ring system has managed to keep combat refreshingly kinetic as I pass the 40 hour mark.

So consider Lost Odyssey if you like a good JRPG but keep it close, affection properly digitized and spread over as many mediums as possible. Save game made safe lest some game-playing nymphet appear to tear Cloud, or Kaim, out of your life forever.

Learn from my mistake.


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Prince of Persia: First Impressions

PoP_Header.jpgIt was my first time. Of course I was the only nervous one, fingers slick with sweat and brow furrowed in concentration. I instinctively knew what went where and how movement translated to results but at the same time didn't take the situation seriously. I was young and wanted to play.

As it happened my maiden voyage with a laptop coincided with my first exposure to Prince of Persia. While many of the details have been fogged by time, perhaps for the better, I do recall being particularly fond of that monochrome puzzle game with its falling tiles, fatal pitfalls, and limber protagonist. In all honesty this was not only the first time I participated in the franchise but also the last.

PoP_Right.jpgHaving only recently returned to console gaming I've watched silently as nine iterations have appeared over the last two decades and it wasn't until I saw the leaked concept art that the saliva started to flow. I'd catch trailers as they were released, each exposure instilling fresh anticipation, but it was the latest that ensured my preorder (HD download here).

I fell in love with the rendition of a sprawling cityscape, tattered windmills turning with the promise of better times, and elegantly domed towers reaching up as fingers from a shallow grave. The path ahead was thick with wooden beams, mundane avenues all but forgotten hundreds of feet below.

Today I got to play it.

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Review: The Club (XBOX360)

the_club.gif"Come Fearless. Come Strong. Come Packing."

Even the back of the box tells us that this game is trying too hard to be something its not - a third-person shooter with profundity. The Club, Sega's latest foray into attempted gaming relevancy, is a title that has some potential. It could be a fast-paced, run and gun arcade-style extravaganza. Instead, it's a frustrating, self-absorbed traipse of a time-trial through a world that shouldn't exist, not even in a game programmer's imagination.

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Review: Lost Cities (XBLA)

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I'm admittedly a huge fan of ultra-nerdy board and card games. We try to have a board game night at least once a month which really ends up just being an excuse to get together, drink a bunch and throw salted cashews at each other when things aren't going our way. This group play seems an awkward fit for the Xbox Live Arcade (mainly due to the lack of cashews, salted or otherwise), but in this reviewer's opinion the majority of XBLA games in this genre are gems. Uno, Catan and Carcassonne are some of the best games available, period, for the XBLA, while games like Word Puzzle and Sotrilo Solitaire flop. This week we see the newest in the board/card game genre, Lost Cities.

At first glance this game is super complicated, but like with any good game in this genre you spend the first couple rounds incredibly confused until all the pieces fall into place and it clicks. This process, at least for me, is pretty darn satisfying. It took only two rounds of demo play before I purchased Lost Cities, and I've spent all afternoon with it since. It is a fairly unique yet instantly familiar game, straight from the first menu which displays random semi-literary looking characters. I like the grey-haired bespectacled professor the best, who incredulously lifts his eyebrows and grimaces as you scroll through the different options. I heard him in my mind saying things like "huzzah! achievements!" or "what what leaderboards pish posh!"

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Review: Triggerheart Exelica (XBLA)

exelica.jpgI like to think of Japanese shmup games as the digital equivalent of auto-erotic asphyxiation. An innocent bystander stumbling into your bedroom only to catch you with a scarf tied around your neck, naked from the waist down will have the same reaction as someone stumbling into your bedroom only to find you playing Triggerheart Exelica: equal parts revulsion and morbid fascination. It's as if there are no thrills left and the only thing that can sate your slavering thirst for more is a solid 20 minutes of bullet hell. That's not to say that anyone who enjoys a good shmup is depraved, it just feels like a sort of masochism. Each shmup prides itself on being ridiculously difficult and fast, screen filled with bullets and music pumping loudly. It's enough to give any sane gamer a seizure. But this genre thrives, fueled by the frothing demand of crazy people all over the world. Bullets litter the screen in an intricate array, one hit and your character (or ship or whatever) explodes. Enemies keep coming at you as the bullets fly, and eventually you get to a boss who is so ridiculous you wonder how anyone could defeat it without getting hit once. This is where the true appeal of the shmup lies: replaying, memorizing and concentrating until perfection. Triggerheart adds a grappling hook of sorts to the formula, which allows you to capture enemies and swing them around you like a hammer toss, removing any bullets in its path. Which is neat. Grappling hooks are neat!

Triggerheart's main failing is the length of it's story mode. It's short. It literally took me about 20 minutes to play the game to completion. There are two separate anime robot-girl-thing characters you can utilize, each with their own shot pattern and, I assume, their own storyline which may stretch your experience a bit. I say I assume because I didn't have the patience to pay attention to the incredibly generic and melodramatic plotline. Something about someone stealing something from someone else and they are mad about it and then someone sacrifices themselves to save the other person. And then a lot of explosions, and maybe some credits with birds flying over the horizon. You don't play shmups for the story, though. You play them for the ability to wow anyone watching with your bullet-dodging skills. At 800 Microsoft points I can see this being a worthwhile purchase for anyone who wants a nice introduction into the bullet hell class of games, but if you download Triggerheart Exelica hoping for anything but the exact same shmup you can find anywhere else, you'll be sorely disappointed.

Triggerheart Exelica also has the interesting history of being a port of an arcade game, which was ported to the Sega Dreamcast in 2007. That's right, it was released for the Dreamcast in 2007, which shows that system's tenacity to say the least. Sad or awesome? I'll leave that up to you.

Score: 3/5 A fun but short shoot-em-up with a generic plot and okay graphics.

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Freelance Review: Lost: Via Domus

lostviadomus.jpgToday's freelance review comes from Weekly Geek community member and all around-awesome guy Thousandneedles. Want to send in your own freelance review of a game we haven't covered yet? Drop us a line.

Lost. A word that either causes hearts to flutter, or eyes to be rolled. For some, the mysteries and suspense have gripped their very souls and leave them scouring the works of forgotten philosophers and Stephen King novels, for others the ever-hanging questions and holding back of information has them tearing their hair out. So when it was announced that there'd be a Lost game with a look into the mythos behind the stories everyone should be happy, right? Here's our chance to explore the island for ourselves and see what's really going on! Well, yes and no. Let's flash back.

For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past four years or so, Lost follows the adventures of a group of plane-wreck survivors who find themselves on a seemingly deserted island with little to no chance of rescue. The game sees you playing one of these survivors, but with a slight twist – amnesia! Yes, this soap opera staple has the main character discovering his past along with the player which actually adds to the experience, helping to fit the show's signature flashback style. In fact, the game is broken up into several "episodes", complete with "Previously on Lost" v/o and titles. It's a decision that can initially grate, as playing 10 minutes of the game only to have it repeated back to you seems unnecessary. However, treating the game as episodes of the show helps to build a little dramatic tension, and really ties the game to the show. But let's face it, people won't be getting this game to learn more about their character, they'll want to know the secrets the island holds. And I have to admit the game delivers. A little.

The game plays as a very casual survival-adventure, with your character pursuing his own agenda which tangentially crosses with the show at certain points. Need a laptop battery? Go find Locke at the hatch. Need some dynamite? Head to the Black Rock. And it's in showing these locations that the game performs well. The locations are spot on from the show, and it's definitely interesting to be able to explore the Swan station for yourself. Some locations even give more information than in the show, which is a huge plus for fans of the show wanting to squeeze as much as they can from the game. The story is interesting, with several twists, and Lost fans are going to find a lot to enjoy from the added history. The gameplay however, has several flaws.

For whatever reason, most of the characters are not voiced by the cast of the show. Some (Jack, Kate) are more tolerable than others, some (Hurley, Michael) are wrong enough to snap you out of the game a little. It's a problem that's made all the more noticeable when you encounter one of the few (Sun, Claire, Ben – thank goodness) voiced by one of the cast. After listening to Charlie's bizarre Oliver-Twist-esque accent however, players will end up happy that interactions with the cast are kept to a minimum.

Getting by on the island requires trading items with select members of the cast to gain vital supplies, except that you don't really need half the objects you're given. You don't need to talk to most of the cast outside of quest-related conversation (the entire "inventory" category in the dialogue is completely unnecessary for every character you meet). Even when you get a gun there's barely any situations where you need to use it. The problem is, this game is just too easy. There's little challenge in either figuring out where to go or what to do when you get there, and while Lost fans will appreciate more about the locations and take their time exploring there's not enough to hold anyone looking for a real puzzle. If you're playing on the Xbox 360 (as I was) it's also possible to get every achievement easily on your first time through the game, and still finish in one 7-8 hour sitting.

Score: 3/5. Fans of the show will no doubt want to pick this up. It's not a bad game by any means and the story is interesting, with little backstory not seen in the show. It's great to see the locations from the show, and conspiracy theorists will no doubt be scratching their heads again. It lacks any kind of replay value, however, and is almost painfully short. Good for a rental.

