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Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien Review

Runner 2 artfully blends entrancing music and accessible gameplay to create a joyful experience.

The Good

  • Exuberant soundtrack
  • Engrossing connection between action and music
  • Broadly accessible difficulty spectrum
  • Charming world and characters
  • Fiendish challenges available for the intrepid.

The original Bit.Trip Runner was a simply named, retro-styled rhythm platforming game that deftly intertwined music and gameplay. The sequel, Bit.Trip Presents…Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, is more elaborately named and more visually lush, but its immense appeal is once again fueled by the elegant marriage of music and gameplay. As you leap and slide your way past obstacles as the perpetually sprinting protagonist, your actions trigger beats and chimes that enrich the burgeoning musical track. This creates a connection between you and the game that builds and builds, leading to an experience that is joyful, rewarding, and as challenging as you want it to be.

Neither spring nor robot nor fireball shall deter Commander Video from his appointed rounds.

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If you’ve played Runner 2′s predecessor, Bit.Trip Runner, then you already know all the basics. Your character starts the level running, and doesn’t stop until the end, providing you can avoid every single obstacle that appears in your way. Pits, robots, projectiles, walls, and more force you to jump, slide, block, and kick with judicious timing, lest one false move send you hurtling back to the beginning of the level.

These impediments and evasive maneuvers are introduced at a gentle, yet brisk, pace. By the end of the first of five worlds, you learn everything you could ever do in the first game, and then some. This structure keeps things lively for Runner veterans while remaining accessible for newcomers. If you find things are a bit too easy or too hard for your tastes, the adjustable difficulty level does a great job of helping you find a balance. Whether you’re cruising past obstacles effortlessly, nimbly maneuvering through a tricky run, or trying time and time again to navigate a fiendish gauntlet, surmounting the challenges of Runner 2 is an enjoyable pursuit.

The whimsical environmental design adds to the appeal. Commander Video and his playable compatriots move with jaunty, fluid animations, while doofy robots, disgruntled hills, and even a jubilant Sasquatch watch from the background. There are a few elements that can be visually distracting at times, notably the kickable obstacles and the mid-level checkpoint attendees, but Runner 2 engenders the kind of focus that will likely allow you to navigate levels undeterred by occasional distractions. The Wii U version performs well on both big and small screen, though the controller screen does have the advantage of looking a bit smoother.

CommandGirl Video runs around one of the new score-boosting diamonds.

CommandGirl Video runs around one of the new score-boosting diamonds.

To encourage you to press onward and strive upward, the aforementioned checkpoints help mitigate the punishment for missteps. If you like your stakes high, however, you can always leap over a checkpoint and earn a nice point bonus for working without a net. Branching paths, unlockable treasures, and hidden retro bonus stages augment the generous difficulty spread and increase replay incentive, as do the online leaderboards. In Runner, you could achieve the perfect score on each level, but with the addition of point-garnering dance moves in Runner 2, every spare stretch of track is a chance to push your score a wee bit higher and edge out the competition.

There’s a great sense of satisfaction that comes from acing levels and blasting yourself into the bonus bull’s-eye at the end, but the real magic of Runner 2 lies in the music. Every obstacle you avoid and item you pick up sounds a chime or a beat that fits seamlessly into the musical track. This creates a powerful link between your actions and the music, enmeshing you in the rhythm of the stage and making you feel like part of the composition. It’s an exhilarating feeling, one that not only makes you feel good, but also makes you play better. You may find yourself so in tune with the game that you feel like you’re reacting instinctually with button presses before you consciously realize what you’re doing. This is a rare sensation, one that compels you to start the next level even if you struggled mightily to complete the last one.

Every track gets richer the further you progress into a level thanks to certain power-ups that trigger a musical escalation. This progression sweeps you up in the action, propelling you along with increasing momentum (though, of course, your character’s run speed remains steady). The final such power-up always elevates the melody to ethereal heights, creating a premature release of the tension that’s been building all stage. You still have obstacles to overcome, but you coast past these with supreme confidence, buoyed by the euphoric melodies. You feel like you’ve already succeeded, and when you triumphantly ride this feeling across the finish line, it’s just the glorious cherry on top. It’s an ingenious stroke of mood management, one that makes your experience all the more pleasurable and engrossing.

Unkle Dill cheers on all checkpoint skippers.

Unkle Dill cheers on all checkpoint skippers.

Runner 2 ensnares your emotions with an artful cocktail of music and gameplay, sweeping you along in its rhythm and lighting up a smile on your face. It’s a wonderful sensation to lose yourself in this game, whether you are facing down the formidable challenges of The Mounting Sadds or simply going for a breezy run in The Emerald Brine. Runner 2 doesn’t just offer you an entertaining experience; it throws its arm around you companionably, ushers you into its whimsical world, and makes you feel like part of something special.

By Chris Watters

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate Review

A lick of HD paint, a more robust online component, and a bunch of new content make Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate the best hunt yet.

The Good

  • Excellent large-scale battles
  • Huge amount of compelling customization
  • Monsters are fantastically realized
  • The online component is vastly improved over Tri
  • Great use of the GamePad.

