Articles Tagged with: review

Cardinal Quest: Return of Rogue

It has gone by many names … It started off as Adventure, Telegard, Moria, Hack, Rogue … then came games like Temple of Apshai, Sword of Fargoal, Mystery Dungeon, Ultima … and in recent times it has gone by the name of Shiren the Wanderer, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, Chocobo’s Dungeon 2 and even (to a lesser extent) titles like Diablo, Torchlight and others.

Now, we call it Cardinal Quest, a new Android “roguelike” dungeon exploration adventure game.

Hmmm… so what does “roguelike” mean?

Roughly based on Dungeons & Dragons, roguelike games typically feature a handful of similar traits. Most of them feature a “top down” randomly generated dungeon stocked full of every-growing-in-danger enemies, player “stats” (like strength, dexterity and wisdom), an experience + level up system, treasure chests with equipment/gold/potions, basic magic and inventory features, is played in near-real time – and of course, they typically have more simple graphics that look trite and boring to anyone that didn’t grow up with the genre.

Oh, and they are notorious for being hard and unforgiving; death of a player usually means the game is over (that’s right, no going back and loading previously saved games). Read more

About Shane Monroe

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

Shine Runner: $1 Gaming Done Right

Rarely does a mobile game inspire me to write a review. Let’s be honest; mobile gaming isn’t a gourmet meal; it’s a snack. Usually a sweet, rich snack that never quite tides you over until dinner – and usually makes you a bit sick to your stomach – but it’s cheap (or free) and is readily available – like all good bad-for-you snacks.

But, to quote the old expression – even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Sad, some of you reading this don’t get what this means. But I digress …

First, I’ll be happy to admit that I’m NOT a mobile gamer, typically. I rarely play games on my phone; preferring to keep my battery alive for More Important Things(tm). But on my Asus tablet? All bets are off. After all, it’s a luxury device and not something I need or use for work. If I want to kill the battery off in a marathon gaming session – so be it. As a classic gamer, I spend a large part of my tablet experience playing emulators of classic game systems; NES, SNES, Sega Genesis, Atari 2600, Colecovision – you know, the stuff most kids wouldn’t be caught dead playing today.

Thanks to NVidia’s dip into tablet technology, many tablets (and even some phones) come with advanced gaming video chipsets known as TEGRA. This comes in two versions; Tegra 2 and Tegra 3. My previous tablet, the Asus TF101 had Tegra 2; my new tablet, the Asus TF300 has Tegra 3. This offers “console quality graphics” to tablets – but of course, they cannot add “console quality controls” to tablets and that’s one of the biggest issues with mobile games … horrid controls. While Sony Xperia devices (with real physical controls) has taken a stab at fixing this issue, others have figured out how to link up their Bluetooth compatible controllers to their favorite tablets. Unfortunately, most games do not take advantage of these controllers.

These days, for a mobile game to stick out and warrant my time and energy, it needs to address the issues of controls, time slicing (short burst play without being too superficial) and of course game play (… remember that? The KING of gaming?) As a bonus, it should be cheap, ad-free, nag-free and have no hidden “buy now” screens that only pop up after you’ve played the game for an hour.

Now that we have my thoughts on mobile gaming out of the way, let’s talk about Shine Runner. Read more

About Shane Monroe

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

Thor: God of Thunder (3DS)

As the latest incarnations of super heroes movies go, Thor wasn’t the worst or best entry thrown into the hat.  Better than Captain America, worse than Iron Man but at least Chris Hemsworth was more or less likable and despite all the CGI – you always had Natalie Portman to look at.  In the end, it all worked out.

But regardless of how good or bad the movies are – the video games based on them typically turn out mediocre at best.  The ones that blatantly steal a working game engine and methodology from a AAA title are usually at least playable.  The rest of the rabble tend to fall into “stuffed into an overused side scroller 3D engine that sucks” category.

When it comes to action adventure gaming, it’s hard to argue with the near-perfect execution of Sony’s God of War series; which is why every other game robs it blind.  Games like the popular console title Wolverine and the latest PC action game Blades of Time work well because they are riding on the shoulders of Kratos and the rest of the Greek Gods. Fortunately, Sega stole fizzy lifting drinks right out of Sony Wonka’s Chocolate Factory when they created Thor: God of Thunder. Read more

About Shane Monroe

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

Samsung Galaxy Nexus 4G LTE Phone Review

On December 15th, there were two types of people in the world; ones that had never even HEARD of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus phone and ones that were ready to burn down the nearest Verizon store if there were any other delays in releasing this device.

The consumer’s anger toward Verizon’s handling (or mishandling) of this phone is actually mitigated and completely understandable – especially as the story began to unfold.  The phone’s release dates were leaked by “reputable” sources, only to come and go without release.  Some dates appeared to be purposefully changed immediately after they were leaked; as if Verizon was saying “Now now now … no peeking .. and just for that, we’re going to delay it another week – just to teach you a lesson”. Read more

About Shane Monroe

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

Filed under : Android Phones, Smartphones

The Six Million Dollar Man DVD Box Set

The late 70s and early 80s were popular times for superhero TV shows.  We had it all;  Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, a live action Spider-Man – and of course The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman.


The Six Million Dollar Man (SMDM from now on) started off as a TV movie loosely based on the Martin Caiden novel Cyborg – about Steve Austin, a near-dead astronaut crash victim given superhuman bio-mechanical limbs.  With his special new abilities, Austin is conscripted into a government organization known as the OSI (Office for Scientific Intelligence – ran by Oscar Goldman) where be acts as an agent for difficult and often secret missions.

The movie was so successful that they made two more movies and eventually parried the movies into a full-time series that subsequently ran five seasons.  The show spawned The Bionic Woman spinoff featuring parachute accident victim (and Austin’s high school sweetheart) Jamie Sommers (Lindsay Wagner).  Both characters visited the other’s TV series in what is known as a “cross over” episode.  Often a two-part episode would start on one series, then finish on the other show.

Bionics quickly became a household phrase and the SMDM (and to a lesser extent, the Bionic Woman) became firmly planted into pop culture.  Toys, lunch boxes, action figures – you name it – you could get it branded with a bionic superhero. Read more

About Shane Monroe

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

Filed under : DVD, Movies/TV

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+

The Bionic Woman Season 2 (DVD)


Let’s face it – The Bionic Woman (TBW) never got the love that The Six Million Dollar Man (SMDM) received.  Oh sure, fans loved the character so much that they letter-bombed the TV studio demanding her resurrection when she was killed off in her debut on SMDM and the show ran a healthy three seasons; even ending with very good ratings – but the more “emotional stories” and “feminine perspective” didn’t win the young male market over.  They craved the astronaut-turned-super-spy plots of SMDM.  The producers cleverly created “cross-over” episodes that kept SMDM fans watching “part 2” of the latest show on TBW.  Even when the spin-off changed networks, the stars of each show shared the spotlight (unheard of, even today).

Despite the love for SMDM, many of us enjoyed TBW for what it was and have long awaited these episodes to be available to the home market.

After 30 years of legal hell, the original 1970’s bionic TV shows finally made it to the home video market in the United States (even abroad their availability was sketchy).  Earlier this year, Time Life released the ENTIRE SMDM TV show (including all five seasons, every movie and every “cross-over” episode with TBW – including the beloved KILL OSCAR Fembot three part episode) and we reviewed it here.  With a price tag of over $200, this collection got passed on by all but the die-hard fans – so those dying to see Academy Award Winner John Houseman play the evil Dr. Franklin would simply have to wait to see the beautiful (but deadly) Fembots. Read more

About Shane Monroe

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

Filed under : DVD, Movies/TV

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+