Articles Tagged with: gaming

How Much of a Threat is Mobile Gaming?

We’re all about disposability these days.  Nothing is built to last anymore.  Remember when you paid $300 for a top-loading VCR?  Chances are likely, that VCR is still working today for someone.  A 20 year car is almost unheard of these days – with people leasing and trading up every two years, who cares?

Of course, video gaming has taken a hit too.  Gone are the days when most games would give you months of entertainment; now games are designed to be purchased on Friday, finished by Sunday and returned to Gamestop for store credit by Monday.  We’re told DLC (Downloadable Content) is the answer to that – where not only do we buy the game ONCE, but we keep buying the content over and over again.  I remember when that sort of mentality was just for the yearly release of the standard sports games; bug fixes and new team rosters for only $60 a year. Read more

About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+

Filed under : Smartphones, Tablets

Pac-Man & Galaga Dimensions (3DS)

Namco has a lot of video gaming properties out there.  However, Pac-Man and Galaga have obviously been Namco’s biggest money makers because we continue to see the games released again and again – for one system or another.  We’ve had the games in “TV controller” form, Xbox Live renditions and of course in portable and mobile formats as well.  Not to mention the often horrible “name whoring” ventures where the good names of these classic games are sullied – Galaga: Destination Earth, I’m looking at you.
With this in mind, it is easy to understand why a lot of groaning and moaning was put out when Namco announced Pac-Man & Galaga Dimensions for the Nintendo 3DS.  After all, haven’t we seen all these games before … and, couldn’t we get them a bit cheaper than $40?

The drought of 3DS software is simply undeniable and when a game – any game – comes out for the system, people take notice.  Unfortuantely, the press has been everywhere from unjustly cruel to downright incorrect in reviewing this title, so I guess it is up to me to give the game a fair shake.

To set the record straight up front – this is not simply another “classics collection” being rehashed for a new console.  There is considerable original and “modern” content as well.  In fact, there is more “new” content than classic content.

Pac-Man & Galaga Dimensions (P&GD from now on) offers up two “new” games – Pac-Man Tilt and Galaga 3D Impact, both designed from the ground up for the Nintendo 3DS.  The modern favorite overhaul of our little yellow pizza-missing-a-slice friend makes its Nintendo debut – I’m talking of course about Pac-Man: Championship Edition which graced many other consoles over the years.  Next up, Galaga Legions – an Xbox Live port of a more modern take on Galaga (fans ofGaplus take note – Namco sure did).  Rounding off the collection, straight up ports of the classic Pac-Man and Galagaarcade games.

So that’s six games – two of which are arcade classics, two Xbox Live ports and two original games.

There are a couple of nice bonuses too – we’ll get to those later.

Not bad so far, right?

Let’s start at the proverbial bottom and work our way up by looking at the two arcade classics; Pac-Man and Galaga.

In the classic gaming circles, there is a saying; Pac-Man gets all the love, Ms. Pac-Man gets all the play.  And why not?  Ms. Pac-Man kept all the addictive play of the original, but brought so much new to the table; changing mazes, trotting fruit, smarter ghosts … what’s not to love?  Compared to Ms. Pac-Man, the original is more an effort of endurance and pattern memorization than actual fun game play.  Yet, anytime some new collection comes down the pike, it’s always the original that gets included.

Unfortunately, even classic game players would rather play Ms. Pac-Man (I’ll take the speed up chip version, please) than Pac-man which makes the inclusion of the title in this package more about nostalgia than quality game play.  Hey, I’m all for nostalgia; by all means, include Pac-Man – just give me Ms. Pac-Man too.  Sadly, there is no Ms. Pac-Man to be found here – speed up or otherwise.  What we do get is a very faithful rendition of the original Pac-Man game.

Galaga is another story.  Galaga (and the venerable Ms. Pac) are still found TODAY in arcades – in a multi-game cabinet – still making money.  Galaga has enjoyed a very rich history of imitation over the years through some incredible games like Deluxe Galaga (Amiga) and Warblade (PC/Mac) and many other generic shooters.  Galaga is a game of memorization, tenacity and even a bit of strategy – and that hasn’t changed over the years.  The Galaga included in this package appears to be very faithful to the original – including the wave patterns, shot patterns, alien ship movement – even the Wave 10 “the bugs don’t fire on the way in” is included here.  I haven’t tried the “stop bugs from shooting” glitch, but it wouldn’t shock me to find out it was there.  For those that remember early emulation missing the “ship explosion” sound, don’t worry; it is intact here.

In addition to the games themselves, you are offered options on how to view the games as you play; upright cabinet, cocktail cabinet – or simply on the screen without a bezel.  The two former modes offer a true perspective of the game – with slanted perspective (based on your viewpoint playing the game on the real machine) and even some through-the-glass distortion of the screen.  It is very cool to see.  The latter mode offers no other onscreen effects or content – it is the straight up game as you would play them in a modern emulator.

Along with the mode changes, you can play the games in 3D – on Galaga the starfield is “further away”, and your ship and the bugs float on top.  Text and other display elements have 3D depth as well.  On Pac-Man, the maze has more depth along with the text and other display elements.  It is very non-gratuitous and offers something to the game.  If you’ve played the 3D classic games from the eShop, you should know what to expect here.

Finally, both games feature achievements – each game has 16 challenges to master; anywhere from eating all the ghosts on a single energizer in Pac-Man to fashioning a dual ship inGalaga (even shooting your captured ship gives an achievement).  The game itself plays on the top screen, while your achievements (both pending and complete) appear on the bottom screen.  Touching a ? box will show you the achievement you are to earn, while completed achievements show up as a little icon that is somewhat related to the achievement itself.  This can be done during game play, too – which is quite handy.  When an achievement is earned, there is no popover or even sound indicator that you have gotten one – the icon just replaces the question mark.  It is a little lackluster in presentation, but it is a nice addition and I found myself struggling to get them.  You can also turn on “self-test” or the power up sequence animations for each game – give you a little more feeling from the arcade.  US and Japanese bezel art is available as well.

Next up, Galaga Legions.  This is a pretty pure Xbox Live port of the game.  I really didn’t care for the game then and it hasn’t gotten any better with time.  As an Xbox Live game, the graphics are improved, but the gameplay simply doesn’t work for me.  Similar to Galaga game play, you place auto-fire satellites to help you fight the swarms.  Again, it is presented in a 3D enhanced manner with achievements to accomplish as well.

Frankly, what drew me to this package initially was Pac-Man: Championship Edition (CE from now on).  While the basic core components of Pac-Man are here (evade ghosts, eat pellets, get energizers, eat ghosts, eat fruit) the presentation and variation push this title into Gold Status for me.

In CE, the widescreen maze contains pellets and energizers as well as the standard ghost “home base”.  Exits flank all four sides of the screen, allowing wrap around access to the other side; perfect for shaking the tailing ghost.  When all the pellets (and energizers) are gone from one side of the screen, a fruit appears.  Eating it will cause the maze on the completed side to SHIFT into a new maze and cause new dots and energizers to appear.  This “back and forth” process ensures the action never stops – clear one side, get the fruit, clear the other side, get the fruit and so on.

The ghosts are a lot smarter this time around.  If you’re hoping that patterns will set you free, guess again; the developers keep the game frantic as heck – especially as the game speeds up over time.  Ghosts do have particular BEHAVIORS that can give you an edge once you learn them, but you aren’t going to get them to fall for a banana in the tailpipe.

There are a couple more extras too.  Energizers can be “daisy chained” – meaning that as long as you can keep the ghosts blue, they will continue to go up in value when you eat them – maxing out at 3200 points.  But, as long as you can keep them blue, you can continue to score multiple 3200 point ghosts.  Pac-Man always had a greed element to it, but now it is simply ridiculous.  The longer you live, the more the pellets are worth.  They start at 10 points, but slowly creep up.  This keeps you from being more risky than usual – despite how many lives you have stocked up because dying resets the multiplier on the pellets.  You might think the 3200 point ghost is worth it to get dead over, but do make sure you do the math first.  The final goodie in the game is the ability to scrape the edges of the maze for a speed boost (no, I don’t know how dragging yourself along a wall makes you FASTER rather than SLOWER – but hey, what do I know).  Suffice to say, if you “push” against the maze as you’re moving, a little streak appears behind your Pac-Man and you move slightly faster.  This can be essential to slipping a closing in ghost.