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Review: Advance Wars: Days of Ruin (DS)

Advance Wars: Days of Ruin.jpg
Today we meet a brand-new member of The Weekly Geek family. She is an experienced writer and The Weekly Geek's business manager. As a gamer who has just recently been inaugurated into the "hardcore" ranks, I believe she is going to provide a new perspective that is refreshing in this world of cookie-cutter game reviews and news. She hates the girl-gamer stereotype and is currently forming a vast army to rid the world of cliché Please welcome Jinny to The Weekly Geek! -- Chris

Strategy games, being the games of my people, have always held a special place in my heart. What self-respecting Korean doesn’t remember the countless nights of playing Starcraft until the sun comes up? Advance Wars: Days of Ruin is quickly becoming my Starcraft, as I play it twice daily during my lengthy bus commute. Having been so engrossed in my battles against the Lazurian army, I’ve almost missed my stop on numerous occasions. This being said, I normally suck at video games. I don’t play video games because I’m good at them, but because of the immense joy they bring me. If you’re looking for a review of this game that cites plotlines from previous versions, compares gameplay with the introduction of new units, and refers to a buttload of gaming history, these are the reviews for you. I’m hoping to bring you a fresher perspective because I am literally the new kid on this figurative block.

Days of Ruin is the first in the series that I have had the pleasure to play, but fear not, because your dutiful servant has done some research on the previous games for adequate background. Thanks, Wikipedia, even if you are run by the ‘Lord of the Universe.’ From what I understand, the game introduces an entirely new set of characters. Will, our protagonist, wakes to find most of the world annihilated. While he is anxiously scouring the area for other survivors, he encounters The Beast and his minions, who threaten to kill him. Good fortune is soon bestowed upon Will, as Captain Brenner, leader of the 12th battalion (aka Brenner’s Wolves), and his second-in-command, Lin, come to his rescue. I found myself fully engaged in the first battle despite its ease. Upon completion, Brenner and Lin inform Will about the disastrous meteor and how it caused a dark cloud of dust to block out the sun entirely. Having taken notice of the gaming community’s sensitivity to spoilers, I will not “give away” any more of the plot, but it is meaty and delicious. Enjoy! If you’re really that curious, you can read about it here. Let it be known that I wasn’t the culprit who corrupted your virgin eyes because everything I have said happens in the first 10 minutes.

The game is friggin’ HARD! When I finally got to the 11th level (26 levels total), I found myself failing miserably and having to replay each level at least twice to be successful. I beat level 14 by the skin of my teeth and experienced the most epic battle between my G-boat and an enemy G-boat. My strategy? Starve them out! I destroyed all their rigs so enemy units couldn’t re-supply. Also, it took a while for my itty-bitty brain to figure out that I shouldn’t attack large, menacing tanks with little dudes on bikes. The battle scenes were entertaining to watch and for my first few hours of playtime, I sat through each and every cut scene. I haven’t had much of a chance to delve into the multiplayer aspect of the game because…I have no excuse, especially since local multiplayer games only require one DS game card! Friend codes are not a requirement for online multiplayer because you can play against random challengers. I think, however, I’ll skip getting my ass handed to me by strangers until I hone my skills somewhat.

The tone of the dialog seems a bit too buoyant to deal with the dark subject matter of a post-apocalyptic world. Personally, I think the dialog works to suit Will’s naiveté because he is still, in fact, very much a child. His difficulties with swallowing the travesties of war have led me to question my own moral misgivings on the subject. I'll save that for another post, that is, if Chris ever lets me write again.

With Days of Ruin being the fourth game in the Advance Wars franchise, I wonder if they'll release more titles. I don't have such a big problem with franchises, if they put out a good product and don't rehash the same game with new, fancy packaging as a mere distraction. I'll keep my fingers crossed and get cracking on playing the first three games in the meantime.


Score: 4.5/5
Buy it! Hell, any game that makes use of the word “modicum” should automatically be inducted into some list that exists somewhere comprised of worthwhile games to play. That fact alone is solid enough for this game to stand on its own wordsmith-y legs.

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Review: Rez HD (XBLA)

Thumbnail image for Rez HD screen

Tetsuya Mizuguchi's creations are transcendent. No other game developer has shown such an awareness of what makes games engaging on a base level. He creates whole experiences, such as Lumines, Every Extend Extreme and Rez that tap into a very primal part of our brains. Playing these games gets you into a trance as the sights, sounds and motions (the vibration of the controller and the pressing of the buttons) synchronize. I never had a chance to check out Rez when it was first released for the Dreamcast, and then I only recently picked up the PS2 version. I had heard people talk about the game for quite some time, most notably Gabe from Penny Arcade who used to obsess over the game in various news posts. Rez HD was my first time experiencing this particular world, and I have to say it's pretty crazy amazing.

There are only a few games that I have played in my lifetime that I can say are perfect gaming experiences. It's remarkable to me that out of those few games, most are created by Q? Entertainment. The feeling you get when you experience Rez HD is that of a futuristic Star Fox, but perfected. The gameplay is fairly simple, you move your reticule over enemies and it targets them. Release the button to fire. Stack targets for combo points. What is amazing is the translation of this simple on-rails shooter to complete sensory experience. Your shots fired sync in time to the music, which is synced in time to the vibration of your controller which is synced in time to the vibration of the other controllers surrounding you. That's right, you can use your additional 360 controllers to act as the "Trance vibrator". I found placing controllers behind my back and neck were ideal, helping me focus deeper on the game play experience.

The music is incredible. I could imagine a party being deejayed by someone playing Rez HD on a big projection screen, the music pumping loudly in time. In fact, out of everyone I have shown the game, no one has balked at watching me play. It's a fascinating game to sit and watch and contemplate. There's so much beauty going on all at once, it's difficult to keep track of what is going on at any given time. After about an hour of silence and watching me play, Qais said softly "I love video games". Any game that gets you to reaffirm your love of the medium is completely worthwhile. I am excited to see how else Mizuguchi is going to enrich our gaming experiences in the future.

Score: 5/5 An essential game that will reaffirm your love of the medium. A true work of art.

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Review: No More Heroes

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The Weekly Geek would like to introduce Hampson Bonerman, guest writer and No More Heroes enthusiast. If you have a review you'd like to share with The Weekly Geek, email us at mailbag@weeklygeekshow.com.

No More Heroes should belong to every Wii owner who considers themselves a gamer. I wasn't aware of who Suda 51 was when I bought it, having skipped the Gamecube and subsequently Killer7, so I didn't really have that good of an idea what I was in for.

You play as Travis Touchdown; slacker, otaku, and wrestling fan. Having won a used beam katana in an internet auction, you find yourself strapped for cash. What's an almost-Kaneda's bike driving, morally bankrupt, moe loving guy supposed to do? I hear the assassination business pays pretty well.

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Review: Parappa The Rapper (PSP)

Parappa for the PSP box artBesides the fact that I have a hard time spelling "rhythm" (where are your vowels, man!), I've always been a huge fan of rhythm games. To me, music is always an integral part of the gameplay experience; not only does it set the mood it gives you a prompt to feel nostalgic if you listen to it outside of the game itself. To this day if I listen to Terra's Theme from Final Fantasy 6 I am taken back. Wistfully I start to recall my room at my dad's house, huddled in front of my small television and absorbing every small detail of that world. I can remember the way the air smelled that summer. I can remember the ambient noise of lawns being mowed outside, while I chose to stay indoors and play video games. I can remember my dad getting angry that I didn't want to play outside like a normal kid. When I hear a song from the Playstation 1 classic Parappa The Rapper, I am taken back to when I got my first job, and my first paycheck. I'd go to the game store attached to the nearby Hollywood video and play demos for hours, debating what I should spend my hard earned retail-slaving cash on. I didn't own a Playstation at the time (I was an N64 guy) but I played a hell of a lot of Parappa at those demo stations. I loved the art style - so clever and unique for its time. The music was catchy and full of humor. It was just so completely different from any other game on the system at the time.

Now that I've aged a bit I've started amassing all the old games I never got to own. When I saw that Parappa was being released for the PSP in honor of its 10 year anniversary, I absolutely had to add it to my library. The game is a faithful port - nothing has really changed except for the screen aspect ratio (the PSP being in widescreen). You can do some wireless multiplayer and send a demo to a friend, but the core concept is still the same as it was 10 years ago. You are a cute anthropomorphic puppy-child who finds ways to achieve goals in life through rap. Confidence for talking to girls, a driver's license... all these things in life can be yours as long as you know how to freak and flow at the same time. The controls are simple: press the button displayed on the screen at the proper time to match whoever you are rapping with. Each button is mapped to a different word in the verse. If you press them out of order or too fast, you mess up your song. The more you mess up, the more at risk you are of failing the song. It's a proto-rhythm game that set the standard for Harmonix and Konami to revolutionize the genre with their respective titles.

I am returning to this game after playing through Rock Band, Guitar Hero, Frequency, DDR and Donkey Konga. Each of these games have similar play mechanics: the button you need to press is mapped to an icon and it floats across the screen. Hit the button at the right time to the beat of the music in order to win. So why is Parappa all of a sudden so maddeningly difficult? It literally took me three or four tries to get past the intro level.

I had to re-map my thinking of how the rhythm game works. I was used to a more logical approach, as Harmonix utilizes in Rock Band. The "notes" on the screen are mapped to sounds that make sense. Move your fingers to a lower button on the fretboard of your guitar and it usually makes a lower sound. Hit the red drum pad mapped to the snare, and you make a snare drum sound. In Parappa it's completely different. You have no idea what Parappa is going to say until you press the button (or if you are familiar with the song already). This was very disjointed for me. I always pressed the buttons too soon or too late, causing Parappa to sound like some sort of anthropomorphic puppy-child suffering from Tourette's.

