Michael Jackson: The Experience
Publisher: Ubisoft (2011)
Rating: Everyone 10+ (mild lyrics)
Any game starring Michael Jackson automatically qualifies as a curiosity piece. You expect a certain amount of weirdness, and thankfully The Experience delivers!
Upon starting it up, the game informs you it's disabling the network connection "for optimal system performance." Really? Who would have guessed a glorified cell phone game would require so much processing power? The Experience opens with a tutorial stage featuring Michael dancing to the song Billy Jean as graphical cues appear around him. Michael looks like an animated manikin, which incidentally is exactly how he looked in real life! The idea is to mimic his dance moves using your fingers on the touch screen to the rhythm of the song. You might need to swipe a certain direction, tap with two fingers, or draw a little curlicue. The more elaborate the moves are, the harder - and less fun - the gameplay is. At first I was under the impression you needed to touch Michael
to control him, but it's best to keep your fingers near the edge of the screen so they don't obstruct the prompts. In fairness, the gestures are well thought out and match the beats. The highlight of the game is the music, which offers classic tunes like "Beat It", "Smooth Criminal", and "Black or White". More obscure cuts include "Ghosts", "Speed Demon", and "Blood on the Dancefloor". The background graphics are computer-generated versions of the videos, but why didn't they just use the original videos?! That would have been far more appealing than fake-looking scenery and a virtual Macaulay Culkin who raps without moving his lips. I didn't find the Experience particularly fun, and after a while I really started to despise the touch screen controls. Upon completing each song and earning the obligatory B grade I had no desire to replay that song. The so-called "challenges" are more like chores
. Draw 45 perfect shapes in a row? Complete the song 7 times? No thanks!
This game makes me want to pick up a more interactive version of the Michael Jackson: The Experience. On second though, I think I've had enough. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Atlus (2012)
Contributed by ptdebate of the RPG Crew
If you associate high school with fighting demons, exploring parallel worlds, and solving murder mysteries, then you've probably been playing Persona 4 Golden. The game is actually a remastered and expanded port of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 (PS2, 2008). It puts you in the shoes of a Japanese teen staying with relatives in a new town. Persona 4's 100-hour experience recalls both the anxiety and elation of being a high schooler. Couple that with the fantasy of befriending colorful characters including a teen idol, a kung fu-obsessed tomboy, a beautiful heiress, a cross-dressing detective, and a giant teddy bear. Unlike most Japanese role-playing games, combat is just one area of character development. Others include making friends, studying, fishing, skiing, camping, and going on dates. Developing social skills helps with forming relationships that strengthen your "personas". Personas can be collected, fused (like an occult spin on Pokemon), and summoned in battle. You encounter supernatural foes as you explore numerous dungeons from a third-person perspective. Making contact initiates a battle, and strategic options include preemptive strikes and evasive maneuvers. Exploiting your opponent's "elemental weakness" is key; attacking an enemy vulnerable to fire with the appropriate spell will knock it down and grant you a bonus turn. Should you knock all enemies down, you can perform an "all out attack" that inflicts widespread damage. The battles are fast and fun despite occasional spikes in difficulty. Any frustration is mitigated by the ability to restart on the same floor of the dungeon. Persona 4 features a murder mystery plot that keeps you guessing, a catchy soundtrack, and an exhilarating combat system. Add in the irresistible charm of an 80's teen movie and you have a journey stays with you long after the credits roll. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Silent Hill: Book of Memories
Publisher: Konami (2012)
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, language, suggestive themes, violence)
Silent Hill games are known for their intense atmosphere, mind-bending environments, and psychological horror. Book of Memories feels like a shallow arcade game trying to capitalize on the Silent Hill name. Instead of a harrowing third-person adventure, you're trapped in a generic maze, viewing the action from high overhead. The pale zombies, winged demons, and hell hounds would probably look pretty creepy - if only you could see them
