Ian Hoar – Passion for Technology – Geeking Out - Technology, Web, Toys, Games, Design, Entertainment, Gadgets, & Geeking Out

Super Mario Galaxy

Nintendo’s Wii is an incredible system, and the first time you try it you will probably be blown away by its innovation. The second thing a gamer might think is all the possibilities beyond Wii Sports, the game included with most Wii’s. That said the Wii game line-up hasn’t been very good for hard core gamers. Couple that with the fact that that 480p is the maximum resolution with no real HD to speak of and the system starts shinning a little less after the initial novelty wears off. There’s a lot of games out there for it that I’m sure are giving families and kid’s hours of fun, but there are few that are entertaining more hard core 30 something gamers like me.

Then Super Mario Galaxy enters the scene to great acclaim. I had to buy this game for two reasons, the first one was everyone is giving it incredible reviews so it can’t be all that bad, and the second reason is I have so few good Wii games. Super Mario Galaxy is my fourth Wii purchase, Zelda Twilight Princess and Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition being my only worthwhile purchases so far, and I have yet to finish a Wii game. Zelda is one of those games that would have looked better in HD and would have worked just fine on a normal controller, so while still an incredible game, it just doesn’t seem to offer much extra to the Wii Remote other than being a great game. Resident Evil 4 was designed with a standard def CRT television in mind, so it suffers even more from the Wii’s lack of HD support. Resident Evil 4 does however benefit from the Wii Remote and both games are still fantastic and I would recommend both to any Wii owner. Super Mario Galaxy on the other hand feels like they had the unqiue Wii controls in mind when they developed it.

Let me just start off and say that Super Mario Galaxy is one of my best Wii game experiences to date. Yes it is very cartoony and kiddie, it’s a Mario game! But hey, I use to play Mario games for hours on end as a kid, and this game comes loaded with Wii goodness, and lots of Mario nostalgia. The greatest thing about this game is the Wii specific goodness, and what I mean by that is this game actually uses the Wii Remote in great and innovative ways and for once does not feel contrived. I find a lot of Wii games feel like the developers had to add some Wii Remote actions to the game, so they just added shake everywhere. You will still have to shake your Wii Remote in Mario, but there’s a lot more to it than just shaking your Wii!

The game story is typical to Mario games. So saying Bowser has captured Princess Peach and you have to rescue her shouldn’t be much of a spoiler. The game takes place in the universe, literally and you fly from galaxy to galaxy to restore star power to a ship you are working from, basically your home base in the game. Once the ship is fully powered you are told you can fly to the center of the universe and save the princess. No one should be buying a Mario game for the story line.

So what makes the game play so different from other games, or even Wii games for that matter? Well each level takes place on tiny planets, some so small that you can actually run completely around them in under 30 seconds. The feeling is weird to say the least, but that’s a good thing. Mario Galaxy takes place on every 3D plane, upright, upside down, sideways, top down, backwards, you name the orientation and Mario Galaxy’s probably got it. This is one of the things that make the game great.

The Wii Remote is the next great aspect, you actually use it. I haven’t finished the game yet, but so far I have done things like surf, balance on a ball, blow Mario around, point and pick up star bits, shake enemies off the screen, and climb vines just to name a few. All of these require different motions with the Wii Remote. So far I like the balancing ball Mario the best.

There are also different kinds of Mario, the old stand by’s like fire Mario, but new ones like Bee Mario are very fun. With Bee Mario you can fly for a short period of time before you have to land and recharge to fly again. As Bee Mario you can stick to certain surfaces just like a real Bee! Well at least a real Mario Bee. Other powerups include Ice Mario, Bee Mario, Boo Mario, Spring Mario, Flying Mario, and Rainbow Mario, most of which I have yet to try.

The greatest thing about this game is that it’s just plain fun to play. It’s not hard, at least most of the time, and for the most part it is very intuitive. Mario Galaxy is totally new and different, and you can just jump right in and play without much experience and I think this game will appeal to many age groups.

This is the first really solid new Wii game I have played yet. Games like Zelda and Resident Evil are fantastic games, don’t get me wrong, but they feel like they were not developed with the Wii in mind, and in Resident Evils case it wasn’t. Super Mario Galaxy could possibly be the best Wii game I have played to date.

City 7: Toronto Conflict

I use to be a huge fan of game mods, but since I moved to consoles I don’t really get a chance to play with community work. That’s unfortunate because although a lot of garbage is created, sometimes really great work is done. Team Fortress comes to mind as a major achievement which went on to become a commercial product with Team Fortress 2. Many other great mods, some which just added tweaks brought a whole new experience to a game. Quake 3 had so many mods and maps, and this really added to the longevity of the entire game. I used to create maps for Quake 2, Half Life, and Quake 3, some of which can be found at my Hellfog Mapping Realm site.