I found it fascinating that my mind couldn't figure it out. "I am good at video games!" I told myself. "I even run a website about them!" This didn't bolster my confidence by any means. Master Chop Chop Onion Head Guy Man Dude kept telling me that I suck and should probably die in a fire (I am paraphrasing, here). It eventually required me failing a verse, and then learning from that failure. There was almost literally no way for me to predict the notes coming, and they just came too fast for my mind to process. This trial and error style of game play proved frustrating, but isn't that what video game nostalgia is all about? We often return to games we used to love as kids and find them vastly more difficult than we remember. We each have our own individual time line of growth as gamers, and going back to the front of the line can be fascinating, maddening and ultimately rewarding. It's like having a high school diploma, going to college, graduating college, and then trying to go back and taking a high school algebra class. Except a lot more fun. Unless you really like math, I guess.

Parappa the Rapper for the PSP stays true to the original for better or worse. I still get that swelling feeling of nostalgia when I hear the soundtrack and I enjoy having the ability to look back every once in a while at what used to be the pinnacle of innovation and quirky, different game play. If you've never played Parappa and are a fan of the current lineup of games that make you press a button in time with music, grab this version. It's neat to see where it all came from.

Score: 3/5 A classic that's interesting to nostalgia fans, but falls short of current-gen rhythm games.

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Review: Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law (PS2)

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Here ye, here ye, The Weekly Geek Court is in session for a gimmicky video game review from a lazy editor. The Right Honorable Judge Mack presiding over the case The Weekly Geek vs. Harvey Birdman: Attorney at law. The charges include game hackery, over-simplicity, and lack of gameplay. Both sides will present their evidence after a brief recess.

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Review: Fire Emblem - Radiant Dawn (Wii)

fire_emblem.jpgFire Emblem, Japan's darling 17 year old RPG/RTS series (finally sailing to North America on the GBA in 2003), has stepped into the next-gen with an appearance on the Wii: Fire Emblem - Radiant Dawn. My first 10 minutes with this title were impressive - a gorgeously designed menu system lead me into the first chapter of the story - an incredible cut-scene offering some of the best visuals I've seen on the Wii. I was introduced to the game's central character, Micaiah, "the silver-haired maiden" and her pet bird. But before you go thinking I fell in love with an RTS that isn't Age of Empires or Final Fantasy Tactics, hit the jump.

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Review: GripShift (Xbox 360)

GripShift_XBLA_006.jpgThere's a lot to like about GripShift. Its quirky design aesthetic, the bizarre level design, and the high flying stunt driving. Unfortunately the fun gets bogged down by repetition and a generic racing mode. Originally released for the PSP in 2005, GripShift has made the transition to Live Arcade with a few additions as well as a few things left out. The original game had, according to the website, over 100 levels as well as online multi-player and a level builder. The live version features hi-def graphics as well as some new even more impossible levels and a brand new deathmatch mode. Unfortunately the developers chose to discard the level editor, which would have been a welcome bit of variety.

The Single-Player portion of the game is broken up into Race Mode and Challenge Mode. Challenge Mode is the real meat of the single player campaign and could best be described as a platformer with cars. The missions take the form of increasingly complex obstacle courses that range from incredibly simple to physically impossible. This mode is fun for a while, and every map has three different objectives to accomplish. These objectives are completing the track with a fast finishing time, collecting every star on the map, and finding the hidden GripShift icon. These objectives never change from the first map to the last. It's impossible to accomplish every single objective in one run which means that in order to complete everything you'll have to run the mission several times. At the beginning this isn't really as issue because the maps take about 30 seconds to run. However the later missions can take several minutes to complete which means that it can take up a huge amount of time.

The race mode, in both single and multiplayer, is a rather generic kart racer. Basically the game cribs from Mario Kart in every respect. All the fun off-roading that made the Challenge Mode so much fun is explicitly discouraged. Instead of soaring over the heads of your opponents you'll mostly be trying to blow them up with rockets. Whereas the Challenge portion has a huge variety of quirky maps, the Race portion has only a few rather generic maps. As is often the problem with some Live Arcade titles, whenever I tried to find an online match nobody else seemed to be on. Consequently I wasn't able to try the deathmatch mode, but I've played the rumble mode in Mario Kart, so I'm probably not missing much.

Final Score: 2.5/5 Ultimately the little flaws keep piling up until they overwhelm and strangle the fun out of the game. If you've got too much money and absolutely need to play a new game right now, there are worse ways to spend your money. But you should probably save your points and buy some Rock Band DLC.

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Review: Contra 4 (DS)

Contra 4 screenBack in my day, our video game console playing machines only had 8 bits! If we were lucky! We had to walk up a hill both ways through the snow just to get to a store that even sells video games! Most stores just sold chalk, and that's how we liked it! Kids these days, they just don't know what true video gaming is all about! Why, back in my day when we played Contra, we got our asses handed to us and we liked it. Hey! You over there! Pay attention! Get off my lawn! Etc! So forth! Old people words! Contra 4 for the DS reminds me of the glory days, back when games taught you a lesson! None of this Super Mario doodad shootin' Wii remote shakin' bull honky. That's right, I said bull honky! No, video games need to be hard core! Video games need to hate you with every fiber of their being! Even if they don't require quarters to operate anymore, they need to act like they are sucking you dry of every last cent you own! Contra 4 is just as punishing as I remember the series ever being, with a ton of additions that make me all warm and fuzzy inside. Ahh, nostalgia. Those were the days...

It's Contra's 20th anniversary, can you believe it? After a long string of horrible sequels, Konami along with WayForward technologies decided to un-crap the crapfest that had ensued over the past two decades with a return to the classic. Contra 4 is nostalgia pandering at it's best. Imagine the SNES heyday, when every game seemed the most polished piece of artistic perfection you had ever seen. The games themselves compelled you to complete them, just to experience the whole thing. Landscapes are pixellated masterpieces, animations are crisp and smooth, and the music is driving and cheesy, just like you remember it. Contra 4 wants to be the definitive version in the series, and arguably it is. Few things have changed about the controls: they are just as tight as the original, with the addition of a grappling hook to reach the top DS screen. The grappling hook feels like it's always been in the series, which is a great credit to the developers. They did a fantastic job.

The 20th anniversary brings us not only an excellent game in its own right, but unlockable versions of the NES original, along with the sequel Super C. The unlockables just keep coming in the form of playable characters, art galleries and even an interview with the creator.

It's interesting to me to play this game right after completing Super Mario Galaxy. Both are incredibly nostalgic feeling to me. Both tackle this nostalgia in different ways. While Super Mario Galaxy holds your hand on a guided tour of a familiar setting, Contra sticks to the formula. One hit kills you, and you only have a couple lives. Run out of lives and you only have a couple continues to progress with. Lose all your continues and start over. It's true that video games are too easy these days, and Contra proves it. It's on par with the difficulty level of the NES original, which is to say it is an incredible challenge. Sure, you may play a game from this generation and call it a challenge, but you are pretty much assured to complete the game. Even on easy mode Contra 4 is difficult. That's not to say it isn't any fun, it's the kind of difficulty that compels you to try harder. Just like the original, you can even bring a friend to join in your suffering (though your friend needs a copy of Contra as well).

The art is fantastic, the music is nostalgic, and the new boss battles are inventive and exciting. The massive amount of unlockables and extra games brings replay value to a new high, and for my money you can't get any more fun than getting horribly mangled in Contra.

And yes, you can use the code.

Score: 5/5 The best Contra yet, and a jewel in the DS crown.

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Review: Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)

Mario in fiery space

Nintendo had a lot riding on Super Mario Galaxy. Super Smash Bros Brawl had been pushed back to 2008, and the Wii really didn't seem to have any other strong titles coming out this season (maybe because it doesn't.) Nintendo as a rule puts a ton of effort into their first party properties, and after the critically and commercially unsuccessful Super Mario Sunshine (for the record, a game I greatly enjoy) and myriad watered-down sports titles featuring the mustachioed mascot Super Mario Galaxy had to be a success. Now, if you define success by fantastic game play, inventive and imaginative levels, beautiful music and a refreshing joyful experience, then Super Mario Galaxy is definitely successful.

There are some flaws, sure. The Wii motion controls are as tacked-on as any Wii game; never really adding to the immersion and always feeling like a hindrance. Whoever thought it was a good idea to remove the precision of pressing a button to attack and replacing it with sporadically-working waggle controls should be seriously talked to. I found in a few areas the challenge in Super Mario Galaxy lies in actually getting Mario to do what you want him to do. You'll accidentally get knocked off platforms or jump when you didn't want to so much you'll want to pull your hair out. Luckily, the second player can actually make you do a short hop if they click on you, so there's that added area of frustration if you have friends who are also jerks (I am looking at you, Qais.) The star bits feel a bit like a half-baked idea, an afterthought that was added to allow the second player to feel useful. And that's alright. The second player controls make it so that someone who would otherwise just be sitting and watching can actually do stuff. Any time co-op is added to a game I am a fan.

The voice acting is strange and often ridiculous. Nintendo has always had an aversion to voice acting, but the half-assed voice acting in Super Mario Galaxy makes the game feel slightly dated. Good thing there's very little plot, I guess? It's not a big concern. No one plays Mario games for the storyline.

What Super Mario Galaxy does right is bring back the joyful feeling of playing video games for me. I remember playing Super Mario Bros. 3 for the very first time on Christmas morning the year it came out. I spent the next three days playing through it non-stop. Absorbing the world, the characters, the music. Through the majority of Super Mario Galaxy I was grinning ear-to-ear. Mario in a bee suit? Yes, please. Is he adorable? Only the most adorable Mario ever. The level design feels brand-new, yet it evokes previous Mario games perfectly.

