Monday, April 23, 2007

Mass Effect: September in Europe

Few Xbox 360 games have been the subject of more release date speculation than BioWare's upcoming Sci-Fi RPG. The game has never had a solid release date but Bioware co-founder Dr. Ray Muzyka had insinuated the game would be out before mid-July when he stated that Mass Effect would not be appearing at this year's E3. The game has since been expected to drop sometime in mid-to-late June, early July at the latest.

Adding more fuel to the fire however, Euro-focused website CVG claims that the game won't be released until September, citing a Microsoft event as the source of the info. While this news has spread like wildfire and stabbed many gamers right through their fool hearts, no one stopped to consider that a Euro release date for a text and speech laden RPG like Mass Effect is bound to be months after any US release due to localization issues. If anything, this is good news for North American fans.

My guess? Mass Effect in Europe in September(or later depending on when Microsoft decides to unleash the Chief), June/July in North America.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Gamestop deal gives you more $$$ for your 360

Never say that Gamestop doesn't love you. If you were planning on kicking your old 360 to the curb in favor of the new "leet" model, Gamestop will take it off your hands and give you $250 in store credit instead of the usual $215.

Gamestop isn't usually the best deal in town when it comes to selling your stuff but $250 for a used 360 isn't really too bad. You'd be lucky to get $300 for one on eBay and that's before service fees, shipping hassles and all that jazz. Since store credit is tax free, when you apply that $250 to the Elite that's also a good $20 savings in tax as well, depending on your state's sales tax. (Almost 9% here in NY, ouch!)

So yeah, Gamestop is still bending you over, but at least this time they're whispering sweet nothings in your ear...

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Wii REVIEW: Kororinpa: Marble Mania

The basic premise of Kororinpa will be familiar to anyone who has played any of the Super Money Ball titles, particularly the recent Wii incarnation. You are tasked with guiding a marble around increasingly complex levels while collecting crystals and reaching the goal as quickly as possible. Kororinpa differs slightly from Monkey Ball in that all of the red crystals on a level must be collected before the goal is activated. In addition, there is one green crystal for each of the 45 main levels, that when collected, unlock a total of 14 secret levels.

The game puts the Wii remote to good use and is one of the few Wii games where motion control is not just tacked on. Unlike say, Sonic and the Secret Rings (which would’ve actually been a better game without motion control); Kororinpa benefits from it and wouldn’t be as much fun without it. The remote allows for precise control of the stages, which are what you are really manipulating, not the marble. Steady hands and patience are the name of the game, especially on what few tricky levels there are.

The game only makes use of the tilt sensor in the remote, with no IR sensing at all, which is fine because it doesn’t really need to. Menus are navigated using the D-pad on the remote and a nunchuk is not necessary.

Graphically the game does the job, it’s presented in 480i, 4:3 but it still looks decent on my 30” HD set. It’s not the type of game you’d expect next-gen visuals from anyway. The sound is equally unobtrusive, the music isn’t great but it never really gets annoying either. The game’s entire presentation is very basic.

Where Kororinpa falls apart is in its length, you can blow through all 45 of the main stages in a matter of 1-2 hours depending on your previous experience rolling balls through mazes. The difficulty never approaches the tear-your-hair-out frustration level of Super Monkey Ball but a variety of unlockable theme marbles, which can be harder or easier to navigate through the levels, allow you to adjust the difficulty somewhat.

Upon completing the 45 initial stages you will automatically unlock mirror mode, which lets you play through mirrored versions of all the original 45 stages. Depending on your dedication to “completely” finishing a game, and again, how much you enjoy rolling balls around mazes, the game’s replay value varies tremendously. Depending on how many green crystals you picked up your first time through the game, going back to collect them can take 30 minutes to an hour. The 14 stages you unlock from them can be completed in 30 minutes or less, easily. If you’re so inclined, you can also replay the levels to achieve gold medals for getting the best time. Scoring 25 gold medals, which in itself is not overly difficult, leads to a handful of additional levels.

If you are looking for something halfway decent to play on your Wii, you could do a lot worse than giving Kororinpa a rental, especially if Wii is your only system. Even with a $40 price tag though there’s just not enough to justify a purchase.

  • Excellent motion control courtesy of the Wii remote
  • Fun, if not overly challenging, gameplay
  • Way too short
  • At $40 it's overpriced

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

20GB PS3 November 2006 - April 2007 R.I.P.

I had my tongue firmly planted in my cheek when I suggested in a previous post that Sony was undermining themselves and was secretly working to make the 360 the number one console this generation. Sony, however, is deadly serious.

In light of Microsoft's announcement of the Xbox 360 Elite, and it's $479.99 price tag, many questioned the move to essentially raise the price of the 360 to within $20 of the 20GB PS3. PS3 fanboys delighted that now a 360 model was essentially the same price as a PS3 while still lacking HD movie playback. Sony, concerned about the positive press, shitcanned the model today, making the price difference between the most expensive 360 and the least expensive PS3 a more comfortable $120.