. But the distant vantage point makes you feel detached from the action. That may be for the best, considering the cut-scenes reveal graphics that are barely Playstation 2 quality. The voice acting isn't convincing, and the entire premise is pretty silly. That said, I tried to enjoy this weird Silent Hill knock-off. As you move from room to room you find weapons like steel pipes and meat cleavers which you use to attack a few waves of monsters before earning an item, key, or puzzle piece. There's plenty of spraying blood, largely because these creeps can absorb about 20 hits each! I prefer a melee weapon like the meat cleaver over a gun, because you can usually lay into several enemies at a time. There's little tension but a heck of a lot of repetition. And is that me screaming like a girl when I take a hit? That's just embarrassing. The auto-map on the corner of the screen is an absolute necessity because all the rooms look exactly the same! As with all Vita games, there's no manual, because the controls (like hitting the tiny select button to turn on your flashlight) are common sense, right? There are no checkpoints, and you only have one life bar. I hate how you lose your weapons between levels, and your guy doesn't automatically reload his gun. In many cases you're prompted to select something on the screen (during the action) and that's frustrating because the circles are tiny and my fingers are too big! Book of Memories is an aggravating experience, but despite of my rage I am still just a rat in a cage. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive (2012)
Rating: Everyone 10+ (mild language, violence)
Sony marketed the Vita as a system that lets you play your home console games on the bus. Clearly the executives failed to grasp the portable game market. When I grab a portable I'm generally looking to kill some time with a "quick hitter", and I was hoping Spy Hunter was that kind of game. Dating back to the original Spy Hunter
(Colecovision, 1984) the series has been synonymous with arcade-style car combat. This portable edition is more like the 3D remake Spy Hunter
(PS2, 2001), which is not a bad thing. I like how the game reprises the Peter Gunn theme from the original arcade hit. Spy Hunter opens with a wild chase sequence that gives you practice deploying your various weapons. The control scheme makes a lot of sense. The triggers control acceleration and brake while the four face buttons activate specific weapons: front (machine guns), back (flames), sides (shockers), and roof (missiles). The only awkward control is having to double-tap the right trigger to initiate turbo. The graphics aren't anything special but it's neat how your car transforms into a speedboat in water and a buggy when you race off-road. The steering is kind of squirrelly but I blame that one the poorly-designed analog nub. The camera offers a raised view behind your vehicle, automatically pulling back as necessary. Spy Hunter's gameplay can be pretty exciting as you run cars off the road and shoot helicopters out of the sky. At once point you blow up an oil tanker and drive through the ensuing explosion (in slow motion no less). Unfortunately too often the action is often interrupted by inconsequential dialog from cartoon people. I like the idea of branching missions, but did they have to be so long?
Just when you think a mission is done, it just keeps going!
I got stuff to do for Pete's sake! A lot of times your car blows up for no apparent reason, and then the game has to reload the whole level
. Spy Hunter isn't a terrible game but I wish it would stop dragging things out and just get to the [expletive] point. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2013)
Rating: Everyone (mild cartoon violence)
Tearaway is one of those artsy games in the tradition of Katamari Damacy
(Playstation 2, 2004), Little Big Planet
(Playstation 3, 2008), and Patapon
(PSP, 2008). You control a little paper fellow (with an envelope for a head) exploring an enchanted paper world. Tearaway is a great first-game for Vita owners because it does such a terrific job demonstrating the capabilities of the system. The opening stage engages the player by using the touch screen, microphone, and camera in unorthadox ways. I love how the rear touch screen lets you poke your fingers through paper
displayed on the screen. But Tearaway is much more than a tech demo. The game's fairy tale style is endearing and I like how the game breaks "the fourth wall" between you and the game world. While exploring the somewhat-spooky stages you'll traverse platforms, gather confetti, take pictures, and fight enemies. I was impressed how the game keeps coming up with new activities for you, some of which feel like little arts and crafts projects. Tearaway's brand of platforming gameplay is anything but conventional. You'll tap the rear touch-pad to bounce a trampoline, use your fingers to peel back wrappers, and squash enemies with your fingertips. The creativity that went into this game is astounding. The sound of crinkling of paper and sticky glue is amazing and the soundtrack has an exotic, otherworldly charm. There's an auto-save feature that kicks in frequently. Tearaway is a leisurely type of game that will gradually draw you in. It's not particularly challenging and you can't really die. That's okay, because when a game is this richly imaginative and boldly interactive, the gameplay is its own reward. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss
Publisher: Sony (2011)
Rating: Teen (blood, drug reference, language, mild suggestive themes, violence)
Uncharted is the premiere franchise of the PS3, but Sony was not wise to hang its hat on this scaled-down Vita edition. Epic adventures beg to be played on the big screen, and on the small screen they lose a lot
. Golden Abyss boasts first-rate production values rivaling the PS3 titles, but it struggled to maintain my interest. Once again Nathan Drake is exploring exotic locales while infiltrating enemy lairs to solve mysteries and uncover treasure. Golden Abyss is a mix of exploration, puzzle solving, stealth sequences, and shoot-outs. The rich scenery is very easy on the eyes, but at times it can be difficult to gauge distances (as in "falling" distances). The fact that there's little in the way of scavenging is refreshing. One thing you can always count on in an Uncharted game is a lot of witty banter, and true to form, the dialogue is very good and often brought a smile to my face. The opening prologue serves as a tutorial stage, gradually introducing controls like jumping, climbing, and swinging on ropes. In addition to standard button controls, the developers went out of their way to incorporate Vita-specific touch-based controls. The result is a convoluted scheme that feels like two separate but overlapping sets of controls. Some of the motion controls are downright counter-intuitive. For example, to climb a rope you drag your finger up and down on the rear
touch screen. Who in the hell is going to remember that?
Fortunately simply pushing up on the left thumbstick provides a reasonable alternative. You need to tilt the system to balance on logs, but the game wants you to tilt the opposite
way you would expect. The touch controls do work well when solving puzzles like assembling a jigsaw puzzle or rubbing charcoal over a piece of paper. The climbing controls are extremely watered down, to the point where you can use your finger to draw a path
up a ledge and watch Nathan follow it. There are a lot of gratuitous touch-screen prompts which make it feel like you're just going through the motions (literally). The adventure takes you through lush jungles and dark catacombs, but you spend too much time trudging through a dumpy shantytown. Uncharted Golden Abyss has its moments but it feels like a console game shoehorned into a portable system. I'm starting to wonder if Sony has any comprehension about what portable gaming is really all about. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sony (2011)
For those of you who will still be commuting to work in 2048, I have good news and bad. The good news is, your car will be a lot
faster. The bad news is, you're going to be attacked with missiles, and that's no way to start the day. Wipeout 2048 is the latest incarnation of this venerable futuristic racing franchise featuring ships floating over elevated platforms that weave and bank through an urban metropolis. This game brought back memories of playing the original Wipeout
(PS1, 1995). Back then just rubbing against a wall could bring you to a complete stop, but here the action is non-stop. Scraping a wall only slows you slightly, and even upon crashing you're immediately returned to the track. The scenery comingles old-fashioned brick buildings and suspension bridges with soaring modern towers and "light bridges" (a la Halo 4). I didn't find any of the tracks particularly interesting though, and some of the more twisty ones will have you bouncing off the rails like a pinball. There are three views to choose from, but each is low to the road. This intensifies the illusion of speed but undermines your ability to anticipate turns. Using the thumbstick to steer feels touchy and I actually prefer the tilt controls. Either way however you'll need to overly rely on the air brakes, and that sucks. The weapons are ineffectual. Even when you unleash a missile right on target, it's hard to tell if it hit, and even when it does, it won't matter much. Wipeout 2048 has tremendous load times. It's becoming clear that the advantages of firmware media are largely offset by the need to constantly uncompress data. From the time you select a track to the time you begin the race, it's well over 30 seconds. And while the electronic music was a major element in previous Wipeout games, it's barely audible over the roar of engines. On the surface Wipeout 2048 looks like a blast, but the more you play the less enthused you become. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
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