I won't go over the plot with you. I won't give you a run down of how many worlds there are, or how many stars you have to collect in order to defeat Bowser. These are things that are best left to you to discover. Just know that the game is completely worth it, and that discovery is part of the joyful experience the game provides. Compared to Super Mario 64, it's a bit linear in places. There aren't really any big hub-worlds for you to roam around and get stars at your own pace. You can choose which levels you want to visit with the different observatories, and there's a ton of replay value in going through and collecting all the stars, getting a high score for coins or star bits, or just sort of messing about in the fantastic worlds Nintendo has created for you. It's the same Mario you've come to know and love, and the same Mario formula Nintendo is going to feed to you for decades to come. Princess gets kidnapped by Bowser, Mario has to fight Bowser. Bosses take three hits to defeat. Rinse and repeat. Is it fresh and new? Not that aspect, no. But what Super Mario Galaxy does right refreshes the tired formula enough to make it feel comfortable, not uncreative.

Is it a system-seller? The Wii pretty much sells itself, but adding Super Mario Galaxy to the mix makes it a little bit more worthwhile. Unfortunately I see Nintendo repeating history here: a set of absolutely fantastic first party titles released at about 3 to 6 month intervals throughout the life cycle of their current system. As long as said titles are of Super Mario Galaxy caliber, I think I am ok with that.

Score: 4/5. An instant classic Wii title, vital to any collection.

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Review: Assassin's Creed (Xbox 360)

Assassin's Creed screenshotWho among us hasn't wanted to slip silently across the rooftops over the heads of patrolling guards, slipping a dagger between the ribs of an unsuspecting stranger before disappearing into the crowd. Reasonable, well-adjusted people probably. But since none of them read this website, they won't be a problem. For the rest of us, Assassin's Creed is a game that fulfills all our childhood fantasies of anonymous surreptitious murder.

Lots of talking and not nearly enough stabbing after the jump.

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Review: Rock Band

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Fuck Guitar Hero, you'll never need to play it again. In fact you should probably be playing Rock Band right now.

Score: 6/5 WHY AREN'T YOU PLAYING ROCK BAND WHY ARE YOU STILL READING THIS GO PLAY ROCK BAND

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Review: Call of Duty 4 (Xbox 360)

Call of Duty 4 boxWe seem to be kind of migrating away from the traditional format of reviews and so I think I'll just go with this one as it flows. Call of Duty 4 is the latest installment from Activision's popular war-based FPS series. Deciding that they've done enough of World War II, they have moved to a modern, current day setting. Rather than fighting around Europe, you'll be shooting people in Generic Middle Eastern Country.

Full review after the jump.

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Review: Mass Effect (Xbox 360)

Mass Effect

BioWare, arguably Canada's premier studio - riding on the back of popular PC titles like Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights - has become something of a dividing force in the gaming industry. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, their entrance into the console arena, was a mixed bag. Some praised its dialog and character development features. Others grew tired of the repetitive, passive battle system. The much heralded Mass Effect, I believe, will unify the rival parties under the banner of a complete science fiction, role-playing experience. Hit the jump to find out why.

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Review: Switchball (XBox 360)

switchball.jpgAs I sit down to write the review for Switchball, I've been trying to remember what the normal criteria for reviews are here at the Weekly Geek. But for the life of me, I can't remember what they are so I'm just going to wing it and make up my own. Also there will probably be a lot of references to "balls" and statements that might seem funny taken out of context, but I urge you to rise above it.

Synopsis: In Switchball you guide a ball through 36 levels up puzzles. The game gets its name from the little stations throughout the game that allow you to change your ball into another form in order to solve tasks. The majority of the game involves having the right ball for the job and most puzzles involve several different balls.

Neophyte Friendliness
: Switchball has an integrated tutorial feature that whisks you through the first couple of levels with frequent hints about all the new objects that your balls will run in to. After a while the messages peter out, but make brief appearances as more things are introduced. The game has plenty of new contraptions to torment you but it doesn't throw them at you faster than you can it. By the time you reach the final stages you should be able to keep your balls away from the various traps and tricks.

Responsiveness: The controls handle pretty well, and are very simple. The left analog moves the ball, the right analog moves the camera, and A is your action button. That's it. Sometimes the heavier balls can feel less responsive, but this is to be expected.

Shininess: Here the game excels. Everything has a nice feel to it. I played the majority of the game zoomed out as far as I could but when I needed to get in close to my balls for more tricky maneuvers, I was not disappointed. However this added graphical detail had a downside...

Frustratingness: Honestly this is one of the more frustrating games I've played this year, but it was never the level design. Unfortunately it was mainly due to the art design. Although beautiful, ornamental polygons caused more than a couple careens off in to the abyss. It's very disheartening to pull off a tricky and complex puzzle only to have to start completely over because your ball took a bad bounce off a little nubby thing on a moving platform near the end. Several times I put the game down for the day because little bits of geometry were making it impossible to progress. Near the end of the game the puzzles become incredibly long, time sensitive ordeals that involve essentially completing the entire level in one go. At one point the game refused to recognize checkpoints that I have to admit that I didn't not complete the last two levels because after my 10th or so try in the second to last I just gave up on it.

Multiplayerosity: I could never connect to a multiplayer game so I can't comment on that portion of it.

Replayability: The game kept me pretty entranced for most of it, but the later levels sapped my energy with the constant restarting of puzzles. I can't say that I would play it often, but it kept me entertained for a few hours.

Worthiness: If you love puzzles and you don't mind a challenge, you can have a lot of fun with Switchball. If you're easily frustrated or low on brainpower I'd save your money.

And remember, if you notice a sudden change in your ball, please see a physician immediately.

Okay, that one was a bit gratuitous.

Score: 3/5 Check out the demo, and if you like it snap it up. Also snap into a Slim Jim™.

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Review: Guitar Hero III (Xbox 360)

gh3_360_box.jpgGuitar Hero is the story of a franchise in the process of being brutally milked for all its worth. It's what they call a phenomenon, reaching official meme status now with its appearance on South Park, and tournaments now being held in Hot Topic stores around the nation. The original two titles in the series were much loved, and then when the third game was announced without stellar developer Harmonix attached, we got a bit worried. Harmonix moved on to bigger and better things (Rock Band being at the very least bigger) and left Activision's Neversoft studios at the reins. Neversoft is better known as the Tony Hawk developer, which caused even more worry. Were they going to water down Guitar Hero and make it as stale as the Tony Hawk series is now? Neversoft even had to remake the game engine since Harmonix owned the rights. Lucky for us, all our fears were completely unfounded: Guitar Hero III is the best in the series, and some of the most fun you can ever have with a fake plastic guitar. The strange pseudo-rivalry going on between Guitar Hero and Rock Band is even starting to feel a bit silly; the games are completely different. They are no longer trodding on the same territory, and the avid gamer can feel good about owning both games, and getting value out of each.

Guitar Hero III, in my opinion, has the best song selection in the series yet. In what I assume was an effort to match the quality of the song list in Rock Band, Activision has really stepped up the licensing to bring tons of master tracks and really high quality songs to Guitar Hero. Not only are tracks like Guns n Roses' Welcome to the Jungle and Muse's Knights of Cydonia completely rad, but all the songs feel more fun to play somehow. It's like they perfected the art of mapping the buttons in a manner that makes you feel more like you are actually influencing the course of the song. Hitting the notes is slightly more forgiving than previous titles in the series as well, with hammer-ons and pull-offs simplified. Don't let that fool you, however. This game is hard. Guitar Hero III has a serious vendetta against your wrists, and after playing a couple songs even on medium difficulty you'll know what I mean.

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Review: Word Puzzle (XBLA)

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Word Puzzle is the next game in a long series of XBLA titles that no one is really going to care about. What is the reason for this mediocrity? I'd say Lazy presentation, lack of any compelling game play and incredibly generic title would probably be a good place to start. The concept is simple: you are in some sort of South American jungle looking at Mayan (Aztec?) ruins and you have to solve word puzzles. It's your generic word find, where a list is given to you, and you must find the word on a field of letters, whether it be printed backwards (crazy!), forwards (too easy!) or diagonal (indigestion!). If Word Puzzle had JUST this formula, maybe it would be a tolerable game, but since it's on Xbox Live Arcade it supposedly has to be extreme and give you a horrendous 3d puzzle board to work with. You have your standard viewing area like in any puzzle video game, but inside this area is an even smaller area that moves at slight angles to give the effect of 3d. It doesn't add anything to the game, and in fact makes it incredibly less efficient than if they decided to not fancy anything up. The camera sometimes takes too long to catch up with your cursor, which is frustrating for a time-based game.

Don't worry too much about losing, though. Because you won't. The game is hand-holding at its worst with the first letter of a word highlighted on the board already for you. It's impossible to notice unless you were trying to lose on purpose. Which I did because I got so bored I didn't want to play any more. There is seemingly no goal to Word Puzzle, I could hardly tell if I had completed the tutorial or not. There's no level structure or numbering system, you just play and find words until you don't. How long or how short that time period is up to you.