Along with the changes, the game has been decked out in full neon glow with slick aesthetics and effects including color cycling.  The pumping techno beat really gets you into the groove while you play.  Several game modes will keep you busy, too – the greatest one, of course is the 5 minute “ranked” mode (more in a minute).  You have 5 minutes to score attack yourself to a high score.  The game ramps up in speed very quickly – and by the end, the ghosts are hauling some serious ass around the maze – and so are you.

The 3D effects make the game even more trippy and awesome to play.

If you think this sounds bad ass, it is.  Frankly, the 500 point Xbox Live edition is what really nudged me into getting a 360 to begin with.  Yes, it’s that good.

Next up, the Galaga 3D Impact shooter.  This game is a motion-controlled, 3D, cockpit view shooter which features a very nice “streaming” background over which to play.  The 3D effect is excellent – really lending itself to the “depth of space” illusion necessary to pull a game like this off.  You move the 3DS up, down, left and right to “shift” your view and targeting reticle.  This is a bit awkward because you have to be careful with how you move or you lose the 3D head-on perspective.  It will take some getting used to, so be patient.

If you simply ABBHOR motion controls, you can use the analog pad to control the “camera” view as well.  I found this completely unusable, and decided my time was better spent learning how to do the motion control correctly.  The bugs fly up to and sometimes beyond your view – but they never really “stop” so you can shoot them (like on the arcade game).  They do fire back and can ram you.  Unlike the original game, you have a shield that will take damage instead of experiencing an outright death from a collision with bug or bullet.

Much like other games, your A button “rapid fires” but the longer you fire in succession, the “hotter” your gun gets and it will eventually crap out on you until it cools down.  This is much like the turbo on Excitebike or Excitetruck.  Use it wisely.  The B button will allow you to “charge” and shoot a blue capture ball that will grab enemies and bring them to your ship – which in turn fills a gauge.  As the gauges fill up, your ship upgrades – for example you get a shield on the R button which lasts a few moments then has to “recharge” (the capturing system has to recharge too).  Chests appear (in space?) that can be shot open to score more shield or rank markers.

All in all, it’s a pretty decent shooter once you get the hang of the motion controls and there is a lot of variety including different bugs, boss bugs, etc.  Beats the crap out of other Galaga-esque shooters.

Last but not least, the new namesake game – Pac-Man Tilt(PMT from now on).

PMT is a side scrolling platformer that couples traditional controls with “tilt” (side to side) controls.  You use the analog stick to move your Pac-Man and you use the tilt control to move the environment and create situations to help Pac through the level.  The tilt mechanism is fairly subtle – and since you only have to tilt left and right (like a steering wheel), you never lose the 3D perspective.  You also don’t have to wrench the 3DS 180 degrees to get the tilt effect either.  A little metronome like graphic in the bottom left shows you “how much tilt” you have going on – and it maxes out long before you turn the 3DS a full 90 degrees.  This won’t stop you from flailing around like a mad man for the first few levels as you get used to the game, but it’s nice that the turning radius is small once you get the feel for it.

As with any Pac-Man game, PMT is about eating pellets, fruit and energizers (which are stored and manually activated instead of instant acting) – and of course, consuming ghosts.  Not all of these actions are required to complete a level (especially the early ones), because your main goal is to get to the finish line at the end – most everything else is just gravy (and in this game, the gravy is a higher score).  Finish the level with enough points and you can earn a medal (bronze, silver or gold).

To keep you replaying levels and actually TRYING hard (instead of just racing through to the end), every level has an indicator on the bottom screen that tells you how many ghosts, pellets and fruit are on the level – as well as how many you have achieved so far.  When you get them all, a little PERFECT icon shows up.  Think of these as carrots for level completion – not unlike the 3 coins per level on New Super Mario Bros. on the DS.  Did I mention there is a timer running?  Yes, each level has a countdown timer to complete the level under.  You don’t “lose” if you don’t make the time, but you lose a lot of “bonus points” if you finish the level with nothing on the clock left.  Add all this up, and you have a serious recipie for “just one more game” addictive qualities.  Sure, you may get through the level, but not seeing that medal makes you crazy (at least it does for me).

Let’s talk about the levels now.  The levels get progressively more intricate as you play (which is how it should be).  On the first couple of levels, you’re going to learn how to get around, how to tilt yourself into a ball (I couldn’t help thinking about Metroid or Turrican) to break through barriers and how tilting affects your abilities to jump and run.

As the levels progress, you’ll get swinging platforms, shock zones (yes, you can die in this game), pinball flippers, turbo boosts, transport chutes – all sorts of fun things.  Tilting helps you navigate certain terrain, cause swinging platforms to swing higher or farther – even affect your jumping ability to get to hard to reach spots.  There are even platforms that you’ll “control” with the tilt – moving your Pac to different areas of the level.

What?  Pinball plungers?  You got it – you can use plungers to shoot your Pac high into the air to reach hard areas.  Gates?  Of course – pressure plates, fruit requirements, timed runs – yeah, we got gates.  There are many more level modifiers to make your journey more interesting the longer you play.

Ghosts appear as mostly as level obstactles – patrolling smaller areas, waiting for you (much like the Pac-man Worldgame series).  You store up energizers and can activate them on command – making the ghosts a little bit easier to deal with.  Of course, in pursuing the “perfect” level score, you’re going to have to use the energizers sparingly and smartly.

If you haven’t already figured it out – PMT is a score game (as it should be) and not a “levels” game.

Graphically speaking, PMT is very cartoony and appealing.  The camera moves in and out based on the needs of the player – but it isn’t done so often you want to kill the dude with the camera.  The music and audio are spot on – never annoying or repetative – and all your favorite sounds are here.

Now that we’ve covered the games included, let’s talk about the bonuses.

A fun-but-only-watch-once special 3D anniversary video is included – celebrating Pac-man.  I imagine they used it to fill up the cart, but it’s a fun bonus never the less.  It is narrated and subtitled on the bottom screen – and runs about 5 minutes or so.  Some great use of 3D effects.

Obviously, the greatest bonus is online leaderboards.  Thank God Namco took the high road on this one and included full, online, friend-aware leaderboards.
Daily and weekly scores are also kept – to see how much better you’re getting.  Every game is represented with your best score.
In the case of CE and Galaga Legions, only the ranked modes (the 5 minute game and adventure mode, respectively) is submitted for high scores against your friends and the world.  Console players take online leaderboards for granted – and they really make a difference in score attack games like these.  While I’m happy to beat my personal best in CE, I’m much more happy beating my friend’s high score (Alex, I’m talking to you).  The online leaderboard process is pretty painless.  The only thing worth mentioning is that while all the games are covered, the leaderboards are isolated from each game – meaning you have to go back to the main menu of the game, selected the scores table – then you can get access to the leaderboards.  A little kludgy, but I’m so happy they are there – I’m willing to forgive a little.

Speaking of forgiveness – we must take a moment to talk about the short comings of the package.

As mentioned before, the leaderboards are isolated from the games.  It lends a level of … disjointedness … to an otherwise very pleasant experience.  It gives you the feeling that every game in here was developed by a different team and that high scores online was a last minute add on.

While I love the bezel art on the classic games – and the 3D effects are great – I’m quite disappointed that there are no “landscape” modes for playing these vertically oriented games.  This makes the actual game play area seem small – even on the larger 3DS screen.  Being able to rotate the 3DS sideways and fill more of the screen (even with the off controls) would have been appreciated.  I’m GUESSING it has to do with the 3D effect perspective limitations – but they could have offered us a 2D only mode for this.  Fortunately the top screen is a bit higher resolution, so the games still LOOK great; they are just small.

I would have liked to see more “Pac-Man & Galaga“.  Pac-Man Arranged would have been nice and Galaga Arranged (droooool) would have been better value than a 3D movie added on.  I would have killed forGalaga 88 (or 90 as it were) in this package.  Of course, I would have really been happier if they had thrown in Ms. Pac-Man classic along with the original Pac-Man.

Finally, the games offered no “two player” modes – not even the classic games.  I would like to be able to hand the 3DS back and forth to my wife or son to challenge me to some Galaga love.  I understand it makes no sense to play on wireless – but “turn taking” is part of the arcade experience.

