Tag Archive: xbla


The last guardian

Ori and the Blind Forest speaks to the best of what video games can offer. It’s rare that you find a game that’s not only beautiful to look at and to listen to, but that also delivers a poignant, powerful story—which is told while providing a wonderfully tight platforming experience that pushes your reflexes to their limits.

The game begins when a freak storm catapults a young guardian of light named Ori from its home among the branches of the greatest tree in the Forest of Nibel. Found by a citizen of the woods, a bearlike creature named Naru, Ori is nursed back to health and quickly looks to Naru as a mother. While it’s seemingly innocent in nature, this turn of events serves as a catalyst that will shake the whole of Nibel to its very core. Ori must set off on its own to reclaim its purpose as a guardian of the light before Nibel succumbs to an encroaching darkness.

From the opening cutscenes to the end credits, the one thing that consistently amazed me about Ori and the Blind Forest was its beautiful look. The game offers a variety of different locales—icy caverns, flower-filled grottoes, volcanic mountaintops, barren woodlands—and they all look stellar. The exquisite hand-drawn art style offers a bevy of bright colors that seem to jump off the screen and make each area feel special.

Once you start playing, though, it might be easy for the graphics to fade into the background as the story takes hold. Complemented by a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack, Ori and the Blind Forest tugs on your heartstrings in such a way that it stays with you long after beating the game. At its core, it’s a coming-of-age tale plainly divided into three acts, but the themes the game conveys about life and death, falling from grace and finding one’s redemption, and persevering in the face of adversity are all things that we, as humans, can relate to. And they’re driven home all the more emphatically when playing as the undersized Ori, alone in a world on the verge of being torn asunder.

As good as a game may be creatively, however, it can always easily come undone if the technical side doesn’t hold up its end. Fortunately, Ori succeeds on this front, too. With an emphasis on puzzle-solving and exploration, the game offers only a limited combat system, forcing you to instead focus on deftly guiding Ori through a labyrinthine world full of traps and hazards.

The game also incorporates some RPG elements, and Ori can learn a dozen different moves over the course of its adventure that will help open up new areas and allow for more efficient traversal across previously discovered locales if you decide to backtrack. The Forest of Nibel is a massive world, but I found that with Ori’s full complement of powers, I could run from end to end in no time flat.

I also enjoyed the fact that combat only came in short bursts—usually just enough to put me back on my heels a bit. This allowed me to better appreciate the overall design. As a platformer, Ori and the Blind Forest toes that fine line between being too forgiving and too punishing. I died more than 300 times on my first playthough, which took me about eight hours—an average of one death per 90 seconds of gameplay. Not once did I feel frustrated during my entire time playing, though. Some sequences, of course, skew these numbers, where you’ll likely die a lot, such as in the seemingly Metroid-inspired dungeon-escape sequences.

What also helped quell any possible annoyance was Ori’s quicksave system, a rarity on consoles. Just by holding the B button down, I was able to place a marker almost anywhere in the world that would serve as a makeshift save point. So, if I saw a harrowing-looking cave filled with spiked walls up ahead, I’d just drop a quicksave. Admittedly, it took some time to get used to the game not having any sort of traditional checkpoint system—and I sometimes had to play large sections over because I forgot to save—but once you get used to it, this method allows you to be a bit more reckless than normal, which is especially nice when exploring new areas.

Unfortunately, unlike Ori reaching its full potential by game’s end, Ori and the Blind Forest slightly stumbles in a couple of key areas. For example, I experienced some noticeable framerate drops at various instances—almost two dozen times during my playthrough, most often when moving quickly through different areas.

The most grievous issue, however, may be the fact that, once you complete one of the game’s three main dungeons, you can’t re-enter them, leaving any possible collectibles you missed lost. This goes the same for the end of the game—if you finish, you can’t replay that particular adventure and instead must use one of the other three save slots and start completely over. Consider this a warning for all you completionists out there.

