Friday, July 3, 2009

The Conduit (Wii) Review

Hi, gang. Here we are with an all-new Wii review, The Conduit, from High Voltage Software. It's really commendable what these guys did to get their game out there. Gotta give it up, but it doesn't mean I have to like their game. I tried not to compare this game to any others. I don't agree it should be reviewed in a bubble, I don't think you can compare The Conduit to something graphically more capable. Besides, is it that hard to realize that some people love first-person shooters using the Wii remote?

The Truth is Out There, But Should You Stop to Look?

Hardcore. It's such a nonsense term. You can tell it's nonsense because no one can agree on the correct definition. Tired of seeing no one take advantage of the Wii for a "hardcore" type game, a former shovelware studio, High Voltage, has taken it upon itself to try to change the "hardcore doesn't work on Wii" mindset that currently plagues the industry. With a brand-new graphical engine, a commendable goal, and a team of highly enthusiastic developers, is their self-funded Wii effort, The Conduit, worth the hype or should it have been gunned down?

The story of The Conduit puts you in the shoes of Agent Michael Ford. Double-crossed by a man known as John Adams, Ford gains an unlikely ally from Prometheus, the supposed terrorist and leader of the alien race infesting the planet, the Drudge. The tale's somewhat hard to follow, but I think the rest had to do with Prometheus, voiced by Kevin Sorbo, needing to find the alien ship, the Andromeda, in order to use it to fly back to the past so he could return to his role as Hercules, son of Zeus, best friend of Ieolas. In all seriousness, what is there to follow is voiced well by Mark Sheppard of Firefly fame and yes, Kevin Sorbo of Hercules fandom. That said, the story isn't very good and ends on an infuriatingly abrupt cliffhanger saving room for a sequel.

Not Kevin Sorbo.

The single-player campaign spans nine levels. While the first few levels are pretty poor in design due to being simplistically straightforward with little to explore, the latter levels are full of interesting rooms, hidden nooks and crannies, and a lot more action and variety. There's a so-so number of baddies to blast and enough guns to fire them to Hell with-- from traditional machine guns and pistols to Drudge weapons that shoot off a fiery beam at opponents.

Agent Ford isn't alone in his journey to uncover the truth. Yes, he has the aforementioned firepower, but he also has something else in his repertoire that's far more important-- the ASE or All-Seeing Eye. The ASE is important to the storyline-- not really to the gameplay. All it's used for is finding organic locks to open, scanning computers to unlock doors, and detonating ghost mines from a safe distance. The majority of these actions do nothing more than slow the action down to a crawl making the pacing rather poor. I constantly groaned when I had to scavenge around for invisible door locks that could only be seen and opened by the ASE, or sauntering through a minefield trying not to get blown up. It would have been cooler had the ASE been made to be as cool as it sounded. Perhaps see who the bad guy is in an army of civilians by scanning through the crowd with the ASE, or using the ASE to find out information about items, enemies, and objects a la Metroid Prime. Hey, High Voltage got enough inspiration from other games, right?

Scan all four organic locks to blast open the locked door.

Borrowing some inspiration from the Xbox 360, High Voltage has thrown in a bunch of achievements to accumulate. However, unlike the 360, these achievements give you far more than e-peen points with your fellow message board buddies. In The Conduit, these unlock concept art as well as cheats such as one-hit kills and unlimited ammo. Unfortunately, the achievements are limited to kill X amount of an enemy, kill an enemy with a specific gun X amount of times, or finding hidden messages and secret discs strewn about in the game's levels. The discs themselves are in odd locations. Some are a snap to find while a select few show cleverness where they're hidden such as needing to leap on a box to an awning to a roof to blow up a wall to get the disc. This example is a rare case of HVG being sly in their design making me wonder why they didn't try to incorporate more cool things like this into the single-player. It would have made the whole experience much better.

That said, the single-player campaign is fun to breeze through. There's multiple difficulties to play through, but none of these unlock anything different from just beating the game on the easiest setting. The campaign will take most players five hours or more to complete with plenty of achievements and hidden goodies throughout the levels to snatch up. That said, if this were on any other console, the single-player would be worthless, so what makes the single-player of Conduit worth playing? Why, the controls!

The later levels are far more impressive
and fun than the first few.