Many larger mods, also sometimes called total conversions, have much more ambition and usually involve a team. These usually fall by the wayside due to a lack of desire or motivation. I think a lot of this has to do with the constant flow of new games and game engines always coming out, which make it very hard or maybe even discouraging to continue to work on something that is a few years old and may not be played by many people. That said, every now and then there is an exception to the rule and a team creates something brilliant, and right now, that looks like City 7: Toronto Conflict.

The other day a friend of mine sent me a link to the site. Now I can’t say what the game play is like, because I have Half Life 2 on the Xbox 360 Orange Box disc. That said I may have to try out the PC version just to try this mod. The story line does not diverge from the Half Life Universe at all, but instead focuses on North America, namely Toronto. This is a very unique twist as most mods totally diverge from the original game story.

From the screenshots, all I can say is wow. I live in Toronto and City 7: Toronto Conflict looks great, at least from the screenshots. I especially like the detail in the Eaton’s Centre. If I do get around to trying out this mod I’ll definitely post my impressions. If you live in Toronto and play Half Life 2, you just have to try this out and let me know what it is like.

Eternal Sonata revisited

I finished Eternal Sonata the other night and wanted to reiterate how incredible this game is. My first post is a more in depth review of the game. Although the game is a major grind fest, the story, graphics and music are just so engaging. The ending has a real twist, and it’s the longest ending I’ve ever seen in a game clocking in around 45 minutes.

I know reactions on this game are mixed and it will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those who do like this kind of game, I think they will love Eternal Sonata. The story is pretty deep for a game, and the characters are so memorable you actually care about each one of them in different ways. The voice over work is top notch, and the graphics are mind numbingly gorgeous. The creativity in this game is off the charts and the diversity of the artwork is always refreshing.

This is still one of my favourite single player Xbox 360 games to date and I think one of the most unique games on the console. I hope more games like this are in the works. So if your’re up for a long 40 plus hours of game play, lots of level grinding, fantastic music and phenomenal cut sequences, pick up this game.

Here are some shots of the game.

Call of Duty 4 – Modern Warfare

I finished Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare the other night. This game is the most intense shooter I’ve played to date. The realism and immersion are phenomenal, and the graphics are on par with games like Gears of War. It’s nice to finally see some games with GOW graphic quality. That game was a year ahead of its time, but it seems like the truly next gen games are coming out this year, with titles like COD 4, Assassins Creed, Mass Effect, and hopefully Grand Theft Auto IV early next year.

The only truly down side to COD4 is the length of the single player campaign. It’s short, and I do mean short. I finished it in about 3 days and probably put about 5 hours into it on the default difficulty setting. That said, this game is all about the multi-player, and the sheer number of levels, character leveling system, and game types will keep you coming back for more. COD4 has one of the most full featured multi-player games I have played out there at this time even though it lacks vehicles, something that isn’t necessarily a bad thing once you play it.

There is another down side which will effect only a small number of people, myself included. I have never in my life experience FPS motion sickness, but COD4 is the first game that does it to me. After about an hour of playing I start getting a dull headache and a sick feeling in my stomach. Maybe I have just been tired lately, but a quick search on the web shows that I am not alone, and a co-worker of mine has had the same symptoms. The game is extremely realistic and very fast paced. The game bob when running is a bit disorienting at times, which I think might be causing the problem. One solution mentioned which seems to be working for me is chewing gum. Anyway, don’t let a little bit of motion sickness hold you back, this game is incredible.

That said, run out and buy this game, pick up Assassins Creed while you’re at it too, you won’t be disappointed.

Halo 3 Review

This is a busy time of the year for games, meaning there is a lot to choose from. So many great games released, and so little time. Anyway, I bought Halo 3 the day it came out. The hype worked, well actually a friend was picking it up so I figured why not. I should also mention that I’ve never really played Halo or Halo 2 other than maybe several minutes on someone else’s console. I have since finished the game and thought I would share my thoughts.

First, this game is a fantastic game, no doubt about it. I want to get that out of the way, because what I am going to say next is more in regards to how hyped it is. This game is an incredible hype machine. The advertising dollars gone into Halo 3 must dwarf other games. Everywhere you look its Halo this, and Halo that, even publications that don’t talk about games are talking about Halo 3. The real question is does the game stand up to the hype?

