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Hydromancer

Hydromancer
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Member since: 24.05.2008

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      09.12.2008 18:41
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      Under the Knife 2 is a fast-paced medical puzzler that's as infectious as its predecessor.

      When you're dealing with a series like Trauma Center, only the first can be a truly great game. It's a series that thrives on novelty and that can be undone by the over-releases that characterizes many of Nintendo's great franchises. Without that creative spark -- some new addition to the game, something significant to mix things up -- a sequel is going to be something of a disappointment. And sadly, that's exactly what's happened to Trauma Center: Under the Knife 2.

      That's not to say that Under the Knife 2 is a bad game, because it's not. If you're like myself and loved the original to death, you'll still find something to enjoy in Under the Knife 2. But the fact of the matter is it just doesn't have the same feel of the original. The frantic, challenging, and addictive gameplay is, for the most part, still there. And in many ways, the sequel is better than the original.

      I don't know what happened, but while technically Under the Knife 2 is superior than the original in most every way, there are so many stupid little problems that just weren't around in the first game. What seemed cutting-edge and cool in the original Under the Knife feels stupid in the sequel. The game's plot is one of the worst offenders, and it takes the medical terrorism theme too far. The original game had a story that seemed worth of a primetime TV show. This time around...not so much.

      Then there's the matter of the operations themselves; at its core, Under the Knife 2 is little more than a thinly disguised puzzle title interspersed with some trite dialogue. Admittedly, that's what all the past games have been as well. But Under the Knife 2 does very little to conceal it's beginnings as a puzzle game and as a result many of the new operations feel very much like simple "match up the colors" tasks.

      Which brings up another problem: there's so little truly new content in Under the Knife 2. Of course, with the same set of surgical tools as the original plus the defibrillator, it might seem there's not a whole lot of novel potential in a new set of some 25 surgeries. But the original game boasted a number of different types of GUILT, and sadly the same can't really be said for Under the Knife 2. There are just a handful of new GUILT strains, despite the fact that the story of this game revolves around a new outbreak.

      Pretend for just a moment that you're a medical terrorist. Three years ago, you unleashed a number of devastating viruses on the public. But unfortunately for your terrorist schemes, the strains were defeated. Now a few years later, you're at it again. Wouldn't it be a good idea to, say, develop a new, unheard-of virus? After all, re-releasing a virus that was stopped just a few years ago seems a little fruitless. But in the mess of a plot that Atlus cooked up, such an action is perfectly acceptable. Way to go, stupid terrorists.

      Instead, you'll find yourself facing off against a few new GUILT strains and the same number of old ones. Additionally, you'll face off against something called Post-Guilt Syndrome which is essentially just an excuse to make mundane surgeries as difficult as possible. The operations lack variety and the new ones pale compared to the original GUILT. It feels more like a Trauma Center 1.5 and Atlus did fans a disservice by releasing this Under the Knife "expansion pack".

      Trauma Center: Under the Knife was a niche classic. The sequel is not. Atlus has attempted to make its newest Trauma Center title more accessible than before but sadly, the result is not all that desirable. Making a game accessible is always a good thing. But dumbing a game down in order to achieve that goal is not. Sadly, Under the Knife 2 meanders along the latter path, making the game simpler and easier than before.

      This alone is disappointing enough. But Under the Knife 2 does something even worse: it flips back and forth between being an "easy-to-pick-up" title and the hardcore classic it was originally. While the selectable difficulty modes are certainly a plus, even "hard" feels only about as difficult as the original game. So in order to make the game a touch more difficult at times without ramping up the challenge of the entire game, we get a couple of ridiculously stupid operations. For example, in one the staff has been too busy to notice they're out of stabilizer and low on gel, so you'll have to go through the entire operation without healing. Or having the game force you perform the same lock-destroying process four times in a row (the stupid terrorists are at it again). Stuff like this feels really cheap and shallow, and the dev team would have been better off omitting it entirely.

      I've been ragging on this game some, but it doesn't mean that it's absolutely no good. In fact, compared to many DS titles on the market, Under the Knife 2 is pretty solid. But the original was a groundbreaking game and therefore this sequel had a lot to live up to. I hate to say it, but it comes as no great surprise that living up to the original is just something the Under the Knife 2 cannot do. Regardless, it's still an enjoyable game. If you never played the first Trauma Center, this is a nice introduction to the series thanks to its relative ease (you'll be missing some plot points but to be frank, that's not a big deal). If, on the other hand, you played the first, think hard before picking up the sequel. Yes, it's more Trauma Center and that's never a bad thing. But it's a significant disappointment and just never matches the caliber of greatness that the first achieved. If you'll be okay with that, Under the Knife 2 is a worthy purchase.

      Typical Price: £26.96 from Gameseek

      ============================================

      I've had the DS for nearly four years now and have decided to compile a list of the top 10 DS games of all time. You can view this list on my profile

      ========================================= ===

      This review can also be found on other websites (see my profile for details).

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        09.12.2008 18:41
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        Two solid titles that deliver a familiar Castlevania experience

        Rather than messing around with a boring introduction, I'll get right to the point. Castlevania Double Pack is good for one reason: the two games it includes work quite well together. All too often you get compilation products that contain rather unconnected and generally dissimilar products -- not bad in that it gives you a bit of variety.

        But Castlevania Double Pack contains two games that are so similar that you'd have to be crazy to purchase them separately, at least now that you can get them together for a lot less. The package contains Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance and Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, and both offer traditional Castlevania-style dungeon-exploring monster-destroying fun.

        The biggest problem with these two games is, thankfully, the one that the bundled status solves. The two games included are so similar that if you didn't have separate title screens and different androgynous whip-wielding characters, you might think it's the exact same game. Shelling out thirty pounds for each of these games when they were first released would have been a waste, because in many ways if you've played one you've also played the other.

        But now the two are together, in one package, and at a budget price (if you can still find it new, that is). It's nothing particularly extraordinary, but Castlevania fans know what to expect: a lot of unguided, free-roaming exploration of a massive castle with hordes of enemies around every corner. It's not groundbreaking for the series and it's not going to convert any Castlevania-haters, but for fans of the franchise it's a worthy purchase.

        Combat is largely a joke in Castlevania, and enemies can be defeated by whacking them a few times with whatever massive armament you currently have equipped. The real meat of these titles lies in the exploration. Much like games such as Metroid, you'll do a heck of a lot of backtracking as you search out new abilities that grant you access to previously-inaccessible places. And Dracula's Castle is absolutely huge, so exploration is quite a lengthy task.

        At the same time, though, the sheer scope of your undertaking can be a bit overwhelming, particularly for novice players. After finding a specific skill, you may have to backtrack to the very beginning to access some little spot you never even saw the first time around. And when you've got eight or ten blocked-off areas at a time, trying to figure out where to use a new skill can be quite frustrating.

        And that's pretty much it; there's not a whole lot more to discuss with Castlevania. It's very basic and if you don't enjoy the core concept of the game you're not going to like Castlevania. In some ways it feels like a chore: running around the castle trying to find out where to go next with a few engaging boss fights, barely any puzzles, and armies of easy-to-kill foes.

        Admittedly, there are a few little twists to this formula that each of the two games adds to the mix, but they feel more like excuses to release a new game than actual gameplay mechanics. Harmony of Dissonance essentially has two "layers" of castle on top of each other, requiring you to switch back and forth to progress. It's an overdone mechanic in adventure games and only serves to double the size of your exploring grounds.

        Aria of Sorrow does away with the "light-world-dark-world" idea and instead adds a little more to the mild role-playing elements of the series (defeating foes gives you experience and you can level up along with equipping tons of armor and weapons). When you defeat an enemy, you may randomly receive its soul; these souls are used for a variety of purposes, from solving some really lame puzzles to defeating enemies in battle.

        Of the two games, I'd have to say that however similar they are, Harmony of Dissonance is a bit better. I like the back-and-forth aspect, plus there's the fact that Aria's soul-collecting mechanic never really works like it should. Most souls that you collect from enemies work as secondary attacks, but 95% of the time you'll never use them because your weapon is stronger anyway. There are some souls needed to progress through the game, but you'll find these in the castle rather than defeat an enemy to get them, essentially negating the idea behind "kill a bunch of this enemy until you get its soul".

        Castlevania Double Pack isn't a great game, but the fact that it offers two solid 2D adventure titles is certainly a plus. There are no huge differences between the two titles included, but they work well together because of it. The series' recent DS offerings are a bit better, but for the price the Double Pack is a bargain. If you're into Castlevania and never picked up the package's two constituents when they first released, then the Double Pack is probably worth buying.

        Typical price: £12.99 from SoftUK

        ========================================= ===

        This review can also be found on other websites (see my profile for details).

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          26.11.2008 10:10
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          Arguably the breakthrough entry in the influential series, this game is a must for every RPG fan

          Ever since the world-famous franchise began more than 15 years ago, "Final Fantasy" has become synonymous with the term "role-playing games" (RPGs). By offering incredible, emotional plots, addicting, innovative game play, a loveable cast of characters, and more customization you can shake a stick at, famed developer Square Enix has created among the most popular game series in video game history. Some gamers rolled their eyes when Square Enix announced the re-release of Final Fantasty IV back in 2005. Do we really need to relive every memorable gaming experience we've ever had the pleasure to have? Well, Square Enix thought so, and I, for one, am thrilled that they did.

          Being a remake, Final Fantasy IV is the same basic game as the original, titled Final Fantasy II, released way back in 1991. As the story goes, Cecil, a Dark Knight of the country of Baron, is tricked by it's king into unleashing an explosive attack on an innocent enemy village. Racked by pains of guild and conscience, Cecil resolves to change his ways. Among the wreckage of the town, he finds a young girl with innate magical ability. Having tragically killed her parents, Cecil takes her under his wing as he begins the journey to banish his evil self and restore a warring world to peace.

          Final Fantasy IV's plot stands out most because it is by no means cliched; when you compare it to new-generation RPGs on the market, you understand how truly creative and deep the writers for FFIV were. During Cecil's epic quest, he meets a colorful, perfectly-written cast of characters. From his would-be lover, Rosa, to an enigmatic, moody ninja named Edge, to his lifelong friend Kain, Cecil will never have to fight alone. Not only are the vast majority of the characters wickedly cool, but the writing and background for each character is expertly done. I can't honestly claim that I've ever felt emotionally touched by any video game characters before FFIV. The list of touching scenes goes on and on, but more than 18 months after completing the game, the one part I still remember is the scene between Edge and his parents (I won't spoil anything, but if you've played the game, you know what I'm talking about).

          Progressing your way through FFIV's engrossing story takes place as it does in just about any 2D Final Fantasy game. As you work your way from town to town, you immerse yourself in a number of activities. Every town has something significant about it. Some will trigger new parts of the story, or will introduce new characters. Others offer the opportunity to engage in the game's enjoyable side-quests, allowing you to up your inventory or rare and useful weapons, armor, and items.

          One of the best aspects of Final Fantasy games over the years is the huge amount of customization you get -- mainly in the form of weapons and accessories. Most characters are in a distinct, specialized class: Final Fantasy classics like White Mage, Black Mage, and Ninja, as well as different classes such as Paladin and Dragoon. Each of them, in addition to having some special, useful skill to use on the battlefield, also has a unique repertory of useable weapons. For example, Mages are limited to low-weight physical weapons such as staves and rods, but can use powerful offensive or defensive magic. On the other hand, the Paladin's magical abilities are quite limited, but he is able to perform incredibly powerful physical attacks.

          The plot is quite possibly the single best aspect of the game, but the game play is what really pulls it all together. Once you've customized your fighting party and equipped your favorite weapons, you're ready to take on any foe. As is the staple of Final Fantasy games, enemies appear randomly on the map. However, if you're used to traditional boring turn-based fare, then you're in for a pleasant surprise with FFIV. In what is in my opinion the most innovative battle system ever created, Square presents a turn-based system with quite a twist. Next to each character's name, there's a small meter. This meter fills up in real time, based upon that character's speed stat. Once it is full, your character has the option to perform a variety of actions: perform an attack, cast a spell, use an item, flee, or bracing for an attack are all available for use, along with each person's character-specific ability.

          But Final Fantasy IV offers a breath of fresh air in terms of more than just the game play. Any hard-core gamers out there will be happy to know that unlike current-day role playing games, FFIV offers what we can legitimately refer to as difficulty. Like any good game, the learning curve is mild; newcomers and Final Fantasy vets alike will have no trouble getting the hang of this game. After that, though, you're just along for the ride; the game builds up to a shockingly high difficulty level. Because of the perfect learning curve, though, you shouldn't have too much problem with it.