The Bad

  • Onscreen text can be awkward to read
  • Series fans will already have seen much of the content.

Gathering mushrooms. Mining ore. Fishing. Slaying giant dragons made of rock. Whether or not this sounds familiar depends heavily on your experience with the Monster Hunter series thus far. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is an HD port of 2010′s excellent Monster Hunter Tri, which refines that game’s structure, and adds a bunch of new content and a far more robust online component. Thwacking huge beasts with a greatsword or picking them off from afar with a bow has never been so entertaining, satisfying, and, thankfully, accessible. Throw in a stream of free downloadable content, and Ultimate is indeed the ultimate Monster Hunter experience.

There’s nothing like a BBQ to heal those broken bones.

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A wyvern patrols, wonderfully animated, tossing its head back and forth as it snaps lazily at a nearby herd of grazing aptanoth. You sneak up, weapon sheathed, waiting for the right time to strike. Suddenly, the hulking beast turns. It notices you. Quickly, you draw your blade as the beast charges. You roll, but not quickly enough. A blow catches you, sending you flying to one side as your sidekick, Cha-Cha, screams in alarm. Quick as a flash, you spring to your feet, up and into the fray, taking a swing that connects satisfyingly with the creature’s head. It roars, stamps its feet, and charges again.

These encounters, these epic battles of man vs. mythical beast, are the centerpiece of Monster Hunter. Nearly three years on, and the monsters of this imaginary world are no less intimidating and no less menacing when threatened. Sure, you still start off being sent out against herbivores, or to gather mushrooms and resources, but as soon as you get into the fray proper, things really kick off. The new lick of paint thanks to the HD upgrade pays off too; the game’s not quite up there with current-gen visuals, but it’s crisp and sharp, and the monsters look superb.

One of the most welcome things about this Wii U outing is the improvement in accessibility. You can use the pro controller (or the Wii’s classic controller), but the GamePad really shines here; the screen offers additional buttons and functions, all of which can be customized. If you want the map on the GamePad instead of onscreen, it can be done. Targeting, camera controls, item management, and certain attack controls can all be mapped to the touch-screen interface and moved about to suit you. This interface is never intrusive, or mandatory, but it’s a subtle and welcome use of the hardware.

It’s not long before you begin farming Royal Ludroths or Lagombis to build or improve weapons and armor, and this collect-’em-all aspect of Monster Hunter remains as addictive as it has always been. There’s more on offer than in Tri, with a bunch of new monsters added, as well as loads of new quests, thus leading to new weapons and armor as well. And for a game so focused on grinding and fighting the same creatures over and over again, it does a remarkable job of keeping things fresh. Battles rarely play out the same, whether you’re tackling a variety of different beasts or simply taking on the same one repeatedly. Each beast has its own strengths, weaknesses, and special characteristics, and even if you’ve fought the same monster multiple times, it’s still capable of surprising you by varying its attack patterns and catching you unawares.

Even gentle herbivores get a taste of the hunter's blade.

Even gentle herbivores get a taste of the hunter’s blade.

The vast scope of weapon types and armor provides plenty of content, as well. Mastering one single weapon feels like a game in itself, and the difference between using, say, greatswords or dual blades results in a huge variety in how you approach combat. The larger melee weapons require careful planning; they’re heavy, slower to attack, and require you to keep a close eye on your opponent and look for an opening. Faster weapons let you rush in, chipping away at a beast, but doing less damage. It’s all about finding a weapon type that suits your style of play, and eventually mastering each one so that you have the skills best suited to each monster. And of course, as well as a number of melee weapons, there’s a bunch of different ranged weapons to master as well.

Taking down a giant poisonous leech with a hammer is very different from attacking it with a bowgun. This gives you more patterns to learn, approaches to take, and things to consider. The lengthy animations when you use healing items are still present, but they add an excellent element of tension, and the more-fluid camera and more-versatile controls thanks to the touch screen make the game more manageable than its Wii predecessor.

A lick of HD paint, a more robust online component, and a bunch of new content make Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate the best hunt yet.

By Ashton Raze

LEGO City Undercover Review

Lego City Undercover is a joyful open-world romp for players of all ages.

The Good

  • Witty writing and characters keep you giggling throughout
  • The lure of Lego studs and collectables is hard to resist
  • Endlessly varied and entertaining missions and puzzles
  • Different disguises make for lots of diversity
  • Great use of the GamePad.

The Bad

  • Inconsistent jumping
  • Unsatisfying combat
  • Exceptionally long load times.

With Lego City Undercover, developer Traveller’s Tales has distilled the concept of “fun” into its purest essence and poured it liberally over a city already overflowing with wit and charm. This open-world adventure is a happy-go-lucky delight with endless ways of making you grin. Imagine a giant playground in which your path to endless secrets is opened by hanging onto flapping chickens and riding a robotic dinosaur down the main thoroughfare. Imagine a carnage-free world in which you can jump into blocky cement trucks and mow down lampposts without fear of repercussion. Lego City is a silly, boisterous place busting at the seams with cute diversions.

There’s always time for a bit of bullriding–even if you’re in the middle of a sensitive mission!

