Sunday, November 11, 2007

Spider-Man: Friend Or Foe - 3 stars

The reviews for this weren't that hot, but we were pleasantly surprised. The game is well-made and fun to play.

You know how there was that awful Spider-Man 3 game?. Well, this is another piece of official merchandise that is a direct tie-in to the movie. Except you get the feeling that the team that made this game was sort of just left alone (while the execs hounded the team that made the main game) and allowed to produce something that didn't have to hit the movie release date and was therefore allowed to be much higher quality.

You play Spider-Man and his sidekick, and there are about 13 of them to choose from, running the gauntlet from huge brawlers to agile fighters to projectile shooters. It's a standard beat-em-up - you go through the levels beating up enemies until you fight the bosses. Where the game really shines is the depth of the personal combat options. You can punch, kick, jump, attack in the air, grapple, throw, lasso objects and throw them, hold a guy down while your partner hits them, and there are all sorts of wacky combos you can do depending on which sidekick you are using. Plus there are the special powers and web abilities. There are all sorts of little touches the programmers put in that indicate how much polish there is - for instance, one of Spider-Man's abilities is that he can shoot some webbing onto the larger enemies' heads and blind them. If he does it just as they are pulling out a bomb to throw at you, they'll drop the bomb on themselves instead. Or, if you bind an enemy in webbing, other enemies that aren't occupied with fighting you will actually go and help free them. The animation quality is also quite detailed - Doc Ock, for example, is incredibly cool to watch as he fights with his four extra arms.

Also, despite the fact that the game is slightly platform-y, they included a pretty good feature to alleviate it - automatic mantling. First, you can't walk off an edge accidentally. If you do accidentally jump off the edge (which you do with some characters, especially Spider-Man himself), if you are close to the edge, your character will automatically grab onto the edge, giving you a chance to pull yourself up. This also adds to the realism of the animation: Doc Ock, obviously, looks particularly cool doing this.

In fact, this easily-overlooked game is one of the most finely-detailed and polished games we've played in awhile. But if so, why not 4 stars? Well, there are two drawbacks:

1) You HAVE to play as Spider-Man and a sidekick. You can't play as two of the sidekicks. So one player always has to be Spider-Man. You can switch off, and Spider-Man is pretty cool and has lots of crazy powers, but eventually you will get bored of him and want to spend more time exploring the other characters. Sadly, there's no way to do this. The story is about Spider-Man, so it's always Spider-Man plus his buddy. It would really have been cool to play two of the sidekicks at once; there doesn't seem to be an unlockable mode for this or anything.

2) The game is relatively short. We finished it in a single weekend and didn't feel too much of an urge to play it again, despite how fun it was.

There is an interesting feature to the game - a VS mode fighting game. Due to the depth of the personal combat system, the developers were able to throw together a ghetto fighting game taking advantage of the various sidekicks and their many combat styles. It's amusing for maybe another 20 minutes.

Also, you get to play as black-suited Spider-Man, which is really just a more powerful version of Spider-Man who is harder to see in during combat.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Samurai Warriors 2 - 4 stars

This game is surprisingly fun.

Drawback: 2-player co-op is split-screen. This is tolerable, but we would have preferred a single-screen mode (especially one that just zoomed out more if you had to separate - how else are you going to see the hordes of enemies that cluster around you?).

I bought this game because it was $29.99 instead of the $59.99 for Dynasty Warriors: Gundam, and Gundam didn't explicitly say it was 2-player co-op (it just said "2 players") while this one did. Gameplay videos on the web seem to indicate that not only does Gundam have 2-player co-op, but they split the screen vertically, which we think we would prefer, so perhaps we'll try that one after finishing this game.

Basically, you hack-and-slash your way through enormous armies set in feudal Japan. The amount of historic backstory in this game (and related games like Dynasty Warriors) is ridiculous, but I'm glad they put in the effort. The gameplay would be fairly repetitive and boring were it not for the co-op aspect of it (I can tolerate a far lower-quality game if I'm playing together with my wife than when playing alone), and the intricacy of the weapon/skill upgrade system seems to be interesting, and there may be plenty of unlockable characters. Also, there seem to be many combos. My wife especially enjoys riding around on a horse slashing at enemies or having the horse trample them.