          Another aspect worthy of note is that there is truly no need for level-grinding in Final Fantasy IV. Buckling down and gaining five levels every ten or so hours is certainly going to help you out, but it can still be beaten without going through this sometimes monotonous task. This fact is thanks largely to the game's battle system; because it is not simply taking turns, and there's actually somewhat of a reliance upon your skill, battles can be won even though it may appear that you are under-leveled.

          Continuing the proud tradition of fantastic sound in the Final Fantasy franchise, FFIV offers terrific music throughout. The tunes are wonderfully synched with the rest of the game, and manage to exemplify all the epic action, plot twists, and emotion that the game itself contains. Graphically, though, Final Fantasy is not exactly impressive. It has SNES-era graphics, which is not exactly a bad thing. I, for one, and happy that the developers concentrated on recreating this beautiful gaming experience, rather than worrying, as may game designers do, on how the game looks.

          Even if you played FFIV when it was originally released, there's still reason for you to purchase this game. Not only will you have the opportunity to play it on the go and without the burden of a bulky console, but there is also some new material. There are new character-specific dungeons that not only present more backstory for each character (which I guarantee you will come to love, each and every one of them), but they also present a huge challenge. This alone, at least for me, is enough to warrant another purchase.

          Final Fantasy IV is easily the best RPG that I've ever played. Its plot is masterfully done, the game play is unique, addicting, and not at all boring, as is the mechanic of many other RPGs. The characters come to life thanks to the expert writing, the customization provides endless replay value, it's refreshingly difficult, and the music is beautifully synched to the game. The graphics are the single aspect of the game that will not blow you away; luckily, though, they by no means detract from the overall quality of the game. No matter who you are, no matter how good you are at RPGs, you need to own this game. In my opinion, it is hands down the best RPG ever made, and deserves a purchase by anyone who owns a GameBoy Advance.

          -----

          This review may be found on other websites (see my profile for more details).

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          • Meteos (DS) / Nintendo DS Game / 67 Readings / 65 Ratings
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            25.11.2008 10:52
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            Meteos delivers a unique and successful twist on the puzzle game formula

            Everyone has played Tetris. Or if you haven't played it, you've at least heard of it. After all, Tetris is, as argued by many, one of the most important historical video games of all time. It was simple, addictive, and fun for everybody. And, possibly most important of all, it established "puzzle" as a completely legitimate genre of game.

            Now, years and years after Tetris, the puzzle genre is still going relatively strong. Admittedly, it suffered a bit of dead time for a while there; it seemed to some people like all the puzzling possibilities had already been exhausted. Well, surprising as it may be, it was actually Nintendo that brought new life to the puzzle genre, first with its intergalactic space puzzler Meteos.

            At first glance, Meteos may seem like a touch-screen rip-off of Tetris (don't worry, though; if that's what you're looking for, there's always Tetris DS for you). Blocks...disappearing blocks...lining up blocks. Lots of blocks, and doesn't it all sound familiar?

            Well, that's part of the charm of Meteos. While in one respect, it all feels a bit nostalgically familiar, at the same time, it brings something very new and innovative to the table. Of course, probably the most new aspect of Meteos, at least with respect to other puzzle games, is its setting.

            You take on the role of one of several planets, each full of their own special citizens and each with its own specific attributes. The evil Planet Meteo has begun launching projectiles at all the planets in the galaxy, attempting to wipe out everybody and take control of the galaxy. Naturally, we can't have that, so delegates from each planet create the Metamo Arc and go on the offensive against Planet Meteo.

            Admittedly, Meteos does have a weak story, but do you ever purchase a puzzle game solely for its story? I didn't think so. And besides, the lack of depth in terms of plot is more than made up in terms of game play. Like I said, it borrows a few foundational elements from the popular puzzler Tetris. Mainly, the fact that everything essentially evolves around getting blocks to disappear.

            The differences stop there, however. Because, in Meteos, getting blocks to disappear is done in a very interesting fashion. Rather than simply filling up a line with blocks, you must line up three blocks in a row that are the same color, either horizontally or vertically. Just use your stylus; touch a block and slide it up and down. And, beyond simply disappearing from your screen, the blocks will then launch into space, carrying with them any blocks that are piled above. It's important not to let blocks sit, though, because you will die if you let the blocks reach the top of the touch screen.

            This game play mechanic really does allow for an incredible amount of player customization and innovation. Incredibly, you can actually implement some sort of strategy while playing. Sometimes, it's advantageous to let blocks pile up, set up a threesome, then move it into place at the last possible moment and unleash a huge barrage of blocks at your foe. Other times, though (if blocks are coming down quickly), you're going to be better off just frantically sending up as many blocks as you can, as fast as you can.

            Also in terms of customization comes the vast number of playable planets in the game. You'll start out with only a few, and slowly unlock more as you progress further and further into the game. What's cool about all the planets is that each one has a very distinct gravity. Gravity, as you might expect, affects how easy it is to launch blocks into space. Planets with less gravity make it easier to launch off large amounts of blocks, while its harder to so when you are on planets with a stronger gravitational pull. It may seem as if the low-gravity planets have a huge advantage, but as you progress deeper into the game and learn for yourself some of the playing strategies, you'll see that having strong gravity can actually sometimes be helpful.

            Aside from simply offering a fantastic, varied game play mechanic, though, Meteos also offers quite a few game play modes. Star Trip is essentially the story mode of the game; this is the part of Meteos where you'll play through its weak story. While you've got no incentive to play thanks to the story arc, it's still plenty of fun playing a random variety of enemy planets. In addition, there are a number of different game endings in Star Trip depending on decisions that you make throughout your current game. While the endings are by no means anything incredible, they do allow you a few special unlockables if you collect all of them.

            Star Trip is really only the beginning, though, because there are several other enjoyable game play modes. Free Mode is there when you just want to play a straight-up stock or timed match. It's fun, addicting, and a great way to improve your block-launching skills and to experiment with all the planets you've unlocked. Another favorite of mine is Deluge Mode, in which your faced with an unrelenting barrage of blocks. Your only goal is to stay alive as long as possible; it's tough because the longer you stay alive, the faster the blocks rain down. It's great mainly because it really epitomizes the frantic, exciting puzzling action that Meteos, at its core, is all about.

            And even once you think you might have exhausted all the resources that Meteos has to offer, you can still keep on playing. Because, in addition to offering one of the most fun and addictive game play mechanics I've ever experienced, there are tons of unlockables, all of which are going to require rather extensive play time on your part. Every time you lanch a block into space, no matter which mode you're playing in, you get "credit" for that block. Special items and soundtracks are available for you to unlock, but you will have to spend some of the blocks that you've earned. Likewise, you can unlock new planets by spending blocks that you've earned through playing. It takes an ungodly amount of blocks to unlock every soundtrack, item, and planet, so if you're a completionist, rest assured that there's tons of gaming time for you with Meteos.

            It's worth mentioning that the music in Meteos is really top-notch. While it's not the sort of music that games like Fire Emblem or Advance Wars sport (that is, really awesome-sounding music that you could listen to hours on end), it still does a great job of fulfilling its purpose in the game. That is, it's very, very immersive. Each planet has a very distinct theme (some are underwater planets, others are full of mechanical beings. Regardless, though, each planet's respective soundtrack is perfectly meshed with the feel of that planet. The result: incredible, albeit quirky, immersive music.

            The one big stumbling point of Meteos is its graphics. They're simplistic, roughly done, and just not all that pleasing on the eyes. Admittedly, graphics are never all that important for a good puzzle game. Still, though, good graphics will certainly never hurt a game, and the one of the few things that holds Meteos back from being a truly perfect game is just the fact that the graphics are rather poorly done.

            Further adding on to the pure awesomeness of Meteos is a killer multiplayer mode. It features both single card and multi-card play. Unfortunately, single-card play is rather shallow; the downloading opponents are forced to all play as the same, basic planet, which is rather disappointing. If you have some friends with a copy of the game, though, you'll have access to all the planets as you play up to four player intergalactic death matches. Multiplayer doesn't do anything new with the game; it just takes the game play mechanic and gives it multiplayer capabilities, and trust me: it's awesome.

            Meteos really is one of the best reasons to purchase a Nintendo DS. At least in my opinion, it really is the best puzzle game to come along since Tetris. It's addicting, has tons of replay value and unlockables, and sports a killer multiplayer mode. It's a great game for anybody looking to see just what the DS is capable of -- it really does show off how touch screen control can make even a seemingly cliche idea fresh and exciting. So, if you've got a DS, try and find a copy of Meteos. If you stop playing long enough to register a complete though, you'll be glad that you made the purchase.

            Typical Price: £24.99 from GAME

            ============================================

            I've had the DS for nearly four years now and have decided to compile a list of the top 10 DS games of all time. You can view this list on my profile

            ========================================= ===

            This review can also be found on other websites (see my profile for details).

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            • More +
              25.11.2008 10:42
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              Legends of Rock ups the ante with more challenge and new modes but not everything is great here

              Jimmy Page of the world-famous band Led Zeppelin is quite possibly one of the greatest guitar players ever. The loud, intense music, the crazy stage antics...seeing a Led Zeppelin show isn't just like listening to music; it's like watching a show. So who wouldn't want to be just like Jimmy Page? How cool would it be, to have so many fans and be so ridiculously good at playing the guitar? Well, Guitar Hero III for the Nintendo Wii tries to give you a chance to do just that...

              The basic gameplay mechanic of Guitar Hero III is probably already relatively well know to you -- unless you've been living under a rock for the last year or two, when the series really picked up a ton of fans. But for all those cavemen out there, I'll explain it. The game screen has a sheet rolling toward you, with color-coded notes on it. As the notes pass the bottom of your screen, you must hold the corresponding color on the guitar controller and hit the strum button, for lack of a better word, on the body of your guitar.

              Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, it is. At first. The obvious appeal (or one aspect of it, anyway) is that this game is going to get progressively difficult. It features a number of difficulty modes and a gentle learning curve, which makes it easily accessible to Wii owners of all gaming skill. However, it's by no means an easy game, as the difficulty level will shoot up intensely as you progress further into the game.

              Still, though, this spike in difficulty level isn't a huge problem. See, hardcore fans are going to love the difficulty, and make it a point to definitely play through it all. Casual gamers who decide to purchase the game might not ever even attempt to play through the higher difficulty levels, but they'll still have fun playing on easier difficulty settings.

              Of course, a guitar alone is not enough to make you famous. So what next? You've gotta get some music! Well, while I'm not much a fan of this game, I've got to admit that the soundtrack is impressive. It includes more than 70 rock-n-roll classics, featuring such stars as Pat Benatar. Even if you're not a huge rock junkie, you'll still recognize a lot of these songs. Some of them don't have much guitar work, which are placed early in the game and are much easier; others, however, have huge amount of guitar-playing, and you'll end up playing just about every note in the entire song.

              One comment about the music, however: somehow, a bit of a problem escaped the many layers of testing that this game surely underwent. Stereo sound was completely omitted, and the entire game plays in Mono. For the majority of us out there, including myself, this is no big deal. However, if you're looking to hook up this game to a surround sound system, you'll probably notice a significant drop in the quality of the songs.

              I've thus far omitted one of the most interesting and critical aspects of this entire game: the controller. Yes, the Wii Remote itself is already the craziest (read: most innovative) controller on the market. But the Guitar Hero controller is arguably even...crazier? See, it's actually shaped like a guitar. There's a slot on the guitar for a Wii remote to snap in, which is also a pretty neat feature. As you play notes, you'll feel like you're actually playing a guitar. It's pretty cool, and the whole role-playing idea of the game is excellently done and well fleshed out.

              Again, let me further extrapolate. There are a number of modes in Guitar Hero, but the most engaging is Career. You'll decide on your band name, your guitar, then you'll hit the road and get ready to rock. You proceed through a number of places to play, gradually gaining recognition and eventually working your way up to becoming a true "Guitar Hero". It's not really much of a plot, but with the good music and physical guitar controller in your hands, it takes little stretch of imagination to actually believe that you're on the road with a band. You'll probably lapse into that sort of mentality a few times -- I know I did...

              To progress through a song, you've essentially just got to stay alive. For every note that you miss, your life meter will go down, while it will increase for every note that you hit. If your meter drops down to zero, the crowd will boo you off the stage, you'll fail, and have to try all over again (trust me, this can get pretty annoying with some of the longer songs). You can increase your score (and your life meter) even more if you can keep up note combos. Hitting notes correctly in a row builds up point multipliers; hitting enough notes in a row can get you a multiplier of four -- the caveat is that as soon as you miss a note, the multiplier counter starts all over. After gaining enough star power (obtained by hitting star-shaped notes that come up), you can also tilt the guitar up to use this star power, which allows an additional multiplier of two on top of what you've already got.