If you’re less worried about seeing 100 percent of the game, though, and just want to have an action-packed adventure, Ori and the Blind Forest fits the bill completely. It’s the kind of story that knows how to find the soft spots in even the most hardened of gamers (like me!), and once it digs its adorable claws into you, it’s polished enough to rarely break the immersion it inspires. Ori and the Blind Forest had me coming back just to reexperience all the wonder and fun I had along the way the first time through, and it’s one of my favorite titles of 2015 so far.

Developer: Moon Studios • Publisher: Microsoft Studios • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 03.11.15
9.0
A terrific blend of story, gameplay, and graphics, Ori and the Blind Forest is an unforgettable debut for indie developer Moon Studios.
The Good Beautiful world, amazing soundtrack, and an unforgettable story.
The Bad Similar-feeling powers; occasional framerate issues.
The Ugly Forgetting to quicksave before tackling a spike-infested area.
Ori and the Blind Forest is available on Xbox One and PC, with a version for Xbox 360 coming later this year. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Microsoft for the benefit of this review.
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Carving out a niche

The big project on everyone’s mind during this year’s GDC was, of course, Sony’s Project Morpheus. Because of this, another work-in-progress at the show might have flown under a lot of people’s radar, but I went hands-on with it before the week was through—and it’s finally ready to be revealed.

Project Totem is the latest Microsoft exclusive from developer Press Play, the folks behind Max: The Curse of Brotherhood. It’s a puzzle-platformer that, like many games in the genre, has a simple premise. You play as a pair of blocks that normally would sit in a totem pole. Each block is sent down a path that often has a similar, yet not exactly identical, layout to their counterpart.  Your objective? Get both blocks to the end of the course in order to unlock larger and more intricate carvings for the ultimate totem pole.

Where puzzle-platformers shine isn’t why you’re running these courses, but in how you traverse them. Gameplay is the driving force in this genre, and fortunately, even in the six pre-alpha-build single-player stages I was able to test, there seems to be enough easy-to-learn-yet-difficult-to-master mechanics to give Project Totem the addictiveness to compete against similar games.

The first, most critical element that I needed to learn was that the totem pieces are always linked. When one jumps, so does the other. When the other runs right, so does the other. Run left, and…hopefully you get the picture. The puzzle aspects quickly become evident from this mechanic when the courses stop being as identical as the totem pieces. Some pathways can only open when one of the totems steps on a particular switch. Other pathways can only be walked through by pieces of a certain color. And sometimes the lower totem block will have to serve as a stepping-stone for the upper one to reach the next platform.

As the courses become more intricate, the totem blocks also begin to acquire special powers. The first of these makes it so the two blocks can flip-flop positions at any time, even in mid-air, to move through color-coded barriers. Meanwhile, certain powers allow you to change the gravity of a single piece so one can be walking on the ceiling while another is on the floor.

Just as I began to get comfortable with these abilities, though, I had to start using them in unison. For example, in one instance I had to swap totems while simultaneously having one of them use its gravity powers. As more powers become unlocked, it was easy to imagine how crazy it might be to use three or four powers quickly in succession or different powers for each individual piece.

Besides this single-player mode, there’s also a time-trial mode to see how fast a player can beat each stage. The game also offers local co-op, which has completely different stages from single-player. Also, instead of each player controlling an individual totem (that would probably be a bit too easy), they control two totems for a total of four totems onscreen at once. When obstacles start becoming three and four blocks high, the emphasis on teamwork quickly becomes clear.

Even though Project Totem is still in its pre-alpha phase, Press Play is confident they can have the game available for download on Xbox 360 and Xbox One sometime in Q3 2014. And from what I was able to play of it at GDC, I’m fairly confident they can hit that mark, since the seven total stages each had a layer of polish you don’t normally see from games still labeled as pre-alpha. The controls were tight, the obstacles were creative, and there was a nice feeling of accomplishment every time I overcame a new challenge. If that’s any sign of what’s to come, puzzle-platformer fans should definitely keep an eye out for this one.

