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Metareview: Viva PiƱata

Microsoft's Pokémon inspired children's title, Viva Piñata has finally hit the market and is picking up some reviews. Most of the reviews are very positive, though some note that Viva Piñata probably won't satisfy the twitch-happy Gears of War crowd. Then again, it's not really designed for action fans, though many reviews are claiming that it's actually very complex. Sitting somewhere between The Sims and Animal Crossing, Viva Piñata is performing admirably. It currently has an average of 85 on Metacritic.
  • Gamespot (8.3/10) - "It oozes charm and personality from its every papier-mâché-covered pore. While it's accessible enough for those with very little gaming experience (and their children), it also has enough depth to keep any of you with a Pokemon-style "gotta catch 'em all" mentality--or perhaps a penchant for gardening--entertained for many hours."
  • IGN (8.5/10) - "... it seems like a serious oversight to not include the ability to show off your garden in some way to your friends. Here is a game where you spend all of your time cultivating and shaping your garden space -- and you can't show it to anybody on Live. The only way for them to see it is to be right next to you."
  • 1UP (9/10) - "Rare has certainly recaptured its former glory here, and in producing one of the most misunderstood games of the year, it has also produced one of the finest in its history, and certainly one of the most intriguing on 360. To dismiss it as "just for kids" would be foolish. You are not too cool to enjoy this game."
1UP wasn't the only review to share the ironic sentiment that Viva Piñata -- a franchise specifically designed to rake in your kids' cash -- is one of the best Rare games in years. Will Microsoft's famous investment finally pay off?

Joystiq video review of wireless headset

Joystiq recently got their grubby little hands on the new Xbox 360 Wireless headset. Just to be nice to the Youtube generation, they've done away with the need for silly printed words and have created a video review of the device. For the record, I didn't really want one of these. I didn't really see the point. But now ... now I want one with a furious passion. Still, there are a few things to consider. One, this headset uses proprietary wireless technology (read: not Bluetooth), so you'll only be using it for your 360 (why, oh why can't someone make a Blutooth adapter?). Second, seeing how it wraps around the ear, I'm not sure how comfortable it would be for those of us who wear glasses. Three, it retails for $59.99 (though it can be found for less). Ouch. Still, it is a sexy little piece of kit. Anybody out there pick one up yet? What do you think?

Metareview: Gears of War

The day has finally come, and embargoed Gears of War reviews are pouring onto the internet. In case you were wondering, Gears of War is apparently the best damned thing since the discovery of fire. The reviews so far are universally good, with an average rating of 95 on Metacritic.
  • 1UP (10/10) " really need to play this visual and visceral masterpiece for yourself. When you do, you'll find plenty of minor problems, just like I did...but you can always find reasons not to give a game a 10."
  • Gamespot (9.6/10) "Gears of War is a game that capitalizes on all of the promises made by the next generation of gaming. It looks more than a few steps beyond what consoles have been doing to this point, and the gameplay is supremely fulfilling from start to finish in all of its various modes. While there have certainly been plenty of similar shooters before it, the game's great weapons, amazing graphics, and absolutely thrilling action make it stand out from the pack in a big, big way."
  • IGN (9.4/10) "Even with the minor faults, Gears of War is easily a contender for game of the year. The graphics, sound and presentation are nearly unparalleled. The gameplay is phenomenal and you'd be hard pressed to find a more complete package. Gears of War has shown what Xbox 360 is capable of. Now it remains to be seen what other developers can do to keep up."
It should be noted that all of these reviews point to problems in the game. Most notably, they mention flawed enemy and squad AI, occasionally cumbersome controls, and very shallow multiplayer options, and yet, these universally acknowledged flaws are not enough to dip the score below 90%. We try to keep effusive, glowing praise out of our metareviews, but this game looks like it's shaping up to be the killer app it was always meant to be. Anyone lucky enough to get their copy yet? Tell us what you think.

Metareview - Marvel Ultimate Alliance

Joystiq has posted a metareview of Marvel Ultimate Alliance. The consensus: it's good. From the creators of X-men Legends, it's no surprise that the game is fun. Highlights include a revamped, simpler healing system, better villains than Justice League, good enemy AI, and overall great production values. Check out Joystiq for some quotes and links to prominent reviews. Anyone picked this up yet?

Metareview: Double Agent

Reviews for Splinter Cell: Double Agent are pouring in. The consensus, more of the same, but that's not a bad thing. Most reviews point to the subtle refinements of the series. So far, the streamlined multiplayer seems to be the most controversial aspect of the game. Most critics tend to think it's a step in the right direction, but all of them know that the hardcore SC fans won't like the changes.