              There are also some pretty impressive multiplayer features for Guitar Hero III, a welcome addition by most Wii owners clamoring for some good online play. Local multiplayer is fine, but really just involves either competing for a high score against a friend or playing co-op, where one person is a lead guitarist and the other is a bassist. There's also online play, courtesy of Nintendo's WiFi Connection. The basic game modes are the same, actually, and unfortunately, the online aspect in this game just doesn't have the spark that past truly great online games have had. It's nice to be able to play anyone whenever you feel like it, but online -- multiplayer in general, in fact -- just feels a little flat here.

              Up until now, pretty much everything I've mentioned about this game has been positive. Yet, as you probably knew before you even clicked on this review, I awarded Guitar Hero III a mere 5 out of 10. What went wrong? Why isn't it better? I'll answer with a single word -- two words, actually. Replay value.

              To be blunt, it's horrendous. Absolutely horrible. Yes, there are people out there who argue that there's tons of replay value; you can play each song as many times as you like, there's multiplayer, and other crap. I'll by completely honest here, though: there's little reason to play Guitar Hero III's songs more than once or twice. Sure, they're fun. And yes, they sound pretty good. But the truth is, you'll realize not far into the game that you're pretty much doing the same thing over and over and over and over again. It never changes. There's no REAL variety.

              And let's do a bit of quick mental math at this point. Let's just round down a bit to 70 songs. Let's then suppose that on average, each song lasts 4 minutes -- generous, trust me. For those of you that can't do that in your head, that's 280 minutes -- about four hours. Throw in another three hours -- again, being VERY generous -- to account for the time you'll spend playing multiplayer. And trust me when I say that you will probably not want to play through any of these songs again. Add it all up, and you've got scarce over seven hours. I'm sorry, but that does not, by any means, warrant a whopping seventy pound (the game includes both the game disc and a single, overpriced guitar) purchase.

              There was tons of potential here, yes. But to be honest, it was just one huge flaw that felled the giant called Guitar Hero III. The lack of any real variety just kills it...once you realize that you're essentially doing the same thing the entire game, you'll likely shake your head in disgust, and then never pick up this game again. For die-hard Guitar Hero fans (rock star wannabes?), Guitar Hero III may be a good one to pick up -- as the series goes, it's actually not bad. But sad as it is, this game just happens to be tremendously overrated, and unless you're willing to shell out nearly seventy quid for a game that will, in all honesty, likely yield you less than ten hours of gameplay, then you should take a pass on Guitar Hero III.

              Typical Price: £69.99 from Amazon

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                11.11.2008 18:18
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                Precise controls and a variety of multiplayer options are the highlights of Hunters

                Many gamers will admit that when they heard news of rookie developing studio Retro tackling such a venerable franchise as Metroid and attempting to transition it to a 3D title, they were dismayed. What were the chances that Retro could pull it off? To be honest, very slim. And yet, many gamers will also admit their shock -- and delight -- when the game was released and met with critical acclaim from nearly every major review source. Somehow, Retro had done the impossible and created a Metroid world that was nostalgically similar to that we all knew -- and at the same time something brilliant and new and all its own.

                So, is it any real surprise that gamers were giddy with anticipation for Metroid Prime Hunters? After all, it was announced at a time when the DS was relatively young and owners were yearning for a quality first-person shooter. Plus, Metroid Prime Hunters was next in line for the Nintendo WiFi Connection, popular thanks to the stellar title Mario Kart DS. And finally, Nintendo themselves would be handling Hunters; while gamers felt a connection with developer Retro, was it possible that Nintendo could create an even better game experience?

                I'll come right out and say it now: The answer is no. While there is clearly a pile of potential in Metroid Prime Hunters, the sad truth is that Nintendo completely failed to capitalize on the potential that the DS had for making Hunters a great game. Regarding the potential that Hunters sports, the way it's most prevalent is with the game's graphics. They're actually among the best to date on the Nintendo DS, even with graphically impressive titles on the market such as Final Fantasy III.

                The entire game runs very smoothly, which is quite a feat considering how heated parts of the game get. There are a variety of environments throughout the course of the game, all of which are nicely animated. Of course, because the DS is a handheld system, environs do get a bit blocky once you get close enough to them. Still, though, a little pixilation is a small price to pay for the overall beautiful graphics. There are also a number of short cutscenes throughout the game, all of which are absolutely stunning. Metroid Prime Hunters really does push the Nintendo DS to its graphical potential and sets the bar for visual superiority of DS titles to come.

                The audio of the game, while nothing spectacular, is also fairly well done. Music is atmospheric (which usually translates into being creepy) and sound effects are plentiful. The music does a fairly good job of immersing you in the game, which is, after all, what the audio should be doing. The music couldn't be called great, though, just because it is somewhat forgettable. Still, though, it makes the game slightly more fun, and that's good enough for me.

                The controls, while ragged on by some players, are actually (at least to me) one of the best aspects of this entire game. While the demo of the title that came with the launch DS systems had the action unfold on the bottom screen, that's not how things work in the final edition of the game. Instead, the bottom screen houses a radar, and a few other critical buttons (switching ammo, missiles, and changing into your alternate form), while all the action unfolds on the upper screen. Sliding the stylus around on the bottom screen controls Samus' aim. Naturally, you can crank the difficulty up or down, depending on your comfort with the system. While this may seem a bit gimmicky, it actually works incredibly well. While the overall game fails to impress, Hunters easily sports the best FPS mechanic I've seen so far on the Nintendo DS.

                Where the game absolutely fails, and in a big way, is with the gameplay mechanic. The vast majority of gamers out there would agree that gameplay is by far the most important aspect of any game; sadly, Metroid Prime Hunters' just falls flat. It's obviously not the controls that kill it -- as I mentioned already, they're actually quite good. The problem is that the game is just too immensely repetitive.

                Yes, it's true that the early Metroid games relied a lot on backtracking through areas that you already visited to open up new paths and find critical items. Even the Prime games did the same thing. So, perhaps it may seem at first glance that Nintendo is simply implementing a callback to the quality of past Metroid games. However, this is just not the case, as much as I wish it were.

                First, let me tell you something: There are only really four areas in the entire game. Yes, that's right: four. In every other Metroid game, the planet has been all connected; you could get from the beginning of the game to the final boss just by using a ton of warp devices. The fact is that it was all connected. However, in Hunters, there are four different planets in a "cluster", and you've got to rocket off to each one. Secondly, these planets are annoyingly small. Even once you unlock more areas of them, they still seem so miniscule compared to the huge, lush worlds created by Metroid Primes 1 and 2.

                Essentially, the player (taking the role of Samus, interstellar galactic bounty hunter extraordinaire) fights through these planets, accessing what rooms they can. Many are locked, and have to be revisited later. You'll find a number of upgrades, including health, missiles, and Universal Ammo. The UA powers a variety of different weapons, which are found throughout the four planets. Each different weapon, in addition to being "useful" in different situations, can unlock different doors.

                So, you are fighting you way through planets, overcoming pathetically weak, stupid enemies and a few simplistic puzzles. Find a weapon, fight a boss, maybe engage an enemy hunter (more on that in a bit...), then leave, and repeat. You'll have to visit each planet twice, and that's where another of the game's problems come in: it's far too linear. Past Prime games have given you the field and let you do what you want. You're not given much guidance and you've got to explore by yourself. However, in Hunters, you're pretty much told what to do and where to go. So while there is a ton of monotonous backtracking, there's no exciting exploration element to it, because you KNOW that you're supposed to be there. Why? Because the stupid game told you.

                Another monstrous (pun intended) problem with the game is its boss battles. Again, part of the problem lies with lack of quantity (and the other part with lack of quality). Let me extrapolate: there are two bosses in the entire game. Yes, you read correctly: TWO. That is absolutely inexcusable. You've got to fight each boss multiple times. Yes, each time you fight it, it changes minutely, but the basic fight is identical. When you compare that to the incredible originality and diversity of bosses in every other Metroid game, particularly the Prime titles, you'll begin to see how Hunters just really fails to live up to its namesake.

                The game's plot is similarly uninspired. Past games have been somewhat mysterious; all you know is that some sort of accident has happened, and you're left to investigate, find out what went wrong, and find out eventually that you've been swept up in an epic quest. However, such is not the case with Hunters. You're told from the start what's going on: There is some sort of Ultimate Power hidden within the Alimbic Cluster; you must go and investigate. Sure, there's some plot revelations, mainly about the previous inhabitants of the Cluster, but it just lacks the charm and atmosphere of the previous games.

                The game also sports some multiplayer, and this is all that keeps Hunters from being an absolute bust. This is where the game's title really starts to come into play, as well. See, the Galactic Federation isn't the only group who has picked up the signal about the Ultimate Power, and other bounty hunters are searching for it as well. They'll come up in your adventure and you'll be forced to defeat them; however, the role they really play is as multiplayer characters.

                Each different hunter has a very unique skillset, and the fun lies in figuring out who exactly fits your play style. One, called Trace, excels in sniping. Another, Kanden, is able to skew foes' vision and null their fighting capabilities. Each one has a different weapon (these are actually the different weapons that you find in the game), and they have improved abilities with their affinity weapon. Also, each one has a different alternate form (the equivalent of Samus' morph ball). Some are good for escaping, while others are effective at taking out an opponent. There's a lot of depth here, and it's clear that more attention was devoted to the multiplayer mode than to the story mode.

                There are three different modes of multiplayer: single-card download play, multi-card play, and the much anticipated WiFi play -- online gaming for those of you unaware. Single-card is fun enough; every stage you've unlocked (there are tons of them, by the way) is available to play, but the downloading players (up to three) must use the basic, default hunter: Samus. Still, it's fun enough, and worth it to be able to play with your friends with just one game card.

                Multi-card is my personal favorite. Every character and every course is open to you, and you're up for some fun frag-fests with up to three of your friends. The game keeps extensive records, including basic items such as wins and losses, but also includes headshot kills, hunter of choice, favorite weapon, win percentage, and the like. There's also an option here to go head-to-head against bots, allowing you to practice your shooting abilities and gear up for fighting friends.

                Finally, there's WiFi play. I've got to admit: it's probably my least favorite of the three available multiplayer modes. It's full-fledged, but it takes a long time just to find some players, and the game has an annoying habit of refreshing and disconnecting any opponents you've already found. And then, once you finally get a game going, there are still multiple problems. The game is pretty laggy, especially with four players running around in a large arena. When the action gets fast and thick, the frame rate drops noticeably, and it's really annoying. And finally, there are the myriad of cheaters out there, who hack and disconnect to ensure that their precious win record remains untarnished.

                So, is it really worth purchasing Metroid Prime Hunters? Well, that's ultimately up to you and depends on what you're looking for in a game. If you're expecting the type of experience that the true Prime series gave you, you're going to be severely disappointed -- I sure was. If, however, you're looking for a decent multiplayer shooting experience on the DS, then this might be the title for you. Still, though, it might be a good idea to have a wireless router or Nintendo's USB WiFi connector, to ensure that you can play online. But ultimately, I'd try and talk some of your friends into getting this game, so you can play lag-free and without worry of cheaters.

                Typical Price: £24.99 from GAME

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                I've had the DS for nearly four years now and have decided to compile a list of the top 10 DS games of all time. You can view this list on my profile

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                  11.11.2008 18:18
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                  Rebelstar delivers in a big way with a lengthy, engaging campaign

                  The aliens -- they're everywhere! Run for your lives! Nobody is safe -- women and children first. Interstates are jammed, there's no place to go! We're all going to die! Now that I've got that out of my system, let me quickly mention H.G. Well's famous novel titled The War of the Worlds. The recitation of it on public radio waves by the similarly named Orson Welles temporarily plunged the country in a panic -- reportedly, the reading was so serious and the writing so grave and realistic that many foolish Americans believed our country actually to be under an alien invasion. But nowadays, such a sci-fi setting has become popularized to the point that the "alien invasion" convention is so stale and overdone that it honestly is no longer even remotely enjoyable. The sleeper hit Rebelstar: Tactical Command, however, is about to change that...