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The entertainment doesn’t end with the jokes, but it certainly starts with them. You play as Chase McCain, a once-great cop called back to duty to find Lego City’s greatest nemesis: Rex Fury. Chase McCain? Rex Fury? These classic cop-show names couldn’t sound more generic, but that’s the point: Lego City Undercover takes great joy in adopting and skewering pop culture tropes of all kinds. In his quest to put Rex back into the prison from which he escaped, Chase buddies up with the mafia, making Goodfellas references along the way. (Sometimes, mobsters really do look like clowns, as it turns out.) When Chase learns kung fu, The Matrix jokes come fast and furious. Turn the right corner, and you might find a block with a question mark hovering in the air, an apparent refugee from a Mario game. And you’ll know exactly what to do with it, too.

Lego City Undercover doesn’t rely on quotes and connections for its kid-safe humor, though they provide plenty of fodder for laughs, both verbal and visual. Witness, for example, how time slows down in true action-film fashion as your charming plastic avatar runs along a wall in a daring display of Lego parkour. Or how a close-up of a cackling madman turns into a canny, self-aware commentary on villain stereotypes. But the funniest moments come when the whimsy arises from the characters and their circumstances. One gut-busting scene reimagines ice cream as both a delicious treat and a torture device; another has you listening in on the secret lives of farm animals. Your scatterbrained cop buddy Frank Honey is also a frequent source of gags, from the hysterical way he pronounces “computer” as “com-pyooper” to his recounting of a horse ride gone terribly awry.

The goofiness permeates everything you do in Lego City Undercover. The game offers many of the possibilities associated with open-city games like Grand Theft Auto, but replaces the usual violence with lighthearted charm. You can leap into any driver’s vehicle and speed off, but you aren’t carjacking–you’re just borrowing the ride for police business. If there’s a passenger in that vehicle, she’ll happily stick with you as you tear through the streets. As you zoom along, Chase merrily cries out that his car insurance rates are going to skyrocket as Lego citizens leap out of the way. You can’t harm these citizens, and no blood is shed, though your vehicle might lose bricks as you bang against railings and walls. It’s such a hoot to watch the plastic pieces fly and your vehicle diminish in size that you might drive even more carelessly just for the fun of it all.

Lego studs are everywhere. Take all you want; no one cares!

Lego studs are everywhere. Take all you want; no one cares!

The police won’t give chase either, unless the mission calls for it, so you’re free to do as you choose. And what you choose depends on the disguise that’s right for the occasion. Lego City Undercover’s core feature is how Chase can immediately swap disguises from civilian, to construction worker, to farmer, and so on. What special actions you can perform depend on what costume you don. Functionally, this is similar to how Traveller’s Tales’ Lego games have always functioned, except that in most of those games, you don’t swap disguises–you swap characters. Do you need to smash through the boulders getting in your way? Switch to your miner’s disguise and smash them with your pickaxe. Need to break into a locked building? Put on your criminal outfit and pry open the door with your crowbar.

Everything you can interact with is marked with an icon that communicates what disguise is required. But you don’t have access to every disguise at once: you earn new ones as you complete story missions. As you hop and zip through the streets, you spot all sorts of markers to activate, ledges to climb, and blocks to collect. As you scoot from mission to mission, it’s hard to resist the lure of these secondary playthings. A plant that needs water grows into a vine that climbs up the wall, which takes you to a rooftop with a TNT dispenser. You then fly from a jump point to another rooftop, where there’s a giant statue that you blow up with that stick of dynamite before gliding to safety by holding onto a furiously flapping chicken.

The city is loaded with these adorable flights of fancy. Their siren call is strong: there are costumes to collect and towers to climb–and besides, completing these tasks is a lot of fun. Any given thing you do may not be all that engaging (mashing a button to break down a door; pressing a button to grapple to a higher level), but these activities are strung into gleeful puzzles. The puzzles are never hard, but feel satisfying because they require so many costume changes. The glee is enhanced by the game’s attitude. How can you not feel cheerful when a puzzle concludes with you firing a pig from a cannon?

Chase might be a city slicker, but that doesn't keep him from dressing like a farmer when necessary.

Chase might be a city slicker, but that doesn’t keep him from dressing like a farmer when necessary.

The Lego series’ platforming has always been floaty, and Undercover is no different. Jumping isn’t quite precise, and camera angles aren’t always best suited to the action required. You might leap onto a rock that seems like a perfectly reasonable platform and slip right off, or not grab a ledge even when it looks like you are well within the required distance. Fortunately, Traveller’s Tales wisely made much of the locomotion contextual. Jog onto a wall-running platform, and you automatically skim along buildings like that well-known Persian prince. Press the proper button as you approach hurdles, and you vault over them or slide underneath.

Lego City Undercover is a joyful open-world romp for players of all ages.

By Kevin VanOrd

Need for Speed: Most Wanted U Review

It’s not quite the smooth, finely tuned speed machine it could have been, but Need for Speed: Most Wanted U is still an exciting racer.

The Good

  • Terrific handling makes driving a pleasure
  • Police chases are usually intense and enjoyable
  • Billboards make for satisfying asynchronous competition
  • Online multiplayer races are fast and exciting
  • Beautiful and varied city.