The controls of The Conduit are fully-customizable. Don't like the aiming sensitivity? Hate how big the bounding box is? Well, quit whining and do something about it! You can adjust your turning speed, aiming sensitivity (as stated already), and even customize what button or motion does what. If shifting the Wii remote forward to perform a melee attack ruins your aiming, change the action to a button. The same can be done with the nunchuk motion. There's also a load of preset control options available if you can't come up with anything on your own. You can even move icons around on the HUD or remove them completely. The only negative I would say from the available options is that the maximum running speed is still far too sluggish for my taste. Otherwise, the options for customization are perfect and worthwhile.

As a single-player experience, The Conduit isn't worth full-price. What makes Conduit worth it is the functional online multiplayer mode accompanying it. Nevertheless, there is no offline multiplayer with bots or with a friend which is offputting for sure, so if you wish to play with a local friend, you both better own Wiis that can go online. Speaking of which, the friends list is fairly simple for a Nintendo Wi-Fi game (not to be confused with EA online Wii games which are phenomenal). Yes, you still need friend codes, but you can just add people from your Wii friend roster, send or accept friend requests, and join friends in-game pending there's room in the game for you. The Conduit also marks the second Wii game with Wii Speak functionality. At the time of this review, I was unable to experience this for myself.

Blast friends online, but not Kevin Sorbo.
He's in the past now.

For online matches, up to 12 can play in one match, and there's three types: Free-for-all, Team Reaper, and Team Objective. There's a flurry of modes available from Three Strikes and Last Man Standing where every player has three or ten lives to use, Marathon-- a timed match of a prolonged nature where everyone has unlimited lived to see who can score the most before time runs out, Bounty Hunter where you're supposed to kill an assigned target but everyone kills everyone else anyway because they don't understand the rules, and ASE Football where the player who holds the ASE the longest wins.

Keep the ASE as long as you can for more points.

Online isn't perfect as it depends on a player's connection. If it's laggy, their connection is pretty poor. There's also various glitches such as one where you enter the match unable to move and in a pitch black abyss. Reports of hackers have been brewing, but we'll have to wait and see if Nintendo or High Voltage acts on these rumors before they become a problem. With Mario Kart Wii, hackers are banned, so again, we'll have to wait and see. For now with all the problems currently facing online play, the experience is still a fun one when you get a game that's fully functional. There's a plethora of players online boasting a sizable community already.

High Voltage Software's new graphical engine built for the Wii, PSP, and PS2 makes it debut with The Conduit. Technologically, the engine is rather impressive-- I especially like the lighting effects, but it doesn't really matter as the art design isn't very good. There's a good amount of graphical glitches which a little more time could have fixed such as turning a corner and seeing nothing but black in the distance which eventually loads the area. Damn those deadlines! Overall, the engine is a good start, and I'm interested see how HVS' upcoming projects Gladiator A.D. and The Grinder refine it. I just hope they can get better art directors.

This shot shows some of the nice lighting I mentioned.

For a game that was self-funded by an independent developer who made licensed games most of its career, it's really pleasing that High Voltage Software got to see the fruits of its labor after all this time. Whether this title will be the core people have been looking for is questionable. Some would argue the core's already here ironically. Regardless, while The Conduit isn't without its flaws, it is worth at least a rental. You've already playing a slew of dual-analog shooters with few improvements other than visual boosts, so why not try one out with a control boost instead?

[SuperPhillip Says: 7.5/10]

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Sonic Rivals 2 (PSP) Guest Review

To reiterate, tomorrow I'll be posting a brand-new review for the much-anticipated The Conduit video game for Wii. For the time being, here's a brand-new guest review from my bro for Sonic Rivals 2!

Rubber Band Rivals

The original Sonic Rivals was a departure from the norm for recent Sonic titles as it was primarily a one-on-one racing game with other elements thrown in. The idea seemed perfect in theory, but it left much to be desired in terms of its execution. The game had too many flaws, the biggest being its inclusion of catch-up AI. I recently picked up the sequel upon hearing that it had improved over the original. How did things turn out?

Uh-oh. That title doesn't help this games cause, but that's not to say that it's a lost one. In fact, there are plenty of positives to go over. First off, the roster has been doubled as Tails, Rouge, Espio, and Metal Sonic all join the cast from the original. The story mode has also received a facelift as there are now 24 levels to race or fight through making that mode roughly 25% longer, and hey, they even included full voice acting this time around! All joking aside, the game does have plenty of depth to it beyond that. In your quest to unlock all 150 cards, you'll go through the main story, Cup Circuits, Chao hunts, and even multiplayer races. To be honest, I'm not even sure why the cards are in this game as they don't tie in to the story like the first game did, and they still serve no purpose outside of aesthetics, but it's at least some incentive to keep you playing.