                  Admittedly, Rebelstar does start out with that same cursed "plot: that's been used a kajillion times before: alien invasion! This time, however, something somewhat unique has been done with the classic premise: yes, there's an alien invasion on Earth, but everything's not as clear-cut as it seems. You've got the Arelians, the evil alien overlords who abduct every human over the age of 30. But you've also got their huge, brutish henchman, the Zorn (who, incidentally, are the beings that you'll fight for most of the game). And further in, you'll uncover another race -- independent of everybody else, and looking to seize power from the struggle between the rebel humans and the Arelians. It's actually a pretty cool set-up plot-wise, and it's a real pity that the story couldn't have been better expressed via some good writing. My point: the dialogue is absolutely horrendous: it's contrived, trite, and an absolute bore to read. Characters, as a result, get very little development, despite the fact that the overarching plot is so well-conceived.

                  And interestingly, the complexity of the storyline (sans pathetic character development and feeble writing) really sets the stage for the rest of the game, at least in terms of the title's core game play mechanic. As the game's title indicates, you're going to take command of a squad, each with members with their own unique abilities, naturally, and send the Earth's invaders packing for good. The game employs a basic, straightforward grid system as well as standard turn-based combat. Beyond that, however, Rebelstar is a huge departure from what you'd regularly expect from a strategy title. If you're thinking "Advance Wars clone"...then think again.

                  Because while Rebelstar is indeed a strategy game, it is an incredibly ambitious one that really attempts to push the boundaries of what we handheld gamers consider acceptable and conventional in handheld title in this genre. And, I'm happy to announce, for the most part Rebelstar succeeds in a very big way, and I'm honest in saying that I find it somewhat difficult to go back to playing a title like Advance Wars or Fire Emblem (not that I say somewhat), and I honestly can't bring myself to even pick up Final Fantasy Tactics Advance after playing Rebelstar. Essentially, Rebelstar has you playing through a series of maps (there are 25 missions when all's said and done), each with a specific goal in mind and each with a cap on the number of turns -- an interesting convention that doesn't quite work out. Let me digress momentarily and run with the point regarding the turn cap: the idea behind it is clearly to promote a sense of urgency and make sure that the gamer doesn't just sit around during missions. The problem? Well, each cap is ridiculously high, such that there's no way that anybody with a brain could possibly take that freaking long to beat a mission. For example, you'll have 35 turns to find and destroy 20 enemies with 6 characters. In principle it could have really benefited the game, but in practice it just didn't work out.

                  For each battle, you'll have a set number of characters at your disposal -- during the game's first several missions, however, you'll only take control of the main character, Jorel, as you work you way through a nicely-done tutorial that teaches you the ropes of the game. The game's action essentially revolves around each characters Action Points, abbreviated APs in the game. Everything -- and I mean everything that you could do requires the expenditure of Action Points. Of course, you've got your typical actions like moving and shooting that require the use of these points, but even such mundane actions as reloading, picking up items, and even turning your characters also requires APs. While it might seem a bit annoying at first, it's actually a really cool mechanic because it challenges you to play as efficiently as possible and make good use of your Action Points. For example, it might be possible on a turn for you to kill a few enemies -- but perhaps it would be more strategically sound to only kill one, and then set-up some defensive measures for a coming attack next turn. Thinking in such a way will help lead to your success and really lends the game an overall necessity of sound tactics.

                  Of course, the combat is what really matters when it comes to how a game stacks up, and for the most part it's really great in Rebelstar. Each character starts out with a particular ability with a specific type of weapon: for example, one character does well with sniper rifles, while another excels at close-quarter combat with a combat knife. Additionally, each gun has a variety of different attacks, each consuming varying Action Points. For example, you could let loose with a powerful yet inaccurate attack, or you could take aim with a single shot and hit an enemy over a long distance. Grenades are also an important weapon, which can be used to wipe out clumps of enemies pretty quickly --plus, any enemies trapped in the explosion will automatically damaged. The chance of hitting with a gun depends mainly on the weapon that you're wielding, the attack that you're executing, and how far away the enemy is from you. Additionally, the environment plays a huge part in battles, because bullets can't go through a wall, and there's a lower chance of hitting (or being hit) if your foe or you, respectively, is behind a sandbag.

                  There's also a very cool system that allows you to station a troop somewhere on the map and essentially put him in sentry mode. If an enemy crosses into his or her line of sight, he'll automatically open fire, even during the enemy's turn. This adds a lot of strategy to the game (especially since the enemy can perform it as well -- it'll have you constantly peeking out behind corners to make sure it's safe) and is a really neat implementation. Finally, there's a loose role-playing system in play that awards characters with experience when they fight -- with a level-up comes increased stats, and an increase in a specific attribute (for example, a character's ability with handguns, large weapons, or proficiency in close combat). It doesn't affect the game too much, since each character's specialty is pretty much decided when you get them, but it's still pretty cool.

                  One of the biggest aspects to Rebelstar is the huge fog-of-war implementation that the title possesses. Many popular strategy titles (again, I cite Advance Wars and Fire Emblem) have a similar fog-of-war mechanic, but certainly not to the extent that Rebelstar does. Every single map has fog-of-war, but in a way that really makes sense: you cannot see all the enemies on a map -- all you can see at the beginning of a fight is the environment and any enemies that are in your vision range. Attempting to behave in a more life-like behavior, you can only see ahead of you and slightly to the left and right -- it's impossible to see enemies behind you. Thus, the direction that you're facing is critically important, because you don't want to be blindsided or suddenly attacked from behind by an enemy. The good thing is that your enemy isn't all-knowing, and they've got to hunt around for you, as well. So, the game is really great when you spot an enemy before they spot you, blow a path through the game's fully destructible environments, and take out the enemy from behind. Oh yeah.

                  Where the game falters, however, is in terms of both graphics and sound. The music is forgettable and you might not even notice it's there; the sound effects have a presence, but they downright suck. Gunshots sound nothing like a gun actually being fired, and there's no real audio indication to tell if your of an enemy has actually been hit by gunfire. The graphics are similarly poor, with overly-simplistic sprites, stale, boring character profile pictures, and an annoying 3D isometric set-up. The problem with the camera angle is that there are many times when you can't see the space immediately behind a wall, so there might be an enemy there that you simply can't see and wouldn't know was there unless you scrolled your cursor around in this invisible area. It's pretty inexcusable, and steps should have been taken to prevent the game's graphic style from getting in the way of game play.

                  Rebelstar is a relatively difficult title, but the game does a really good job of easing you into the game mechanic and really getting you used to each of the title's many components. However, once it teaches you something, it expects you to know and memorize you and you're going to need to take advantage of all the commands that you have if you want to win. Some of the later missions in particular are pretty tough, and you're really going to have to be smart with your troops if you want to pull through and actually beat the game. It's also a relatively long game: as I already mentioned, there are 25 missions, and while the early missions are pretty short, the later ones can take more than an hour to complete, so there's plenty of play time here. You can also play through scenarios, and play through a campaign map as the enemy on that map. Aside from this feature, which you're not gong to use on many maps anyway, there's not much reason to replay Rebelstar. Once you know where all the enemies are and figure out the general mission strategy, there's not a whole lot of difficulty to the title. Still, it's a great game while it lasts.

                  Despite some minor flaws, largely resulting from the way the game's design interferes with the play mechanic, Rebelstar: Tactical Command is a great game. If you're looking for a really good strategy title for the GBA and have exhausted such resources as Tactics Ogre, Fire Emblem, Advance Wars, and Final Fantasy Tactics, then look no further than Rebelstar: Tactical Command. It's better than a lot of people would give it credit and is better than most of the strategy titles (only really excluding Fire Emblem and Advance Wars) that are on the system.

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                  • More +
                    06.11.2008 18:57
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                    Phantom Hourglass wraps the standard Zelda formula in an innovative and fun control scheme

                    The Legend of Zelda is one of the longest-running and most popular video game franchises ever to be created. It's spanned tons of games, almost ten consoles, and more than 15 years. And yet still, we keep getting them. And, for the most part, they remain good. Yes, it's true that Zelda games of late have been somewhat disappointing. Twilight Princess, released for the Wii at its launch, was fun, but criticized by fans as being too simple and easy, and too similar to past Zelda games. Wind Waker, on the contrary, was criticized for just the opposite. It also was far too short and simple, but it's graphical style in particular was a huge departure from the Zelda norm.

                    And now we get Phantom Hourglass. It's supposed to be a sequel to Wind Waker, so this in itself arises some controversy. What about that "kiddie" art style? And what about it's length and difficulty? Are the Zelda games just going downhill from here? Well, you can assuage your fears, because Phantom Hourglass is, in my opinion, the best Zelda game since Majora's Mask.

                    Like I mentioned above, Phantom Hourglass is a sequel to Wind Waker. It takes place not long after the events of Wind Waker, and the game begins with a quick rehash of Wind Waker's plot. And with that, you are thrust into a world that bears no resemblance to anything you've seen in a Zelda game before. There's no Hyrule -- there's not even any hint at Hyrule. Instead, the game takes place over a huge ocean, spotted with a myriad of islands.

                    But those islands are of no interest to you at the beginning of the game. Because you, Link, are currently on a pirate ship, with Tetra (who happens to actually be Zelda), searching for the famed Ghost Ship. Atypical of Zelda games, the search is a short and easy one; it's almost as if the Ghost Ship has come searching for you. Tetra, brave soul that she is, immediately jumps aboard to investigate. But once she sets foot upon it, the Ghost Ship sets sail, with Tetra on board! Link tries to rescue her...but to no avail.

                    Once you wake up, the game really begins. You've washed ashore upon a strange island. A mysterious fairy named Ciela and an enigmatic old man named Oshaus help you get back on your feet and agree to help you find Tetra. After locating a Jack Sparrow-esque treasure-crazed captain to help you navigate from island to island, the adventure begins!

                    As with every Zelda game, the crux of Phantom Hourglass's game play lies with progressing through dungeons. As you discover more and more about the secrets of the Ghost Ship and the evil that has spread throughout the world, the deeper and deeper you need to delve into the secrets that the game offers.

                    At first, you simply progress through a myriad of dungeons to collect spirits, which will supposedly help you defeat the evil being responsible for the disintegration of the world. As the plot progresses, however, the dungeons will not only become much more difficult and involved, but you'll also be hunting around for far more important and potent stuff.

                    Dungeons all pretty much consist of the same basic elements, but they still all manage to stay very fresh and unique. Essentially, there are tons of rooms, usually over multiple floors, which are filled with enemies and puzzles. Defeating enemies is never a hugely difficult task -- it usually just involves using a particular item that emphasizes a weakness in your foe (for example, if he's wearing armor, use the boomerang to circle around and hit him in the back), then bashing the crap out of him with your sword.

                    The many puzzles throughout the game, though, are an entirely different story. While they're not quite as difficult as those of past games, they are still very well done. They're difficult and all very unique (no ideas are recycled throughout the game), but they're not so difficult that they become frustrating. You may have to flip switches in a certain order, or solve a riddle to unlock a door. As the game progresses, the puzzles become more and more involved and intricate -- but at the same time, they also become so much more rewarding.


                    I'll admit that I was very skeptical of Phantom Hourglass when it first came out. My biggest concern, along with countless other gamers, was how the touch-screen controls would turn out. Well, I'm happy to say that it really does work well -- it's quite possibly the most intuitive and unique use of the DS touch screen yet. Moving is simple; simply tap to one side of the screen to walk in that direction. Targeting is a matter of just keeping your stylus on a foe, and then tapping him when you get close enough. You can also perform a sword strike by making a quick slash across the screen with your stylus.

                    Items are also controlled completely via the touch screen. To place a bomb, simply tap where you want to put it. To fire an arrow, tap where you want to fire. The boomerang is one of the coolest items in the game, because you can actually draw out the path that you want it to take. Overall, the items, while not new, are sort of "remade"; while you've probably seen all of them before, they are perfected in terms of how they are controlled in Phantom Hourglass.

                    As is typical of all Zelda games, you obtain items simply by progressing through dungeons, solving puzzles, and opening chests. Once you find in item, the puzzles that you'll meet in the near future usually require you to use that item. It's actually quite surprising how many uses of any given item the developer's have crammed into the game; while you may be using the same item four or five rooms in a row, it's not at all repetitive.

                    And then, of course, come the boss fights. They're arguably the most fun aspect of any Zelda dungeon, and the same holds true in Phantom Hourglass. While the bosses are not quite as epic as they have been in past Zelda games (the first one is truly disappointing, but don't worry: they get much better). As per usual, you'll be required to utilize an item (or in some cases, items) to come out on top against a boss. But aside from that, what makes the boss battles really great is that the touch screen is very well-utilized. In one battle, the fight spans both screens. In another, your foe is invisible. However, the top screen is from his perspective, so you can use this to gauge his location and engage him. It's really neat, it's really fun, but at the same time it's also very distinctly Zelda.