Part of the problem with this package is the saturation some of the content has already had; Pac-Manand Galaga are playable just about everywhere – TV, consoles, computers … even phones.  CE has been available on Live for some time and is even available on the PSP already (just isn’t as good there, though).  A lot of people still haven’t played CE, but if you have already played it to death, even the 3D and game modes might not be alluring enough to you.  I personally feel Galaga Legions is a wash – which leaves us with Galaga 3D Impact and Pac-Man Tilt.  The former is fun but not what I would call a true selling point.  The latter, on the other hand, is a top notch, well fleshed out, quality and fun to play platformer with some new interesting elements and controls that I think most people would appreciate.

The online leaderboards promise to lend itself to tons of replay and score chasing – but they could have been better implemented.  It isn’t a show stopper by any means, but it would be unresponsible not to mention it.

The bottom line is that this is a solid title for classic gaming fans and platformer lovers alike.  There is a lot of replay value, great use of 3D, polished presentation and good-to-great content both old and new.  Pac-Man Tilt and Pac-Man Championship edition alone are nearly worth the price of admission alone – and coupled with some sound extras, I can definitely recommend this title to pretty much everyone.

About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+

Pirates of the Caribbean – The Video Game (3DS)

Is anyone else getting tired of “Lego” themed games?  I mean, I understand the IP and I get what they are trying to do with it; making family friendly skinned platformer/adventure games using safe, bloodless, no-way-to-lose themes like Legos.

I get it.  Maybe if we weren’t whoring version after version in the SAME IP space over and over again – maybe I would be more tolerant.  But it seems we have to have a Lego version of not just ONE Pirates of the Caribbean or Indiana Jones or Star Wars – but each movie PLUS a “greatest hits” version for each one too.

Based on the above, I wasn’t all that interested in “Lego Pirates of the Caribbean – The Video Game” – but we all know that 3DS software has been a bit anemic so far, and I wanted something new to play.

Let me start off by saying if what you want is a less Lego and more “pure” Pirates of the Caribbean experience – albeit in 2D – I seriously recommend the Nintendo DS platformer versions of Pirates of the Caribbean (Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End).  The first one is exceptional – and while the latter one is pleasant enough, they changed up the formula a bit and it wasn’t kind to the game IMHO.  They are native Nintendo DS games, so they may not look as pretty, but they are representative of some of the finest platformers on the DS family.

But enough digression … how does the latest Lego engine matched with the Pirates IP fare?

For those unfamiliar with the Lego family of games – let me give you a quick overview.  Those comfortable in the Lego world may skip ahead.

As mentioned above, Lego games take more serious IPs like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, etc. and model them into the Lego world as adventure/platformers.  The games often take minor liberties with the storylines and add a little more humor and quirkiness into the game and its missions.  They also remove some of the stumbling blocks to making the games more casual-friendly; for example, while you “die” in the games (you have a health meter), there is really no penalty for it.  You spawn back to life and carry on.  Sometimes you could be moved back to a previous “checkpoint”, but overall – there is no way to really “screw up”.  Eventually, everybody wins; and for some gamers that is a huge turn off.

However, Lego games are more about experiencing the storyline and finding all the hidden stuff littered throughout the game.  Hidden rooms/areas, hidden objects/collectibles – some locked away behind places you cannot get to until you replay the level with some other character – offer the more story-driven game the replay value it needs.

Regardless of the IP represented in the Lego game, these standards are pretty much upheld – offering a consistency across the Lego game universe.  You know what you’re getting going in – regardless of platform or IP – love it or hate it.

That being said, Pirates of the Caribbean – The Video Game (from this point on known as “POTC”) falls into the “greatest hits” Lego game meaning that the game covers the first three films of the Pirates series as well as dabbling briefly into the new fourth film coming out this summer.

The game begins (and continues) telling the story via cut scenes (thankfully – SKIPPABLE cut scenes; an offer not afforded on the Wii version of the game – just hit the START button during playback) where you take on the action at various scenes of the films.  You’ll start off in the blacksmith’s shop at the beginning as the Orlando Bloom character – trying to awaken the smith and get a sword made.  As you know from the movie, Captain Jack Sparrow eventually shows up and you will have to fight him.  During the initial combat with Captain Jack, you’ll use on-screen “quick time events” (QTEs) to progress.  This lends to the drama of the scene – and fortunately combat resumes to standard button mashing later on.

During each scene, you will engage in combat and solve basic puzzles.  Puzzles range from simply figuring out how to get from A to B by rebuilding Lego structures (or destroying an existing one first and harvesting its pieces) all the way to gaining control of on-screen non-player characters like dogs and parrots and using them to assist you.  There are gears and pulleys, pressure plates, explosives and more to align to progress through each level.

Almost all scenes have “something extra” outside the normal mission parameters to accomplish – normally in the way of gathering “collectible” items, uncovering hidden coins (coins are the means of currency across all Lego games) or performing alternative tasks for some other gain.  Some “areas” of a scene may be off-limits to the character(s) currently at your disposal.  These “locked” areas are what keep you coming back to play the level again later – after you’ve unlocked another player character that can fullfill the requirements.  Jack Sparrow also has a “magic compass” that will show you where some hidden items are.

As you adventure, you’ll pick up new party members based on the film’s cast and availability during that scene.  As you get new players, you get new “abilities” needed for upcoming puzzles.  The game will make sure you know who is needed for what challenge – so if you’re worried about having to figure that out for yourself, don’t be concerned.  When you move near the objective, the player required will flash on the bottom screen and you will use the L / R shoulder buttons to toggle through them.  What I find COMPLETELY annoying is that you cannot just touch the character on the touch screen.  What’s …. THAT all about?  I’m cool with being able to do it with buttons, but why not allow both?

Your character has a “health” meter, which as always in Lego games seems pointless – since you just keep respawing after death with no penalty.  Falling off the edge of a large drop will kill you outright and a hit from a guard’s weapon will deduct damage.  Players appear to have different skills – Jack Sparrow is a better sword fighter than any of the other characters I’ve unlocked so far.

Folks – it’s a Lego game – you know what you’re getting in game play (for the most part).  What we will focus on next is the 3DS implementation.

How Does It Look?
Visually speaking, POTC is a visual treat for your 3DS – in either 2D or 3D mode.  The game was created really to be played in 3D and you’ll find something missing from the ambience.  The 3D is never gratuitous or overbearing and simply adds to the depth of the game you’re playing.  Quite handy for the 3D jumps you’ll be making throughout the game.  Funny how much better it looks than the Wii version.

You will find some very minor frame rate issues in a couple of levels.  The game never stops or stutters, but you can definitely tell the framerate takes a hit.  Fortunately the issues are far and few between.  Still, it would be irresponsible to not mention it.

The engine itself is very well done.  Rarely do you see any issues of getting stuck on the geometry, seeing things stick through other objects, bleed through, object tearing or other such typical “new engine” issues.  It is much appreciated when they maintain the illusion of the game.

The advanced lighting functionality of the 3DS really shines in this game and it is worth noting when comparing it to the Wii or DS version – lighting makes a difference.  It is a very nice show-off game.

The rendered cut scenes look fantastic – again, far better than the Wii edition (which uses the engine to render the cut scenes).  They are skippable too – which is always great.  It must’ve been overall cheaper to use a bigger cartridge for video clips than to spend the man hours creating the cut scenes with the engine.

How Does It Sound?
Everything is here you would expect – the ripping POTC movie theme music, the swashbuckling sounds of the sword fights, etc.  The “Lego engine” sounds are all present and accounted for as well (building Legos, getting coins, etc).

The music loops noticeably at times if you spend long enough on a level.  Not everyone notices things like that, but it stands out to me.  It isn’t awful, but worth mentioning.

If I had any complaint about the audio presentation it would be the slightly quiet volume throughout.  Playing it in a quiet room offers no resistance, but if you have anything else going on, you’ll probably need headphones.

Anything Else?
Well, I’m still confused about something.  Why is there any significant “load time” with a cartridge-based game?  I understand “Loading …” with a DVD or CD or UMD.  But what’s the deal on a handheld?  The load times between levels on POTC are long; too long for a portable game system.  Yes, yes the game looks and plays great – and some people are willing to wait.  But 40 seconds at a time?  That’s kind of crazy if you ask me – if I wanted those kinds of load times, I could play UMD games on my PSP. 🙂  These load times happen between each major level change.