The Bad

  • In slower cars, police chases can be a frustrating ordeal
  • Repetitive police chatter
  • Lacks any sense of narrative motivation
  • Inconsistent, sometimes dull online challenges.

Late last year, Need for Speed: Most Wanted served up a welcome second helping of Burnout Paradise-style open-world wreckin’ and racin’ shenanigans, though it replaced that game’s imaginary automobiles with the real cars that are a constant of the Need for Speed series. Now, the game has come to the Wii U, complete with a U pointlessly stuck to the end of the title. The features designed exclusively for Most Wanted U contribute little to the game, but Most Wanted is still an attractive and frequently exhilarating racer.

The flying of sparks, the sound of metal on metal, and the sense of impact make trading paint with other cars feel great.

The flying of sparks, the sound of metal on metal, and the sense of impact make trading paint with other cars feel great.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted U takes its name and some of its concept from the 2005 game Need for Speed Most Wanted. Both games take place in open-world cities and involve plenty of police chases, but the earlier game contextualized its action with a hilariously over-the-top story about taking down a crew of illegal street racers. In the new Most Wanted, you still have the goal of defeating a number of street racers, but there’s no narrative to back it up. The racers on your list are identified only by their cars–they don’t have names or faces or personalities–and without a personal investment in defeating them, doing so isn’t nearly as satisfying here as it was in the 2005 game. It is merely a structural hoop to jump through; you do it simply because the game tells you that this is what you are supposed to do.

Well, that and the fact that driving, racing, and eluding the police are really enjoyable, for the most part. Despite the stable of real-world cars, the driving isn’t realistic. Cars have a great sense of weight and momentum to them, while still being extremely responsive, and as you’d expect from a racer by developer Criterion, judicious use of the brakes and a bit of practice will have you blissfully drifting through corners at high speed. As in most Criterion racing games, boosting is a big part of racing in Most Wanted. You build up your nitrous bar by doing things like drifting, taking down cops and rivals, and driving in oncoming traffic, and you press a button to spend that nitrous. It’s a tried-and-true arcade racing game mechanic, and Most Wanted’s terrific sense of speed makes it as reliably exciting as ever.

Each vehicle has five events associated with it. Victory in each of a vehicle’s events nets you speed points, which you need to earn a set number of before you can challenge each of the most wanted racers. Winning events also gives you access to modifications for that vehicle, including chassis that make you more resistant to impacts, gears that increase your acceleration or top speed, and tires that reinflate if popped by spike strips.

Make up your own story about playing as someone who hates EA so much, he wants to smash all of their billboards.

Make up your own story about playing as someone who hates EA so much, he wants to smash all of their billboards.

In earlier versions of the game, building up your car collection was a simple, unrewarding matter of driving up to cars parked all over the city of Fairhaven. In this release, with the exception of the cars driven by the most wanted racers, you have access to every car in the game from the start. (This includes the five cars that were released as downloadable content called the Ultimate Speed Pack on other platforms.)

Although they can be accessed from anywhere in Fairhaven almost immediately, cars are still scattered across the city in set locations, called jack spots, in Most Wanted U. The upside of this is that if you get the cops on your tail as you’re roaming about the city, you can pull up on a car’s jack spot and, provided that you’ve got a bit of distance between you and your police pursuers, hop into the other car, reducing your heat level a bit. Your heat level determines just how much effort the police are putting into bringing you down. At the lowest level, you might have a few cop cruisers on your tail. As it increases, the police start setting up roadblocks in your path, and more and better law enforcement vehicles join the fray. Heavy SUVs might try to ram you head-on, and Corvette Interceptors speed along in front of you, deploying spike strips that, if hit, can seriously diminish your car’s handling.

All is not lost, however; repair shops are all over the city, and driving through one instantly fixes up your car and gives you a fresh coat of paint to boot. Like using jack spots, speeding through these repair shops reduces your heat level. Your heat level increases automatically as a pursuit goes on, and taking down police cars with a satisfying shunt into oncoming traffic, a swift T-bone collision, or whatever aggressive, effective option presents itself makes it go up significantly faster. If you get enough distance between you and your pursuers, you enter cooldown, during which your heat level declines. Stay in cooldown long enough, and the police call off the pursuit.

Fairhaven offers plenty of opportunities for you to thumb your nose at gravity.

Fairhaven offers plenty of opportunities for you to thumb your nose at gravity.

You earn speed points during police pursuits, but you get to keep them only if you eventually escape; if you get busted, you earn nothing, so the stakes can get quite high. Escape from the cops, and you feel great; see the speed points you earned over the course of several risky minutes disappear as you get busted, and you may be crestfallen. It’s a good risk-vs.-reward system that leads to some extremely tense moments. Unfortunately, shaking off your pursuers can often feel as much a matter of luck as of skill. Police are tenacious in their pursuit of you–maybe a little too tenacious, because it sometimes seems as if no amount of changing direction, catching big air, going off-road, or anything else is enough to lose the cops. In the game’s faster cars, speed can often be your savior, but in the more everyday models, it often feels like you don’t have a fighting chance.