                    The DS's hardware capabilities are brought into play many times throughout the course of the game. You can use the touch screen to make notes on your map. Use the microphone to blow out candles to clear puzzles, or stun enemies by blowing on them. And arguably the coolest puzzle in the game requires you to shut your DS to transfer a symbol from the top screen to the bottom. These sorts of puzzles aren't the bulk of the game, so they don't feel gimmicky, but they are occasionally thrown in, and really keep the game feeling fresh and innovative.

                    Graphically, this game is one of the most impressive works on the DS. Graphics run very smoothly, and are just overall very nice looking. Textures and backgrounds look great on the DS, and the graphics particularly come alive during boss battles. One minor flaw, though, is that in cutscenes when there is a zoom-in on anybody's face, you will definitely notice some blockiness and roughness. Aside from that, though, everything looks fantastic. The music, also, is very well done. Sadly, there's not a whole lot of original music; however, the little that is present is fantastic. The vast majority of the sound in the game comes from remixed Zelda music, which is nonetheless great. The sound effects, though (which consist mainly of Link shouting "Hy-aah!" over and over again) can get very annoying. Still, for the most part, you will play this game with your volume switch all the way to the right.

                    One of Phantom Hourglass's biggest problem arrives in form of its difficulty level. Clearly, Phantom Hourglass has been geared toward the casual gamer, one who is not necessarily willing to solve hugely complicated enemies or take on near-invulnerable foes. The game's difficulty has been geared down, and it really shows. Puzzles, while unique, are not very difficult. The exploration factor, which in past games has provided prizes to only the most creative adventurers, is also made far easier. Another staple of Zelda games, pieces of heart, have been taken out. Zelda fans will be angry, but they've now been replaced with full heart containers. Yes, that's right: rather than finding a piece of heart for completing a side-quest, you'll now receive an entire heart. This one fact is possibly the biggest compromising item in terms of difficulty in Phantom Hourglass.

                    Yet despite that fact, Phantom Hourglass provides a surprisingly lengthy adventure. You'll encounter the Ghost Ship after less than ten hours of play; it seems that you're nearing the end, only to find out that you're in fact less than halfway through. It provides a lengthy, entertaining adventure, and isn't the kind of game that you're going to be able to breeze through in a day. And still, I'm willing to forgive the fact that Phantom Hourglass is fairly easy, simply because it is such an overachiever in nearly every other aspect of the game.

                    Phantom Hourglass also offers some multiplayer, which is surprisingly fun. It's a kind of game of tag, where one player is Link and must take Triforce pieces from around the dungeon and deposit them in a safe zone. The other player takes control of three Phantoms -- invulnerable, armored monsters -- and draws their paths on the map in an attempt to capture Link. There are a number of different courses to play on, and you can play either with download play, multi-card play, or even on Nintendo's WiFi connection. It's nothing as fun and engaging as, say, Four Swords, but it's still a fun little diversion. Adding on to the online experience, users can trade treasures and ship parts with other people who own the game.

                    Overall, Phantom Hourglass really does offer the quintessential Nintendo DS gaming experience. The controls are flawless, and the graphics are pushed to their limit. The story is well-done and innovative, and the dungeons are very well-designed. Admittedly, the game is disappointingly easy, but I'm willing to overlook that fact just because of the sheer brilliance of game play and the fact that DS functionality is so seamlessly incorporated into the game. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is a must-have for any DS owner.

                    Typical Price: £22.99 from GAME

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                    I've had the DS for nearly four years now and have decided to compile a list of the top 10 DS games of all time. You can view this list on my profile

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                    This review can also be found on other websites (see my profile for details).

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                      03.11.2008 17:35
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                      nicely done remake of an influential, little-seen early chapter from this long-running series

                      Every once in a while a game comes along that lets us relive gaming as it was years ago (or experience it for the first time, for some people). Porting old games is nothing new for Nintendo owners. Some remakes are better than others, but Final Fantasy III stands out largely firstly because it is one of the earliest games in the highly popular 'Final Fantasy' series and secondly as it's a game that so few gamers played because it was released only in Japan.

                      Final Fantasy III is one of the best-looking games on the DS, but don't let that fool you. Hidden beneath the cute, nose-less character models and impressively-designed and animated enemies is a seriously hardcore adventure. If The World Ends with You is the only sort of RPG (role playing game) that you could enjoy, turn a blind eye and for your own sake, don't bother with Final Fantasy III. But if you've got an appreciation for games that were released some twenty years ago and that laid down the foundation stones of the RPG genre, you'll likely find something to enjoy in Final Fantasy III.

                      Frankly, it's easy to see why Final Fantasy III has previously not been released in North America and Europe: because it's pretty much the same freaking game as Final Fantasy I. Yes, we get pretty little updated visuals and a surprisingly fun job system, but in many ways it doesn't differ much from the original Final Fantasy.

                      Aside from the job system which I'll touch on later, Final Fantasy III is role-playing in its most basic, stripped-down form. You'll fight monsters, gain experience, fight some more monsters, buy equipment, and use your new powerful equipment to fight more powerful enemies and gain even more experience. It's a circular, constantly-repetitive experience, and it's going to turn a lot of people off. Again, there's clearly a niche market that's being targeted here and frankly it's surprising that Square was brave enough to release a game that will appeal to so few people who own a DS (most owners of the system are too busy having fun with Nintendogs or Super Frickin' Princess Peach to pay attention to a real game).

                      The job system is one of the few mildly unique aspects of Final Fantasy III and is the only draw of the title to people who brag about playing every Final Fantasy game released. The game features some 25 different jobs, all of which their own weapon abilities and a special action or two. Experimenting with different party options is pretty fun, but there are some jobs that are clearly better than others while some jobs are absolutely useless and you'd have to be an idiot to actually use them. Still, constraining your ideal party is enjoyable enough, and checking out all the different job costumes is one of the most exciting parts of the game.

                      And then there's the problem of difficulty: the bulk of the game is decently fun, if your idea of fun constitutes killing the same group of pretty-looking monsters over and over and over freaking again. But then Final Fantasy III shows its true colors: even the beautiful visuals can't hide the fact that this is a really old game. You're expected to grind to insane levels to get through the game's many dungeons and defeat incessantly-attacking enemies. It's hard to get into the lame save-the-crystals-story or connect with any of the poorly-written characters when you're attacked by a threesome of foes hellbent on your death every three steps you take.

                      In many current-day RPGs, a little level-grinding is required. In many, there's a setup where "it'll be a lot easier if you gain a couple levels-up now and then but it certainly isn't a requirement and you'll have just as much fun facing off against epic bosses at a lower level". Such is not the case with Final Fantasy III. You MUST grind. There's no way about it. If you just try and play through the story without stopping to level you'll probably have killed yourself out of frustration by the time you reach the second boss. You're expected to grind. A lot. Hell, the entire game is one big freaking grind. There's no puzzle solving and only a few side quests. You'll level-up for hours in preparation for taking on one big, overpowered boss. Even worse is when you fly through a dungeon, reach the end of it after an hour and are absolutely SLAUGHTERED by a boss because you spent too little time leveling.

                      And thanks to the archaic save feature, it's back to the beginning of the dungeon for you. You can only save in the field and because nothing ever really happens there -- it's just the way to get from dungeon A to dungeon B -- it's kind of useless. You'll just save before you enter a dungeon and pray for the best. Admittedly, it's a different sort of difficulty than many of us may be used to. You always know where to go and what you have to do -- the difficulty is in actually doing it. Compare that to the mess of an adventure employed by many current-day RPGs where you'll go through several dungeons, obscure puzzles, and boring story bits before fighting a boss. To its credit, at least Final Fantasy III keeps things simple.

                      Final Fantasy III is kind of like a very attractive member of the opposite sex whom, when you get to know him or her, turns out to be a massive jerk. Square-Enix advertises the beautiful graphics and the fact that this is a "brand new" Final Fantasy but conveniently forgets to mention the fact that if you've got the patience of one of the millions of ten-year-olds who actually own a DS, you'll hate this game.

                      But if you do stick with it, Final Fantasy III improves significantly. There's no way to revive your characters outside of Phoenix Downs and two reviving spells. But in a cruel, misanthropic move by Square, you're never given access to these spells until halfway through the game. So for the first half of your time with Final Fantasy III, you'll have to be a perfectionist. If a character dies, you'll reload so as not to waste any precious Phoenix Downs. And then once you gain Raise, the game throws a mountain of Phoenix Downs at you. I feel degraded.

                      If you're willing to stick through it and slog through five or ten exceedingly painful hours at the beginning of the game, then go ahead and play, rent, or steal from a friend Final Fantasy III. I've been ragging on it a lot but it's really not a bad game. In fact, it's actually a pretty good game. It's just that under all the pretty, its age is really starting to show. If you appreciate the brand of old-school gaming that the older Final Fantasy games offer and are willing to put up with some seriously frustrating moments (Final Fantasy III is easily one of the toughest games you'll play), then it's a fun adventure. Everybody else can wait for Final Fantasy XIII which looks set to redefine the role-playing genre next year, or stick to the safety of New Super Mario Bros.

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                      I've had the DS for nearly four years now and have decided to compile a list of the top 10 DS games of all time. You can view this list on my profile

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                      Typical price: £11.69 from Amazon

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                      This review can also be found on other websites (see my profile for details).

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                        30.10.2008 17:02
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                        it's a bright, rich, and lengthy adventure that could be improved upon

                        We have an obsession with courtroom dramas. Everyone knows that law firms are among the most lucrative businesses in the world. What's the big deal, huh? Why are they so popular? So rich? Do they have fun? Well, for all you inquisitive minds out there, Capcom has a solution: Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney! Here to answer all your lawyering questions. And while this courtroom 'simulation' is destined to become a cult-classic with great one-liners and a memorable cast of characters, you'll be left praying that no court in the world operates in this way.

                        There's never been a game quite like Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney before, and there are so many things that make it such a joy to play. If you have ever played a text-based adventure game before, then you have a good idea of how one aspect of Ace Attorney plays out. You travel about various local areas and buildings, talking to people and searching for clues. This part of the games unfolds in a very "point-and-click" style of play, and is fairly boring. When you trigger one event, such as finding a clue, talking to a suspect, or presenting an item to somebody, a new event will open up for you to trigger. Usually, this event is intuitive and is what you'd normally do next. Sometimes, however, this isn't the case, and the next event is obscure. Then, you are forced to endure the bane of all text-based games: wandering around aimlessly and randomly performing actions, hoping to trigger the next event. These sections of the game, while few and far between, are very annoying and discouraging.

                        The similarity with other text-based games stops here, though, because from that point forward, Ace Attorney is drastically different from other games you've ever played. There are two main phases of the game: investigation, and the actual day in court. While the investigation section is fairly mundane, the in-court part of the game is unlike anything you've ever played. The action slashes back and forth between you, the defense attorney, the prosecutor, and the witness. The prosecutor will call on witnesses to allude to the guilt of your client. They will testify, and then you are given the chance to cross-examine the witness. You may press them with questions to get more information, or you can raise objections. If you find a contradiction between a witness's testimony and evidence that you've already found, you must raise an objection. Continue to tear apart the witness's testimony, until eventually they leave the stand. Then get ready, because another witness is about to be called and you must do this over again. This game play mechanic is wonderful because it is so new and so rewarding. There's nothing quite like the feeling you get when you deliver the coupe-de-grace and prove once and for all that the witness on the stand is lying through his teeth. The feeling of satisfaction is undescribable, and makes Ace Attorney a blast to play.

                        Ace Attorney was actually originally released in Japan years ago as a GameBoy Advance game, which has been ported over to the DS for European and American gamers. Well, luckily, Capcom didn't decide to take the lazy route and simply throw a GBA game on a DS cartridge and call it a new game (although certain aspects of the game do seem to follow such an ideal). The first four cases could pretty easily be played on a GBA, but Capcom added a bonus fifth case specifically for the DS version, which does a fantastic job of taking advantage of all the features that the DS has to offer. You get to do fingerprint work, which has you spreading the powder on the crime scene with the stylus, and then blowing it away with the microphone to reveal a print. You get to test for blood and even watch crime scene video footage to point out flaws with the prosecution's attack. The entire game is great fun, but the fifth case in particular really is the epitome of the brilliance that Phoenix Wright has to offer.