The C stands for charming

Constant C, a puzzle-platformer where players take control of an intrepid robot trying to right science gone wrong, immediately intrigued me when I first saw it at Tokyo Game Show last year. With a couple of simple button presses, gravity and time were mine to command, so the possibilities for countless physics-based puzzles instantly became evident. The only real question: Would the cute little bot’s platforming escapades have enough of a soul to motivate me through the dozens of stages in the final game?

The bot in questionknown as Rescue Robotis designed to activate if his space-station home ever succumbs to some calamityand, as is quickly relayed via the master AI system, it has. After experimenting with time travel and gravity manipulation, one of the scientists’ devices runs amok, enveloping the entire station in a stasis field that’s frozen everything in placeexcept you, thanks to inhibitors in your robo-parts that let you walk and jump around. So, it’s fallen to your metal shoulders to see if there’s a way to turn the field off and save the facility.

The biggest hook here is how you can interact with the immobile world. Starting off only able to pull nearby objects out of stasis, you can ride the momentum of boxes that froze while falling to get to another part of a stage. Alternatively, you can clear other boxes out of your path to open up exit doors. As the story progresses, more complex obstacles, such as lasers, moving platforms, and globes, all start to hinder your progress.

Later on, your powers increase and diversify, mirroring the smooth, upward flow of difficulty you’ll see over the dozens of stages set across six levels. These include the gravity skill mentioned earlier, which allows you to turn the world on its axis by either 90 or 180 degrees, and a second stasis-dampening field that allows multiple objects in motion at once. The expansion of your powerset also, unfortunately, opens up your playtime to potentially devolve into a comedy of errors. The gravity abilities allow Rescue Robot to use momentum to fling boxes around corners and into normally unreachable positions, which fast becomes a cornerstone of gameplay.

I found having the 90- and 180-degree rotational shifts relative to your position maddening at times, howeverI kept wishing that the buttons were instead assigned to specific walls in the room, and I’d often rotate myself the wrong way, thinking the leftmost wall was still X, even though now it had changed to B after my initial rotation. Yes, this is largely user error, since I kept slipping into a way of thinking that the game obviously wasn’t designed for. To do it the way I would’ve preferred would’ve required a different control scheme, possibly setting up all four directions to the D-pad or the second analog stick. Having to take a step out of the game, though, and methodically plan out my button presses instead of letting them flow naturally was a bit disappointing.

The second stasis-dampening field also comes with problems, but these are clearly on the technical side. Rescue Robot’s presence brings objects into and out of stasis at an ever-quickening rate, and the later levels require more precise timing and movements. As a result, the use of the second stasis field would often culminate in some screen tearing and lag, and it would occasionally lead to frustrating deaths for reasons that weren’t always clear.

The more I played Constant C, though, the more I forgave these shortcomings. Besides solving puzzles, you’re also encouraged to collect special data tubes. Not only do these unlock later stages, but also they allow the master AI to “remember” security footage from before the accident, letting you see what led to the space station’s eventual downfall. These movies include a surprising amount of character development by showing you the fates of your creators and provide an unexpectedly delightful, compelling backstory.

The data tubes also serve another purpose, though. Some levels are simple and straightforward, tempting you to just press on and let the station’s secrets remain undiscovered because the data tubes are tucked away behind near-impregnable defenses that truly push your reflexes. It’s here, in the optional objectives, where the overall difficulty can spike. You could probably rush through the game in about four hours, but if you want to collect all the tubes and have a more fleshed-out and enjoyable story, you’re looking at easily twice as long. If you’re a completionist like me with a penchant for punishment, however, you won’t be satisfied until you collect every last one. Plus, it always felt rewarding when I figured the puzzles out, and the process never felt daunting.

Of course, once you beat the game and collect all the data tubes, there’s not much in the way of replayability. But considering the 100-plus puzzles that push your skills with a controller, charming story, and interesting mechanics, Constant C shows—much like its plucky protagonist—that it has more than enough to overcome its shortcomings.