Okay, let’s be fair, how phenomenally amazing would a game have to be to possibly match the hype of this game. I mean the game would basically have to be the best shooter ever released. Is Halo 3 the best ever? Not a chance. Again, remember how I started this review, this is a fantastic game, no doubt about that. The fan base for Halo 3 is fanatic, and saying anything negative about it can bring down the wraith of the Halo Gods. Almost every review site has given stellar reviews of 9.5 to 9.8. I find these scores hard to believe since I’m sure there’s a lot of Microsoft ad revenue going into these sites, but maybe the hype has just got to everyone.

Let’s start off with the bad; the game is short, VERY short. I am one of those people that take forever to finish any game, and I finished this in a week. I’ve heard stories of people finishing it in a day. The second is the graphics. During the production of Halo 3, many people on gametrailers.com had mentioned how the graphics were not up to par with what they expected. Comments like, “This is still in beta” were cried out by the believers and all of the typical angry flaming that goes on in those forums. So what are the graphics like? Well, that’s the strange part, they vary greatly. A times they feel sub par, I would even go as far to say unpolished, and then at other times they will blow you away. It almost seems like the game was rushed to completion, or done at completely different times. I often wonder if all the negative comments on the graphics before it was released attributed to the ramp up of graphics as you approach the end of the game. I found with the exception of the last level that the graphics slowly got better and better as I progressed through the game. Even Master Chief himself goes from looking plastic like to full blown rough metal Gears of War like quality.

Halo 3 also doesn’t really break any new ground. In fact, my first thought when playing multiplayer was how retro it felt. This can of course be considered a good thing. The multi player is where this game really excels. It’s like a traditional multiplayer shooter packed with every great mod imaginable. There are just so many ways to play Halo 3 multiplayer.

One spot I personally think Halo 3 excels past everything else is the music. It is almost a tribal thumping throughout the game, and adds so much to the immersion quality. The sound effects are average, but the music more than makes up for this, and I think it is one of Halo’s strongest single player aspects. On the other hand some of the aliens have juvenile one liners in high squeaky voices like, “He was my best friend”. This is a bit of an immersion killer for me, especially when you are saving the world from Aliens. Why are they talking to me in English with baby voices?

Anyway, the bottom line is that this is a great game that is way over hyped. This is how business works, and I’m sure Halo 3 will be the biggest cash cow yet, and when you have rabid Halo fans standing outside the night before the release of a game that will have no shortage of copies, you know you have a hit financially, regardless of the quality.

Bottom line, halo is an 8.5 / 10 for me, which is nothing to sneeze at, but far from the 9.5’s of the game review sites.

Eternal Sonata Review

I have been playing through Eternal Sonata for the past few weeks and wanted to reserve judgment until I had a good chunk of the game completed. I had been watching this games development for several months before its release, and I bought it the week it came out. I really liked the demo, and the full version is even better. I will even go so far as to say this is one of my favorite Xbox 360 games.

This game is all about the art, music, and story. Although I have not finished it yet, I am totally immersed. Be warned though, this game may not be for all, there is a lot of level grinding, and combat can become repetitive at times, so can the sound effects. There are also some puzzle type dungeons that require a lot of backtracking which can become frustrating. That said, this game is amazing. I think game play is far more important than graphics, but this game has the best cell shaded animation I’ve ever seen in a game to date.

Eternal Sonata is one of the few Japanese RPGs available for the 360 along with Blue Dragon. While no veteran in this genre, the fighting battles in Eternal Sonata are unique. They blend a combination of turn based strategy with real time hack and slash. Basically you have your three characters. Each one has their turn in which you have a few seconds of tactical time to decide what you will do. Once you start your turn or tactical time runs out, the remainder of the turn is real time, usually about 3 to 5 seconds. You run toward your enemy, and start slashing as the timer bar counts down. You can also build up hits each time you attack. The longer you attack the more hits you build up which can then be used for a super powerful attack. This can be done by any character at any time throughout the battle. These are very useful against bosses.

In each battle field there are also light and dark places. These will affect the attacks of each character, allowing them to use their dark attack or light skill. This adds a lot of strategy to the game, as one character may be used to heal others while in light, and another one may have a very powerful magic in the dark. There is a surprising amount of depth to this real-time aspect of the game, but it can also grow frustrating as you waste turns and run out of time while changing items. Items are found throughout the game and can be used in battle. These are mostly modifiers, like light spells, darks spells, poisons, health etc.

Another interesting angle to this game is the score pieces. These are musical pieces you collect throughout the game. When you find other characters that have them you can play together. You will then be marked on how well the session went and possibly get an item. This is a small part of the game, but adds a little extra.