Most of this game just feels like a half-assed attempt at getting good-intentioned people to download a crappy game by mistake. The word sets don't even provide anything compelling besides finding weird and slightly offensive words that seemed to have slipped through the quality control cracks. In my first game, I got the words "schmeg" and "jewfish". Seriously. One of these is disgusting and the other feels slightly racist. Either way I wrote a letter to my congressman. I am highly offended. The next game I got "underrotated" and "futz". I refuse to believe that those are actual words, and therefore I refuse to find them. And if I wasn't already offended by the word selection (using "NYC" as a word is a crime in of itself) the music won the "most annoying music in a video game ever" award, with its inspirational and sweeping Lion King-esque score. I imagine writing a soundtrack for a puzzle game is a challenge; you have to write something that won't make people stab themselves in the face after hearing your song twenty times over. The person who scored Word Puzzle failed, and now has blood on his hands.

Worthiness? There is none. If your grandma has an Xbox 360 and you are somehow trying to get her brain stimulated again after a coma, maybe Word Puzzle would be good for that. Maybe you could coordinate some sort of odd prank on a friend by downloading Word Puzzle to his account and getting all the achievements for him, just to have that mar up their Gamercard. Who knows, man. I don't recommend it, not by a long shot.

Jewfish? Seriously?

Score: 1/5 Skip it!

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Review: Flipper Critters for Nintendo DS

Flipper Critters for the Nintendo DSFlipper Critters is a pinball style game with storyline, mini-games, puzzles, and quests. Sounds pretty promising, eh? I certainly thought so. I was looking forward to seeing what the game had to offer.

Shininess: I’ll come right out and say it. Flipper Critters is definitely lacking in shininess. It looks like they tried to duplicate the art style in Animal Crossing and failed. It is no where near the same quality. It’s grainy and jagged where it isn’t blurry. As far as the music is concerned, the soundtrack reminds me of the “build mode” music from the Sims: generic, upbeat, elevator, background music.

Funness: The controls for Flipper Critters are relatively simple. The L button or control pad controls the left flipper and the R button or the A, B, X, or Y button controls the right flipper. The stylus is also used to raise ramps, lower fences, remove obstacles, etc. However, there is no mention of using the stylus for this purpose in the instruction booklet. I played for a long time, frustrated that I couldn’t get anywhere, until I figured it out myself. It can be difficult to use the stylus to remove an obstacle while your ball is in motion and then hit the appropriate flipper button. I found myself using my thumbnail most of the time.

Flipper Critters has a storyline, I think. In the beginning there is something about your friend, Bull, being sad and having to save him. But before you can save him, you have to help other friends, and so on. The dialog is dull and doesn’t always make sense. Luckily, you can skip most of the conversations if you wish. As you play the game, characters will say stuff that you either completely miss because you are focused on the game or you read and lose track of your ball. You really shouldn’t have to choose between game content and game progression.

The mini-games are only available after you win them in Story Play mode. This is one thing that really annoys me in games. You can’t just sit down and play for fun. You have to advance through Story Play mode if you want to unlock the mini-games and pinball levels in Fun Play mode. Guess what? I got stuck in Story Play, so I have one level and zero mini-games playable in Fun Play. That makes Fun Play not so fun.

Flipper Critters can be downright frustrating. The “puzzle” aspect is figuring out how to accomplish the next quest objective. Most of the time I could only figure it out through trial and error, whacking the ball around and seeing what happened. Then came the “fun” of trying to place the ball exactly where it had to go in order to advance. I truly feel the accuracy and skill needed to fulfill the quest objectives and progress is beyond the average player and, especially, the target audience of children (based on the cartoon styling, E for Everyone rating, and $14.99 retail price).

Worthiness: Would I recommend Flipper Critters? Only to a die hard pinball fan who must play every game available. Would I recommend it for anyone else? No. It’s too hard for kids and uninteresting, when it’s not frustrating, for everyone else.

Score: 1/5 Run away!

Are you a die hard pinball fan? You can find Flipper Critters in our store!

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Review: Mercury Meltdown Revolution for Wii

MMRcover.jpgOverview: Mercury Meltdown Revolution is the third in a series of games that started with Archer Maclean’s Mercury on PSP. This incarnation appears on the Wii and takes advantage of the Wiimote’s motion sensitivity to control your little blob of mercury. Along the same spirit of Marble Madness, MMR is an actiony puzzle game where you have to guide an coagulated ball of mercury around various levels filled with various traps, tricks, and mazes. Oh, and did I mention it’s a budget title? Let’s see if it’s worth your 20 bucks.

Shininess: Being on the Wii, it’s not gonna be the super duper bright and shiny that you might find on the 360. But also being a basic puzzle game instead of an experiment on theoretical physics or a nightmare survival in a submerged steampunk dystopia, it doesn’t really need them new-fangled grafficks that all the kids want. Obviously, if it was on the 360, it’d look sharper, but the game doesn’t suffer for not being so. In other words, the graphics are good enough, but nothing to write home about. Though the way the blob of mercury rolls around and pools against walls is pretty nifty.
The game also has a quirky little soundtrack. Again, nothing to blow your mind, but it’s pretty good. At the very least, it’s not repetitive and irritating which can happen sometimes in lesser known puzzle games.

Funness: I was looking forward to trying out this game, since I love Marble Madness so much, but I was not terribly optimistic. I wasn’t sure how much more they could do with rolling something around a maze. As it turns out, there’s actually quite a bit more they can do with it. There are lots of traps and other interactive objects that give it more depth than just another maze game. I couldn’t tell you for sure how many of these have appeared in the previous games in the series, so I’m going to approach them as if they’re new because they’re new to me.

MMRbluegreen.jpgThe main mechanism that I find the most interesting is the color changing. You can roll your little blob into paint sprays that will change its color. There are various gates and pressure switches that will only react if your mercury is the correct color. Sometimes, you’ll have to force your blob to hit a corner and split up into two pieces, make one hit a red spray and one hit a blue spray and then bring them back together to make purple. It’s pretty fun.

Because your blob can split up, just falling over the edge and losing isn’t that simple. If you happen to barely catch yourself right before you’re gonna fall, you might lose some of your mercury, but not all of it and still be able to finish the level. Of course, some levels require you to have a certain amount left in order to activate certain switches and you get more points for saving more when you finish.
There are lots of various obstacles to get in your way, things that push you, things that suck you in, things that blow you up into the air, and things that splatter you. There really is quite a wide variety in this game, so I have yet to run into a level that feels like I’m doing the same thing as another. The game is quite challenging without being annoyingly so.

MMRblob.jpgWorthiness: I honestly think this game is a little gem in the Wii’s library that lots of people are probably going to miss. I’m enjoying it quite a bit. On top of having 150+ levels to go through, there is some replay value in each if you go back and try to get a perfect score on each level by collecting all the bonus icons and trying to make it to the exit point with every drop of your mercury. And you get bonus points for doing it within a certain amount of time. The game also has some unlockable mini-games that are more about survival rather than hitting and end goal. They’re kinda fun, but not that big of a deal. If this were a full-priced Wii title, I’d scoff and move on, but it’s not. This game is a budget title and rightfully so. At 20 bucks, I’d say it’s a worthy buy if you’re a fan of puzzle games, and especially if you liked Marble Madness or Super Monkey Ball. If you’re looking for some games to fill out your Wii shelf, this is one of them.

Help support the site by purchasing Mercury Meltdown: Revolution from our store!

Score: 4/5 Buy it!

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Game Review: Every Extend Extra Extreme (Xbox Live Arcade)

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There is no way in hell I can come even close to describing Every Extend Extra Extreme (or E4) as well as Tycho did today, but I will try my best. When I first tried Mizuguchi's Every Extend Extra for the PSP, I was a bit confused. Turned on to the game by its curious cover art (which features a minimalist style with the contours of a woman's face being traced by dripping rainbow strands) and pedigree (Q? Entertainment being the house behind Rez) I was eager to understand its strange, abstract concept. It was presented as a sort of top down space shooter would, like Asteroids or even Geometry Wars. I didn't seem to grasp the idea that there was a sort of rhythm game component, and its lack of a tutorial mode made things even worse. Instead of shooting at enemies, you destroy yourself, your explosive death cascading into passing baddies (I guess they aren't evil per sé, more neutral. Neuties?) which in turn explode and affect things around them. The goal is to get bonuses which extend the ever-counting down timer, and rack up a high chain score.

The Xbox Live Arcade version features the same style of game play, remixed, honed and perfected in gorgeous HD and eargasm inducing 5.1 surround. Remember the first time you played Geometry Wars? Yeah, it feels like that. The experience of the visuals matched with the thumping bass and rumbling controller, with the beat-based combo multipliers and trippy concept is so immersive it feels like a drug trip. One of the good ones. It feels like a game that a scientist would have subjects play while he was dosing a new form of MDMA, with tubes and nodules stick to their faces, their never-blinking eyes watering.

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I still don't ultimately understand it. The game play relies on feelings and interpretation more than anything. I am beginning to understand why they avoided a tutorial, because so much of the experience feels like a learning process. It's intensely abstract but not boringly so. There is a classic arcade-style game beneath the artistic flair, one that I know is going to get a lot of play from me. E4 is available on XBLA now, and I highly recommend it. I was really looking forward to being able to play Rez for the first time when it comes out for XBLA, but now I can't wait.

Score: 5/5 Buy it!

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Freelance Review - Sam and Max: Season One (PC)

Sam and Max

Today's Freelance Review comes from Mack, who is an avid listener and Weekly Geek Gold Star of Courage recipient from 1997-2002 and half of 2003. He has a degree in haberdashery and enjoys playing the ocarina in a German death metal band named Silent Spank. Enjoy.