Developer: International Games System, 5pb • Publisher: Mages, 5pb • ESRB: E10+ • Release Date: 03.12.2014
8.5
Some minor bugs and a lack of replayability can’t hold back Constant C, a puzzle-platformer full of memorable conundrums and surprisingly charming characters.
The Good Inventive puzzles; delightful characters.
The Bad Lack of replayability; controls take some getting used to.
The Ugly Realizing how much time you spent struggling to get those last couple of data tubes.
Constant C is available on Xbox 360 and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360. Review code was provided for the benefit of this review.

The game of brotherly love

Drama in games is a good thing—it has the potential to show the growth of the medium. But with a heavy emphasis on action due to the popularity of shooters and the like, it’s easy for game developers to shy away from pushing for unique plots or rich storylines as they gravitate toward what’s been proven to sell. That’s somewhat understandable, since everyone wants to collect a paycheck and have a job at the end of the day. But this makes those few games that take narrative risks truly stand out above the din of explosions and gunfire.

There’s a fine line, however, in utilizing dramatic tones. There’s a risk of going overboard. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons follows a pair of siblings on a fantastical quest to find magical water that can cure their sickly father. A simple concept, but the game’s true focus is on the relationship between the duo and how they interact with this world—and each other. Brothers looks to tell a story with the depth of character many of us long for but so rarely are given in videogames.

Unfortunately, the game finds itself on the precarious opposite end of the drama spectrum, beating players ham-fistedly over the head with a slew of moments meant to make our hearts clench. Instead, they turned me off.

A perfect example is the game’s opening cutscene. In what seemed like a tribute to Titantic, the younger brother is on a rowboat, desperately trying to hold onto his mother as she slips beneath the waves, drowning. In concept, it’s a powerful moment, but since it was the very first thing I saw, the weight of that moment was largely lost. There simply wasn’t enough context for me to care. For much of the game, all this flashback does is establish why the younger brother is afraid of water and needs to be ferried by his older sibling across rivers and streams.

I’d argue that this memory would’ve been infinitely more powerful if it came later in the game—after we’d figured out that only the older brother can swim. This would’ve given the characters room to breathe and grow, instead of being smothered by this cloud of despair right from the start. I’ll avoid spoiling some moments from later in the game, but these overly dramatic instances are frequent enough that the experience becomes less enjoyable as a whole.

That’s not to say that some segments don’t hit it out of the park. At times, the gravitas of the situation was clear, and I felt those heartstrings pulled. I’m just saying that much of the drama felt like the developers were fishing with hand grenades. It was overkill.

Besides its overt attempts at deep storytelling, Brothers also experiments with a novel control scheme. It’s possibly the simplest set of controls I’ve seen on a modern console: The shoulder buttons move the camera, the trigger buttons let a brother interact with items in the world, and the twin sticks move each character around. This gives Brothers the feeling that anyone could potentially pick it up and play it. The simplicity of the controls are a double-edged sword, however, that creates two problems.

First, it gets confusing if the brother assigned to the right stick crosses to the left side of the screen—or vice versa. It took almost the entirety of the game (it’s only a three-hour romp altogether) for my brain to get used to controlling both of them at the same time.

This isn’t nearly as problematic as the fact that the simple control scheme leads to very simple puzzles. Not once in Brothers was I hindered by anything thrown at me. Whether it was a “boss” (I use that term lightly here), a dual-action brainteaser, or a puzzle that could be handled by only one of the characters, everything from a gameplay perspective felt underdeveloped, especially as the sequences began repeating themselves towards the end of the game.

Still, Brothers does shine in some areas. The aesthetics—especially in the later levels—depict a beautifully diverse fantasy world that I wish I could’ve played around in a little more. Icy waters populated with whales, blood-drinking tribesmen, and a land ravaged by a war between giants are all aspects of the brothers’ world that made me wish I could’ve broken free from the linear path. These fleeting glimpses filled my heart with wonder—far more than the brothers’ quest ever did—and the animators should be applauded for this effort.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons has a solid-but-flawed foundation. It tries to tell an intriguing and emotional story, but it feels like it’s talking down to the player more often than not—and the gameplay’s simply not deep and engaging enough to overcome this. With only three hours of content and no replayability (once the story’s told, there’s nothing to make you come back for more), it’s hard to recommend Brothers to anyone but the most voracious fantasy fans.