Additionally, some parts of the city don’t have many areas that are off the beaten path; you might enter cooldown but find yourself with nowhere to hide from patrolling police who soon spot you and reinitiate the pursuit. The balance between making it very possible for you to be spotted again during cooldown and giving you good options for eluding the police was better handled in 2005′s Most Wanted, which provided you with more spots that cops on the hunt for you might or might not investigate. That earlier game also did a better job with police chatter; here, the police are irritatingly repetitive. Several times during the same pursuit, you might hear cops, awed by your driving prowess, come to the realization that they’re “not dealing with joyriders.”

It’s not quite the smooth, finely tuned speed machine it could have been, but Need for Speed: Most Wanted U is still an exciting racer.

By Carolyn Petit

Wii U Likely to Cost More Than Wii at Launch

Wii U



With that expensive-looking tablet controller, Wii U seems like a lock to cost more than Wii did at launch. Nintendo didn’t say anything of the sort during its E3 media briefing yesterday morning, and it actually glossed over the entire subject of pricing — an understandable decision, as the system may not be out for another 17 months.

That doesn’t mean that everyone at Nintendo has opted to ignore the subject. President Satoru Iwata said in an interview with Nikkei (as translated by Andriasang) that the company does not intend to sell Wii U for the same 20,000 yen ($250) price that Wii did at launch. He also believes Wii can continue to live on for a period of time following the release of U.

Without knowing the exact components that make up the new system and its controller, it’s impossible to precisely say how much Nintendo will pay to produce each system. $300 seems like a low-end estimate for what consumers will be paying at this point; between the system, its controller, and Nintendo’s insistence upon making a profit out of the gate, it probably won’t end up costing any less than that.

By Chris Pereira

Assassin’s Creed Creative Director Starts Work at THQ

Assassin's Creed



After a lengthy wait, Patrice Désilets has finally begun work at THQ’s new Montreal studio. He’ll assume the role of creative director, the same title he held while working at Ubisoft Montreal on the Assassin’s Creed series and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

The move was originally announced this past October. Désilets said at the time he would be waiting until summer 2011 before starting work at THQ “out of respect.” It was later revealed that he had a non-compete clause in his Ubisoft contract that kicked into effect when he parted ways with the company last June.

“The creative freedom that THQ gives its artists and developers–and their willingness to make games that truly reflect an artistic vision–really drew me to THQ,” he said as a part of today’s announcement. “I plan to build an incredibly talented team at THQ, and am very anxious to get started on creating a new project.”

It has not yet been announced what he’ll be working on except that he’ll be developing new IPs.

Following Désilets’ and other Ubisoft Montreal staffers’ departures, Ubisoft alleged that THQ was poaching talent from its Montreal-based studio, leading to a series of injunctions against THQ.

By Chris Pereira

Japan Gamers, Devs Excited But Hesitant On Wii U



Last week’s Famitsu-sponsored survey of gamers and developers’ response to the PS Vita made it clear that people are crazily excited about Sony’s new portable. The Japanese magazine published a similar survey of responses to Nintendo’s WiiU, and the response — while overall very positive — was noticeably more muted. (The fact that the PS Vita is coming quite a bit sooner to the market probably has much to do with that.)

According to Famitsu, 38.3 percent of gamers polled said they had a good impression of the system after its announcement at E3 last month. 33.7 percent said they did not have a great impression, while the remaining 28 percent haven’t made up their mind. While readers dug the new potential of the WiiU, a lot of them said that they didn’t like the name very much — 22.5 percent said it lacked impact, and many commenters said that it made Nintendo’s new console seem like a minor upgrade to the Wii.

The response from developers was a great deal more positive overall. “A lot of people say that it’s a very Nintendo-like console, but I’m more focused on the basic specs, which are pretty high-end,” said Capcom producer Jun Takeuchi. “I think the key is going to be how the controller and TV interact, as well as Nintendo’s approach to online. I think there’s every chance of it being another juggernaut if the system’s priced strategically enough. It’ll be up to developers to figure out how to use the controller without diverting the player’s attention too much.”

Other Japanese developer takes:

“It’s got more than enough functionality for HD games, and the multitude of screens means that players aren’t competing for space on the TV. Speaking for Valhalla, we’d love to get right to work on it — there are all kinds of new gameplay ideas buzzing around in my mind.” — Tomonobu Itagaki, Valhalla Games

“Speaking as someone involved in a 3DS project right now, I’m curious about the system — the way it straddles the line between home and portable, and the way Nintendo announced it even as people were still excited about the 3DS.” — Shu Takumi, Capcom

“I think it’s important to note that Nintendo hardware is now basically unified on the concept of two screens. There’ll probably be more projects focused on unifying the home and portable experience — we’ll need to think of ways of enriching both types of play. I’m also interested in seeing if going HD will change the Wii marketplace much.” — Toshihiro Nagoshi, Sega

“To be honest, I haven’t gotten to touch it yet, but I am interested in the fact that it’s Nintendo’s first HD system. It all comes down to the software, of course, but I’m glad that we’ll be able to create the sort of graphics that adults will enjoy looking at on big screens.” — Shinji Mikami, Tango