                        The game play is unique and fun, but the storyline is the driving force behind Ace Attorney. If you are a fan of such authors as Agatha Christie or Arthur Conan Doyle, you will fall in love with Ace Attorney. Each of the five cases have a distinct, thought-out storyline, and every case is full of intrigues and plot twists that will ensure that you stay hooked until the final verdict. Interestingly, all of the cases are linked to each other in some way. You're not simply given five random cases to solve; instead, all of them are related. Cases start out simply, but become more exciting and complex as the game progresses; the fourth and fifth cases are true masterpieces of detective work. There are countless characters that you encounter throughout the game, and several of them play a role later in the game. Each character has a very distinct personality, and the script does an amazing job of showing every character's attitude. Some characters are downright hilarious, while others are as grave and serious as can be. Also worthy of mention is the fantastic script. The writing is excellent; it keeps the plot moving forward, but also provides some comedic relief. Ace Attorney manages to crack several clean jokes that might actually have you laughing out loud.

                        The graphics in Phoenix Wright also help contribute to its hilarity. Often, the graphics are pretty out-there, but it they still complement the rest of the game quite well. The graphics are serious when necessary, but also have a charming sense of humor. The wide variety of characters have drastically different personalities, and those personalities are further shown by the graphics themselves. Ace Attorney exclusively features 2D graphics, but they're very well done. Poses and expressions are used depending on the current situation, and the graphics are all very detailed.

                        Also worthy of attention is the fantastic music in Ace Attorney. Often, the sound a game makes has no real impact on its overall quality. In Ace Attorney, however, the music actually makes the game far more fun and enjoyable to play. There are a variety of different tunes, ranging from light-hearted to serious and grave. The music is interspersed throughout the game, and is really excellent. It beautifully complements the mood of the game at the moment, and thanks to the game's varying brevity, all of the music is played fairly often.

                        Ace Attorney offers an intriguing, fun gaming experience, but it ends all too soon. The first case will take you an hour or two, and they grow longer from there. Still, cases are never huge; they are always capped at about 5 hours. The game is short, and its also incredibly easy. It's not possible to really "lose" in Ace Attorney, although there is a life meter of sorts in the game. If you do something incorrectly (for example, point out a contradiction that doesn't exist), you receive a penalty. If you incur five penalties, then the case ends and your client gets a guilty verdict. Unfortunately, this problem can be easily overcome, because you can save whenever you want. If you're about to make a critical objection, you save your game before it, just in case. Thus, any difficulty that the game might have had is completely compromised.

                        Despite its minor shortcomings, Ace Attorney is one of the best games for the DS available today. The text is wonderful, and it offers an interesting way to utilize the DS's capabilities. It's going to be tough to find, as production was sadly limited, but even if you've got to pay a bit extra for a new copy online or even pick up a used copy, I'd say it's worth it. Ace Attorney may not be for everybody, but if you enjoy a great read, then you should definitely pick it up.

                        Typical price: £25.99 from Powerplay Direct

                        (Please note that this game is out of stock nearly everywhere. If you're interested in buying this game, I suggest that you consider Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney which is a slightly refined version of this game, alternatively invest in other Phoenix Wright games, e.g. Phoenix Wright Justice for All)

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                          29.10.2008 16:18
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                          Super Paper Mario brings Nintendo's quirky role-playing series to the Wii with great results

                          Nowadays, the words "Paper Mario" seem to have become synonymous with humorous, innovative console role-playing games (RPGs). And do gamers really have any reason not to feel this way? The original Paper Mario, released for the N64, was met with critical acclaim and gave the RPG genre a bit of a facelift. The sequel on the GameCube, subtitled The Thousand Year Door, was even better, offering 'Cube owners more of what they wanted. And now, we get a third iteration: Super Paper Mario for the Wii.

                          Super Paper Mario scores one major success in that it retains the brilliant, unforgettable brand of humor brought about by the first two Paper Mario games. And as with past iterations of the popular series, there's a surprisingly well-written and developed plot to be found in Super Paper Mario. Yes, Bowser does make an appearance, but he's not the game's final boss -- nor is he even really that much of an antagonist.

                          Instead, Super Paper Mario chronicles the misdeeds of the evil and enigmatic Count Bleck. Having obtained the mysterious tome called the Dark Prognosticus, the Count plans to take over the world (some things just never change). The story low-key and mysterious, and you gradually find out more bits and pieces of what exactly is going on as you progress further and further into the game.

                          The story is, to go out on a limb, epic. Yes, I know that may sound out of place when discussing the plot of a Mario game. But don't confuse the word epic with something like the word "serious", because that's definitely not the case. In fact, Super Paper Mario is one of the most hilarious games I've ever played, offering up some really sound, laugh-out-loud dialogue. Characters are numerous and surprisingly well-written; the script-writers in charge of this game deserve a pat on the back for a job tremendously well-done.

                          Graphically, Super Paper Mario is hard to really analyze. Put simply, you're either going to love the visuals of this title or hate them. And if I had to take I guess, I'd say you'll probably love them. If you're looking for something realistic-looking, however, you'd best look somewhere else. Of course, Mario games in general have never been realistic (is it even possible? I don't think so...), but that doesn't mean that they don't look nice.

                          On the contrary, the graphics in Super Paper Mario are brilliant looking. They're colorful and exceedingly vibrant, and are just fun to look at. Interestingly, though, there are no cutscenes at all -- not an anomaly for a Mario game, but considering the great visual style, it's a pity that the storytelling all unfolds through hefty dialogue boxes. Still, though, if you're looking for some colorful, fun, cute-ish graphics in a game, then you'll get along quite nicely with Super Paper Mario.

                          Where the game begins to stumble a bit, however, is with the gameplay. Don't get me wrong: It's still an enjoyable gaming experience, but I just don't think it lives up to the charm and immersion that the first two managed to pull off. Firstly, if you were hoping that Paper Mario would be revolutionized with motion-sensitive Wii remote controls, you'll be disappointed. For the most part, anyway.

                          Because actually, there is a little bit of motion control in this game, though it's likely not what some gamers were looking for. There's a little bit of pointing action that you'll need to take advantage of to progress through the game. Still, though, it comes in infrequently and is a bit underwhelming. Other instances are either entirely unnecessary or feel really tacked on. For example, to perform a "special attack" and generate a bit more damage, you can shake the controller around right after you've attacked an enemy. Also, to throw off status conditions (for example, poison or freeze) you've got to shake the controller around.

                          But before I get too much further, it's important to know that the gameplay mechanic implemented by Super Paper Mario is significantly different from that of The Thousand Year Door. While the latter was pretty clearly an RPG with some platforming elements, the former is clearly the reverse. It's a platformer through and through, with some innovations thrown in and a loose role-playing backdrop.

                          Let me explain. Like I said, Super Paper Mario is primarily a regular old 2D platformer. Enemies trundle around on their predetermined routes, and simply jumping on them is enough to take out the majority of baddies that get in your way. Of course, sometimes you may have to resort to more extreme courses of action...but more on that later. In addition to these standard platforming elements, however, there's also a bit of "RPG-ness" added in, which certainly makes things more interesting.

                          The control scheme is really quite simple and straightforward. For me personally, it was actually one of the more disappointing aspects of the game. Rather than attaching the Nunchuk and using it to control Mario while using the Remote to perform a variety of actions, the Remote is all that's needed. You play with it on its side, using the D-pad to control Mario and the 1 and 2 buttons to jump and deploy partner actions, respectively.

                          What's really disappointing about this, though, is that it's really nothing that couldn't easily be done on the GameCube. After all, this was a title originally scheduled for release on the GameCube, and it definitely shows. While the game is undeniably entertaining and ultimately a "good" game, the Wii controls feel tacked on and for the most part, gimmicky and uninspired.

                          One of the coolest aspects overall of Super Paper Mario is the partner system, although it certainly isn't what it used to be. Rather than taking along with you Goombas, Kooopas, and other such partners, your companions are a bunch of seemingly-uninteresting items called Pixls. Character development is rather weak for them, which is a disappointment, but they make up for it with what exactly they can do. They each have a special ability which can be taken advantage of for a variety of uses.

                          There are actually a number of Pixls throughout the game, though they're usually rather well-hidden; you're going to have to poke around to find them. Some of them can be used to dispatch enemies, which is sometimes helpful. However, the reason that every one of them is useful -- nay, critical -- is because there are a crapload of puzzles in Super Paper Mario. Each and every Pixl has a different ability (some examples: exploding oneself, granting Mario the ability to pick up items, and the like...), and you're going to have to utilize each Pixl's ability well to progress your way through the game.

                          Actually, it's this area where Super Paper Mario falls into a bit of trouble...Yes, there are tons of puzzles throughout the game. And yes, they're (nearly) all very well designed. The problem is that they're disappointingly easy. Puzzles are rarely, if ever, that mind-bending; most can be overcome within a matter of a few minutes. Defeating enemies is equally effortless. Overall, as is the rather disappointing trend these days, Super Paper Mario just yields its secrets all too easily; an increased difficulty level would have made this game even better.

                          Most enemies can be taken out with relative ease, using only Mario's inherent jumping abilities. It's a pity that the Pixls aren't put to more fighting use, but there's one specific area of play where they do play a rather large role: boss fights. They're not only downright funny in Super Paper Mario (game reference: Control Alt Delete!), but they really do challenge you to think creatively as you attempt to take out these baddies that stand in your way.

                          Overall, though, the fact remains that the title manages to stay fun and entertaining. It offers a good amount of play time, with a variety of levels and around 20 hours of game time. There are also some side quests that any completionists out there will want to complete. Sadly, though, there's little reason to play through the title a second time; you'll get all you can out of it the first playthrough. Also, it's unfortunate, but gameplay tends to get a little flat toward the end of the game.

                          Ultimately, though, Super Paper Mario is worth a purchase. There are some noticeable flaws with it, and it definitely seems geared toward casual gamers even more than the last title in the series. Still, it's a fun, creative little title that can take care of your platforming/RPG fix on the Nintendo Wii. If you're looking for a lighthearted game with a fun plot, some laugh-out-loud moments, and clever gameplay, then try and pick up a copy of Super Paper Mario.

                          Typical price: £29.99 from GAME (pre-owned for £19.99)

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                          • Spectrobes (DS) / Nintendo DS Game / 64 Readings / 63 Ratings
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                            28.10.2008 13:43
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                            What could have been a successful, innovative game instead absolutely fails to impress

                            Pokemon, being one of the most popular video game franchises known to man, has inspired countless spin-offs and knock-offs, most of which are absolutely no good. And now Disney, notorious for developing terrible licensed games based off their latest (and usually not-so-greatest) film, has a go and their own monster collection video game. And while it actually had the potential to be quite good, a number of problems get in the way and thereby demote Spectrobes to rank of "half-baked Pokemon knock-off".

                            One of the game's initial problems is its plot; at least Game Freak had the decency to omit one if they knew they were going to bungle it. The dev team, however, decided to include the plot despite the fact that it really is completely unengaging. The setting is sometime far in the future, where two annoyingly young space soldiers (they're given another name, but I just don't care enough to remember it) stumble upon a mysterious man and eventually learn the secret of Spectrobes, prehistoric monsters that are preserved in fossils. So you've got to use said creatures to save the world from an evil alien race, y'know...like you've read/played countless times before. The dialogue honest-to-god stinks -- it's completely contrived and the characters is totally one-dimensional and uninteresting. You're got the reckless hero who gets in trouble for his "monkey business" (in fact, it's the subject of 50% of the dialogue at the beginning of the game -- his monkey business and how all three of the other characters react to it), the pretty girl who's a beacon of common sense, the brave leader of some random army, and a mysterious old man. Boring.

                            But, following the instructions of the old man, initially named Mr. X, you embark upon a quest to uncover the Spectrobes and defeat the menacing Krawl, who threaten to overrun the galaxy. You've got a nifty little device that essentially lets you store up to two Spectrobes with you as you walk around, and you can have another one following you (this is the creature that you'll use to find buried items). As you walk around, you can tap the creature following you or just hit R while standing still and a small circle will grow from around the immature Spectrobe (interesting word choice, huh? I'll explain in a moment). If there's something underground, a sparkly little dot will appear -- touch it to enter into the digging minigame.

                            The digging game is simple and fun at first, but quickly grows monotonous because you're essentially doing the same thing every time and there's very little skill involved. You've simply got to drill down a few layers into the ground, done simply by tapping the screen a few times, and then you'll see a bit of whatever it is that you're digging up. You've got a few tools at your disposal, but none of them are all that impressive just because, for the most part, they're really not all necessary. Anyway, you just scrape around the buried object until it's completely visible, and you'll automatically pick it up and add it to your stock. Pretty simple, right?