  • IGN 90% - "Double Agent digs down into the very role of duality by giving gamers hard choices to make. Whether that means confronting the option of nuking innocents on a cruise ship or betraying Fisher's associates with a gunshot to the head, it's now possible."
  • 1UP 80% - "... the co-op missions are just gussied-up versus matches, and because the versus game doesn't have any variations in objectives (spies simply hack at computer terminals to retrieve files to return to the starting base) or modes, multiplayer may start to wear out more quickly than in previous editions.
  • Gamespot 85% - "Sam Fisher is the star of the Splinter Cell series, so it's odd that the multiplayer portions of these games, which he's in no way a part of, seem to be evolving much more rapidly than the solo campaigns. Double Agent's few keen twists on Splinter Cell's single-player gameplay don't result in a remarkably different experience from the previous games, though that doesn't mean it still isn't some of the best stealth action out there."

As of right now, the game has an average of 87% on Metacritic. Not bad. Has anyone picked it up yet?

World Series of Poker: First Impressions

For some reason, Activision's $40 poker title, World Series of Poker: Tournament of Champions has yet to garner a single review on MetaCritic, despite being the first game to showcase the Vision Camera's Digimask facial mapping technology. That's a shame because right now it's the best reason to pick up a Vision. I'm not an expert when it comes to poker (either the real or video game variety) but this game is a worthy upgrade from the bare bones XBLA version that most people downloaded for free, if only for the chance play with yourself.

Point blank, the Digimask tech just works. You snap a pic from the front and side profile and the game takes a couple minutes to map your face over a 3D frame. I tried it under mediocre lighting conditions and it worked on the first try. Speaking as a geek who spent hours painstakingly building my virtual doppelganger in the last Tiger Woods (long the Cadillac of create-a-character modes), poor, forgotten WSoP presented me with most accurate representation of my own handsome face I've ever seen in a game, It does warp your lower face a bit, but the eyes, ears and nose were spot on. I've only slept about 6 hours over the past couple days and it was awesome to see the same black under eye circles I saw in the mirror on my newly created me. The 3D modeling is a vast improvement over previous attempts at this sort of thing. In fact, the detail was so good that my wife refused to give it a shot without doing her make-up. I tried it again sporting a Mr. T "Pity the fool" scowl to see if it could handle a little emotion and the results were equally impressive.

Continue reading World Series of Poker: First Impressions

Halo Graphic Novel video review

Here's a well done video review of the widely praised Halo Graphic Novel from GameTrailers. I still think Bungie should put the whole thing on Marketplace.

[Via GameBreak]

Bomberman: Act Zero bombs

I'm publishing Dirk Dorkelson's Bomberman: Act Zero rant in near entirety:

According to the Official Xbox mag review, which gives Bomberman: Act Zero a whopping 4 out of 10, the ultimate party game won't be playable at parties. For some bizarre, boneheaded reason, the game is only multiplayer if you play it online. A quick check of Konami's website seems to confirm this, with it listing the game as a single-player game, with 2-8 players online.

Sadly, this also probably means that my married friends who I game with online all the time won't be able to play the title with me over Xbox Live unless they take turns playing. Lame.

How the hell could they screw up something so basic? Isn't the true joy of Bomberman inviting a few friends over and blasting the hell out of each other while having a few beers?

Also, the game has 99 levels in the single-player mode. But you can't save your progress.

calls it "impossible to love." Color me disappointed.

Preyse for Prey

And you thought the parade of awful Prey puns was finished! Ha! But seriously, folks, reviews for Prey (PC) are starting to hit the net. Evil Avatar has the scoop on some of the first. GotNext praises the game for its first person story telling and unique level design:

"Just as Doom and Quake seemed more concerned with what makes an interesting level than how its denizens might realistically design such a place, The Sphere is full of bizarre puzzles, portals used to create dizzying Hall-of-Mirrors-style confusion, and other tricks that could serve no practical function to the aliens living there, but would surely please M.C. Escher and Enro Rubik alike."

The other review from the Detroit Free Press seems less informed -- does "Doom clone" even mean anything anymore? -- but gives the game high marks for weapon and level design.

Both reviews knock the game for underdeveloped characters and a slightly lacking story. Also of note, the multiplayer is limited to deathmatch and team deathmatch only. Hopefully, we'll see some more game modes offered by Marketplace.

Overall, GotNext gives Prey 4.5/5 stars and DFP gives it 4/4 stars. Not too shabby.

[Via Evil Avatar]

Metareview: LOTR: Battle for Middle Earth II

Our overlords friends at Joystiq have posted a metareview of the RTS that would be king, LOTR: Battle for Middle Earth II. Most of you are probably sick of hearing how the controls are going to revolutionize the RTS experience on a console, but it looks like EA managed to pull it off -- you'll probably have to get cozy with the manual for a while, though. And make sure you check out the tutorial because somebody seems to have missed it.

Overall, the game averages out to an 84/100. Not bad at all. Hit the read link to see excerpts from major reviews. I plan to pick this up just as soon as I've got the scratch. Anyone care to join me?

