It’s hard to believe that the Harvest Moon series has managed to notch up ten years in the UK but this year marks that special decade milestone. Since it was first released on the Gameboy in 1999 (the SNES version, out in Japan and the US a few years earlier never made it to our shores) many other franchises have crashed and burnt but gaming’s premier farming series has managed to carve out its own special niche. In contrast to the majority of games that like to throw a steady stream of action, enemies and dialogue at the player, Harvest Moon is content to gently hold your hand and let you wander through it’s unique worlds at your own pace. Few other games can boast such a relaxing experience as these, and few make you work so hard for those rewards.
If you’ve never played a Harvest Moon game before then the latest game, Tree of Tranquillity is a great place to start (alternatively you can download the classic SNES title on the virtual console for a taste of what to expect). Essentially, every game takes the same template: you start as a young farmer entrusted with turning around the fortunes of a run-down farm. You work hard day-by-day, planting seeds, harvesting crops and raising animals, selling any produce to bring in the money needed to upgrade the farm. Time and resource management are important as you only have a limited amount of time and stamina each day so you’ll need to plan ahead if you want to make your farm run as efficiently as possible.
Alongside the farming you also have the chance to build relationships with the locals which is an important and rewarding element as you get to know each character and find out what makes them tick. In turn they can help by pitching in with farming duties, upgrade your equipment or giving you rare items. You can even woo and marry one of several eligible bachelors/bachelorettes and eventually have a little sprog of your own to carry on the family farm. If you have any spare time you can also raise some extra cash fishing, foraging for wild herbs and berries or cook up any of the food items to create various dishes which you can sell or give as a gift to a potential spouse or villager.
Tree of Tranquility is probably the best home console version of the game since the excellent N64 game (still considered by most fans to be the pinnacle of the series), and is certainly the deepest and largest of the recent crop. The Island you find yourself sailing to at the beginning of the game is the largest world featured in a Harvest Moon game and exploring every nook and cranny will take quite a bit of time; there are a lot of locations that are opened up during the course of the story. There are also a lot more things to see and do in this game too – you can buy extra furniture for your house and new clothing for your farmer; wild animals can be befriended and brought back to your farm and you now have the option of working part-time for a bit of cash at the various stores around the Island. This last feature is completely new and is pretty handy, especially at the start of the game as you can make a bit of extra cash and won’t use up any valuable stamina, which is often used up by your daily farming duties.
There are a few areas that take the shine off the whole experience though. While this has one of the largest set of characters they lack the personality and charm of some of the earlier games and you probably won’t care to get to know half the cast. The previous two titles had a handy icon showing where you were aiming when using tools but this has mysteriously disappeared. Finally, the graphics are a bit of a mixed bag, lacking either the cohesive design of the previous Wii title, Magical Melody, or the rich textures and camera control of A Wonderful Life on GameCube.
If you have played and enjoyed a previous Harvest Moon game then you should definitely pick this up, there is so much in this game it will be a long time before you see everything it has to offer and the core gameplay is as addictive as ever. For everyone else it really depends on what sort of game floats your boat; action-hungry gamers may not have the patience for this, but fans of Animal Crossing or The Sims will get a lot of pleasure from Harvest Moon’s quaint offerings.
Nintendo are still plugging away with their little gifts in Animal Crossing: Let’s Go To The City, so that must mean there are still people who haven’t got bored of the daily needs of their village.
Just over a year ago Nintendo President, Satoru Iwata, was being pressed into confirming whether the company was planning a sequel to mega system-shifter Wii Sports. He said they wouldn’t rush into making a quick and easy cash-in and would only consider an update if they could really do something special with it. When they did announce a sequel it was alongside the new Motion-Plus peripheral which adds an additional gyroscope to the bottom of the Wii remote and therefore offers better motion detection. Presumably Nintendo wanted something that would sell the new control method to the mass-market that had already lapped-up the Wii thanks to the pull of the original Wii Sports. We’ve already had three third party titles that use the new gizmo (don’t forget to check out our review of Grand Slam Tennis), and now it’s Nintendo turn to show off what they can do.