                            At a time like this, I'd like to be able to say something like "Wrong. Because, ..." and go on about the complexity of this minigame. But honestly, I can't. When I say "Pretty simple, right?", I actually mean it. It's pretty annoying, because this is a huge focus of the entire game and it's just so freaking boring. In order to beat the game, you're going to have to find a lot of Spectrobes, as well as different minerals and cubes to help your creatures in battle and make the more powerful, respectively. So, much of the game becomes this huge, monotonous, immensely boring scavenger hunt that fails to capture the players interest and will ultimately result in you tossing aside this game in disgust.

                            The other big part of the game, and the one that doesn't fall flat on it's face, is the battle mechanic. As I already mentioned, you have two Spectrobes in your party, and these are the ones that will participate in battles with you. Enemies appear as swirling vortexes in the field, and running into them initiates a battle. Once there, you have control of the main character, and the Spectrobes automatically follow him. The monsters are controlled with the L and R buttons -- obviously, the one on your right with the R button and vice versa. Hitting the Spectrobe's respective shoulder button will allow them to unleash their attack. Depending on the Spectrobe, obviously, you'll get a different attack; some are quite powerful but take a while to power up, and others do little damage but can be executed quickly.

                            However, the sense of customization that was such a huge part of titles like Pokemon is just nowhere to be found. A lot of this, I think, has to do with the fact that you can only have two Spectrobes in your party at a time, so there's not a lot of mixing-and-matching that can be done in the first place. Secondly, each of the attacks are all pretty similar, regardless of little differences in power. The Spectrobes, to be blunt, are boring and forgettable, and as a result this interesting, intuitive, and genuinely innovative battle system pretty much loses any worth that it had.

                            And even what little creature interaction it has isn't all that interesting. When you find a Spectrobe, you can go back to your ship and use the Lab System to awaken it. You do this by speaking (or, if you've got some sense of...modesty and don't want to be seen in a public place speaking to your DS, you could just blow into the microphone) into the microphone. There's a spectrum shown and it fluctuates based on how loudly you're speaking; there's a certain range that you've got to keep your voice for three seconds, so in actuality you may end up just making some noise and holding it, almost as if you're singing. Afterwards, you've got to let the Spectrobe mature, and this is a simple and uninteresting matter of putting it into the incubator and occasionally interacting with it.

                            Both graphically and musically, Spectrobes is decent. The visuals in battle are fine, but a lot of this has to do with the fact that you're fighting in a very confined area and so the developers didn't have to worry about putting much detail into anything other than a space about the size of the bottom DS screen. The field graphics look decent, I suppose, but are rather blurry and pixilated at times. The music is fine, but it's not very extensive and as a result is very repetitive. Needless to say, this gets pretty annoying quite quickly.

                            To say that Spectrobes is disappointing would be an understatement. I truly had high hopes for this title, and there was an opportunity to prove that just because a game is about raising monsters doesn't mean it's a Pokemon knock-off. And, while Spectrobes doesn't quite do that, it does prove something equally poor: that any creature-collecting game that isn't Pokemon downright sucks. I'd highly advise keeping your distance from Spectrobes -- unless you'd like your heart to be broken, that is.

                            Typical price: £8.40 from Amazon

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                              26.10.2008 19:40
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                              One of the most innovative, fun, and challenging games for Nintendo's unique handheld

                              I would assume that a good number of people out there have undergone surgery -- I myself have multiple times. And from my end, it's all pretty easy. Sure, there's a bit of anxiety going into it ("What if they give me too much anaesthesia?"), but in 30 minutes I'm up and feeling fine. But have you ever thought about what it's like on the doctor's end? What do you do with someone who's on the line, who's put their life into your hands? Do you have what it takes? Well, you're about to find out...

                              I'll begin very much to the point: Trauma Center is definitely one of my favourite games for the DS. I, like many other DS owners out there, was somewhat disappointed with the lack of really innovative games for the system. With this incredible touch screen, why weren't there more games that really took advantage of it? Where were all the games that could only be done on the DS?

                              Well, Trauma Center was definitely one of them (not any more, though -- the series now has games on the Wii). It may seem unorthodox to have a game revolving around playing doctor on the DS, but it actually works quite well. The controls, specifically, work very well; the touch screen serves as an excellent channel to emulate actions executed by all sorts of medical tools.

                              The game is divided up into chapters, which are in turn divided into operations. There are six chapters, with around 10 operations each. Each operation has some specific goal; at the beginning, they are fairly mundane. Beginning operations include such standard OR procedures as patching up somebody who ran crashed on a motorcycle.

                              As you progress further and further into the game, though, the mission variety becomes quite impressive. Operations will shift from the ordinary to the extraordinary, requiring you to solve puzzles and find the weaknesses of many viruses in an attempt to save your patients. While the operations are by no stretch of the imagination realistic, they are quite varied; there are some repeated levels, but the second time you play through a virus, it is a souped-up version of the original.

                              But how exactly do you perform operations? It's quite simple, really: with the help of your trusty DS stylus and ten in-game tools. The tools you'll put to work are actually quite standard, including antibiotic gel, a scalpel, forceps, a laser, thread and needle, or even your (gloved) hand.

                              Every operation (with only a few exceptions) begin with you opening up the problem spot on your patient. Inside, there's usually some sort of problem; perhaps there is glass under your patients skin, or maybe there's an evil worm-like virus attempting to eat out your patient's heart. Whatever the problem, your ten tools will be put to work as you attempt to cure the patient's ailment and put their infections to rest.

                              Around all this operating is a surprisingly well-written story. You take on the role of rookie doctor Derek Stiles. After being placed in a high-pressure situation, he is found to have a mysterious ability inherited from Aeschylus, the world's first doctor: the Healing Touch. He must use this ability and the help of fellow doctors and nurse Angie Blackwell to combat an evil infection of viruses called G.U.I.L.T. Behind these world-threatening viruses is the enigmatic medical bioterrorism organization Delphi. For such a gameplay-oriented title, Under the Knife does a surprisingly good job of incorporating the plot smoothly in with the rest of the game, and some shockingly well-done plot twists.

                              The character development is also very well-done. In between operations, you'll get short conversations between multiple characters. In addition to progressing the ever-twisting and highly entertaining plot, these conversations do an incredible job of developing the characters and making them seem completely lifelike. Some characters are far deeper than they first appear, and while development for some secondary characters is a little lacking, the way that the five or so truly "main" characters are handled is phenomenal. In fact, if you're a fan of such TV shows as House, M.D. or Grey's Anatomy, then you'll feel right at home with the way characters in Trauma Center are developed.

                              Additionally, the above-mentioned Healing Touch plays a big role in gameplay as the plot progresses and the game's operations get a lot tougher. Chose your hand as a tool and quickly draw a large star across the touch screen. Time will immediately slow down and damage taken by your patient will drop dramatically. In addition to making Derek seem ridiculously cool, the Healing Touch is critical for operations when you just need a little bit of extra help to squeak by.

                              Under the Knife also earns some points because it's avoided the DS stigma, if you will, that games for the DS are easy. Because, as those who have played it no doubt now, Under the Knife is devilishly tough. For one, there's a restrictive time limit placed on each level. For beginning levels, this doesn't present much of a problem; however, as you progress through the game, that time limit is going to become your worst enemy. You'll have to act quickly and decisively in order to come out with a "Mission Completed".

                              To add further to the already ramped-up difficulty is the fact that your patients' vital signs drop very quickly; certain "attacks" by malicious viruses can knock down your patients' vitals by up to 30 or even 50 points -- which is more worrisome when you consider that the maximum number for vital points is never more than 99. You've got to constantly be on the attack when trying to save a patient, but at the same time you've got to balance that with injecting your patients with healing serum and ensuring that they don't die as you treat them.

                              It's definitely worthy of note, then, that Trauma Center is not really for the casual gamer. If you're just looking for a way to pass the minutes at the bus stop or in the doctor's office, there's probably a better title out there for you. Trauma Center is addicting enough that it's tough to put down (even when you keep losing multiple times in a row), and it's hard enough that it can easily frustrate anyone who's not in to gaming. That said, if you're on the fence about this title because of its difficulty level, know that it's overall an extremely rewarding game, and the fantastically-written story line and loveable characters may provide enough incentive for you to keep banging your head against the same wall -- it did for me, anyway.

                              Graphically, Trauma Center is fine. It's similar to Fire Emblem games in regards to the way that story scenes unfold. Sadly, there are no custcenes, but plot sequences take place with a picture of a character next to whatever it is that he or she is saying. The operation graphics are also decent, but nothing spectacular. Things look nice, organs are (surprisingly) easily identifiable, and the blood, while realistic, isn't graphicly so. While it's by no means the best looking DS game out there, the visuals easily serve their purpose.

                              The music is in similar boat, although overall it is better than the visual quality of Under the Knife. The music is well-done, though slightly forgettable. Still, as far as immersion goes (a big aspect of any game in my book), the music is well done and definitely contributes a lot. There's also some occasional voice work, though it's not used for story points. Rather, during some operations, a vocal cue (your nurse shouting, "Come on, Doctor!", for example) is the only hint given to you that you need to take drastic action now. That said, you'll probably need the sound the entire game, because you never know when such a moment will be sprung upon you. Still, that's not a bad thing, because it'll expose you to the game's music and make Under the Knife an overall more enjoyable game.

                              There's also a good amount of replay value, thanks to the fact that you can easily go back and play any level that you want, so long as you've beaten it in the story mode. You're given a letter rank, ranging from D, worst, to S, best, for each level that you complete. For completionists out there who want to get an S on every single operation (no mean feat, considering how tough the operations are normally), there's a lot of work to be done, and you are ensured many, many hours of game time with this title, even once the credits have rolled.

                              Overall, Trauma Center: Under the Knife is one of the most innovative, and most addicting titles out there for the Nintendo DS. While it may not be the best choice for casual gamers thanks to its high difficulty level, it is incredibly rewarding for those willing to stick with it and play the game to its satisfying finale. Gameplay is intense, fun, and addicting, the story is wonderful and supported by some great-written characters, and there's plenty of game value. If you're looking for a challenging, exciting gaming experience for the DS, you owe it to yourself to start poking around for a copy of Trauma Center: Under the Knife.

                              Cheapest price: £23.99 from Powerplay Direct or £9.99 (preowned) from Gamestation

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                              • Metroid Fusion (GBA) / Archive Game / 38 Readings / 36 Ratings
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                                21.10.2008 11:50
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                                A must for fans and for anyone willing to trade off some quantity for some quality gaming

                                I got a rather late start to gaming, and therefore missed out on some really great titles. Super Metroid for the SNES was apparently one of them -- it's been hailed by many as one of the greatest games ever created, and considered by diehard Metroid fans to be the best game in the series (incidentally, the awesome Virtual Console is a way for me to catch up on the many classics I missed, but that's a story for another day). However, with the launch of the powerful handheld called the GameBoy Advance, Nintendo was given an opportunity to open up the "genre", if you will, that was defined by 2D Metroid titles. And, therefore, we GBA owners were blessed with a truly wonderful game called Metroid Fusion.

                                Story-wise, Metroid Fusion far exceeded any expectations that I had. I don't know why, exactly, but I've always associated shooter/2D action titles with poor stories, though I couldn't even give you a game that really contributes to that stigma, if you will -- although perhaps classic Mario platformers are at the root of the problem. Speculation aside, Metroid Fusion's plot starts out interesting, when a parasite named only "X" infects Samus and sends her into a coma. Her ever important Power Suit is infected and must be surgically removed -- part of it, anyway -- but her condition is still critical. Surprisingly, it's her own worst enemy that ends up coming to the rescue: Galactic Federation scientists find a vaccine utilizing the powers of -- you guessed it -- Metroids. Back from the brink, it's now up to Samus to explore the place of origination of the X parasite and attempt to stop it.

                                While Metroid Fusion has a better-than-anticipated story for a 2D GBA shooter, it's the game play that Metroid fans really care about. And, I'm happy to say that Metroid Fusion, in as many ways as possible, offers gamers the same sort of outstanding, exciting game play experience that was the hallmark of Super Metroid. Naturally, there are going to be a few flaws present in an attempt to take the spirit of a game created many years ago and transfer that essence to a newer game on a more modern console, but Nintendo deserves a hearty pat on the back for a job very well done.