“It’s a very Nintendo-like system, one with a lot of potential. In a market where the position of home consoles needs to be reconsidered, I feel like the concept here is a system which still deserves a place in people’s living rooms. The fact you can play without occupying the TV strikes me as a very Nintendo-like innovation. We can think about new ports of games like Professor Layton which use the touch pen, but I’d also like to think of new possibilities for games you can enjoy at home.” — Akihiro Hino, Level-5

By Kevin Gifford

TGS: Nintendo Press Conference Roundup: 3DS Games Galore

Miyamoto Zelda



By now, you’ve likely heard the big news out of the Nintendo 3DS Conference 2011, the company’s pre-TGS event: Monster Hunter 4 and a new Fire Emblem are coming to 3DS, the eShop and other aspects of the system are to be improved, and a pink system will be out in Japan next month. The lone bit of non-3DS news was Shigeru Miyamoto showing off The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword at the show’s beginning, mentioning that the game could provide 50-100 hours of gameplay. As for 3DS, there was no news about the second circle pad attachment or the rumored 3DS redesign; instead, Nintendo answered one oft-heard criticism — that 3DS doesn’t have enough games — by showing more than two dozen titles, many of which were new. (And many of which won’t make it outside of Japan.)

As far as first-party content goes, there were the usual suspects of Super Mario 3D Land (dated for November 3) and Mario Kart 7 (December 7). Keep in mind those and every other release date mentioned are intended only for Japan, so don’t get your heart set on any dates — although both of those games are expected out in November and December, respectively, in the United States.

Kid Icarus: Uprising had been planned to be out this holiday; it’s now scheduled for release in January, so it won’t be out this year as expected. Satoru Iwata talked about a Kid Icarus anime of some sort that will be produced and released on 3DS worldwide through the Nintendo Video app.

Animal Crossing

A number of games we already knew about — Paper Mario, Animal Crossing, Luigi’s Mansions 2, and Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games — will all be out at some point in 2012. Mario Tennis was announced and that, too, is slated for 2012. The previously announced Shinrei Camera was shown. A new Girls Mode (a successor to what was released in North America as Style Savvy on DS) is a fashion game where you can coordinate bags with outfits, your hair with accessories, and so on; it will be out in 2012.

Nintendo also announced a new Tomodachi Collection (pictured below), a sequel to the DS life simulation game that sold quite well in Japan. Like its predecessor, don’t expect it to make it out of Japan. Other new Japan-focused games from Nintendo included an online soccer game, and a new Culdcept card game.

As for third-party games, there was plenty there, too. Resident Evil: Revelations will be out in early 2012, with Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai set for March. The latter, if you’re not familiar, is a new rhythm game in the series with a very Otaku-style cheerleader; in other words, we won’t be seeing it in North America. The same can also possibly be said for Girls RPG: Cinderellife from Level-5 and a new Love Plus dating sim (coming on December 8).

Tomadachi Collection

After we got a glimpse of Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy earlier today, a winter release was attached during tonight’s event. Iwata also said that “fans should expect more Final Fantasy,” so if you’re a 3DS-owning Final Fantasy fan who doesn’t care for rhythm games, you may yet be in luck.

More third-party games included Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D (winter), Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime 3 (November 2), SD Gundam Generation 3D (December 22), Bravely Default: Flying Fairy (a Square-Enix JRPG coming in 2012, pictured below), True Dynasty Warriors Vs. (featuring four-player multiplayer), Ace Combat 3D: Cross Rumble (winter), and Tekken 3D: Prime Edition (winter).

There was a lot shown and, as noted elsewhere, Nintendo plans on releasing 3D trailers for all of it through the Nintendo Video channel — at least for those in Japan. And as I mentioned several times, a handful of these games will never see the light of day in North America and Europe without importing; be sure to check out 1UP’s new cover story on Japanese games being made specifically for a Japanese audience to dive more deeply into that subject.

Bravely Default: Flying Fairy

By Chris Pereira

Gamers Reflect on What They’ll Miss Most About the Old Days

Gaming is rapidly changing. Whether we’re talking about things becoming more digital or new business models or whatever else, the industry already looks a great deal different than it did 10 or 20 years ago and that’s only going to continue in the coming decades.

As with anything in entertainment that changes, people are going to yearn for the way things used to be (while also worrying about what the future will bring). For me, one of the things I miss most is the sort of manuals games used to come with. What I looked forward to most when first buying a new game, regardless of what it was, was opening the box up and flipping through the manual before actually trying the game out. And I’m not just talking about spending time devouring the pages of a manual (or whatever other paperwork a PC game would come with — keyboard shortcut cards, tech trees, etc. — as it installs); console and handheld game manuals had to be read cover to cover before the game went into the system. This wasn’t a matter of preparing for games with no tutorials, as I treated those with in-game instructions no differently. I specifically remember reading the entire manual for Mario Party 2 — Mario Party 2 — before I would even stick the cart in my Nintendo 64.