The resort suffix in the title refers to Wuhu Island (last seen in Wii Fit) and the variety of summer themed sports contained within. There are 15 sports in total, with two or three different variations for each one and we’re happy to say that most of them are incredibly good fun. The sports that really shine are those where the controls themselves offer a good deal of depth like Frisbee, Sword-Fighting and Table Tennis. The latter holds an incredibly challenging single-player mode, which genuinely requires a lot of skill and mastery of the controls to do well in. It’s no surprise then that this is the game that has got the most attention amongst the more hardcore Wii crowd.
But there are some sports that just don’t work, either because the controls aren’t solid enough or because they are just plain dull. Cycling falls into the first category, with the game requiring a constant pedalling motion while tilting the remote and nunchuk to steer, which is just too awkward to be fun. You spend most of the time weaving along the track while watching fellow riders cycle past. Then there’s Power Cruising and Wake-Boarding, the first is disappointingly basic (especially after fans were hoping for something to match wave race) and the second is so simplistic you have to wonder why Nintendo even bothered including it in the first place.
It’s easy to dismiss Resort as being a bit too simplistic and lacking depth but that would be missing the point entirely. It’s designed to be a fun title that you can dip in and out of when the urge takes you, and there are plenty of reasons to keep coming back. High score enthusiasts have got some meaty challenges to get their teeth into like the new 100 pin bowling challenge and the return mode in Table Tennis. There are also some achievement-like objectives in the form of ‘stamps’ to collect when you do well in a particular sport. They aren’t very hard to get but add a little something extra to the mix.
But there is one major black cloud hovering over the horizon, spreading a shadow over Wuhu Island’s sunny and cheery vistas, which could have wider implications. Most of the sports on offer in Resort could have been made into fully-fledged titles on their own; Golf and Basketball are just begging for a Mario-themed release, while Power-Cruising and Parachuting are virtually Wave Race and Pilotwings reskinned and simplified for a new audience. With their inclusion in this package Nintendo will likely cross those possible releases off their schedule list and it would be a great shame if they never saw the light of day.
Overall, Wii Sports Resort comes highly recommended, if only to give your parents something different to play instead of Wii Sports come Christmas time.
I hate Harry Potter. As a relatively young man cursed with dark hair and glasses the numerous heckles, taunts and jeers of Joe public over the years forever haunted my adolescence. This perhaps does not afford me the best position in which to compile an honest and unbiased account of the young wizards latest adventure on the Wii. This is also probably a bad time to mention that I’ve also fallen out of love with Nintendo’s jaunty white box as well. When a games console becomes the de rigour of choice for parents wanting to get fit and increase their mental capacity, then it no longer becomes fun for the rest of us who bought the bloody thing in the first place.
I digress. As the impending divorce between the Wii and myself gains apace I’ve forgotten all about the child stuck in the middle of all of this. Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince is the second outing for Daniel Radcliffe and co on the console following 2007’s The Order Of The Pheonix and is out now.
Considering the Wii has technical capabilities matched only by the domestic microwave the visuals throughout the game look pretty sharp. Even the facial rendering is quite tidy. Walking around Hogwarts Castle is even (and forgive me for saying so) quite fun as staircases fly about the place and portraits come to life offering various pearls of game play wisdom. Try not to run about into large groups of people though as an unnerving amount of latency means the poor Wii will scream as the game tries to catch up with itself. The shadowy flickering of light and ample sound effects all help to create some genuine magic-like atmosphere. The voice acting is also quite stellar, as the main body of the films cast have reprised their roles here.
I’ve been reassured that the plot of the game runs faithfully along the lines of its recently released film counterpart. As such you guide young Potter from task to task aided by a ghoul by the name of Nearly Headless Nick. Pressing the ‘minus’ button on the Wii remote calls the spectre who’ll often tell you where to go and what to for when you get a bit stuck. Which to be honest is quite a lot.
So assuming that unlike me you’ve read the book, seen the film and bought all the merchandise what’s left for you to actually do here? Well this wouldn’t be the Wii without some unique Wii-mote control interaction. There’s Quidditch of course where the Wizard is given a pre determined route in which to catch something called a ‘Snitch’ which in all honesty sounds like something you need to get checked out by the doctor. Your job is to basically guide Potter’s broom by pointing the controller in the direction you need him to go. It’s more or less responsive if not altogether monotonous and very, very dull. However, if you like holding your arm out for five minutes at a time with little or no reward then this might be the game for you.