The whole game is based on music. Weapons look like instruments, names and places are musical terms, everything in the game is musical. Without giving too much away, the game is about Frédéric Chopin on his death bed having a dream. Whether it is a dream or not is part of the mystery. The story is actually quite deep, and cut scenes can last for 10 minutes at times, but they are never boring, in fact they are one of the reasons I find myself pushing ahead to see more of the story unfold. As you play you will unlock real Chopin pieces which will play while showing pictures and giving real history about Chopin. The Anime story so far seems to be loosely connected to the real history of Chopin. The songs that you unlock are performed by renowned pianist, Stanislav Bunin. These songs are the most powerful in the game, but even the game music is quite good.

Although the game does have its flaws, its presentation and music blow away any faults. This game is a must for any RPG fan, or Anime fan. The art direction is just stunning and awe inspiring. The detail is unmatched. Everything from tiny sparkling flowers to giant cliffs and trees is rendered in matriculate detail. I find myself stopping and looking around for minutes at a time. The characters are all beautifully rendered and very memorable. If you do buy this game, expect a wonderful journey into a fantasy world that will take you away from the real world for many, many hours.

Eternal Sonata

View my updated post and screenshots on Eternal Sonta

Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, Capcom, and other annoyances

I bought the Xbox Live arcade game Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo the other night. I have wanted a Tetris like Live game for awhile now, but everything I have tried to date did not satisfy me. As soon as I started playing the demo, I knew I wanted it. It’s charged with a whole lot of fun and I would recommend it to anyone who likes Tetris and wants a good multi-player puzzle game. As far as puzzle games go, this one is really geared toward competitive play, and I like that.

That said, Capcom has done what they do so often, and that is make a great game and then introduce some of the most annoying little peeves that serve one purpose only and that is to hinder the player from actually playing the game. Dead Rising was famous for this, a fantastic 360 game, probably one of my favourite games and yet most annoying to date. The save system was horrid, the font size was too small, and the game just ends when the time runs out after hours and hours of game play. I’m playing the game, I’m enjoying it, I’m smashing Zombies, I’m having so much fun, … I’m booted out of the game and told it’s over. WHY?

Super Puzzle fighter has nothing quite that bad, but it does have its fair share of annoyances. I should also mention that Backbone Entertainment actually developed the game.

The first problem is one that seems to be a growing trend lately that I have seen in other games. Why am I forced to watch screen after screen of every company that was involved in developing the game, okay, I understand receiving credit, but at least allow me to skip it. After seeing an intro screen saying company XYZ made this for the one hundredth time I think I get the point. Capcom actually goes one step further in Super Puzzle Fighter. When you finish a game, which does not take too long, you are forced to watch the credits. I say forced, because you literally cannot skip them and start playing again. When I finish a game I now do a force quite and restart the game only to see the long intro text.

My third rant about this game is the voice system. Every game I have ever played on Live allows you to talk to your friends by simply picking up a head set, putting it on, and talking. How could you screw this up? Simple, just add another step, in Super Puzzle Fighter you have to hold the right trigger to talk. You will constantly hear the other gamer’s voice cutting off as they release the trigger before they are done talking. Maybe I’m missing something here; maybe there is some reason for this, but I cannot for the life of me see what that could be.

But I digress, even knowing everything I have outlined above I would still buy this game, and that probably says a lot. It’s a whole lot of fun, and hopefully patches come out to address some of the above issues.

Crackdown, possibly one of the funniest games I’ve played in years

I bought Crackdown the other day with a friend because there was a clearance sale. I know it’s a bit late for a review as this game has been out for some time now, but I believe it deserves mention.

The game offers some of the best co-op play I’ve had on the Xbox 360. The only real drawback is that you can only play one other friend. It would have been nice to have 4 other players or even 8, maybe Grand Theft Auto IV will offer something like this. This game however will provide you with many laughs, yes it’s mindless, but it’s fun, real fun as you run down the road, or drive down the highway blowing up everything in sight.

Crackdown got so many things right, but then again, I’m partial to sandbox type games, and I think this is as sandbox as you get. You can play the game in any fashion you like. Fight the bosses, do the races, build your character, or just go out and have fun. Half the times I find myself doing things that really have nothing to do with the overall objectives of the game. This is a huge success in any game in my opinion. When you reach the level of immersion where the player is deciding they just want to go check something out, or try seeing how many cars they can stack up before laying explosive barrels around them, you have a winner. Do a search on Youtube and you will find many funny videos of people doing crazy things in Crackdown.