Overall, this game is a solid addition to the 3DS line up.  It looks and plays great, the 3D is worthwhile and it has very good replay potential.  If you’re a big fan of the Lego universe, this is a no-brainer top-notch entry in the series.  Even if you’re not, the slight change up in focus to more puzzle solving over action platforming might win you over.

As a bonus, you won’t be ashamed to show your console-playing friends your version of the game.

About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+

Super Monkey Ball 3D (3DS)

Let’s face it–there are a ton of Super Monkey Ball games out there for even console, handheld, and mobile device.  And although controls have included touch screens, controller-tilt, device-tilt, and even full-body balance board tilt, the original analog stick control of the original games on GameCube and PS2 were arguably never matched by these newer control schemes.  So it’s no surprise that for Super Monkey Ball fans, the new Circle Pad elbows it’s way to the forefront as the star feature of the game despite the attention the 3D visuals understandably get from gamers.

And that’s not to say the 3D isn’t spectacular on Super Monkey Ball 3D–in typical Sega fashion, the game is beautifully adorned with some of the most vibrant and colorful art design of any of the launch titles I’ve played Read more

Rabbids Travel in Time 3D (3DS)

I love Rabbids.  I have since their debut on the Nintendo Wii so many years ago.  They are a property I would have expected to go farther – but they do have their own line of toys and accessories; everything from action figures to Wii controller chargers.  They are cute, funny and nothing beats pumping their masks full of carrot juice.  Naturally, when a Rabbids title dropped for my shiny new Nintendo 3DS, I just had to race out and buy it.

I’m a whore for platformers.  I’ve been playing them across systems for decades and still fire up classic titles from time to time (ever play Superfrog on the Amiga? I still play that).  Heck, I dropped my share of quarters in Super Mario Bros. at the arcade – as much as the next guy.

Unfortunately, platformers don’t tend to range in quality – they seem to either totally rock or totally suck; rarely do they appear to fall somewhere in between – and yet that’s exactly how this outing of Rabbids is … somewhere in between.

The premise is pretty simple.  Using a magic time traveling washing machine, you take your rabbid into various eras (prehistoric, Egyptian, medieval, etc.) and collect coins (and rubber ducks – which are actually just coins).  Getting to the end of each level is the end goal – and coins help you unlock stuff along the way.

Would you believe that’s the entire premise of the game?  Every “world” has various levels to play – each one almost the same as the last (in some cases, the levels have perfect clone parts of other levels).  Like Super Mario Bros., you unlock them in a sequential order with the occasional bonus level along the way.  Uh .. yeah, that’s pretty much it.  Oh, you have to collect pieces of the time machine along the way through the time period.

There are two types of unlockables along the way – figurines and pictures.  These are obtained essentially by getting coins (or ducks – which are really just 5x or 10x coins) or by performing levels over again in Against the Clock type modes (more about this in a minute).  The figurines are 3D objects that feature a rabbid or two animated on it.  You can zoom in and out and rotate it.  The pictures are “puzzles” that have like four pieces that you earn to complete them.  The longer I played the game, the less I started caring about these unlockables.

You can also earn costumes by completing bonus levels (which you unlock with – you got it, coins).  The bonus levels have you – that’s right – gather coins to fill a meter – if you fill it up in time (they are VERY generous with the time), you unlock some costume you can skin your rabbid with (using a more-complicated-than-it-had-to-be control system) and play the game from that point on with your newly dressed rabbid.

Well that covers WHY you’re playing – so let’s move on to the levels themselves.

The levels are very generic – both in construction and design.  Most of the standard things are here – holes to fall in, spikes to hurt you, breakable blocks, butt bouncing, trampolines, swinging vines, tipping seesaw platforms, spouts that push you up (and some that hurt you) – there is nothing here you haven’t seen before – and better implemented elsewhere.  Some very light puzzle solving (you can pick up some blocks and move them so that you can reach a higher place) is involved, but don’t expect this to carry the game.

The occasional enemy rabbid dressed in some “period” clothing shows up – but as you play more, you’re wonder why they even bothered putting them in there at all.  Rarely will they offer any sort of resistance other than a “lucky hit” from time to time.  Even the ones swinging from vines are very easily dispatched.

There are other obstacles you’ll encounter that will be minor annoyances – but it seems they purposefully made them easy to dispatch.  Sometimes you’ll find a bunch of mines you have to time your jumps carefully through, but most of the time, you can grab a box or item and throw them at the mines (where they vanish with a poof rather than the explosion you would hope for).

As mentioned before – levels are levels – be it in the prehistoric world or in the Egyptian world.  There won’t be a single level you’ll go “whoa, now that was cool and I’m DYING to play it again” – which is too bad.  You’re going to do the same things ad nauseam – so hopefully you like it.  Minor exceptions occur – like the level you spend running (and you can’t stop – just jump or attack) away from the T-Rex – you know, the level that is shown in EVERY video for the game you see.  Overall, playing through the levels feel like more of a “means to an end” vice a savory experience.

You can replay levels in Stopwatch mode and in Mission mode – neither mode overly drove me to play the sub-standard level designs over and over.  Stopwatch ranks you based on how fast you can finish the level – the Mission mode requires you to perform certain actions (don’t get hit the entire level, for example) or collection particular items.

Your character offers the basic actions – jump, attack (on ground or in air), pick up/throw (also on ground or in air) and a frantic running action (which doesn’t do anything – no longer jumping or anything).  You can also zoom in and out of the level (not much – like two camera settings – again, you wonder why they bothered at all).  There are a couple of “power ups” you’ll see – invincibility (aka Star Power) and a propeller hat (longer jumps for a few seconds) – but they are FAR and few between; so much so that you’ll forget about them by the time you see the next one.

The controls are fine – yet the button placement always seems backwards to what I want to do – which makes it hard to get used to using the “carryable” items.  This could very likely be a personal issue – so I won’t come down on the game for it – but it’s like the A and B button REALLY need to be reversed for my liking.  Character response to controls are well-done (you know what games are like that have poor reaction times to input) and you don’t feel like you’re fighting with your character the whole time.

Graphics are fine – although the camera keeps you pulled away so far most of the time you won’t get to really enjoy them.    You can zoom up (as mentioned above) but it’s like two settings – “far” and “not so far”.  The level graphics are pretty damn good though – especially with the 3D effects (more on that in a minute).  While pleasant, these graphics do not push the 3DS much at all and you feel like you’re playing a DS game that has been overhauled.  There is no good use of lighting effect or advanced graphics techniques that the 3DS is perfectly capable of.

From a 3D standpoint, the use of 3D is pretty dang good.  The 3D parallax scrolling of levels is fantastic (especially the lava levels).  Sparse use of more advanced 3D features is very fresh and well-done.  Rarely does anything “fly out” but landscape or items (like a giant scarab beetle) appear BETWEEN your player and the camera, so you get a real funky sense of 3D for those moments.  Because they are rare, they will not detract you from the game and they are “special” each time they happen.  When you die, your rabbid is flung against the camera “in your face” and the glass breaks – a fun effect but it should have followed the other effects and only happened every so often.  The good news is – you won’t die enough to really care about it.

The game’s aural presentation is pleasant and isn’t annoying (always nice).

What’s sad is, this isn’t a bad game – but it just isn’t a good game either.  The MECHANICS are sound enough – but they phoned in the level design so much that is just isn’t fun to play as a core platformer game.  There are no hidden areas to explore, no real reason to replay levels and not enough penalty for burning through the level as fast as you can just to get to the end.  While the 3D effect is nice, they forgot about everything else with the 3DS – no streetpass, no spotpass notices – no multiplayer (local or otherwise), no mini-games and “between DS and 3DS graphics”.

What’s worse, I never laughed even once playing this game.  I expect a certain level of entertainment around rabbids – and even THAT wasn’t there.  While I’m bitching, let’s throw in the fact you can’t skip the intro every time you boot it up.

The game seems hurried – from the obvious incomplete feature set to the barely upgraded DS graphics down to the really cookie cutter level design.  It seems to suffer from a target audience confusion too – who is this for?  It’s not really made for young kids, but the levels don’t challenge the adult player very often and when they do, it’s pretty simplistic.

I’ve seen worse platform games – but I’ve seen a lot better ones too.  It doesn’t offer the “just one more level” addictive quality that a platformer should – the only reason you keep playing is hoping the next level/world will be better than what you just played.  If what you want is a super casual no-challenge rabbids themed platformer – this might fit the bill.  Otherwise, spend LESS money, grab Super Mario Bros DS and play THAT in your 3DS instead.  You might miss the 3D – but you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck.