Adding to this are the duelling matches. Armed only with the oh so manly magic wand (no innuendo intended) you cast, parry and dodge you way through opponents using the nunchuck for movement and shoot fireballs and such through flicks of the Wiimote. It’s ok but once again rather unresponsive. A lot of time can be spent yelling obscenities, as you stand motionless waiting for the sweet kiss of magic to twat you right between the bespectacled eyes.
However, the most fun found throughout the entire game comes in the potion making class. Here you use the Wiimote to pick up various vials and bottles before mixing them all up into numerous concoctions. Be careful not to spill or select the wrong ingredient mind, as you’ll end up wafting your arms in the air to clear away all the smoke. You’re also against the clock with this one, making it all the more stressful and yet sooo much more fun than anything else in this game.
What about longevity? Well the mini games will offer plenty of amusement for those looking for achievements on other consoles. You can also take out all of your frustrations from the rather linear single player campaign out on a friend by unlocking a two player duelling contest. Furthermore there’s 150 mini crests to collect along the course of the game, some of which only accessible once you’ve learnt certain spells. In order to complete your haul you’re required to spend a great deal of time wandering the halls of Hogwarts looking under every nook and cranny. The only problem here is that you’re almost always accompanied by one of your classmates shouting something utterly rubbish along the lines of ‘Come on Harry, Miss Rowlng says if we dawdle we’ll be re-written out of any further sequels!’ Not once or twice though, try every few seconds.
To conclude Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince plays a bit like Bully but without the actual Bullying. It also has all the style and social grace of a second rate magical B-movie as opposed to the Hollywood blockbuster it’s supposed to be (Think Willow as opposed to Lord of the Rings). The ropey single player campaign will only be vaguely interesting for the die-hard fans and parents willed into submission by their agitated children. There are some clever if not broken Wii related mini games for the rest of us.
I still hate Harry Potter.
As Trivial Pursuit is one of the most popular board games in history it’s no surprise that there have been quite a few video game adaptations over the years. One GB staffer can recall hours of fun playing on the commodore 64 version, and there have been other versions on nearly every format since. This latest release is part of EA’s partnership with Hasbro which has already seen Monopoly and the compilation Hasbro family pack (featuring titles like Boggle and Battleships amongst others) made available on current-gen hardware. Given the wii’s reputation as a family oriented party console it would seem a match made in heaven.
The core game rules remain the same as the board game: roll a dice to make your way around the iconic circular board, answering questions depending on what colour square you land on, with the ultimate aim being to land on, and answer questions for, each of the ‘wedge’ spaces. Get all six wedges and you have to make your way to the centre of the board to answer a final question and win the game. Like the actual board game this adaptation has a number of good and bad points. While it’s fun as an occasional party game, if you have any more than four players you could be looking at some pretty long, and ultimately dull, games. This is especially annoying if you’re playing with players with two-digit IQs or who insist on dawdling over every question and deciding which square to jump to next. Neither of these are the fault of the game however and the digital version does at least use time limits to keep those moments of excruciating inactivity to a minimum.
So on to the video game’s positive and negative points. For a start, this is at least nicely presented, with clean, clear graphics and unobtrusive music and sound effects. There are several question packs included for a bit of variety (one of the few reasons to recommend this over the real thing) and even after several play-throughs with each set we didn’t find any repeated questions. But due to them being multiple-choice, these questions are ridiculously easy and most can be solved with simple deduction if you don’t already know the correct answer. Also, too many rely on pop culture references, even for categories outside entertainment.
We would have liked to see some sort of online play included, plus the option to use a mii, instead of the available generic characters you can create using the in-game tools. It’s also a shame this game didn’t use the multimedia possibilities offered by the digital format as questions could have been made more engaging with the use of video or sounds for certain topics.
There’s a big problem reviewing a video game based on a board game, and that is just how do you give it a review score? Should it be reviewed through the eyes of a gamer, in which case this would be hard to recommend to those who prefer to spend their time shooting space marines? (4/10?) Should it be rated on its appeal to its target audience? (7/10?) Or how fun it actually is? (5/10?) Or should it have a score reflecting how closely it replicates the trivial pursuit experience? (9/10?) Irrespective of the score we’ve settled on below, if you prefer playing board games on a TV and are likely to get friends together interested in regular quizzing sessions then you’ve probably already made your mind up on whether to pick this up. It’s certainly better than most of the quiz / party games on the wii, not that that really serves as a glowing compliment.