There is one major flaw in this game. Luckily it has nothing really to do with the game mechanics and more to do with advertising. There is an 800 MS point add-on to crack down. There is also some free add-on’s. I obviously have no problem with free add-ons, and I don’t even mind the pay add-ons. Where the problem lies is that when you add the free add-on, it adds way points for all of the paid content. It also adds weapons and vehicles. All of this is in the game and asks you if you would like to purchase if every time you run to it or click on items. This is totally unacceptable. I bought the game; please don’t annoy me with what basically amounts to in game ads for more game content. When you buy a movie you don’t expect to be prompted to buy episode two half way through the movie. Please let us play the game, advertise the game content in the main menu or better yet, let us find it in the marketplace. Anyone who is interested in marketplace content will most definitely find it.

Other than the heavy handed advertising this game is hands down one of the funniest and funniest games I’ve played on the 360, and the best part is this game is dirt cheap now. If you want something to tie you over until Grand Theft Auto IV comes out, maybe swing buy your local game store and pick it up.

Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition

I bought Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition last week and played quite a bit over the weekend. At first it took some getting use to and I experienced the same problems I had with Zelda, I am so use to using two sticks on the 360, the left one for move and right one for free look. With Resident evil you have to toggle your look / aim and your move. That said, the game is nothing short of phenomenal, and I have no regrets in buying it. I should also mention that I had never played the originals or any of the prequels before.

The game is very immersive and once you get use to the Wii controls you will find they only add to this great game. Even though the game is showing its age, the graphics are still top notch, and its hard to believe this game has been around for awhile. I find myself really getting into the reloading and aiming of the Wii remote, and head shots are more fun then they are with a standard controller. The tension is palpable and sometimes heart pounding. It’s really not all that scary as much as intense, which I guess for some people could be interchangeable. Atmosphere is top notch, voice overs are great (even though cheesy) and the sound and music are just perfect. There’s really not much I can say that is bad about the actual game itself.

The original received much acclaim and so does the Wii edition which comes with all the extra content that the last PS2 version had. My biggest complaint has nothing to do with the game itself. It is the same complaint I have with every Wii game and that is the lack of HD. This was my main reason for avoiding consoles for so long and exclusively being a PC gamer for so many years. This game like Zelda is so good that for the most part you can overlook the jaggies, but I always find myself longing for HD when I use my Wii. Anyway, now I can’t wait for Resident Evil 5 on the 360.

Overlord game review

So I bought Overlord the other day for my 360. I’ve been playing it for about three days now, and so far I really like it. Playing the Demo first, I decided to buy it the day it came out.

I really wanted something new, and felt this might be it. While it’s no Gears of War, sometimes you need a change. This is also the kind of game that the 360 lacks in general, but that is slowly changing with a lot of future. The graphics are just beautiful and at times very Zelda: Twilight Princess like. It’s so nice to see these rich fantasy type worlds in HD, the one thing lacking on my Wii.

In the game you play an evil overlord in a funny tongue-in-cheek setting. If this game was more serious, you would be a character like Sauron from Lord of the Rings. You also have a horde of crazy demon like minions which growns in size as you progress through the game. There are four kinds in total, Browns, Reds, Greens, and Blues. You start off with only Browns and must find the other three minion hives to gain use of all your minion types. Each minion type has different abilities, and at times you will have to use a mixture to progress through an area. Its really a blend of RPG and stratagy.

The game progresses nicely, and although there’s a lot to do, its very fun and simple. You gradually progress throughout the game and learn new abilities and tactics, so you never end up feeling overwhelmed.

The major downfall fall with this game is the controls. While they are easy to use, they could still be better. Sometimes you feel confined as free look is not as free as it should be. The left stick moves your character and the right stick moves your minions. This is really cool, and once you get use to it you find yourself using the right stick a lot and the Overlord will just stand watching over, as your minions trash, pillage and smite villages, farms, and animals.

What’s not so cool is having to click the left bumper and use the left stick to look around. There are many times where you will find yourself wanting to just look around at the sometimes stunning fantasty world which surrounds you. It’s when you do this that you will feel confined, often not being able to fully look up or down. A zoom feature would have been nice too, so you could look at your minions up close. There is a toggle that lets you look at yourself from directly above in a top down fashion. This is very cool when outside, or planning a battle. Battle itself can also feel clumsy at times, but for the most part your minions are very smart and will work the way you want them too.

That said, Overlord’s strengths far outway its short commings. This game will not be for everyone, but if you enjoyed the demo, chances are you will enjoy the full game. There is much more to do, everything from building your dark tower, to finding a mistress. This game is all around good fun, and I think I will be putting many more hours into it.