Old rivalries are born anew.

Once you've chosen a mode and gotten into the actual levels themselves, it wont take long to notice that they've also had some improvements made to them. Gone are the barricades that you would have to stop and push when you had built up a lead, and enemies are put in just the right places that you'll have to keep your mind on the road ahead as much as where your rival is. There are plenty of paths to take as well, and more often than not, you'll find that the way to access them is by a quick-time event. The game will indicate whether pressing X or O is the correct path to take, and you'll only have a split second to make the right move or spend the next few trying to get back on track.

And rivalries no one cares about.

Items can once again be collected and serve different purposes depending on whether you're leading or trailing in a race. Leave an ice block behind and stop your rivals comeback cold or send an explosive present his way as you try to get back into things. The computer can use these against you as well, but there's nothing wrong with that. If I can do it, so can he. While things seem balanced, that all changes when you factor in one of my main gripes with this game, signature moves.

As you progress through races, you'll find plenty of rings scattered around which will build up your special meter. When it's full, you can unleash your characters signature move. Depending on who you're playing as, these moves can make or break many races for you. If you're a hedgehog, then you've got a pretty good chance of winning. Sonic's speed boost and Shadow's time slowing abilities allow them to quickly close or widen the gap on their opponents. Those are fun powers to use, but I cant say the same for characters like Tails and Espio. Flying around isn't going to win you many races when there are faster ways to get some air (although it does help in the Chao collecting mode) and turning invisible serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever.

Each zone ends with a competitive boss battle.

We haven't even talked about the cheapest character's move as of yet, and his name would be Silver. His move will alter both the d-pad and face buttons temporarily. Thought you were going forward? Not anymore! By the time you figure out the remapped buttons, the effect wear off. It can and did cost me quite a few races where I wound up getting stuck, having to run back to the nearest boost pad just to get moving again. It's just not fun. On the positive side, at least the move works the same way on the computer which will allow you to win every time as Silver, some times by nearly half the track!

That's the main problem with Sonic Rivals 2 this time around. The balancing issues really needed to be fixed for the sequel, and they weren't. Couple that with the computer having some rubber-band issues to go along with it, and you wind up with another Sonic title that could have been good but wasn't fine tuned enough to keep itself on the right course. In the end, Sonic Rivals 2 has plenty of depth to make fans happy, but most will steer clear of the rather cheap aspects of this one.

[Overall: 5.5/10]

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Sonic Rivals (PSP) Review

This how the rest of the week will pan out. Today I'll be posting a classic review for Sonic Rivals in anticipation for tomorrow's guest review of Sonic Rivals 2. Then Friday we have another brand new review but by yours truly. It'll be The Conduit for Wii. My plan for this month is to devote the majority of new reviews to classic games. A retro month, if you will! For now, let's race on over to a very old review of Sonic Rivals! While the game's average, this review certainly is below that!

Can we get rid of the racing next time?

user posted image

Sonic Rivals is the PSP's first full-fledged Sonic adventure, and it brings with it a lot of good but a lot of bad simultaneously. The game features four characters to jet as, Sonic, of course, Knuckles, Shadow, and the newcomer, Silver with one character being unlockable. The story is essentially that Eggman is up to no good, and rather than team up to take him down... let's race each other to see who can beat him first! ...Wait, what? Regardless of the story's angle, as soon as you pick your starting racer you're launched into the game's first zone in attempt to beat your rival to the finish. Using moves from previous games such as the spin dash and homing attack to new ways of taking out your opponent like various items including a freezing type pick-up to a star that lets you speed through the races faster. It's important to note that these "races" are not made of laps. In fact, if you threw out the racing element you'd think you were playing a game almost worthy of the 2-D Sonics. However, the racing aspect forces you to compete against a computer who knows how to effectively use items, take you out from nowhere, and catch up as if you were walking to the finish instead of rocketing towards it. I'd much rather be playing a 2-D platformer version of this game than simply a "let's push right the entire time which is sometimes halted by the annoying AI" racing game.

user posted image
What is this-- a footrace? Speed it up!

Boss battles consist of taking out one of Eggman's nefarious robotic creations. Each boss battle requires you to hit Eggman a set number of times before your rival does. So... just because I hit Eggman six times and his bot's beginning to smoke mean that my rival would have to hit him seven times to win still? My rival must be hitting Eggman pretty weak for it not to explode already. Nonetheless, that's my only quip with bosses.