All joking aside, this move really isn't unexpected as many retailers had stopped carrying the 20GB PS3's weeks ago and Sony's own online store also discontinued them.

The real story here is that the murder of the 20GB model is likely a precursor to a price drop, perhaps sometime in the Fall. It has been documented that Sony actually lost more money on the 20GB models than the 60GB: $307 vs. $241 per unit at the time of launch. Since then, the price of the exclusive components that the 60GB has: Wi-Fi, flash card slots, bigger hard drive, have probably come down and widened that gap even more. And keep in mind that future US models will likely cut out the Emotion Engine chip which provided hardware backwards compatibility which also saves a significant chunk of change per unit. At this point they could probably drop the 60GB to $499 and make more per unit than they were on the 20GB.

Bigger loss+no demand= today's news.

The problem for Sony is that even if they dropped the price of the 60GB PS3 by $100, that's still more expensive than the 360 is now. If Microsoft drops their price in response, as they are likely to, Sony's right back in the same boat. Only the 360 would then be even closer to a mass market price. Microsoft's sales are going to benefit a lot more from a price drop than Sony's will. People could've already gotten a PS3 for $500 if they wanted it. The slightly bigger hard drive space, Wi-fi and sleek chrome finish aren't going to suddenly start moving units when they still don't have any games.

Sony needs to get some games out NOW, if they hope to have any chance of competing this gen.

via 1up

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Halo 3 Beta: 3 maps, 3 weeks

After announcing last week that there would be a major Halo 3 announcement this week, Bungie came through today with the only Halo 3 announcement anyone wanted to hear: the Beta begins May 16th.

Following their own Rule of Three, Bungie revealed that there will be three maps available for a period of three weeks: Valhalla, High Ground, and Snowbound which range in size from medium to large and are suitable for "all manner of game types, familiar and new" which you'll get to try for yourselves.

"There are a number of new features you’ll get to test out – including a new grenade type, a completely different class of weapon and some of the enhanced online functionality we plan to bring to the game – but it should be noted, a lot of secret features are hidden in this Beta. We’re keeping a lot of our powder dry for Fall. In May, when your firing the Spiker, sniping vehicles with the Spartan Laser and sticking fools with the Brute Spike grenade, remember that it’s just a peek-a-boo fraction of what’s to come."'s Frankie

Sounds good to me. I was surprised to see the Beta would last only 3 weeks but it makes sense, I'm sure they don't want people getting sick of those 3 maps and 3 weeks is plenty of time to get people hooked and left jonesin' for the rumored September release.

I think this announcement also shuts down any possibility of Mass Effect coming out during this period but it also conveniently leads right into mid-June. Releasing Mass Effect immediately following the end of the Beta, perhaps even the next day, would be a smart move.

If they were REALLY smart they'd have a big advertising push for Shadowrun during the Halo 3 Beta and release that to cap it off. Shadowrun is, after all, a multiplayer sci-fi FPS and one that most people know nothing about to boot. After being left high and dry on June 6th, Halo fans might just be tempted to turn to Shadowrun for a quick fix.

Since Shadowrun is a multiplayer only game, unless it turns out to be more than just decent it's shelf life pretty much ends when Halo 3 is released anyway. Microsoft would be wise to capitalize on that and squeeze what sales they can out of the game. It'd be a perfect way to bring the Beta cycle full circle as the Crackdown promotion got a lot of people to buy that game who wouldn't have otherwise.

Monday, April 9, 2007

1up's James Mielke: Blue Dragon isn't so hot...

In his latest 1up blog, James "Milkman" Mielke relates watching a Famitsu-editor-friend play through Blue Dragon in it's entirety over the last month. Their consensus? That it's "fucking boring".

With all the hype surrounding Blue Dragon over the last year or so I've kind of had this feeling that I should be more excited about it than I am. Now I'm thinking maybe what little excitement I have might be too much. I can suffer through archaic turn based gameplay if a game has a cool story or well designed characters. When gameplay is essentially nonexistent, a good story is pretty important. I already thought the characters were pretty lame, even for Toriyama whose designs all look exactly the same. Now hearing the story is boring too is pretty much the icing on the cake. What's amusing about the whole thing is that despite being bored to death by the game Milkman's Famitsu friend Endo still said he'd give the game an 8 if he was reviewing it for Famitsu:

"When Endo had put the finishing touches on beating the game, I asked him what he'd give it. In typical Famitsu-esque manner, he said he'd give it an 8 out of 10. I was aghast, after listening to how bored he was the whole time. He asked me if that wasn't a good score. I said "No, it's a very good score, but that's the problem!" In Japan, even if the game sucks, they'll still give a game like Blue Dragon a 10, 10, 9, and 9 in Famitsu either because they want to support Mistwalker's efforts, or don't want to offend their friends."

Nice. Definitely makes you realize you've got to take Japanese review scores with a grain of salt. Then again, I don't think inflated review scores are exclusive to the Far East...

With Bioshock coming out only a couple weeks after Blue Dragon I'll have to be pretty friggin' bored to waste 50 hours of my life on the game.