So we’ve now got the third of Sega’s trilogy of ‘hardcore’ wii titles. House of the Dead Overkill brought a classic series back to life; MadWorld was a brand new IP from the creators of Okami; then we have The Conduit, a heavily-hyped shooter from a team (High Voltage Software) most known for working on licensed games like Family Guy. Both HotD and MadWorld garnered critical acclaim, but neither managed to set the sales charts alight, despite their apparent appeal to hardcore wii gamers (and said gamers’ whinging over the lack of good third-party software on the format). So does The Conduit have the right combination to appeal to the hardcore and more mainstream audiences, and therefore justify Sega’s decision to support a console written off as a family format? Well not quite.
You see, The Conduit is a bit of a mixed bag really. There’s no doubting the quality of its visuals; HVS made a big noise about their custom-built quantum engine, with claims that they could get the wii to output graphics almost on a par with the Xbox 360. While this may have been a bit exaggerated (think more along the lines of the original Xbox, which is still impressive) The Conduit is one of, if not, the most technically impressive game on wii. Other titles like Super Mario Galaxy and Metroid Prime 3 just edge it out as the best-looking game, due to these titles’ more consistent and infinitely more interesting art direction. The sound department is another strong point, with a rousing sound track and some very good voice work.
HVS should also be applauded for creating the best control system for any FPS on any console. It really is an absolute joy to control, with smooth movement, aiming and slick use of buttons and motion controls which puts every other wii FPS to shame. Had the wii’s button placement been more FPS-friendly this would have to go down as one of the most intuitive control systems ever. And if you don’t like the default settings you can tinker with just about every aspect you could wish for to tailor the game to your liking.
The problems lie in the actual game itself though. As indicated above, the art direction is largely uninspired, with generic-looking aliens to shoot at, and a lack of cohesive design in the environments. Levels are very linear, and it’s not until later missions that you get objectives outside the usual ‘get here, destroy this, hit these switches’ kind of thing. You may not even get to see these thanks to some pretty infuriating difficulty spikes (prepare to weep at the end of level three). The story also gets tiring quickly – featuring aliens, terrorist groups and more convoluted conspiracies than a whole season of X-Files. Add to that some outdated gameplay elements that evoke the N64 days (think Turok, rather than Goldeneye) and you have yourself a pretty standard, albeit good-looking shooter.
So does that mean The Conduit should be avoided? Again, not quite. Despite being heavily flawed, the single player campaign is still worth a play-through as there are a couple of very nice set-pieces contained within, plus some good usage of the ASE (all-seeing eye – which can be used to highlight hidden puzzles, locks or show you where you need to go for your next objective) device shown in the trailers, which show HVS are at least capable of creating puzzles that match their technical nous. The Conduit’s single-player is at least a good showpiece; standard gameplay mixed with good looks, which, sadly, is what seems to attract mainstream gamers these days.
The thing that saves it from obscurity though is the superb multiplayer. There really is no better online shooter on the wii right now and it is almost enough to propel this game onto the must-have list. It’s quite clear where HVS have directed their attention as the difference between single and multiplayer is incredible. There are a huge number of options to play around with and some really fun and original game modes to try out. There was very little lag present when we played and it was pretty quick at serving up some death match goodness. With the fast pace of the matches, it brings back memories of Unreal Tournament in its heyday, although maybe not quite as well balanced.
It is definitely worth looking at if you’ve been craving a decent online shooter for the wii, and if you can stomach the more generic elements of the single player you can still get some enjoyment out of that. High Voltage have certainly put a lot of effort into giving the fans what they want, and have succeeded on a technical level. Hopefully The Conduit will see some success in the market place, if only to give HVS another chance to inject some deeper gameplay into a potential sequel that can match the graphical side. Judging by the early sales reports from America, it has already outperformed the other two Sega titles mentioned in the intro. That this is the worst of that (very good) trilogy says a lot about the state of the game industry at this present time.
It’s late June and once again Britain has been swept up by the usual tennis fever that surrounds Wimbledon. As sales of strawberries & cream sky rocket, interest peaks and for two short weeks we’re suddenly enamoured with a sport that gets little coverage any other time of the year. So this small window should be the perfect time to release a tennis game into the market and that’s just what EA have done, with their latest title Grand Slam Tennis.