Dead or Alive 4 - 2 stars

This one's prettier than Soul Calibur 2 (since it's actually for the XBox 360), but not quite as fun. Apparently harder and more complex (involving reversals and timed combos, rather than the button mash-fest that Soul Calibur 2 can be), we didn't end up playing this for more than a couple weeks.

One fun thing was the 4-player tag-team option. On the days when we had two visitors, we got to enjoy this, and the best way to play this is apparently to constantly tag in and out while spamming attacks so that your characters keep jumping in, delivering a couple blows and then whipping out and switching off to your teammate before your opponent can re-orient themselves.

Soul Calibur II (XBox emulation) - 3 stars

This is pretty much the best fighting game available for the XBox platform. All the better ones are Playstation-only, so we're lucky NAMCO decided to port this one over to the XBox [and that it works under emulation for the 360].

She likes it because the characters vary so widely and there are crazy huge weapons. This is one of the few non co-op games we played a lot of. I think her favorite character was Voldo (she likes the crazy ones).

Be sure to try Berserker vs Berserker fights.

Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy - 3 stars

This is Star Wars, but done with Legos.

Co-op play through Episodes 4 through 6, reliving the movies. Pretty good re-creation with small touches of humor and little jokes. Considerable amount of content and remarkably faithful to the movies (using Legos, no less). There are many, many different characters (droids, Jedi, bounty hunters, all the movie characters, etc) plus you can mix-and-match the Lego pieces to create new characters (which is really just ends up being lame). You have guns and Force powers. There are also some joke characters (e.g. toaster droid) that can't really do anything except run around and bump into things.

Bad: There is no way to turn off friendly fire, which means your mostly-incompetent trigger-happy wife is going to kill you a lot. You have infinite lives, so this doesn't affect your ability to finish the game, but each time you die you lose some money, so if you are trying to unlock certain things that require accumulating a certain amount of money, this can be frustrating. Watch out.

Big Bumpin' - 3 stars

This is a three dollar game from Burger King.

Up to 4-player competitive bumper cars. Fun party game, mostly because no one can actually master control of the bumper cars (the computer-controlled bumper cars consistently outplay you). Certainly worth their three-dollar purchase price.

The taunts are great.

Guitar Hero II - 4 stars

Great game, endless fun.

Even the "Face-Off" modes (as contrasted to the specified "Co-op" mode) seem to be more cooperative rather than competitive, since it seems like "I play a section, now you play a section" sort of dueling banjos style, except with a lot less competitive spirit in the "dueling."

My biggest gripe with this game is that Microsoft won't release the hardware specs to allow them to make wireless guitar controllers. Also, the guitars are an eyesore when you're not playing, since they sit around in your living room looking like cheap plastic toy guitars (which is exactly what they are).

The music industry needs to get its head out of its ass and start allowing people to license their tracks so games like this aren't stuck with second-tier songs. They're still fun, but we'd really like to see some big-name popular songs on it. Supposedly Rock Band (due out in late 2007) has the backing of MTV, so maybe they'll be able to swing some better licensing deals for that.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer - 2 stars

This game seems to have thrown together for the movie. It seems to use an upgraded version of the engine from Marvel Ultimate Alliance (gameplay and controls are similar, even slightly improved in some places) but the depth is sorely lacking. For one, you only have four characters - the Fantastic Four, which are some of the lamest superheros ever. They have a far limited array of powers, and the game's content is lackluster and repetitive.

In fact, after playing through the game, we decided that if we were going to endure playing a game where we already knew what was going to happen, we should just play Marvel Ultimate Alliance again. So we did. This time on our 80" screen (we originally played it before we got our projector setup). We also downloaded the extra heroes/villains content pack, which certainly provided sufficient extra content to warrant playing again. Nightcrawler is every bit as entertaining as hoped-for.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance - 5 stars

Over 20 (30? Too many to count...) different characters, all with different powers and abilities. Up to 4-player co-op on a single screen (none of that split-screen bullshit). The massive number of different characters creates enormous replay value - we have played the game through again four times now.

This is the first game we bought when we got the XBox 360 and hands-down still the best co-op campaign game we've ever played. Incredible replayability.

Hardware Setup

- XBox 360
- Optoma HD70 Projector (720p), 80" projection image
- Mediocre surround sound system