Friday, April 6, 2007

REVIEW: BulletWitch

Every once in a while a game comes along that changes the way we look at video games and its influence will be felt in countless titles for years to come.

BulletWitch is not such a game.

It is however, contrary to what most reviews would have you believe, not without its merits and can be pretty damn fun.

BulletWitch plays like your standard third person shooter but with the added element of Alicia's magic spells, which are the best part of the game. Using your telekinesis spell to launch concrete blocks at tanks, which explode as they are flipped over like a child's toy, is very cool. The biggest problem with the spells is that they aren't integrated well into the gameplay, and some are just useless. Simply running through the game shooting everything is as solid a strategy, if not moreso, than using fancy magic. Also, some of the spells, Meteor in particular, while impressive to behold, are almost too dangerous to actually use because the resulting shrapnel (i.e. three-story tall chunks of cement) is just as effective at killing you as it is your enemies. The game is extremely realistic in that regard: When the meteors start raining down, you'd best find yourself someplace else to be, a lesson we would do well to take with us into our everyday lives, no doubt.

The game's visuals are also a mixed bag. Alicia is well designed and animates nicely but the framerate is sketchy and the environments, particularly the first level, are drab. There are moments though, such as the game's two boss fights, where the game distinguishes itself from last-gen titles. The first boss fight, without spoiling anything, kind of gives a glimpse at what a 360 version of Panzer Dragoon Saga might look like. The aforementioned spell effects are also a sight to see and while they tend to bring the game to its knees, the resulting slowdown actually lends a cinematic quality to the sequences.

Unfortunately the game is ultimately too short and it offers little reason to play through a second time unless you want to get all of the uninspired achievements. (Beat Game on Easy, Beat Game on Normal, Beat Game on Hard etc.) Some unlockable stuff would've helped in that department. The concept art for the game is very cool and there were lots of design sketches done for alternate costumes for Alicia that could've been included in an art gallery. Instead, bonuses like costumes and new missions are only available for download through Xbox Live.

BulletWitch is certainly not worth the $50 it is selling for now but it's worth a rental if you're looking for something different and you've already played through the cream of the 360 crop. I expect it won't be too long before you can snag a copy for under $20...

Monday, April 2, 2007

Harmonix reveals Rock Band for 360, PS3

Today Harmonix, along with their corporate masters at EA and MTV, announced the successor to the Guitar Hero franchise: Rock Band! With Guitar Hero now under the control of Activision and Neversoft, Harmonix needed to create a new IP for their musical gaming endeavors.

The game can be thought of as an almagamation of Guitar Hero II (with its Guitar and Bass play), Drum Mania and Karaoke Revolution. It is unclear however how the peripherals will be packaged. Some reports claim that the game will be bundled with all four but a Gamespot report indicates details are still being worked out.

Seeing as Guitar Hero II for 360 is retailing for $90 with just one wired guitar, Rock Band, which will appear on 360 and PS3, could potentially be one expensive game.

I think this game has the potential to have a scene explode around it like no other game in recent memory but at the same time, it's exclusivity to the smaller user base of the next-gen systems as well as it's no doubt steep cost of entry could hamper its sales significantly.

I'm all about big goofy controllers that give a unique experience. I own Steel Battalion, two sets of Samba de Amigo maracas as well as two PS2 Guitar Hero controllers. This however gives me pause. Four different accessories for one game? It seems more like they are gearing the game towards people buying the accessory that they want to play in their virtual Rock Band and then getting together with friends to "perform".

They definitely have their work cut out for them in deciding the ideal way to present the game. A huge bundle could be too intimidating for most but selling the "instruments" individually could result in huge interest in the guitars but maybe not so much in the drum kit and microphone.

If anybody can pull it off though, it's Harmonix. I know I'm intrigued.

NiGHTS confirmed for Wii

NiGHTS fans all over the world are rejoicing over today's confirmation that their favorite androgynous purple jester with giant feet will be flying onto Wii later this year after spending the last 11-years in videogame exile.

I always thoughts NiGHTS was a fun, if extremely overrated game, so the idea of a motion controlled sequel certainly sounds appealing on paper. Coming fresh off of both Sonic the Hedgehog for 360 and Sonic and the Secret Rings for Wii however (not to mention the abysmal Phantasy Star Universe), my faith in Sega, and Sonic Team in particular, is pretty much nonexistant.

Secret Rings was a lame attempt to shoehorn Wii controls into a Sonic game and it probably would've been a lot more fun to play if you could just use the D-pad to control Sonic and not have to thrust the remote forward to make him attack. 75% of the time you don't even feel like you are actually playing the game and the other 25% you just wish you weren't.

And that is the biggest challenge facing developers of Wii games: how to make the motion controls in the game work better than standard controls would. So far very few games have succeeded in this because very few developers are actually making original titles built around the remote.

There's always hope that NiGHTS will turn out to be a shining example of what a Wii game should be, but coming from today's Sega, I'm not going to hold my breath.

via Kotaku