Most of their sports franchises get very little fanfare outside the usual suspects like Tiger Woods and FIFA, but this is quite a special release for two reasons. The first is that it’s a tennis game, a sport EA have barely touched during their long history; second, Nintendo have released a new peripheral as a pack-on with this title, something that’s even rarer than a Brit winning Wimbledon. The new hardware in question is Nintendo’s much-vaunted Motion-Plus device, which slots into the bottom of the wii remote, effectively adding another gyroscope and giving the controller a better idea of how to interpret your movements. Nintendo will be releasing it alongside Wii Sports Resort later next month but for now it’s down to two tennis games (Sega’s new Virtual Tennis title also utilises motion-plus) to show off this new level of control.
And it’s this we need to speak about first, because for all the hype surrounding the new device, does it actually make a difference and have EA actually implemented it right? The answer to both questions is empirically yes. Let’s go over the controls without motion-plus fitted first, because it’s still very playable without motion-plus attached. Making your shots is very similar to Wii Sports Tennis as it’s all down to timing your swing correctly to direct your shot. Unlike Wii Sports, however, lobs and drop shots are pulled off by holding the A or B buttons when you swing. It doesn’t quite feel as imprecise or random as Wii Sports sometimes did, and it’s certainly better than Take Two’s Top Spin. And if you plug in motion-plus then you have the best tennis control system on the Wii. When you first get started it’s highly recommended that you give yourself a bit of time with the in-game tutorials, not because it’s hard to use but because it takes your brain a little time to get used to the amount of control you now have over your shots. Rather than using your timing to determine where your shot ends up, any follow through you add will make a big difference and when you get your head around it, you’ll find you can place the ball pretty much wherever you want. Lobs and drop shots still need a button-press though and this does make it feel a little less intuitive.
The major issue we had with the controls was in directing your player around the court. There are two methods available to you for this: either you can let the game control your character like Wii Sports, which makes it easier to concentrate on your shot but removes some of the strategy and makes some balls impossible to return; or you can use the nunchuk, which obviously gives you better control but feels very sluggish. Having made such a great leap forward, it’s disappointing that this aspect wasn’t as fine-tuned as the shot controls.
Elsewhere, EA have included a lot of different modes and content, giving this much greater depth than either Top Spin or the newly released Virtua Tennis. There are full career modes, letting you create a character to battle the likes of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and the sour-faced Andy Murray on your way to Grand-Slam glory. There are several other exhibition and party modes, which can be fun diversions, but the other main draw here is the excellent online mode. Other EA titles have ignored Nintendo’s horrendous fiend-codes and once again they are nowhere to be seen here, replaced with EA’s own user accounts. You can get an online match set up within a few minutes of starting up the game and it’s pretty easy to find and compete against friends. Matches are short and sweet, lasting just a few games, which is just about perfect for the online arena. One of the most interesting additions amongst the online features, which has been seen before in FIFA, is the worldwide nations ranking system. This totals up the results between online players around the globe, giving each nation an overall score and a place in an international leader board. At the time of writing Britain was languishing in 33rd place, behind such great tennis nations as Cambodia and Kenya…Consider this a call-to-arms for British tennis fans to instil some national pride and prove that we don’t suck as bad playing online virtual tennis as we do playing the real thing.
There’s no doubt that this is the best tennis-sim on the Wii, and possibly the best of this generation, depending on whether you prefer motion controls over traditional pads. But with some more attention and refinement on the player movement this would have been nearly perfect. It should still be an essential purchase for tennis fans, and for anyone who wanted more depth than Wii Sports could offer.
When EA announced back in 2007 that they would be working alongside Steven Spielberg to create an exclusive title for the Wii, many were hoping for something along the lines of his previous jaunt into the video gaming world, Medal of Honor. What we got was a true blockbuster, just in more of a literal sense. It was a bit of a surprise when EA revealed Boom Blox, an action-oriented puzzle game that looked like a strange mixture of Jenga and Breakout, with crazy physics and a mad, colourful graphical style.
The game was warmly received by critics and although it didn’t perform amazingly at retail at launch, word of mouth and a ‘long tail’ sales performance meant it has been deemed popular enough to get a sequel, Boom Blox Bash Party.