Manuals

More recently I’ve found manuals to be far more superfluous than they used to be as it’s not often that you play a game that doesn’t start out with a tutorial and follow that up with a good deal of handholding. Even so, I find it hard not to be upset when I open up a brand new game and see a two-page manual filled with nothing but legal warnings and other stuff that’s of no use to me. Then again, my Vita collection makes even that seem preferable because at least it’s something.

I’m not the only one who misses manuals. Responding to a question we posed on Facebook, Andrew Corne noted, among other things, he misses “full color instruction manuals and game inserts that weren’t only for special edition copies.”

Between those sharing their thoughts on Facebook and the 1UP boards, one of the most popular relics of the past was the arcade. Especially in the west, arcades are not anywhere near as common as they once were, much to the chagrin of those who enjoy being in the company of other quarter-wielding gamers.

“Arcades died more and more as consoles became more popular, and now with all of the social aspects of online connectedness, there’s not even as much need for the social element of an arcade anymore,” wrote Coarse_Limely. Lukerum2 remembered the “epic arcade battles that got so heated they drew a crowd,” while UltramanJ added, “I miss the days when the arcade scene was thriving, and the latest arcade titles were well beyond what the home systems were capable of. There was always a tremendous amount of excitement when a favorite arcade title was announced for the home systems, and the question was always how close it came to the arcade version.” Eric Wittbrodt is also on the list of those bemoaning the loss of arcades: “No next gen console can replicate the experience of being in a packed arcade with Journey blaring in the background.”

arcades

Another common complaint about where the industry is headed — and this is a more contentious issue, at least in my mind — had to do with downloadable content. UltramanJ chimed in again, writing, “I miss the days when publishers and developers saw consumers as valued customers rather than wallets. Back when games were packed with extra bonus content that’s now held off in the interest of squeezing more money from us.” Stefan Markovic felt similarly, saying he misses “unlocking characters and levels by simply playing the game,” not through DLC.

“But the biggest thing is how much of a commodity the gaming industry has become,” wrote PizzaBagel. “In the past, we never worried about what DLC we would get, or this current war against second-hand resellers. … Games felt like complete, unique experiences.”

“I miss when games used to come all together at once,” stated MyKillOwSki. “You didn’t have to pay extra to get full online functionality, you didn’t have to pay for DLC content… I miss getting a brand new PS1 or PS2 game and getting to play it all the way through, and not worrying about having to pay more money to get more of the game. Not to say that DLC is a bad thing, it just shouldn’t have to get paid for. If I’m paying for the game, I want the whole thing. If they update the game, I want the update for free, not to pay for it.”

That last comment is why I actually find this to be an arguable complaint or bit of nostalgia; I really like developers having the ability to release new content for their games without resorting to the old $40 expansion pack model. It goes without saying that I’m not a fan of extras (costumes, for instance) we would have gotten in the past being sold to gamers as DLC. But I appreciate the real content developers come up with — and I certainly don’t think they should have to give away anything they make which costs money beyond the game’s budget. Besides, it’s not as if DLC is being forced on anyone.

By Chris Pereira

OP-ED: Metacritic Presents Real Problems for the Industry

Metacritic

Metacritic is a problem; few will attempt to deny that. Far too often — which is to say, ever — publishers rely on it as something more than a potentially accurate snapshot of a game’s critical reception. Gamers sometimes look to it as either a definitive statement on whether a game is good or bad, or as a means for pointing out how a review is ‘wrong.’ To say Metacritic is outright ruining the industry would, in my opinion, be a stretch, but it clearly is not doing it any good.

For the uninitiated, Metacritic is a reviews aggregator. It collects reviews of videogames, movies, TV shows, and music albums from a variety of publications, presenting a ‘Metascore’ for each title. This is a weighted average of all the review scores the site tracks, meaning certain publications’ reviews have more impact on the Metascore than others. It’s problematic enough when scores are the only thing readers look at, rather than the text that accompanies it, but Metacritic breaks the opinions conveyed in dozens of reviews down into a single number that readers and game publishers alike often look to when discussing the merits of a game.

The scores used to calculate the Metascore have issues before they are even averaged. Metacritic operates on a 0-100 scale. While it’s simple to convert some scores into this scale (if it’s necessary at all), others are not so easy. 1UP, for example, uses letter grades. The manner in which these scores should be converted into Metacritic scores is a matter of some debate; Metacritic says a B- is equal to a 67 because the grades A+ through F- have to be mapped to the full range of its scale, when in reality most people would view a B- as being more positive than a 67. This also doesn’t account for the different interpretation of scores that outlets have — some treat 7 as an average score, which I see as a problem in an of itself, while others see 5 as average. Trying to compensate for these variations is a nigh-impossible task and, lest we forget, Metacritic will assign scores to reviews that do not provide them.

Anyone who reviews videogames — or any form of entertainment, really — will tell you the score is but one part of the puzzle; in some cases, it’s looked upon as a necessary evil, as certain outlets’ experiments with ditching scores altogether have been deemed failures. While some might look to the score to get a quick impression of how the reviewer in question felt about a game, reading the text is almost always a critical step in understanding what he or she thought of the game. Two examples that immediately jump to mind: Frank Cifaldi gave Monkey Island 2: Special Edition a C on 1UP, not because the game itself is anything short of terrific, but because the Special Edition package itself was terribly lacking; and Jim Sterling of Destructoid famously gave Deadly Premonition a 10 despite its many flaws. If you looked only at the scores, which Metacritic encourages people to do even if it does include links to the full reviews, you might look at these two games much differently than if you had read the accompanying reviews.