A cool addition to this game is the use of cards. No, they aren't used in-game like a Baten Kaitos or a Yu-Gi-Oh!-- they're collected after completing tasks such as winning a race, beating a specific time, collecting a set number of rings, and other goals. There are 150 to collect, and these bring a heck of a lot of replay value to Sonic Rivals. It's just that some might not want to wade through all the racing to do so. Extra modes include cups which are essentially useless as they don't unlock anything or do anything specifically for the player.

user posted image
Eggman can go lay eggs. It's roller coaster time.

Nonetheless, Sonic's PSP adventure is neither great nor horrible. It's just there. While I can say anything is better than the 360 and PS3 adventures, this game is still nothing special. I'd really prefer something other than racing against a sometimes cheap AI and would rather explore some of the levels more thoroughly in a platform-only setting. Maybe next time, Sonic.

[SuperPhillip Says: 5.0/10] - Average.

Central City Census - July

It's the dawn of a new month, people, so that means out with the old CCC and in with the new!

We asked what you thought of Project Natal, Microsoft's supposed "Wii-killer". The majority of readers thought it was at least interesting while a smaller minority either didn't care or didn't like what they saw. I thought it was really cool, but I want to see actual games being played with it before it becomes "must-buy".

Rhythm games have been around for some time, but it was only until Guitar Hero where they came extremely popular and mainstream. July's Central City Census asks what is your favorite music game, so break out the drumsticks, strap on your guitar, and let's start rockin'.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Review Round-Up - June

Tiger and tennis headline this month of SPC reviews.

The Wii MotionPlus peripheral hit the States earlier this month, and while Grand Slam Tennis was fun and impressive, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 blew me away as you can tell by the scores. Rune Factory Frontier is my personal disappointment this month while Starfy and MySims surprised me with how good they were. Classic reviews range from Mario's second soccer outing to a triple dose of Mega Man! Classic reviews are listed in italics whereas the new reviews are in ordinary font.

All scores are out of 10.

5 = Average

The Legendary Starfy (DS) - 8.5
Rune Factory Frontier (Wii) - 5.5
MySims Racing (Wii) - 8.0
Grand Slam Tennis (Wii) - 7.75

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 (Wii) - 9.25

Mario Strikers: Charged (Wii) - 8.25
Kirby: Squeak Squad (DS) - 7.0
Perfect Dark Zero (360) - 9.0

Bomberman Live (XBLA) - 8.0
Mega Man ZX Advent (DS) - 8.5

Mega Man: Powered Up (PSP) - 9.0
Mega Man Maverick Hunter X (PSP) - 9.0

What reviews did you enjoy this month?

SuperPhillip's Favorite Video Game Commercials Part 2

Two weeks ago on this day we took a look at fifteen of my favorite video game commercials. Each video has five commercials save for the second which only has four. This installments entries include Super Mario Bros. 3, Perfect Dark Zero, Banjo-Tooie, Gears of War, Paper Mario, and more. Let's get to it.

Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)

This Super Mario Bros. 3 commercial shows a myriad of people shouting Mario in conveniently colored clothes. The camera pans out slowly eventually showing that the folks are standing in a pattern to show a giant Mario face covering all of North America.

Star Fox 64 (N64)

Simulating a test pilot preparing for Star Fox 64, there's not much that can be said about this commercial other than I couldn't for the life of me remember what Star Fox 64's commercial was. Then I saw it recently, and it was like a missing piece in my brain was restored. You know how that is?

Paper Mario (N64)

A very creative commercial using cardboard characters. My favorite part is Peach tied up and hanging over a paper shredder. The horror. The horror! I don't wish to spoil the whole thing, so check it out and enjoy!

Banjo-Tooie (N64)

Bears can't fly, Banjo! You need a parachute! Banjo doesn't listen and fights the parachute instructor. Banjo leaps from the plane until he realizes Kazooie is nowhere to be to seen! Some gameplay footage ends with Kazooie sipping a mai-tai or some not-for-kiddies drink as Banjo crashes to the ground. He's obviously dead because in Banjo-Kazooie, you'd die from a fall that large. R.I.P. Banjo the bear. That's why he looks so different in Nuts & Bolts.

Perfect Dark (N64)

Perfect Dark's commercial shows Joanna waking up, bathing, grabbing some sort of green drink, applying lipstick, putting on panties, opening her closet to reveal a hidden gun cache, zipping up her leather uniform, and then entering the game world-- having several thousand lonely gamers blowing their loads.