If you never got to play the first game (and shame on you if you didn’t pick it up) the game revolved around several play styles featuring simple block shapes in 3D environments. Some levels required you to pull blocks out of a tower or similar construction without toppling it (like Jenga); in others you had to hurl projectiles to destroy piles of blocks in as few throws as possible.
The level of invention and variety of puzzles rivalled even some of the work Nintendo are known for and created a challenging title hardcore players could really get their teeth into. On the other hand the colourful graphics, simple controls and spot-on physics meant it really was a game that anyone could enjoy, just as Spielberg envisioned. And getting several friends together for co-op or competitive play made Boom Blox a worthy addition to any multiplayer party.
The sheer variety of modes made the original of the most addictive and freshest puzzlers in years and while this sequel doesn’t quite have the same brand new feel, the extra modes and general polish means it manages to wrestle the title of best puzzle game on Wii from its predecessor. The original had a wealth of levels to work through, over 300 in fact, and this has been surpassed with over 400 this time around, plus the addition of downloadable levels from EA. Then there’s the return of the level editor, allowing you to create and send levels to friends. Unlocking achievements in the single player games gives you more items to play with in the editor, making the two modes work closer together. And again, working to get gold medals on each level or beating yours or a friend’s score is very addictive. All in all this gives Bash Party the kind of longevity most games dream of.
The graphics and general presentation have also been given an update. Blocks look that little bit shinier and there’s noticeably less slowdown (one of the few negative points surrounding the original) on levels involving lots of explosions and physics-heavy puzzles, even despite the grander levels. Backgrounds have also been spruced up, and environments now include underwater and space themed levels, with suitably adjusted physics. While it won’t rival action games for looks, the general playful, cartoon style does make this one of the nicest looking puzzlers on the market.
This sequel retains all the popular elements of the first game while adding plenty of new modes of its own. And although this feels like more of an add-on pack than a major sequel, it is definitely a must-have, even if you do own the original – if you don’t then you really have no excuse not to get this. If you’re one of those gamers who turn their nose up at any game that’s not a space/war FPS and think you’re too ‘hardcore’ to play this, we suggest you get yourself a more mature outlook on life. Buy Boom Blox, and let yourself have a lot of fun.
After the controversy surrounding the ultra-violent Manhunt 2 and it’s subsequent disastrous sales, Sega must have questioned whether their decision to publish MadWorld on Wii was the right choice. Bone-crunching fatalities, decapitations and a not-so-healthy dose of claret – all things you wouldn’t expect to see on Nintendo’s whiter-than-white box of tricks. But ignoring protests from family groups and despite the troubles gaining age ratings in some of the stricter territories (Germans must look elsewhere if they want to get their hands on this), Sega have gone ahead and released it anyway and we’re glad they did, because MadWorld is an absolute beauty.
MadWorld is set in Verrigan City, after a group known as the ‘organisers’ have turned it into the backdrop for a Running Man-style game show known as Death Watch. The city was quarantined after a poisonous gas was released by the organisers and now its citizens must kill each other to fight for the vaccine. Into this stage comes Jack Cayman, a man with a shadowy past and a retractable chainsaw attached to his arm. Jack enters the tournament armed with his deadly chainsaw and utilising spikes, signposts and all manner of environmental hazards to battle against other fighters hoping to win Death Watch and claim a very large cash prize.
Putting the violence aside for a moment, MadWorld is one of the most visually striking games available on any of the current consoles. Seeing as their previous titles Viewtiful Joe and Okami have used cel-shading to maximise the impact of their graphics it’s no surprise to see that Platinum Games have once again used the technique to elevate their latest title above the rest of the crowded action genre. Frank Miller’s distinct black and white style, most notably used for his Sin City graphic novels, forms the basis for Madworld’s striking universe. In the hands of lesser developers, this could have been a case of style over substance but Atsushi Inaba and his team have delivered a game that plays as good as it looks.
Controlling Jack is simple, you can either punch your enemies to death by hammering ‘a’ or press ‘b’ to whip out your chainsaw for a more immediate end, or combine the two with a deft flick of the wii remote for a satisfyingly gruesome finisher. If you feel like it you can use signposts, tyres or flaming oil drums to exact a little more punishment on your opponents and increase you score multiplier for each one you send to the afterlife. Combine these with the numerous environmental hazards like spiked walls, ceiling fans or passing trains and you have some entertaining and very rewarding (score-wise) ways to despatch the many foes you’ll face on your way to the top of the rankings. Each death is accompanied by some great commentary, provided by Greg Proops and John DiMaggio (the voice of Bender from Futurama, and Marcus Fenix in GoW), which is incredibly funny to listen to and make MadWorld just as fun to watch being played as it is to take part yourself.