                                Metroid Fusion essentially revolves around exploring the mysterious, infected space station in an attempt to discover the mystery behind X and stop Samus' mysterious clone that has resulted from her infection. Of course, the adventure quickly departs from the space station and into other, well-varied environments in her adventure to track down X and destroy it. Thanks to her infection, Samus has become immune to the parasite, and that's an auspicious thing for her, because the enemies that she encounters are essentially beefed-up versions of enemies from past Metroid games, all thanks to the X parasite. The parasites that are left behind when you defeat enemies can be absorbed by Samus' Power Suit and restore her health, missiles, and the like.

                                So, the way the game progresses is relatively simple and straightforward: you'll wander around from place to place, progressing through the area, combating foes, solving some pretty straightforward puzzles, and working toward unraveling the mysteries of X. The exploration factor that past Metroid games are so well known for is pretty toned down (presumably to make the game appeal more to casual gamers). There's a computer present in Samus' ship that essentially directs her where to go and exactly what to do -- needless to say, this takes a lot of fun out of simply exploring the big environment at your disposal. Of course, there are still plenty of Energy Tank and Missile capacity upgrades to be found, which is always fun, and netting all of these actually will take a good bit of exploration and ingenuity.

                                However, one of the biggest obstacles blocking your exploration of the space station and surrounding locales is the fact that when Samus' Power Suit was surgically removed, she lost all but her most basic abilities. In order to gain them back, and thereby continue her exploration and complete her task, she's got to regain those abilities. They range from using the Morph Ball to acquiring bombs for it to gaining the Space Jump abilities even to some pretty sweet weapon upgrades. They're not only necessary for exploration, but they're also going to help out significantly against enemies because, naturally, they're going to grow tougher and tougher as you progress through the game.

                                But how to regain Samus' abilities? Simple: boss fights. They're definitely one of the highlights of the game, and do a fantastic job of raising the game's difficulty level, challenging you to think creatively, and putting to good use all of the items and abilities that you have gained up to the fight. Additionally, it's pretty cool that many boss fights take advantage of the environment: for example, one fight features a beast that'll charge in your direction and who's too large to leap over. The solution? Jump up and grab a rock ledge, and wait for him to pass. The fights are relatively tough, but generally in the sense that you've got to figure out exactly how to kill a boss, which involves where to hit him, where NOT to hit him, and with which weapon to hit him. All in, they're a good time and definitely make the game more fun to play.

                                Graphically, Metroid Fusion is one of the most impressive titles I've seen on the GBA. The colors, in particular, really seem to push the handheld to its limits. It's tough to create a good-looking game on such a graphics-weak system as the GBA, but the developers obviously made the best of the situation and instead focused on aspects of a game's visual style that the GBA could deal with. The result: a profound, immersive, and atmospheric world that makes you believe what you're playing. That, at least to me, is the goal for any artistic designer, so Metroid Fusion easily scores top marks in the graphics category. Samus looks good, the enemies look awesome (the bosses, in particular, look really cool), and the environs are all distinct and generally awesome.

                                In terms of replay value, however, Metroid Fusion is going to be a bit of a disappointment, at least to gamers looking for a lengthy, time-consuming adventure. It appears that in an effort to really keep up the pace and suspense of the title, as well as keep the game fresh and prevent it from getting stale, the development team opted for quality over quantity. The game probably won't take you more than about 10 hours to complete, and veteran Metroid players should be able to whiz through it even quicker than that. And mind you, that game time estimation includes any time replayed because of untimely deaths -- which, incidentally, don't occur very often, because Metroid Fusion is significantly easier than I'd like. Bosses provide a challenge, at least until you figure out how to exploit its weaknesses and counter them with your strengths. Once you figure that out (or even worse, god forbid: look it up in a walkthrough!), it's relatively smooth sailing. The exploration factor is largely lost because of the hand-holding computer, and the rest of the enemies will usually go down with a few shots from your Arm Cannon or, at worst, a missile.

                                Ultimately, though, the sheer amount of fun that you'll have with Metroid Fusion cancels out any disappointments regarding the length and difficulty of the game. It's still fun, and isn't that what it all comes down to? Nintendo could have easily decided to recycle some game play elements to significantly lengthen the game, but instead they made a rather noble decision and decided to keep things fresh and unique. I, for one, very much appreciate that, and am happy to play a shorter, easier game if that means that I'm having fun the entire time I spend playing it.

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                                • More +
                                  20.10.2008 15:10
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                                  new touch-screen controls, level creator and coluorful presentation make this a fun puzzle game

                                  One of the staples of the Mario franchise is spin-off games, from quality RPGs like Mario & Luigi, to...not-so-quality games like Super Mario World Pinball. Now comes another spin-off: Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis. Though it is a sequel to the GameBoy Advance original, Mario vs. Donkey Kong, it plays quite differently. While March of the Minis is not a traditional Mario platformer, the game does a decent job of capturing the spirit of a Mario game, and provides a fun (albeit short) game play experience.

                                  The game begins with a poor excuse for a plot, which isn't even alluded to throughout the rest of the game. Thanks to the huge success of Mario's newest products, the Minis, a new Mini Mario Theme Park is opening. The guest of honor is none other than Pauline, Mario's first romantic interest. Donkey Kong, jealous of Mario, kidnaps Pauline and takes her to the top floor of the building; from there, it's up to Mario, with the help of his Minis, to rescue Pauline and save the day! While it seems as if there's actually some potential in the plot, it's thrown to waste, sadly. Aside from the cutscene that you view at the beginning of the game, there's no plot whatsoever throughout the game. The plot begins strong and seems promising, but it's never developed to it's full possibility. Unfortunately, this takes away some potential goodness from the overall gaming experience.

                                  The crux of March of the Minis is the game play, and the interesting way that the game is controlled. You use the stylus for the entire game; all of your commands to your Minis are executed through strokes and taps of the stylus. For example, to make a Mini go a certain way, you simply slide the stylus in that direction; to make a mini jump, just tap it. Control is intuitive and makes sense, and they definitely contribute to the ease of the game. Game play, also, is interesting in March of the Minis. The game is divided up into floors; on each floor, there are 8 levels. Each level is, in essence, a puzzle. The object is always to guide each Mini (ranging from 2 to 5 in each level) to the exit gate of the puzzle. It seems simple, and it often is. However, there are a number of enemies and obstacles that will get in your Minis' way; the Minis are fragile, and will be easily broken if they encounter any sort of danger. Unfortunately, the obstacles are too easy to be of much note. Instead of being a difficult, bran-wracking puzzle game, it rather becomes a tedious, monotonous game. You do not have to think hard about how to avoid most obstacles, so the game becomes more about executing the same couple of tasks over and over again, in an effort to make sure all your Minis make it safely. The sad truth is, the puzzles are just too easy to be of any worth.

                                  Another aspect of game play that makes March of the Minis far too easy is the requirements for beating a level. It is not to get all of your Minis to the gate; instead, you only have to get one through to successfully complete the level. This means that even on a puzzle that offers a shred of difficulty, you still do not have to be very good; if you get lucky (which happens way too often) and get one Mini through the gate, then the level will be cleared.

                                  Yet another problem with March of the Minis is its length. The game ends all too soon, and the ending seems sudden. It is quite possible to breeze through this game in a few hours. In addition to the fact that the game is so easy, the levels themselves are also very short. You never have more than 200 seconds to complete a level, and often they can be completed in 50 seconds. Also, you will rarely have to replay any levels; they're easy enough that anyone competent should be able to beat them on the first try.

                                  However, that's not to say that March of the Minis is not a good game, because there are certainly some strong points about it that help pull it out of the mire it's descended into. One great thing about the game is, ironically, the game play. While it is very easy and can quickly become boring, it can also be very addictive. If you've ever experienced "One More Turn Syndrome" (caused usually by games like Fire Emblem, Advance Wars, and Final Fantasy Tactics), then you'll appreciate what this game has to offer. Once you get in the groove of solving puzzles, it's pretty difficult to stop, and you may forget it's simplicity thanks to the shocking addictiveness of the game. Also serving to make the game addictive is the very fact that levels seem so short. Because the puzzles can be beaten quickly and relatively easily, it doesn't seem like much to try just one more puzzle. Trust me: if you give this game a chance, you'll find yourself constantly saying to yourself, "Just one more level-after all, it'll only take a minute." It's surprisingly nice that despite this game's occasional monotony, it can certainly provide for some fun, sleepless nights.

                                  By far the greatest part of March of the Minis' game play is the special features that each of the levels possess. All of the levels have a theme, and obstacles and enemies that you encounter in that floor will relate directly to the theme of the floor. For example, in the Haunted House floor, you will encounter Shy Guys and invisible walls; in the Jungle floor, you will encounter forest-themed decor. While some of the floor's themes are a bit mundane, others are pretty creative and provide a ton of fun. For example, in the Magnet Mania floor, there are a myriad of magnetized walls through the puzzles, which your Minis can walk upon. The magnets provide more intricate game play, makes puzzles slightly more challenging, and, as a result, make the floor overall more fun.

                                  The game also offers decent replay value, thanks to some unlockables and the ranking system. On every puzzle, you will get a score based on a variety of elements: how quickly it was completed, number of Minis successfully delivered to the goal, etc. Based on your score, you will receive a bronze, silver, or gold star. It's a pretty rewarding feeling to get a gold star on a level, and there's something unique about the ranking system in March of the Minis. In most games, ranks serve no particular purpose; rather, they're there for the perfectionist players, who want to be perfect on every level. However, in March of the Minis, collecting high ranks actually serves a purpose; once you beat the game, you may unlock an additional floor of puzzles (that means 8 more) if you have a certain number of silver medals. There are also other less mundane unclockables available in March of the Minis.

                                  The graphics also come as a bit of a shock. In many puzzle games for the DS, such as Tetris, Meteos, and Magnetica, graphics are obviously low on the list of priorities. However, because March of the Minis is not a straight-up puzzler, there is the potential for decent, if not great, graphics. Luckily, the developers have capitalized completely on that potential. The game's graphics are bright, colorful, and beautiful looking. While it's true that the game is only in 2D, the game's cheery graphics, which perfectly complement the feel of the game, prove what graphic potential DS games can have.

                                  The boss battles, surprisingly, contrast the majority of the game and provide a genuinely fun gaming experience. In each boss battle, Donkey Kong appears on the upper screen. You must shoot your Minis from a cannon and hit Donkey Kong a certain number of times to defeat him. The number of Minis you have as ammo depends on the number of Minis that you lead to success on the floor. So, if you did poorly on most of the puzzles on a level, it will be difficult to defeat Donkey Kong. The boss battles do grow slightly repetitive, thanks to the fact that you're fighting the same boss in a similar fashion over and over again. However, the monotony is slightly alleviated by the slight originality that each battle possesses. Each time you fight DK, there will be an extra element of the fight; for example, DK may jump from platform to platform, or unleash fireballs at you. These elements prevent the boss battles from falling into mediocrity, and instead cause them to be a pretty enjoyable part of the game.

                                  The true saving grace of March of the Minis is the level creator. It's well done, very fun, and provides numerous extra hours of game play time. You are given a huge, blank grid, and you may fill it in with whatever you so desire: platforms, obstacles, and enemies. Interestingly, the level editor may actually cause you to want to play more of the story mode. This is because for every map you use, you are allowed to use one theme; the themes all come from floors that you have cleared. For example, if you've cleared the Pipe Plaza floor, then in the level editor, you will have access to all the enemies and obstacles that you would find on that floor. It's a lot of fun to create levels and play them through. Since you can make your levels as difficult or as easy as you want, the level editor helps to offset the pathetic difficulty in the rest of the game.

                                  Multiplayer mode is based entirely on the level editor, and is surprisingly enjoyable. Once you have created a puzzle and proved that it can be beaten (by beating it yourself), you may trade it to another player that has a copy of the game. You can trade over local wireless; however, it's even better to trade over WiFi. If you have someone's Friend Code, you may exchange maps that you have created; you can have a total of eight maps saved at one time, so you don't have to beat a map as soon as you receive it. Multiplayer is fun and simple to use, and will provide even more hours of game play time.

                                  March of the Minis is an interesting game; unlike many games that seem awesome at first and slowly get worse, March of the Minis is not at all good at first; you need to let it grow on you. While it's not a difficult game, you can set the pace for the difficulty yourself with the level editor and through WiFi trading. Game play is fun and addicting, although it can become a bit monotonous, and the graphics are fantastic. If you're just looking for a game that will pass the time, then Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis is the game for you. I have given the game 4 stars on the dooyoo scale but this is really a 7/10 game.

                                  Typical price: £24.99 from GAME

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