Back when I was a kid there was a shop a couple blocks from my house where, similar to a video store, they rented out computer software. Even in the savage days before the Internet and bittorrents this was a monumentally stupid idea. Given the incredibly dumb nature of their business model as well as the obvious legal issues, it’s amazing that the store was open long enough for me to work my way through the entire LucasArts adventure game library. It wasn’t that long before I stumbled upon Sam and Max Hit the Road. It was the most difficult adventure game I had ever played (until The Dig came out and redefined the click-everything-until-something-happens model). Finishing S&MHtR before the days of GameFAQs was one hell of an accomplishment. Yet even with its insane difficulty level it remained one of my favorite games to this day, and one that I frequently revisited, though I think I have still only managed to complete it once. So you can imagine how excited I was when I first got my hands on the new Sam and Max game(s), Sam and Max: Season One.

The new Sam and Max is produced by Telltale Games, who previously translated Jeff Smith’s comic masterpiece Bone to the PC. Adding to my ridiculous fan boy slavering was the fact that the games were co-written by Dave Grossman (Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle) and that the development team included many former LucasArts employees.

But enough introductory rambling, on to the rambling review!

Shininess: Top of the line graphics have never really been a concern in adventure games, and Sam and Max: Season One is no different in this regard. The upshot of this is that the game actually runs on my broken-down computer with the graphics on High. The character animation feels a little stiff sometimes, but it isn’t a game-wrecking issue.

Funness: Sam and Max: Season One is a damn fun game in six parts. Over the course of Season One, the duo must foil dastardly plots to take over the world involving washed-up sitcom actors, the mafia, a former president and the entire Internet. The game starts out at ridiculous and by the time you get to the musical number celebrating War as performed by members of the Secret Service in an all-singing-all-dancing extravaganza all bets are officially off. The writing is snappy and so much fun that I would purposefully answer questions wrong just to hear the additional dialog.

Now on to the gripes, of which there are a couple. The difficulty of the first few episodes has been ratcheted WAY down, which makes for less hair-pullingly sadistic puzzles but ultimately may be too easy for some people. The episodic nature of the game means that each individual episode feels very short. Also there are certain repetitive objectives that you will have to accomplish in every episode, and that can get a little tedious.

Worthiness: Don’t let that paragraph of niggling complaints put you off from this game. The individual episodes are available online for $8.95 each or you can get the entire season for $34.95 and if you buy the first one and decide you really like it you can pay the difference and receive the entire season. However if you’re a fan of the brick and mortar stores, Sam and Max: Season One is on store shelves right now (providing you can find a store that still has a PC games section). If you have lamented the death of the adventure game and worried about the future of the genre, you can relax. It’s in good hands.


Help support the site by purchasing Sam & Max: Season One from our store!

Score: 5/5 Buy it now! Digital buy it! Buy it in many forms! Buy it and give it to people you don't even like!

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Review: Portal (Xbox 360)

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While Portal is just 1/5th of Valve's excellent Orange Box, I am reviewing it separately because it deserves it. I am also shaking up the normal review formula we use here at The Weekly Geek because Portal shakes up the way we think about video games. So there.

It's difficult to discuss Portal in any fashion that doesn't reveal spoilers. So I am saying to you right now, don't read this if you haven't played it. If you haven't played it, go pick it up. I am going to say right here in the beginning of the article that it is probably the game of the year. Yes, even over Bioshock. This is a must-own game for anyone who is a fan of fun. It's genuinely hilarious, challenging without being frustrating, and so well-designed and polished I literally cannot come up with any flaws to harp on. Yes, it's that good. Go get it. Got it? Played through it? Good. Hit the jump for my review.

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Review: Fatal Fury Special (XBLA)

fatal_fury.pngFatal Fury is a classic Neo Geo title - one of those crazy arcade games you could take home with you. I remember seeing stuff about Neo Geo as a kid and thinking it was the best thing in the known universe - being able to play a game at the arcade and then having the same experience at home! Without sticky floors or greasy joysticks! Though, being a poor kid I missed out on this obviously mind-blowing experience. I also didn't go to the arcade too often. Fighting games have never really been my thing, and while I casually enjoyed Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat, my expertise never really escaped the realm of button mashing. Fatal Fury almost completely relies on memorization of special move sequences which is the kind of thing that made me want to put my fist through a wall as a kid. There was always that one punk who committed every single special move to memory and would just wipe the floor with you. Now with Fatal Fury Special, you can meet every single one of those jerk kids online and either experience heart-wrenching defeat or join the collective. Isn't Xbox Live grand?

Hit the jump for the full review.

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Review: Ecco The Dolphin (XBLA)

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One in a recent series of Vintage Sega Classics brought back to the Xbox 360, Ecco The Dolphin may give you the pleasure of sonar shooting and dashing-attacking the sea crap out of anything that swims, but it may not stack up against the likes of its old school cousins Sonic the Hedgehog and Golden Axe. Hit the jump to find out why.

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Review: Blue Dragon (Xbox 360)

Blue DragonThere really hasn't been a solid RPG on the Xbox 360 yet (yes, yes besides Oblivion I know ok I know) and Blue Dragon seemed like it would be some sort of oasis in a sea of first person shooters. It sounds so good on paper: Mistwalker studios features Hironobu Sakaguchi (Final Fantasy, anyone?), Nobuo Uematsu on music duty (Final Fantasy, anyone?) and Akira Toriyama on art (Chrono Trigger, Dragon Ball Z, Dragon Quest 8, etc etc etc). While I could do without Toriyama's art, the other stuff seemed a solid lock for a great game. Blue Dragon is formulated perfectly to sell Xbox 360s to Japan. It's a classic Japanese RPG which does very little to change the formula. Is this a good or a bad thing?

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Review - Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s for Playstation 2

gh80s.jpgOverview: Guitar Hero has become the rockin'-est game franchise in pretty much all of video game history. (Though most likely about to be dethroned by Rock Band.) Its simple concept and good times are easily appreciated by all gamers. And now they have a special extra edition that focuses on a specific decade. Rocks the 80s brings a lot of cool hair band and new wave songs to the table, but does it do much else? And does it need to?

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Review: Bioshock (XBOX 360)

bioshockArguably one of the most anticipated titles of the year finally hits the Xbox 360 and PC this week: Bioshock. Whereas other first person shooters have been focusing on multiplayer fragfests, capture the flag and other competitive testosterone-fueled madness, Bioshock perfects the single player formula making the most significant impact on gaming since Half Life 2. I had the privilege of playing the game early, spending my entire weekend probing the inner depths of the underwater city of Rapture. It's a fantastic, mysterious, spooky place - but it's not without its flaws (both metaphorically and physically). We've gushed about Bioshock for months now here at The Weekly Geek, and personally I haven't looked forward to a game this much since the original Metroid Prime on the Gamecube. Simply put Bioshock is one of the few hyper-anticipated games that actually lives up to the hype. I'll try to keep the spoilers low in my gushing review.

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Review - Marathon: Durandal for XBLA

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Overview:
Marathon Durandal is actually the sequel to the original Marathon game released by fan favorite Bungie back in 1994. Marathon 2: Durandal (with the 2 removed for the XBLA version) was released in 1995 as a follow up to the popular Mac FPS. It introduced a few innovations in gameplay and options that have become almost standard among the FPS genre.

You are a nameless, faceless security officer. Durandal, the onboard AI of your ship has transported you to the homeworld of the S’pht (an alien slave race) to find something capable of stopping the Pfhor (the race that had enslaved the S’pht) from invading and/or destroying Earth.

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Review: Missile Command (XBLA)

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Missile command is one of those games you play when you don't have anything else. It's not really a game you hear people raving about. No one is going out and getting retro Missile Command tattoos. It's more of one of those games that comes for free on your computer and you're too poor to buy anything cooler. Though, if you are one of those crazed Missile Command fans, the Xbox Live Arcade version is definitely the one for you. It features pretty menus, photo-realistic landscapes, and a neatly designed interface to update the old classic. It even has driving techno music to keep your blood pumping! Or to annoy you. It's pretty repetitive.

The game features two different versions: the classic arcade version and the "retro evolved" version. Each version has two gameplay modes, a normal and a "throttle monkey" mode, which I imagine is some sort of slang for "whoa this is too fast how can non-augmented humans play this". Personally I find it all boring.

The trouble with reviewing retro games is that they aren't deep enough for an elaborate analysis, and everyone already knows the game anyway. It's Missile Command, but prettier and with achievements. It looks real nice in HD, but there are plenty other better Xbox 360 titles to impress your friends with. Grab it. Or don't.

Score: 3/5 Grab the demo

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Review: Big Brain Academy Wii Degree

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Overview: Ok this one's gonna be fairly short because there's not a whole lot to this game. Nintendo's trying to take its success with casual gaming and thinking puzzles from the DS over to the Wii. Casual gaming is shaping up to be the Wii's bread and butter, so taking Big Brain Academy to it is fairly appropriate. The jist is pretty simple. You register your Mii in the Academy and then do some quick paced brain teasers.

Shininess: Meh, I almost don't even feel the need to bother with this category for this game. It's bright and colorful and has some sounds. Whoopee. It uses the Wiimote's internal speaker a bit more than the average game, but not much. It is kinda quirky, though. You're not doing anything significant with little brain teaser mini-games, so there doesn't even need to be a focus on graphics. They don't look like crap, and that's really all you need.