Kirby Canvas Curse (DS)

This commercial is sickeningly cute, and that's why I love it. It shows two costumed characters-- one Kirby and the other a tampon-- traveling along through a city block, playing on a swing set, and other heinously cute acts. It's a fantastic and funny commercial for sure.

Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland (GBA)

With the melody of Secret Agent Man, 3-D animated Kirby shows off his various powers in an ultra-cool fashion, angry eyebrows and all. Not much to say about this commercial as it's one that's just eye candy for Kirby junkies.

Pikmin 2 (GCN)

We see a plethora of "Pikmin" scurrying through city streets. They arrive at two lounging gentlemen who tell the costumed creatures that they retrieved the wrong order. They wanted two hot dogs.

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages/Oracle of Seasons (GBC)

An epic commercial to say the least, The Legend of Zelda pair of linked handheld adventures feature Link trekking across a snow-covered wasteland, climbing vines to reach a tower's top, and then playing a magical lute all leading up to gameplay footage. Short and sweet.

Crash Team Racing (PS1)

Remember when someone in a Crash Bandicoot costume stood in front of Nintendo and Sega's headquarters with a megaphone? Well, he's back at it again, but this time he's driving a limo. I hope he got used to that job because his games aren't selling that well anymore.

Ratchet & Clank Series (PS2)

A series of commercials from the original Ratchet & Clank all the way to Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal. Each one is hilarious.

Syphon Filter 2 (PS1)

Another funny commercial from Sony's marketing team (where did they go wrong?) where Gabe Logan is blasting at enemies from atop a train. What's shown is in-game footage. Suddenly an enemy cries out wanting a less painful way to die. He chooses an unsuspecting taser, gets jolted by thousands of volts and gets knocked over the edge of the train. Painless enough for you?

Perfect Dark Zero (360)

Someone has stolen files from DataDyne's office building. The commercial shows an investigating team snooping around the building taking evidence such as bullet shells. We see an overly anxious gentleman frightened for his life, perhaps a survivor. After the gameplay video (yep, a commercial showing gameplay? Wow.), we see the man in Joanna's sniper sights.

Gears of War (360)

Accompanied by a somber song, Mad World, an animated scene shows Marcus Fenis walking through a dilapidated alleyway. Suddenly he becomes face to face with a giant Locust creature. This was the most emotional element of the game-- a commercial.

Monday, June 29, 2009

SuperPhillip's Favorite VGMs - "More Beautiful Than Fireworks" Edition

On this pre-Fourth of July edition of SuperPhillip's Favorite VGMs, we're going to be listen to a special symphonic version of Zelda's Kakariko Village, partake in some 16-bit ectasy with Breath of Fire, and hop to it with New Super Mario Bros.' Mushroom Waltz. And away weeee gooooo~!

v341. The Legend of Zelda Series - Kakariko Village (Hyrule Symphony)

This is the extremely magnificent Hyrule Symphony version of Kakariko Village, a mainstay of The Legend of Zelda console games since A Link to the Past. I yearn for a Zelda game with a full orchestra. I imagine this is what it'd sound like. Sigh... a boy can dream.

v342. Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon - Door Crawl

Door Crawl is the credits theme of Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon, an extremely overlooked Nintendo Wii title. While not as difficult as the more notorious "rogue-likes", the game is a blast for new players of the genre and lovers of the Final Fantasy universe. While I may not know what Ai Kawashima is singing, I can tell that her voice is very impressive as is this moving credits theme. Now stop listening to this track and pick up Final Fantasy Fables!

v343. Jet Force Gemini - Sekhmet

I believe this the fourth track I've featured from Jet Force Gemini, a truly under-appreciated gem in the Nintendo 64 library. Then again, I guess that's the prerequisite for what defines a cult classic. Sekhmet is the perfect theme for running and gunning through the open-air rooms of the Sekhmet spaceship. It sounds like it's taken directly from a science fiction novella. Make it so, number one.

v344. Breath of Fire - Battling

Battling is the second battle theme of Breath of Fire. If memory serves me correctly, it replaces Beginning of Battle as the normal battle theme once your party enters underwater in the ocean. The track plays through twice before fading. Enjoy.

v345. New Super Mario Bros. - The Mushroom Waltz

The Mario series has always been known for lively and catchy music, and while New Super Mario Bros' soundtrack may have not matched the quality of its predecessors, it did have several songs that were memorable. The Mushroom Waltz is one of these tracks. I especially love it when the goombas bounce in time with music.

Until next week, make your own fireworks!