Breaking up the action are the much-publicised and very fun bloodbath challenges like Man Darts and several levels set on a motorbike. There are also some great bosses to look forward to, cementing Platinum Games reputation for memorable, and tough, boss fights, which require a more hands-on approach via motion controls to overcome.
The repetitive nature of MadWorld’s action, despite these distractions, is its only major Achilles heel and if you find yourself growing tired of impaling enemies or throwing them into trashcans within the first few levels it’s unlikely you’ll be able to stomach the ten or so hours it’ll take to finish. Those who do see it through to the end will no doubt get plenty of enjoyment from the huge variety of ways to maim and decapitate and relish the challenge offered by the bosses and the incredibly entertaining mini games. And as a lot of the fun comes from trying to get the best combos possible there’s a definite urge to replay levels to maximise your score.
Platinum Games have produced one of the most entertaining games on the Wii and one that should be a must-have for anyone craving more action on the console. Show Sega (and the gaming industry) you care about original IPs and give MadWorld some love.
When it was first revealed, House of the Dead: Overkill caused more than a ripple of excitement amongst Wii owners eager for a bit of hardcore shooting action. The trailer, a humourous pastiche of the grind-house theatre style honoured by Tarantino and Rodriguez in last year’s Planet Terror, had its tongue firmly planted in its cheek and showed a glimpse of a title happy to poke fun at its own legacy. The cheesy nature of the original arcade games had been fully acknowledged and embraced and hopes were high that developer Gas-Powered Games (formerly the Kuju team responsible for Battalion Wars) would treat the gameplay with the same level of respect. As the first of Sega’s holy trinity of hardcore-focussed titles (alongside the newly released brawler Mad World, and the promising looking FPS The Conduit) and the first console exclusive in the well-loved series, everyone questioned whether Overkill could deliver the goods.
The answer would have to be an unequivocal yes – Overkill delivers in spades, and then some. There are few titles that can boast such persistent aesthetics – the trailer’s ‘low-budget horror’ visuals extend to every inch of the game. From the gory nature of the graphics to the soundtrack and even the menus, Overkill soaks itself in the grind-house atmosphere. Tarantino would surely get a kick out of the scratch film effects, the outrageously sweary dialogue and the intentional ‘gaffes’ in the cut-scenes (characters switch clothing, smashed crockery magically reappears), little touches that all serve to raise Overkill above its peers in the genre.
In fact, it really stands head and shoulders above most of the rest of the Wii’s library – in the words of the eloquent Detective Washington: this is the balls. Visually it challenges some of Nintendo’s in-house efforts thanks to its technical ability and attention to detail; levels are atmospheric and even though they consist of well-trod environments (labs, mansions, trains etc.) they are well designed and look gorgeous. The character models are equally impressive, with the many varieties of zombie sickeningly dismembered in the face of your gun-barrel, and some great looking bosses (even if they are easy to beat). Overkill’s sound design is also worthy of a mention, not just for the zingy dialogue between Agent G and the foul-mouthed Detective Washington (swearing is neither big or clever unless it’s coming from the mouth of Mr W) but for the songs created especially for the game which will certainly live in the memory long after you’ve grown tired of dealing death out to zombies.
Thankfully just as much attention has been spent on the gameplay itself as the presentation. Overkill is not just entertaining as a pick-up-and-play arcade shooter, but stands up well to multiple play-throughs and is an absolute blast with friends (playing or watching). The combo system means battling for a high score takes a bit more of a refined approach than simply blasting all over the screen, as successive hits add to your score multiplier, eventually giving you the heady levels of ‘goregasm’ if you can hit enough enemies. There is also extra content unlocked by finding and shooting golden brains hidden in each level. Bonuses like the harder, more extreme Director’s Cut, featuring longer levels and fewer lives. And the chance to view any of the hilarious cut-scenes or listen to any of the music, catering for any gamers with a hankering to show off the necrophilia song to friends.