Funness: This game was fun for me the first time through, but that's it. Once you've got yourself set up with your Mii in the game, there's only a few things you can do. You can do the test, which gives you a brain weight rating and grade based on your performance in the mini-games. The mini-games are in groups of three, categorized as Identify, Memorize, Visualize, Analyze, and Compute. For example: In the Memorize group, you'll be shown a sequence of numbers or sounds or pictures, and then you have to list them back in reverse order. In the Compute group, you will see a group of numbered baloons, and you have to pop them in ascending order. Pretty basic, right? Yup.

If you get bored with the test, you can do the group games, which are just the mini-games arranged in different ways. The Mind Sprint has you race through a set number of challenges, either against another team or against the clock. The Mental Marathon has you do as many challenges as possible in a limited time without missing one. And the Brain Quiz has teams take turns picking challenges from a game board on random difficulties and then you get points on how many you completed.

And that's it. Nothing else to it. That's the entire game.

Worthiness: For people like myself, this game is not worth the money at all. We'll get bored of it very quickly and never pick it up again. The only demographic I can see this being successful with at all would be families with young kids. It's probably a great game for parents to sit down with their grade school children and play a silly thinking game together. If you're really concerned about the games your kids play, this is a good one for them. But they might get bored of it pretty quickly unless you turn it into a family fun night type thing.

Even if you're a part of that demographic, this game should be a budget title, and it's not. 50 clams for Big Brain Academy Wii Degree is very, very stiff. I predict very few people are going to get their money's worth out of this game.

Score: 1/5 Put it down and walk away slowly.

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Review: Mad Tracks (XBLA)

Overview: Today's review is of a quirky new racing game on the Xbox Live Arcade called Mad Tracks. It's a fun little party game where you drive around spring-powered little toy cars. It's got standard races, but also has a variety of other games such as pool and darts that you play with your vehicle. The game was first released in 2006 for the PC, but seems to have found a better home in the Arcade.

Shininess: The graphics in Mad Tracks aren't anything spectacular, but they are spiffy enough for a quick'n'dirty little XBLA game. Everything seems to flow well and looks nice enough for a game that takes all of 10 seconds to download.

The music is also pretty minimal, but the few mellow lounge-ish, jazz-ish numbers play in the background help make it nice and relaxing.

Funness: Mad Tracks is actually quite fun, for a while. The format of toy cars racing and also doing odd missions or bar games is a nice departure from both the standard race car games and party mini-game games. The single player has a good variety of games with different objectives and goals to get gold, silver, or bronze medals on different difficulty levels. It gives the game a nice collectables aspect. You've got basic races, but there are also games where you have to push a golf ball around a mini-golf course to get into the hole first, drive around on a foosball table to score goals, or just try to push the other cars off a dining room table. The variety will keep you entertained and the Achievements will make you want to go back and try to better your score on each game. Oh, there are also various wacky power-up items like rockets, freeze rays, and EMPs.

There is also an online multi-player aspect, but it's fairly lacking for two reasons. First, you can't stay with the same group of people in a random quick match and just play differenet games over and over. You have to back out to the menu and start a new quick match. Granted, this takes just a couple seconds, but it's kind of annoying and you have to wait for other people to show up in the game again. And that brings us to the second con of the online play. Not a lot of people seem to have this game so it can sometimes take a while to get a match going.

Worthiness: At 800 points (10 bucks in real dollars), Mad Tracks could be a good deal, depending on how much you think you'll play it. Test it out on the demo first to see if you think you'll want to play it over and over. You probably won't. The single player missions will only get you so far, and there isn't a huge online community for it. Maybe everyone's off playing the Halo 3 beta. But if you and a few friends plan on all buying the game, you can have some good party game nights online in a dedicated room to play lots of different mini-games.


Score: 2/5 Download the demo.

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Review: Sotrilo Solitaire (XBLA)

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The Xbox Live Arcade is a haven for casual gamers. With games like Uno, Catan, Bejeweled and now Sotrilo Solitaire, it is almost worth it to pay the full price for the system in order to play these games. There's been a lot of hate on Sotrilo by the games journalism community since it's release because of the awkward play controls and high price, but when it comes down to it Sotrilo Solitaire is actually a really high quality game.

Some of the points made were that it's a fancier version of a game that ships free with basically any PC. Sure. That's a valid point, however Sotrilo offers pretty much every Solitaire game ever made. There's like 20 in there, including a very interesting story mode where you can unlock new card themes. It looks great in HD with lots of neat little animations and visual effects. They really did put a ton of effort into this game in order to make it worth the 800 Microsoft points. Because you can just go out and buy a deck of cards, or an old Windows 95 PC and play Solitaire whenever you want to.

Pros: Sotrilo has pleasing graphics, all the Solitaire games you can ever want, a neat story mode, fun themed decks, achievements, online multiplayer (!). Cons: The music's kinda boring and repetitive, controls are awkward but should be familiar for people who have played the iPod version of solitaire, 800 points is a lot for solitaire, the more obscure games have very basic instructions and the learning curve is really really steep. Should you pick it up? If you're really into the live arcade and that's all you play, why not? It's an enjoyable game. It's not a killer app, but it's not something to get all fussy about. Just play fun games, people!

Score: 2/5 Download the demo

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Freelance Review - Hotel Dusk: Room 215 for Nintendo DS

Today's Freelance Review comes to us from BFeld13.

If you'd like to submit a freelance review, please check out how right here.

hoteldusk3.jpgOverview
Hotel Dusk: Room 215's story is that of a gritty noir novel, with a hard-boiled ex-cop, missing paintings and amnesia. You play Kyle Hyde. He's searching for his double-crossing ex-partner in the NYPD and has stopped for the night at Hotel Dusk in the southwestern desert. By the end of the night, Hyde will discover what happened at Hotel Dusk. You do this by helping out the guests at the hotel, all of whom are somehow linked to Hyde.

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Review: Odin Sphere (PS2)

Odin SphereIf there is one single reason the PLAYSTATION 3 isn't selling well - it's that the PLAYSTATION 2 is still coming out with some pretty damn stellar titles. Take Atlus' Odin Sphere - it's a unique blend of RPG, action platformer and storybook that surprisingly does all three incredibly well. In a landscape of copycat RPGs with lame storylines and no real interesting visual style, Odin Sphere stands out above the crowd. It's one of those games that you can just tell is going to become a cult classic. It feels like the way the Mana series should have ended up, which really isn't a bad thing at all. Hit the jump for all the reasons why you should pick this game up (or just go get it, because I'm going to recommend it to you anyway).

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Review: Double Dragon (XBLA)

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In the vast continuation of our childhood, and the feeding of our insatiable retro hunger, Double Dragon was unleashed upon the Xbox Live Arcade last week and it's one of those titles that makes you stop and think "oh man, we were really dumb little kids". Maybe it's just that there is so much better out now, but the Xbox Live Arcade version of Double Dragon certainly doesn't make me pine for the days of yesteryear.

Now, I grew up playing the NES version (pictured) and not the arcade flavor, but I can accept the differences and give an adequate review based on my experiences. The XBLA version shows a complete lack of effort on the developers part, and doesn't inspire confidence in any way. It offers two options for the graphics: original and enhanced. The enhanced version looks akin to a Flash version of Double Dragon, which is not to say it looks bad but it certainly doesn't look good. Switching between the two is a breeze and can be done on the fly in the pause menu, so essentially it's just a new skin. Unfortunately they didn't give the same enhanced treatment to the soundtrack. For all your effort setting up the best, most kick ass HDTV living room, you are still going to have to suffer the worse-than-midi style soundtrack. I am not exaggerating, it's completely awful. Even if they had to do this remake on the cheap, at the very least get one of the kids from OCRemix to come up with different versions of the FOUR SONGS you have in the game!

Even worse than the "original score" is the fact that there is slowdown during co-op and even during single player. If any more than 3 enemies appear on the screen at once, it starts to bog down. I don't find this in any way charming in its authenticity. I have a very high powered gaming console, I would like my 20 year old games to work with accuracy and efficiency.

At least the achievements make it a bit more interesting to play through the game, and you have to give props to Double Dragon for paving the way for other mindless brawlers to come. But for all of it's difficult play control, boggy slowdown, ear piercing soundtrack and kind of shoddy art - it's something that is best left alone. At least it's only 400 Microsoft points. Pick it up if you want to. I guess. It's not a must have killer app for the XBLA, but if you really enjoyed the original - say you have fond memories o f meeting your first girlfriend at the arcade and you played the game for hours and hours and hours.... check it out.

Score: 2/5 Download the demo

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Game Review: Spiderman 3 (Xbox 360)

spiderman 3This time I am going to break the normal Weekly Geek "shininess" "funness" etc review mold in order to accommodate a rant. Because Spiderman 3 is such a freaking awful game it warrants a good ripping into, and frankly I don't want to spend that much energy on this waste. That's right, the game is a waste. It's a horrible waste. It's a half-thought out waste of time. Let's start from the beginning. From the first time I popped in the game, I started a little internal dialog with the developers. I started to really wonder what the heck they were thinking when they made the game, and how much they were paying the game testers to shut up about all the glitches and horribleness that they were subjected to. I just imagine a room full of game testers moaning and complaining about the game, and the company just keeps giving them free Spiderman 3 baseball caps until they are happy.