Chromehounds review: it ain't pretty [update 1]

Gamebrink has posted an import review of the much anticipated Chromehounds. Bad news: it looks to be sub-par at best. Neither a slow and methodical mech sim, nor a fast and arcadey shoot 'em up, Chromehounds can't seem to make up its mind. From the review:

"The first thing you'll probably think to yourself when you start a game of Chrome Hounds is, "Wow, this is really slow." No matter which type of Mech you choose to pilot you'll always feel like movement around levels is way too slow. That along with the fact that it's usually the case that the more weaponry you have on your Mech the slower it moves, and you've got all the ingredients for boredom. Now I guess this would be fine if the actual process of aiming, moving, and firing required a lot of micro-management thus making it a simulation type game but Chrome Hounds unfortunately has very limited controls."

Ouch. The review does note that the much hyped mech customization is very deep. Unfortunately, the online portion -- ostensibly where you'd be using your custom mech -- is not easy to navigate. The online persistent war is great in theory, but finding people to play with can be a chore apparently. What's that you say, you just want to play a quick deathmatch game? Too bad, because it's not an option. If you want to have a good time online you'll need five buddies who can be online whenever you are, because that's the only way to play.

Also, the music selection is pretty slim. That is to say, there is exactly one piece of background music. On the plus side, um, the graphics are pretty good. Gamebrink's advice: if you've got Live Gold, give it a rental. If not, skip it.

For my part, I wish it weren't so. Anyone still going to give it a try?

Update 1: it looks like Gamebrink completely failed to mention other online modes, which do in fact exist. Good thing, too, because I actually enjoyed the demo. And, for what it's worth, Famitsu scored the game 33/40. Not bad. My apologies for linking what I assumed was a well informed review. Ken and Chris G. sicced the ravenous weasels on me last night and I have learned my lesson.

Xbox gets X-tra X-Men product placement

You didn't have to be a telepathic mutant to predict that X-men: The Official Game would be a half-assed, Hollywood cash-in, similar in artistic merit to the cinematic rush-job it seeks to cross-promote. Those who broke down and paid money to see Halle Berry void her Oscar over the weekend may have noticed that the under-developed power-sucking character was playing an Xbox 360 to pass the time in his cell. I couldn't tell what game, though thankfully it wasn't the current king of obnoxious in-game advertising, Fight Night Round 3. Hard to believe the suits who sold this film franchise down the river, then insulted us with a crappy game, would miss the opportunity for a rare tri-level Burger King product placement.

Ninety-Nine Nights not worth six night rental?

The Japanese import version of Ninety-Nine Nights gets a narcoleptic early review from Gamebrink. Could it be this long-awaited title is "broken" and "barely worth a rental"?:

  • Graphics are nice
  • Music is good
  • Crowd Control is mindless but fun if that’s your kind of thing
  • Boss fights are dreadful
  • Engine is broken when it comes to one on one fights
  • There is no gameplay balance
  • No checkpoints
  • No Story
  • No lip-synch in cutscenes and the animation is jerky for some reason
  • Fairly short game with limited amount of stages
Tons of enemies and frustrating  boss fights? Sounds like Dynasty Warriors meets Kameo. It sickens me to hear the word broken when describing any 360 game, especially one that has chance to win some Japanese fans.

[Thanks Sense]

Review: Ear Force X2 Wireless Headphones

After questioning the usefulness of the X2 wireless headphones when you still need to tether them to the controller for Xbox Live play, Turtle Beach kindly offered me a pair to review, assured I would change my tune. They were right ... and a little bit of wrong. The headphone quality is exceptional, but I still have reservations about the headset functionality. Read on for my full review of Turtle Beach's Ear Force X2 wireless headphones.

Continue reading Review: Ear Force X2 Wireless Headphones

In defense of Rumble Roses XX

Is it just me, or does Alex Navarro's joyless video review of Rumble Roses XX (6.6 out of 10) sound like it was delivered with the knowledge that his Mom would be tuning in:

It creates the same unseemly vibe as [the previous PS2 game]. The girls in the game are very much objects of affection. They don't have any personality to speak of. They don't say much...They're there to dance for you, to shake their asses, to jiggle their chests in front of you and they've gone so far in this game to let you dress them up in outfits and have them pose in sexy ways and take photos of them and trade them with people online. It's gone to that next level of softcore porn where, you know,adolescent boys, they're gonna love it, but if the whole idea of dressing up polygonal women and having them jiggle their parts in front of you makes you at all uncomfortable, you're gonna hate this game.

Oy, next he'll start complaining about the booth babes at E3.

If I want to be told that dressing up digital dolls in schoolgirl outfits and forcing them to do jumping jacks is "unseemly,"  there are plenty of sources I can turn to for that sentiment. Like say, every woman on the planet. This review is sort of like listening to your girlfriend whine about the lack of plot in Buttman Goes to Rio.

Gameplay issues aside, I think the developers accomplished exactly what they set out to do with RRXX: create a fetish-friendly female wrestling title with great graphics that oozes sex appeal and bizarre Japanese kink. Give them some credit for staying true to that vision.

And if somebody tells you you're a perv for getting your sick thrills from a pixelated girl in a leather thong, remind them that staring at John Cena's perfectly rendered nipples as he crotch locks a sweaty Rey Mysterio isn't an improvement—at least if you're straight.

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