There are a few issues that almost taint Overkill’s shiny bodywork though, as mentioned earlier the bosses look great but are dispatched too cheaply. A few blasts to the obvious weak-point(s) is all it can take and they’ll be down in minutes. Only one or two have genuinely interesting attack patterns and the end boss really could have been awesome had it been as challenging as it looked. There are also some gripes with the levels, with few chances to explore alternative routes and very little in the way of destructible environments.
They aren’t enough to stop Overkill being anything less than an extremely entertaining title and it stands as a bit of a landmark title in that it’s not just a great reimagining of a classic series but also a sign that developers are really starting to push Nintendo’s little white box. Given the format’s suitability for light-gun games we’re hoping it leads to new outings for the other two genre stalwarts, Virtua Cop and Time Crisis. In the mean time we’re off to watch that ending just once more before bed. Fuck yeah!
People aren’t content with just buying a game nowadays. Some games come with a shiny metal box, or a t-shirt, and sometimes DRM install limits. Well NERF N-Strike comes with a foam dart pistol.
Upon opening the oversized game box, we find a NERF Switch-Shot EX-3 dart gun and three foam darts, earning the game a 10/10 score before we’ve even taken the plastic wrap off the case. After knocking a few things off the mantelpiece, we find the next amazing part – the pistol firing assembly comes undone, revealing a holster for a Wii controller, turning your NERF gun into a light gun. Things can only go downhill from here.
NERF N-Strike, by EA and Hasbro, is essentially a target-shooting game, in the same vein as the Point Blank series for the PS1, with various robot-shooting modes to fight through. You are set into the shoes of Shane, a video arcade whiz recruited for his light gun skills (how very Last Starfighter), and set up against a series of racially diverse opponents, not unlike Pokemon gym bosses, to test your skills with a wide array of different NERF guns.
The gameplay is solid enough. Generally you are shooting robots as they come at you, either in a rail-based arcade style or in a shooting gallery, or destroying blocks or spheres in one of the game’s gravity-based mini-games. The aim is to beat the high-score of your enemy, which isn’t particularly difficult, while they shout racially stereotyped slogans at you – one example being ‘Jackal’, the Latino challenger, who tells you, “Give up, I could use a siesta anyway”, followed by “You are awful! Maybe you need a siesta!”
The controls are a little awkward at first. The Wii controller makes the light gun top-heavy, meaning you have to steady the barrel with a second hand. Though your gun auto-reloads you’ll find yourself sometimes needing to reload manually, and this is made difficult by designating the A-button for the job, on top of the pistol. Having said that, it’s easy enough to aim two-handed, and the gun’s trigger taps the B-button just fine, so overall it’s not a bad light gun at all.
Visually, the game falls a little short. The fuzzily rendered robots in the arcade mode could have come straight out of a PS2 processor. Having said that, the two gravity-based mini-games look very much Wii-rendered, and this compensates. The way the darts fire on-screen means you have to compensate for the speed of the dart versus the time it takes to reach your target, and this adds some realism to the game, along with the way your darts bounce realistically off of walls when you miss your mark. Animated cut-scenes tell the story as you move through the missions, and these are illustrated in a frame-by-frame style, much like the stylised cut scenes in Mirror’s Edge.
Unlocking the 26 real and fictional NERF guns is a real reason to beat the missions, as earning the various sniper rifles, magnums, missile launchers and machine guns will spur on any kid that grew up in the nineties, where NERF, the indoor answer to the Super Soaker, was one of the coolest things you could show your friends. Having said this, beating the missions takes only a few hours, and with no difficulty setting to speak of the adult gamer is reminded of the game’s youthful target audience. Multiplayer extends the longevity of the game somewhat, though the lack of a second pistol means it’s only good for a quick head-to-head (a’la Wii Play) before it becomes frustrating for the second player.
In conclusion, Nerf N-Strike is a decent course of shooting mini-games, even if it is little easy and short-lived. The Switch-Shot pistol is a solid light gun, and makes the NERF experience that much more realistic. Parents will see that it’s easy and non-violent enough to buy it for their kids, and they’ll likely find themselves playing it alone, too. The real thing you’ll find yourself doing after completing the game is firing foam darts around your house. Unfortunately EA and Hasbro may have inadvertently juxtaposed their fairly good Wii game against the irresistible fun of pinging foam darts off the back of people’s heads. Luckily these pistols can be bought separately for half the price of the full game, avoiding the need to actually buy Nerf N-Strike.