If you feel you just HAVE to try this game – do it as a rental or a used “Gamestop returnable” title.

About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+

MadCatz 3DS Traveler Bag

People seem to have a very love/hate relationship with accessories.  With each new handheld, so many of us rush out to buy some sort of case, protector, skin or something else we are absolutely sure will protect our new investment from that inevitable drop, crush, throw or toss that will destroy our beloved new toy.

Of course, within a week or two, you stop carrying your new toy around in the jacket.  The carrying case ends up in a drawer somewhere.  In short, once the honeymoon is over, the luggage goes in the attic.

Lately, though, I find myself carrying around a lot more electronics; my big ass HTC Thunderbolt, the 3DS (I’ve become a whore for shooting 3D pictures), a higher quality P&S camera, a USB power pack … the list seems to grow every year.  So, when I went to pick out the “wedding suit” for my new 3DS, I decided to get something a little bigger that could not only carry my 3DS but my other electronics as well.

Enter the MadCatz Travel Bag – promising a roomy bag for any Nintendo DS (although marketed to 3DS right now of course – and the front branding says 3DS).

I own about 350 Nintendo DS games – but like so many others, I’ll use a flash cart to help me carry them all around with me in my DSi.  Since this isn’t an option for the 3DS yet (heck, it might never be), I was attracted to the numerous slots (21 in fact) for games plus the fold out design is clean and usable.

As with many of these cases, there are adjustable (via Velcro) inserts that come preconfigured in four sections – three squares and a rectangle for the game system.  The sections can be moved around for a few different configurations – but you’ll likely end up keeping the default configuration.

The front of the case has a very clean DS logo montage and the “lid” features a double zipper design.  The top has a sturdy handle – but there are no straps (nor clips for straps) so if you are looking for an “over the shoulder” solution, you’re out of luck.

The overall construction of the bag meets or exceeds any of MadCatz other bags or carry-alongs.  I tested it’s durability by putting all my “take with you to an event” electronics (cell, p&s camera, 3DS, battery, etc) and carried it by its handle.  The bag appears to hold up the weight just fine.  Over time, of course, it’s going to start getting droopy – as all bags tend to do – but I think you’ll get through the honeymoon phase and beyond.

The price tag is a bit higher than most bags – $20 vice the normal $15 or so.  Totally to be expected the week after the 3DS launches – I expect we’ll see it cheaper in the coming months.  Oddly enough, the bag isn’t available on Amazon for several more days from now (same price, but you might not have to pay tax or shipping – depending on your Amazon Prime status).

Is it for you?  You’ll have to decide.  For me, it will likely join the dusty collection of bags within six months – but I’m going to try to use it as a more “all purpose” carry-along.  Construction-wise and design is solid – so if you need the extra room to haul your crap around and you don’t have a man-clutch already – this might be just what the Dr. Mario ordered.

About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+

Steel Diver (3DS)

The Nintendo 3DS has been out here in the United States for just over a week at the time of writing, so I finally feel comfortable reviewing the unit and some of its games.
Of all the launch title games, one alone stood out to me as the “must have” title on launch day – and that was Steel Diver; a first party submarine simulation game.

Oddly enough, we first saw Steel Diver years ago as a possible proof of concept game demo on the Nintendo DS.  Since then, the game has been fleshed out, “Nintendoized” and of course put into 3D.

Pre-launch feelings about the game seemed quite black and white;  those like me couldn’t wait to get my hands on it – while the rest of the folks wanted nothing to do with it.

Post-launch feelings seemed to confirm the game fit more into the latter category – with many people feeling very disappointed and let down by the title (especially with the $40 price tag).

So how did the game fare with me?

Let’s start off by discussing exactly what Steel Diver is – since I believe many people had incorrect expectations of the title leading to disappointment.

Steel Diver is a three-part title.  There is an action game (periscope hunt), a simulation game (the mission based side scroller) and a tactical turn-based style game (a cat and mouse sub hunt).  In defense of those unhappy with the title, it IS an odd combination.  I think most people believed it to be an action game (most side scroller shooter games are) and to have two of the three modes being more strategy – well, that surely pissed some folks off.

The periscope hunt game is visually stunning and a great little score attack style game.  As you would expect, the view in out the periscope and you shoot down enemy ships with your torpedoes.  The periscope is controlled through motion – via the gyroscope/accelerometer in the 3DS.  It gives the game a very authentic feel, much like some of the arcade submarine games (or an actual submarine for those like myself who have actually BEEN on one).  As with most Nintendo score attack style games, the mode is definitely addictive and has the “just one more time” quality to it.  The water effects are simply awesome (especially during the night mode of the game) and the 3D works exactly the way it should – without you even realizing it.

The sub hunt style turn-based game is a fun little distraction.  The first mistake is thinking that it’s just Battleship (it’s not) while the second mistake is thinking it is a two player only game (it’s not).  Each player puts his ships into a secret formation on the hex grid.  Each player uses his sub to hunt down the other ships – using sonar and a bit of luck.  Once you find ships with your sub, you close in for the kill.  Ships attacked by the sub have no real means of defense and you cannot evade or otherwise lend action to the scene.  This is the most unfortunate part of the game – since being able to do some sort of evasion or anti-torpedo evolution would have made those scenes a lot more fun.  Ships located right above the sub are allowed to drop depth charges at one of three depths – and the sub is allowed one chance to change depths before the charge drops.  This allows a 1-in-3 chance of damaging the enemy sub if your ships were previously under attack.  This is all luck, but still fun.  To win, you have to destroy all the enemy ships or kill the enemy sub – and you have 100 turns to do it.  This game 100% should have been playable online with your friends – and that was a wasted opportunity on Nintendo’s part (you can, of course, play this game locally).

Graphically speaking, this mode of play is appealing – despite the serious overuse of cut scenes between moves.  The 3D ranges from “stunning” to “average” (I love the depth charge sequence).  Because the map itself is a 2D entity, it doesn’t lend itself as well to the 3D motif, but it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment.

This leaves us with the most misunderstood part of the game – the side scrolling missions.

This game mode is a strategic simulation game.  Submarines do not travel at 200mph with unlimited torpedoes and stop-on-a-dime/turn-on-a-nickel controls.  As a simulation, you are going to be dealing with the submarine’s slow lumbering pace and the unique skills required to think ahead to get the submarine to behave the way you want.

This is similar to comparing a fast arcade action flight game like Afterburner and contrasting it to say, Microsoft Flight Simulator;  they are two different games that cater to two different audiences.  The missions mode is more the latter than the former.

Anyone that knows anything about submarines (I spent over 5 years on one myself) knows that submarines are not joystick controlled bathtub toys, but a complex system dealing with rudder controls, propeller speeds and ballast based depth control.  All three of these are represented pretty accurately in Steel Diver – and each one has their own control mechanism on the touch screen.

A lot of people take issue with the controls NOT being mapped to the d-pad and/or buttons but in the really real world, this makes sense.

On a real submarine, you use a throttle control that you put into position and it stays there until you want a change (propeller speed).  You control depth via how much water/air you have in the ballast tanks (along with some basic rudder control).  Both of these controls are done via drag-and-stop sliders with center points that indicate a zeroed out setting (no speed, no depth control).

The rudder is controlled with a steering wheel style control that is also rotate-and-stop (again, much like a real sub) with the ability to tap-and-hold to re-center the stick.

These three controls (along with a button for anti-torpedo air release) make up the entire control system for the submarine.  Putting a sub’s throttle in “back 1/3” from “all ahead flank” does NOT make the sub stop on a dime and start moving backwards.  Depth and rudder changes operate in a similar way.  This requires foresight and in some cases, repeated experience with the mission maps you are navigating to understand exactly how to pilot the submarine to complete the mission successfully (again, much like a real submarine captain).

In both periscope hunt and the missions mode, damage can occur on your sub, causing water leaks which require you “tap” repeatedly to repair.  Hey, be damn lucky they don’t make you band the pipes like they do on a real sub. 🙂

I will say that if you did not know what you were in for – or strategic simulation just isn’t your thing – I can COMPLETELY understand NOT liking the missions mode of Steel Diver – which effectively removes at least a third of the appeal of the title – making it a more expensive proposition.