The act of simplifying reviews into a single Metascore also feeds into a misconception some hold about reviews. If you browse into the comments of a review anywhere on the web (particularly those of especially big games), you’re likely to come across those criticizing the reviewer for his or her take on a game. People seem to mistaken reviews as something which should be ‘objective.’ “Stop giving your opinion and tell us about the game” is a notion you’ll see expressed from time to time, as if it is the job of a reviewer to go down a list of items that need to be addressed — objectively! — and nothing else. In reality, aside from commenting on certain aspects — whether or not a game’s framerate holds up, or if its online setup is prone to disconnects — a review is typically an inherently subjective pieces of criticism, not an objective determination of whether a game is worth your money. They tell you what a particular person thinks of a game, which is why you’ll see some publications provide multiple takes (and even multiple scores) on the same game: not everyone agrees on what’s good and what isn’t, and nor should they. Providing people with an average score to point to when a score deviates from the pack is not helpful to anyone.

(As an aside, the existence of Metascores don’t help the situation where readers become angry with reviewers because a score does not meet their pre-existing notion of what score a game should have received — even if they’ve never played it themselves. To be fair, this isn’t exclusively a game-specific phenomenon; just look at how the positive reviews of The Dark Knight Rises on Rotten Tomatoes have only a handful of comments whereas the few reviews labeled as ‘rotten’ have hundreds.)

Fallout New Vegas

Keeping this in mind, it doesn’t make sense to average review scores together. Even if all reviewers were to use an identical 100-point scale, what purpose does it serve to give us an average? As noted by IGN’s Keza MacDonald, “A Metacritic average undermines the whole concept of what a review is supposed to be: an experienced critic’s informed and entertaining opinion. Instead it turns reviews into a crowd-sourced number, an average. You can’t average out opinions.” And she’s right: if one person scores a game a 10 and another a 4, telling us its Metascore is 7 accomplishes nothing.

This might all sound unimportant in terms of how it affects the industry, but as noted above, it’s not just gamers who look at Metacritic. Publishers do, too, and in some cases they rely on these scores too heavily, as evidenced by well-publicized stories about bonuses being tied to Metacritic. Most famously, Obsidian’s Chris Avellone revealed on Twitter earlier this year that the developer missed out on receiving a bonus for its work on Fallout: New Vegas, which it was not entitled to royalties on, because it failed to reach the required Metascore. 85+ was what was required to receive the bonus; the game ended up at 84. Some might argue developers should never agree to such terms in the first place, but they may not always have the leverage needed to get their way. And don’t mistaken the number of times this arrangement has been revealed publicly with the number of bonuses tied to Metascores — it happens more often than you might think.

While it’s difficult to blame publishers for wanting review scores to be high, as they can have an impact on sales, the practice of tying bonuses directly to something like a Metascore is flat-out wrong. And it’s something that should concern more than just the developers whose livelihoods are dependent upon the way these averages are calculated. Contracts with these sort of incentives put pressure on developers to design games in a way that is conducive to receiving higher review scores, rather than merely creating the game they want and that gamers will enjoy. This isn’t some conspiracy theory, either, as then-EA Sports president Peter Moore acknowledged the possibility in 2010. “You can break Metacritic down and say, ‘We can get two extra points by doing this,’ but it may not actually enhance the gamers’ experience, and that is where there is a line we have to be careful we don’t cross. It is a bit of a slippery slope if you focus everything on Metacritic.” Even if EA Sports avoided designing games in this fashion under Moore’s watch, it doesn’t mean developers throughout the industry resist the urge to do what’s necessary to stay in business.

The knowledge that their scores could have a direct impact on developers getting paid also puts a pressure on reviewers that did not previously exist. Sure, reviews could have influenced gamers’ decision to purchase a game, but that is an indirect effect. Now their scores could potentially have a direct correlation with bonuses being paid out, and while one hopes reviewers are not affected by this (and among those I know, I don’t believe they are), ideally it would not even be a concern in the first place.

Metascores aren’t contained to Metacritic, either; you’ll find them in the right column of game pages on Steam alongside the game’s genre, release date, and features. Even having said all of this, I’d be lying if I said my impression of a game on Steam I’m unfamiliar with is not to some degree colored when I see a Metascore below, say, 75. Yet it would be a mistake to write off games simply because of what their average review score is; if I did that I never would have touched Costume Quest, Mercenaries 2, The Simpsons Game, Ticket to Ride, or Earth Defense Force 2017, all of which I enjoyed despite all five falling into the 69-74 Metascore range.

Solving this problem seems simple, although that doesn’t mean a solution is realistic. Unfortunately, the popularity of sites like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes make it unlikely that we’ll see Metascores going away anytime soon. I do, however, hope developers push back and publishers realize the fallacy of putting so much weight on a number determined by a secret formula that may or may not be representative of what critics actually think of a game.

By Chris Pereira

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