You are thrown into a tutorial right off. There's no real intro, you're just in a burning building and all of a sudden Bruce Campbell is talking at you. Ok, fair enough. Then it gets absurd. Can't I just fight, guys? I know you think you have a really deep fighting system but you don't. Its a simple button mashing brawler and you keeping me here on this tutorial and forcing me to play with your horrible play controls is making me want to stab things. Your smart-ass voice over isn't helping either. Bruce Campbell, stop being a jerk to me. Stop it. Literally they go through the different "moves" that you have as Spiderman, which are just basic counterattacks and dodges. But they FORCE you to do them THREE times before you move on to the next horrible tutorial. That wouldn't be too bad if the play control was tolerable. You'll find yourself doing plenty you didn't want to do, or getting knocked down because it was unresponsive. Completely unacceptable. I wanted to throw the game out the window right then and there. NOT A GOOD SIGN.

During the counterattack tutorial a little message came up on screen after I completed the first successful counterattack: "COUNTERATTACK 2 MORE TIME" - you really didn't spend much time making this game, did you? You can't even get the grammar correct for the first tutorial? Why should I spend my time playing this thing you shat out at me?

Battle is boring and even the most generic of thugs take an insane amount of hits to down. The tutorial showed me the horrors of what was to come, and even once you get out of that shit-fest you get thrown into a city with even MORE tutorials. The graphics are horrible and choppy. Even worse are the camera controls, especially when you try to do something Spiderman-like; climbing on walls or the ceiling. Swinging around the city is glitchy at best. Controls are WAY too complicated. It should be easy and natural to play this game, but it's bogged down by a HUGE tutorial, varied control schemes and glitchy buggy play controls. It just feels rushed and unfinished. There are the makings for a good game tucked away here, it's just a matter of spending enough development time to make it worthwhile.

Now I know games have a reputation for having really bad voice acting, but come on. You have actual actors here from the actual movie, you'd think that the game would be passable. Unfortunately it sounds like everyone phoned it in. It's not like Tobey McGuire is exploding with personality as it is, but Jesus. The dialog didn't help, either. It's completely boring cliche tripe and it gave me no incentive to continue listening.

After I had beaten my head against my TV bloody slogging through the tutorials, I was able to explore the city and start some missions. There's a bit of free-form GTA style stuff here, but the novelty wears off once you start the first HORRIBLE mission that is pretty much impossible because the play controls suck and the thugs are too hard to kill and they keep coming after you. No. I was done.

I just turned it off. The game did everything in its power to make me not want to play it, so I won't. There weren't even any worthwhile achievements for me to nab to maybe MAYBE salvage the experience. All of them are for completing gang missions in their entirety, or splatting to the ground 25 times. No. NO.

Maybe this game is only for people who have seen the movie. That's fine. But I bet people who have seen the movie (which is also getting poor reviews) will just shrivel up and die when they play the game, hoping that maybe it was a little better than the cinema experience that left them sore. Do not buy this game. As a matter of fact, if you see anyone buying this game, slap it out of their hands, hold their shoulders, look into their eyes and tell them very firmly "no" as you would a bad dog. Then rub it on their nose and send them on their way.

Score: 0/5 Skip it and burn every copy you find

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Game Review: Catan (XBLA)

CATAN IS SO COOL

How cool is it that while Nintendo is sitting there shoveling old games that they have already made money from into our Wii Virtual Consoles that Microsoft is putting out shiny new titles like Catan? I mean, it's a freaking BOARD GAME. A really good one, at that. Equal parts Monopoly, Risk and Civilization, Catan is the brand new Xbox Live Arcade title based on the popular (in Germany!) board game Settlers of Catan. The premise is this: there is an island and you are trying to colonize it before your opponents do. You must be the first to reach a set amount of victory points (10 is default) and pretty much everything you do in the game gives you points. It's laid out in a hex pattern and each space counts for a resource (either wool, lumber, brick, wheat or ore). Every turn someone rolls the dice and whatever number is rolled "activates" a space that corresponds to that number. If you have a settlement (kind of like Monopoly houses) that is adjacent to that space, you get one of that resource.

Resources are important because they allow you to build more settlements, roads, cities (like a hotel in Monopoly) or draw a card. An opponent have a resource you need? Every turn has a trading round where you can exchange resource cards.

Sound complicated? It is at first. It took me at least three rounds before I wasn't completely confused. After that it was incredibly addictive. Read on for the full review.

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Game Review: Super Paper Mario (Wii)

superpapermario.jpgSuper Paper Mario is the latest (and hotly anticipated) title in Intelligent Systems' Paper Mario series, this time departing from the quirky RPG formula in favor of a quirky platformer with RPG elements. This isn't to say it's a bad thing, but it's also not a great thing. The Super Mario RPG series (even starting way back when with Square's SNES title) has always been a game for the fans. Filled with in-jokes, fun puzzles, secrets galore and great action, it has a little bit of everything for real Nintendo lovers.

The plot actually departs from the typical Mario setup (though not the typical Paper Mario setup, sadly). [Villain who is not Bowser] kidnaps [something] and has an [insert devious plot here]. [Villain] is bumbling and slightly silly but has a [secret past]. Mario must set out and save [town name] from [villain].

Sure the plot is a bit tired, but does the crazy cool paper art style and clever dialog make up for it? Does the merging of RPG and platformer work well, or is it like the N-Gage, trying to be two things at once, and not doing either very well? Hit the jump for the full review.

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Review: Guitar Hero II (Xbox 360)

guitar hero II

Overview: You know it, you love it. It's Guitar Hero. Now for the Xbox 360, this version features an all-new X-Plorer controller and 70 tracks (some of which aren't on the PS2 version). Also featuring downloadable content, this is the definitive version of Guitar Hero II. It's fun and difficult, the multiplayer is solid and the achievements come steadily. But how is the controller? Song selection? How does it look? Do you still get that weird optical illusion where everything is slowly moving upward after a song? The answer to most of these questions and the rest of the review after the jump.

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Review: Castlevania Symphony of the Night (XBLA)

Castlevania Symphony of the nightOriginally released in 1997 on the original Playstation, Castlevania Symphony of the Night is widely regarded as a classic. Merging the platforming and storyline of Castlevania with the non-linear goodness of the Metroid series, SotN set the standard for all Castlevania titles to come. Recently released for the Xbox 360 with HD graphics, achievements and leaderboards, is it worth your money a second time around? Hit the jump for the full review.

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Game Review: Prostroke Golf (PSP)

th_wtgpsprgblowres.jpgAdmittedly, I am not a big sports game fan. While I love a good round of Wii Tennis, or some Mario Golf, I am not the dude who waits in line for the next Madden title every single year. The mark of a great sports game for me is one that actually makes me want to play it. Prostroke Golf for the PSP features a fairly realistic golf experience, complete with a course editor and live commentary. It's from a small developer, which shows in its graphical capabilities, long load times and lack of polish, but I believe that it can offer true golf fans something new on the go. As long as you actually own a PSP.

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Game Review: Worms (Xbox Live Arcade)

Worms on XBLA

Overview:Xbox Live Arcade has really been coming into its own in the past month or so, with great releases such as Alien Hominid HD, TMNT and Worms. If you are unfamiliar or otherwise uninitiated, Worms is a turn-based strategy combat game in the same vein as Scorched Earth. Players take control of a team of Worms each with a certain number of hit points on a 2d landscape. Then you take turns whittling away your opponent's hit points with an array of wacky weapons that each serve a different purpose. You can shoot worms in the face with a shotgun, or you can fire punch them into the abyss. The possibilities are endless, and the Xbox Live version is a fun distraction.

Shininess: As far as shiny goes, Worms for XBLA is just like any other Worms game. Nothing too amazing, the graphics amount to not much more than a Flash game, but the animations tend to be funny and charming. The music is non-existant (just a loop of some dramatic sounding stuff.) so prep your music library.

Funness: Worms is by far one of the most fun strategy games out there. Unfortunately, the pace feels incredibly slow at times, while you wait for the other players to take their turn. It's even worse in the short single player mode, where you aren't even waiting for an actual human, it's just a computer who feels like wasting your time while he thinks. Each worm in the single player challenges tends to take 10-20 seconds to even think about their next turn, which is pretty mind-numbing. It's actually tolerable in multiplayer, because watching other people play is all part of building future strategies.

The single player game features 20 challenges of varying difficulty. It didn't take long to get through and helped me hone some of my strategies, but for the most part I could have done without them, or with different modes. The multiplayer is where it's at, it's the whole reason you get the game. It's insane amounts of fun to play with others, seeing them mess up a perfect ninja rope swing, or accidentally blow themselves up with a sheep. The Live worms community seems to be a bit more cordial than most, as well. Full English sentences abound! Just watch out for the ranked matches, as players can tend to get a bit more hardcore. I even played with someone who seemed like they thought they were playing a Halo match. Not fun.

Worthiness: The features and weapons array is a bit lacking compared to PC and previous console versions of Worms, but for 800 points I think it's worth it. Worms is also the first Live Arcade game I have completed all the achievements for, as they tended to be fairly easy to get. If you don't have any Xbox Live friends (sad!) or you don't have any real-life friends (even sadder!) then don't download this. As a matter of fact, if you meet both those criteria, don't download anything. Just throw your Xbox through the nearest window. If you DO have friends, check out the demo and see if the pace is for you. Like I said, it's slower than most games this generation, but once you get into it there's really nothing better than a game of Worms.

Score: 5/5 Buy it!

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World's Shortest Review: God of War II for PS2

Overview: Killin' dudes.

Shininess: Preeeeeeeetty!

Funness: OMG rad.

gow2.jpg
Worthiness: Buy it!

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