So, in summary – what we have here is a trifecta of gaming;  three very different games (action, strategic simulation and turn based) in one box – with average to amazing use of 3D.  There is some replayability here along with some time to put into the missions mode where you may have to play some maps more than once to get the kind of score you are looking for.

As a launch title, I believe it does the job, which is showing off 3D technology and offering experiences for both simple and complex type game play.  Where it falls short is in the proper conveyance of the game play in mission mode (where I think a lot of people got pissed) and the lack of online multiplay (which I believe every single launch title should have included – so that’s not Steel Diver’s fault alone).

This is not a game I would recommend for everyone.  Granted there is SOMETHING for everyone in the box, but not everything in the box is for everyone – which will drastically reduce the value of the game to many folks; certainly not commanding the launch day price of $40 to all gamers.

With many folks being “disappointed” with the game, surely a used copy at a much more reasonable $32.99 will be available at Gamestop by the time you read this – allowing a risk-free “rental” of the title to allow you to properly evaluate on your own.

As a reviewer, starting with this review, I’m no longer judging a game’s value by how much it costs.  There are several reasons for this – but two come to mind.

Death and taxes are considered guarantees in life – but I also submit that “falling game prices” are also guaranteed.  With minor exceptions, EVERY game goes down in price within 3-6 months (if not sooner). The game itself, however, doesn’t change when the price does.

Second, everyone’s needs are different.  Some people will buy ANY game with “Halo” in the name – regardless of price and/or quality – and they will smile when they pay $70 for the pleasure of doing so.  Other folks won’t pay more than $20 for any game – no matter how great it is.  My point: price is relative to the person.  The value of a game cannot and should no be determined by price.  Bottom line?  Everyone would like games to be cheaper – no matter how much they cost; if they are $40, you wish they were $30 … if they are $30, you wish they were $15 … if they are $1, you wish they were free.

That being said, I PERSONALLY believe $40 in general is a bit pricey for a handheld game – but when you’re an early adopter of any technology,  you’re going to pay a premium – and you know that before you go in.

I like Steel Diver.  I enjoy all three modes of play and I find the use of tech fun and refreshing.  It is not a game I’d be embarrassed to show friends and family and it has something for everyone in the box.  I highly recommend a “rental” (either a Gamestop used purchase or an actual rental) because it isn’t a game for everyone and you need to make sure it meets your needs before plunking down the cash.  For those that enjoy these types of games, you will not be disappointed.

About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+

A Preview Minute With The Nintendo 3DS

With less than two weeks before the 3DS is released here in the United States, the Nintendo 3DS kiosks are finally starting to hit major retail outlets like Best Buy.  With the 3D effect non-visible in videos, commercials and other forms of media, it should be assumed that this product had to be “seen to be believed” which is why I don’t understand why Nintendo waited so long to get these demo units in front of consumers.

Regardless, I’ve been dying to see the effect myself – first hand.  With the Wii, I was able to attend a Fusion tour and get my paws on a wiimote long before the product shipped, but with the 3DS I’ve had to wait like everyone else and it’s been a long wait.

With more and more photos of Best Buy kiosks showing up on the internet, I’ve been stopping by my local stores very frequently hoping our store would get one.  Yesterday was no exception – and I even thought ahead to bring a “real” camera to snap photos and video if I DID see one.

I was pleasantly surprised to find the Best Buy at i-17 and Thunderbird here in Phoenix had the demo unit set up – showing off a Pilot Wings demo.  I secretly hoped that when I did find a demo unit, it would be running Steel Diver – the game I’m most excited about come launch day.  The kiosk verbiage said that I was playing Super Street Fighter – so it’s clear these demo units DO have other games available but I couldn’t figure out any way change games or even get to the 3DS menu to play around with the cameras or built in software.

Of course, the first thing I wanted to do was to see the 3D effect in person.  As with MOST items that claim to be “3D”, the effect isn’t so much “coming out at you” like old 3D movies from the 70s and 80s, but rather a perception of DEPTH that goes INSIDE the screen with minor protrusions coming out.  It really is akin to those Magic Eye posters where you have to kinda cross your eyes and you’ll see the sailboat (yes, I know – it’s a schooner).  Before I could “see” those, I always assumed 3D meant it would jump OUT at me.  Once I understood that it’s more depth than “coming out”, I could see the effect a lot better.

The 3D slider was set to FULL when I arrived at the kiosk, and being a tall guy, I was looking down at the 3DS with a very sharp angle and the effect wasn’t working as it should.  The result was a very nauseating glimpse of Pilot Wings.  Once I leaned down and put myself right in front of the unit as instructed by the kiosk verbiage, the effect stopped being nausea-inducing but still seemed “too much”.  Using the slider, I brought it down to about 1/3 and the effect was perfect!

I know you’ve heard it before – but I’ll say it again;  you have to see this effect to truly understand how amazing it is.  If I had to wear the glasses, it wouldn’t amaze me at all – but you almost feel a bit surreal seeing this effect without the shades.  It’s one of those rare moments when you brain is telling you that your eyes are being tricked and you just CAN’T be seeing what you think you are seeing.  After a few moments of adjustment, your brain gets in line and you can just enjoy it instead of questioning it.

The 3D slider is very smooth as is the transition effect – even going from “low 3D” to “no 3D”.  For some reason I expected something a little more pronounced when shifting from 3D to 2D, but it was smooth as butter.  One thing that did bother me was the fact that the “hump” in the slider between the 2D setting and the “lowest 3D” didn’t feel very … definitive.  I started imagining what it would be like if the slider “wore out” and you couldn’t dial in what you wanted.  That bothered me.

Once I got over the 3D effect I started to evaluate the unit from a hardware perspective.  The unit was totally locked down so you couldn’t pick it up and “feel” it properly – so all I could do was look and play with the controls.

I mentioned the 3D slider already.  The other thing that amazed me was the silky control of the analog stick or disc or nub or whatever it is you want to call it.  It responds to the lightest of touches and it’s so smooth it’s almost like not having a controller there at all.  Very sensitive to boot.  I really look forward to precision controlled games like racing games and flying games with this controller.

The buttons and d-pad are what you would expect from a Nintendo product, so there isn’t much to discuss here.  I will say I am NO fan of the buttons under the lower screen.  They don’t feel right at all  Sure, they are rarely used like START and SELECT, but they bring the overall quality feel of the unit down IMHO.  It’s hard to explain what they feel like, but I wasn’t pleased by them.

I cranked the audio all the way up and was disappointed to find that the audio seemed considerably quieter than I’d hoped.  I’m hoping this is due to the demo nature of the machine and/or the way the unit was secured to the kiosk.

What about the game?  I’m not a big Pilot Wings fan, so I didn’t play long.  I’ll give you a straight scoop of what I saw.

As mentioned before, the controls were tight.  The plane responded to my analog controller quick and efficiently.

Graphically speaking, it blows the DS out of the water.  It’s been said that these are close to Wii graphics – and with this game, I definitely agree.  Playback was smooth and unfettered with no hiccups or stutters – even when changing to and from 2D to 3D.  Gone are the jaggies and “hexagon” circles of the Nintendo’s DS product line.  Claims that it looks like between a Wii and a 360 might need their head examined.  Sure, it could just be this game …. but It isn’t taking on the 360 any time soon.  But portable Wii graphics?  I’m good with that.

Unfortunately, I only had time for a brief hands on, so that’s all I got to observe for you.  I shot a short video before I was accosted by a Best Buy employee, so I’ll put that below.

So my overall impressions?  Impressive.  MOST impressive.  The 3D effect without glasses makes me WANT to watch 3D movies on it – and I want Tron Legacy in 3D on the 3DS immediately.  You hear me Disney/Nintendo?  You should SHIP this unit with Tron 3D included (or downloadable).

I seriously recommend you head down (or call) your Best Buy and go get your hands on a 3DS to try before launch day.  I also believe they should offer this unit in “dead president green” because this unit is going to be printing money VERY soon.

About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+

Atari Greatest Hits Vol. 2 (Nintendo DS)

Earlier this year, we were treated to the very pleasant Atari Greatest Hits Volume 1 which featured 51 classic Atari arcade and 2600 games.  We reviewed the title favorably, giving the title a solid 4 out of 5 Tikis – despite some obviously important missing games such as Combat and Warlords (which we figured correctly would come on Volume 2).

How does the second incarnation of this classic collection hold up against the first one?


The Gen Y / Millennial gamers may have never played an Atari-labeled game.  But we Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers know the Atari juggernaut from the ‘70s and ‘80s – where the titan owned both the arcade and console market until the video game crash of 1983.  Atari never really recovered after that – essentially being an “in name only” company struggling to get hits out.

But during it’s heyday, Atari ruled the roost – with prolific arcade games and the venerable and almost unstoppable Atari 2600/VCS console.  This back catalog of titles gives the Atari group an insane collection of intellectual property (IP) to re-release on modern day hardware.

While “Nintendo” was metonymical with gaming after 1985, Atari was the generic trademark for gaming before it.

Digging into the Game

Like it’s predecessor, Atari Greatest Hits Vol. 2 comes in a standard DS case on a 32MB DS cartridge.  The game has no extra DSi features or enhancements.

Promising us 50 classic games (9 more arcade and 41 more Atari 2600 games) including several unreleased titles as well as head-to-head multi-player (single and multi-card) – this title has a lot to offer.

Much like Volume 1, firing up this game presents us with a clean, usable interface that logically segregates the games into both home and arcade categories and then further breaks down the home games by genre (you can view them all at once too – thank you guys!).  Pleasant accompanying music and sound accent the interface and believe me – I’m very appreciative of a usable interface when it comes to gaming.

Rounding out the two game format collections, other menu options offer up Wireless Communications, Extras and Options.  The options let you change the sound volumes of the music and sound effects.  We’ll cover the other two in a minute.

The Presentation

The most important aspects of gaming compilations of this nature are the collection of games themselves, the quality of the emulation and the amount of extras included for those that buy these titles for their nostalgic qualities.  Since these are recreations of existing games, looking at graphics and audio prowess doesn’t make as much sense as looking at them from a “recreation accuracy” standpoint.  Likewise, game play quality is measured in accuracy of emulation; that is, how close are the games to play to the originals.

What’s Included?

First up – what games do you get?  (* = multiplayer games)


Return to Haunted House Secret Quest Canyon Bomber *
Circus Atari * Combat * Combat Two *
Demons to Diamonds * Desert Falcon Off-The Wall
Radar Lock Golf Double Dunk *
Realsports Basketball * Realsports Soccer * Super Baseball *
Super Football * Video Olympics * A Game of Concentration
Backgammon Basic Programming Brain Games *
Code Breaker Maze Craze * Video Chess
Black Jack * Casino * Fatal Run
Night Driver Steeplechase Street Racer
Quadrun Sentinel Space War
Star Raiders Yars’ Revenge Breakout
Crystal Castles Millipede Super Breakout
Video Pinball Warlords *


Asteroids Deluxe Millipede
Black Widow Red Baron
Crystal Castles Super Breakout
Liberator Warlords *
Major Havoc

Four of the 2600 games are prototypes (Combat Two, Realsports Basketball), homebrew (Return to Haunted House) or special mail order only (Quadrun) games.

None of the games are “locked” or “hidden” – you can play everything right away.

The arcade collection has some old familiar standbys as well as a couple of more unusual treats like .Liberator, Black Widow and Major Havoc (games unusual for these kind of collections).  Of the games, four of them are “vector” games which are always a bit of a challenge for the DS lower resolution screen.

Despite the fact you’re not going to see Activision or Imagic games here, the 2600 line up has the missing essentials from Volume 1 (Combat, Yars’ Revenge and Warlords) as well as some rare oddballs – like Quadrun (with software speech synthesis) and Sentinel (a lightgun game).  To round off the interesting inclusions, the Atari 2600 BASIC Programming cartridge will let you code your own games (all we can say is: Good Luck with that…)

Now that most of the “epic” multiplayer games are out, what might we see in Volume 3?  I’m not sure there is much left for Atari to give.

The Extras

Before we get into emulation, let’s talk about the bonus features of the collection.

Looking under the Extras menu item you will find several bonuses.

First up is a nice interview with Atari father, Nolan Bushnell.  While it is very obviously one long interview chopped up, the topics include Brand Legacy, Failed Products, Classic Games, Imitators, Uknown Games, Moore’s Law, Predicting the Future and The Internet.  The videos amount to talking heads, but the information if fun and informative.

Next up in the Extras section is the Arcade Gallery.  Here you can view roughly five printed media relating to each of the 9 arcade games.  Items include flyers, operator brochures and other similar promotional items.  A simple media browser lets you look at the items, but I’ve seen better browsers on other collections.  While you can scroll up and down across the items filling both screens, but you cannot zoom in – so a lot is lost.  Casual players might be ok with this – but the real fans would want a closer look.

Under the Arcade Gallery is access to the Atari 2600 gaming manuals for the included games.  The resolution is high enough to read these easy enough and being color you get to see all the classic artwork and diagrams in their full glory.  Don’t laugh – we didn’t have great screenshots back then – so they adorned the packaging with some great hand drawn artwork.  Even the Atari 2600 console manual is included.  The BASIC Programming manual is here too – a whopping 27 pages!  Well worth a stop while checking out the Extras.

Finally we have the Atari 400 emulator.. This fun extra will bring up a virtual Atari 400 computer and a “monitor” and let you code on it right there on the screen.  I flexed my muscle and made a nice 10 PRINT “HELLO”:GOTO 10 mega app.  I was a Commodore 64 guy – so I’m not as familiar with this version of BASIC, but it seems legit and it’s fun to plunk around on.

The prototype games Combat Two and Realsports Basketball are pretty average releases, but the Return to Haunted House homebrew is definitely worth a look – especially for fans of the original “haunted Adventure” title.  Quadrun also clocks in as pretty average, but it’s crazy hearing the Atari 2600 talk without hardware.

Playing the Games

All the arcade games can be played single player as can about half of the Atari 2600 titles.  Several arcade games as well as many 2600 games can be played by two players – taking turns as per the arcade.  Some of the games allow two player simultaneous play via wireless communication (more in a minute) – and the Atari 2600 games that require two players will play as solo games – but the controls affect BOTH players at the same time … so it’s kind of useless.  You will need multiplayer wireless networking to play these games with a friend.

Multiplayer Wireless Communications

If you look at the list above, games denoted with an asterisk are eligible for multiplayer over wireless communications.

The great news is that single card play is fully supported.  So, all you need is a buddy with a DS to play with and you’re set.  Your friend goes to DS Download, you Create a Session – and in a minute or two, you’re playing!  Pretty damn painless and the games play fantastic over the local area network.  Cody Mystics get BIG thumbs up for allowing MULTICARD play too – so you aren’t forced to send the whole game to those that also have the cartridge.  Hey Capcom, would it have killed you to do that for Point Blank?

There is no Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection play.

So many of these Atari classics really need a second person to be enjoyed and I have to take my hat off to Atari and Code Mystics to care enough to make sure we can play together games together.

The Emulation

For retro-enthusiasts, the authenticity of classic games is incredibly important.  Many old games had patterns or exploits that allowed you to better master the game.  For some people the music and sound effects trigger emotional nostalgia that is important to the gamer.  For others, timing of enemies or powerups … heck, even just animation speeds … are all things they remember fondly and stick out like sore thumbs if they are wrong or different.  A good example of poor emulation is the Jakks Pacific TV controller games.  You can get one of these TV games with Pac-Man on it, but the game just isn’t … quite … right.  The sounds are a little off … the ghost patterns you might have so painstakingly memorized are gone.  Sure, it sounds nit picky but it is important to a lot of people.

These sort of collections are remarkably hit and miss when it comes to accuracy of emulation of the original games.  Some are much better than others – while others are DEAD ON.

How well does this game collection stand up?

We will start with the arcade games.  I gotta say, the boys at Code Mystics did an incredible job on the emulation.  Everything is smooth and all the ducks appear to be in a row. Even the high resolution vector games are TOTALLY playable – they worked hard to keep the text readable and the detail high where it needed to be.  In some cases, where the vector text might be blurry, they duplicate the text on the other screen so you can read it.  A top notch job.

There are multiple control options (touch and pad/buttons) as well as the ability to play on either screen.  Games with special controls even offer different types of control (simple or arcade) – not just assuming you want to play it like a DS game but rather like the original arcade game.  Less experienced players can use a more simple control scheme.

I’ve played enough of these games to sign off on quality emulation for the arcade games.

What about the Atari 2600 games?

You’ll be happy to know that the entire 2600 control panel is replicated on each game – meaning yes, you can even play your favorite game in black and white.  The game settings are preserved and selectable – and they even indicate on the screen what the different options will play like.  All the controls are mapped to buttons as well as having on screen controls which is a damn nice gesture.  So many User Interfaces are inconsistent and frankly, suck.  Not here.  Attention to detail is obvious and appreciated.

The emulation looks great – right down to the bleeding off-the-screen rasters to the horrible scan line flicker we all put up with in the 1970s.  Each game comes complete with a shot of the original cartridge as a bonus.


A near perfect successor to the near perfect Volume 1, Atari Greatest Hits Volume 2 is a must have for collectors and retrogamers alike.

The best part about Volume 2 is the price.  Unlike it’s brother, Volume 2 hits the streets at the respectable price of $19.99 – which is a perfect price for a collection of this quality.  Bravo Atari – you listened and I hope it pays off in lots of sales.  It’s worth nothing that Volume 1 is now $19.99 too.  That’s $40 for 101 games – at under .50 a game, you can’t even beat that on the App Store.

This is a top notch title – top to bottom.  The development team obviously knows their business and has learned from past DS mistakes with emulation titles.  Aside from a few esoteric titles – this compilation gets a huge recommendation from me.

About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+

You Don’t Know Jack (Nintendo DS)

Long before people were playing web-based games like Farmville on Facebook, Jellyvision brought an advertisement sponsored pop culture trivial game to the internet.  Using state of the art (at the time) technology including high quality streaming audio (the entire show was narrated) and flashy animated graphics, the game was a smash hit.  Between rounds, the player would be hit with catchy e-mercials targeting the hip nerds of the day – hawking shoes (Sketchers .. It’s the S!), clothing and anything else that would appeal the target audience.

Dubbed YOU DON’T KNOW JACK (YDKJ from now on), this game is run more like a game show than a trivia game – complete with smart ass ever-running commentary and perky quirky sound effects.  The wise-cracking announcer doesn’t just announce the questions, but also puts the smack down on your answers (especially the incorrect ones).  He will even offer more information about the correct answer.  The style of the game is what really separated it from “just another game” of the trivia genre.

To keep the game fresh over the years, the developers added additional game mode to mix in with the solid base of rapid fire multiple choice questions.  Sometimes they would scramble answers with deliberate bad spelling or grammar, make you jump on the buzzer with high speed word relationships, reorder answers to fit and many more.  Multi-player modes came along, offering head to head competition.

Over the years, YDKJ was ported to every device that could possibly support the ability to playback the snarky announcer’s commentary (anything with a CD drive was up for grabs).  Volume after volume was released – especially on the native PC platform.

As with any long-lived series, it had to eventually run out of steam (and sales) and they disappear into obscurity.

After some hiatus, it was announced that the game was making a comeback on all major platforms including handhelds like the DS.  It seemed to take forever for it to come out, but it finally hit the shelves and while the rest of the world is reviewing the 360 and Wii version – I wanted to cover the DS version.

The game comes on a very full 64MB cartridge for $29.99 – the SAME price as the big console versions.

There are a full 37 “episodes” in the game – each one featuring two full rounds of questions and a final “Jack Attack” round – plus some bonus stuff in between.  Supposedly, this is enough content to keep you busy for about fifteen hours.

How does the DS version hold up?

The good news is that YDKJ has never been a super high impact game graphically.  The DS version looks just like the original did – and based on the media I’ve seen for the other versions, it holds up just fine (maybe that’s why they figured they could charge the same price).  The great quirky “question intro” videos are there and span both screens.  There appear to be a handful of variations of each one – but you’ll be seeing them repeat soon – which is to be expected on a 64MB cart.

Since the magic of this game is largely due to the hilarious audio it would have been a complete travesty to have it missing from the DS version.  Fortunately, the DS version audio is intact – every punch-line is there and you can tell they did everything possible to squeeze the game onto the cart.

Unfortunately, the squeezing took a toll on the audio.  While the fidelity is pretty good (occasionally you’ll find some areas lacking – but it doesn’t detract from the fun of the game) the levels are a bit low. This is typical of the Nintendo DS Lite and DSi – but when the game is heavily dependant on a comedic soundtrack, it gets a bit distracting.  Plan on wearing headphones or playing in a very quiet room to get the most out of the game.

Now that the obligatory “video/audio check” is complete, let’s dig into the meat.

YDKJ has always been about clever pop culture trivia – and as with anything that relies on pop culture, it has to move on with the times.  One of the biggest problems with YDKJ is that it’s kind of time-centric.  If you were to go snag a copy of an early version on the Playstation 1, for example, and you were born in 1990 – you aren’t going to enjoy it nearly as much as those targeted by the game originally.

Put your mind at ease.  The developers are fully aware of this and have worked hard to drag the game (somewhat kicking and screaming) into the 2010s.  The questions are properly targeted (don’t worry, GenXers, there is plenty of content for you too) and the innuendo has been ratcheted up for the new generation.  It’s rated T for teen, and believe me – it will live up to its warnings of Crude Humor, Drug Reference, Mild Language and Sexual Themes.  I have always wanted a slightly more raunchy version of this game, and it’s moved along with the times.

Once you’ve chosen one of the 37 episodes (you can also have one chosen for you at random), the match starts.  You’re playing against the clock.  You buzz in and select an answer at the same time.  The faster you select an answer, the more money is at stake.  Get it right, you’ll get the cash.  Get it wrong, and it’s deducted from your total.

Each round is 5 questions in length.

After the first round, you get a game variation – such as a Who’s The Dummy? or Funky Trash or an Order Question.  It’s still about identifying the right information, but it’s done in a different, fun way.  The Dummy variation will have you translating the mispronouncing of words by a ventriloquist dummy in order to answer the question.  Funky Trash will have you matching trash with its owner.  You get the idea.

Following this round break, the second round starts.  Finally, you get a Jack Attack to finish the episode off.  In the Jack Attack mode, you’re given a clue.  Then giant words flash up one at a time along with shifting smaller words.  When you see a pair of words that match (AND that fit the clue) you buzz in and score cash.  Get it wrong, and you’re out the money.

You can see Episode 1 played all the way through on my Quick Look video:

While I never played multiplayer back in the day, many people did and loved it.  The DS version allows for two players on a single DS – close snuggling is required.  One player plays with the D-Pad, one player plays with the buttons.  Each person gets a “screw” – which you can invoke during a question.  Screw your buddy and they have 5 seconds to answer, or lose the money on the clock by default. (and you get it).  If they answer wrong, you get the money.

Single player “bonus” games are played by the person in last place only – give them a chance to catch up.

Wrapping up the package, there are full instructions in game along with a basic stats screen that will tell you your cumulative score across all episodes, best episode played, etc.

The game features four total player slots – and every person that plays (single or doubles) requires his own slot.

So what’s the bottom line?  This is YDKJ.  It’s pretty much the same game you remember, only this time you’re paying $30 to play it instead of watching Sketchers ads periodically.  It took me about 10 minutes to get through episode 1, so simple math will say that the solo experience will net you 370 minutes or about six actual hours of play.  That’s about $5 an hour of entertainment which is a bit over  my “movie currency” price of $4.50 an hour for quality entertainment – which says to me that this game is overpriced by the numbers.

It is VERY difficult to pay the EXACT same price for the DS version of a game when the big console version is going for the same price AND has DLC for more value!  You won’t get that on the DS and that is worth a reduction in price.  In fact, when I first saw the game on the shelf at $30, I almost cried FOUL.  THQ should be ashamed of themselves for setting that retail price.

Die hard fans of YDKJ will find the price of admission a minor pittance to get back that cherry high of high impact trivia gaming.  You think your friends that play World of Warcraft have a nasty addiction?  YDKJ had a similar following.  They’ve played them all – and they will buy this one too.

Those that burned themselves out of the game in the 90s and think they are ready for another go at it – I’m telling you to wait a couple of months until the price drops to $19.99 (which I promise you it will).  At that price, I’m ready to recommend the game to the previous fans of YDKJ.

For everyone else, you might want to hold on to your cash.  YDKJ is a very fun and entertaining trivia game (any game that can make you LOL is worth something in my book), but with only 370 questions and very finite play – you may be disappointed when it’s over so quickly.  When this game hits $20 (or better yet – $15) don’t hesitate to jump on board.

About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+