Developer: Starbreeze Studios • Publisher: 505 Games • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 08.07.13
6.0

While Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons occasionally succeeds in tugging at the heartstrings, there’s a heavy-handedness that runs through a good portion of the drama—and that’s off-putting. The unique controls take too long to get used to (considering this is only a three-hour experience), and the puzzles are simple and repetitive.  The aesthetics are definitely pleasing, however. In the end, Brothers doesn’t do anything terribly wrong, but it doesn’t do anything spectacularly well, either.

The Good Terrific art style; some genuine emotional moments.
The Bad A fair amount of ham-handed, unnecessary drama; simple, repetitive puzzles.
The Ugly Going cross-eyed from the twin-stick control system.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is available on Xbox 360 (XBLA). It will release on PC on August 28th, 2013, and PS3 (PSN) on September 3rd, 2013. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360 (XBLA).

In anticipation of next week’s release of DuckTales: Remastered on PSN, Nintendo eShop, and Steam, and next month’s release on XBLA, Capcom sent a special package out to remind some of us of those great childhood memories we might’ve had playing the game.

At first we here at the EGM office thought it was just a lunchbox with the sweet art for DuckTales: Remastered plastered on the front. A fine piece of swag in and of itself. But, as I am wont to do with most packages that come into the EGM office, I gave it a good hearty shake before placing it down and realized there was something inside the tin bin.

Upon opening it, to our joyful surprise, we found the contents of the box were possibly as valuable as the whole of Scrooge’s moneybin. The lunchbox had been holding a limited edition golden NES cartridge for DuckTales (ours was numbered 107 of 150). Now, we don’t know if the cartridge is actually a legitimate, playable cartridge, but it has contacts and is well put together enough that we at least vow to bring an NES into the office tomorrow to try it out.

Along with the cartridge came a certificate of authenticity, several Duckburg themed coupons similar to those that you might find in an old school NES box, and advertisements from Capcom to check out some of their other classic games like MegaMan, Bionic Commando, and Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins.

You can check out the fully laid out contents of the box in the pictures below. Woo-oo!

UPDATE:

The NES cartridge does indeed work after some tests (and several NES’s) and is the 1989 version of the game.

Pussycats Galore

I’ll admit, I’ve always been a little slow to hop on the Behemoth bandwagon. I didn’t play Alien Hominid until it hit XBLA in 2007, and I didn’t get into Castle Crashers until 2011. Although I was late to the party, I loved both of those games, so when I heard that BattleBlock Theater, The Behemoth’s long-awaited next title, had finally been given a release date, I made sure I was ready and waiting for it to drop.

BattleBlock Theater begins as you and a bunch of your best friends—including your bestest friend in the whole wide world, Hatty Hattington—pile into a boat and sail off to parts unknown looking for adventure. After you sail and have some carefree fun for several days, a massive storm hits and sends your ship spiraling off course and into a long-forgotten island. When you come around, your character—customizable in regards to color and head shape—realizes that Hatty’s gone missing.

As you begin to explore the island, you discover a dilapidated theater and enter, hoping to find Hatty. But as soon as you set foot inside, you realize this is no ordinary theater. In fact, it’s been taken over by hundreds of massive cats with an affinity for fine technological devices and wreaking mayhem and murder upon unsuspecting travelers that stumble across their nefarious dungeon of doom. For reasons unknown, Hatty has become the man in charge, now sporting a possessed top hat instead of the friendly smile that once adorned his face. Hmm. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess it has something to do with the possessed hat.

You and your friends must travel through eight worlds full of buzzsaws, laser beams, spears, spikes, and kitties who have a knack for making things blow up, all in the hopes of bringing Hatty back to his senses and escaping from this macabre deathtrap. As you traverse each of the game’s nearly 100 levels, you’re required to collect three jewels to unlock the exit, but you can also nab surplus gems to spend on character unlocks, as well as yarn to bribe the death-kittens into giving you better, more powerful weapons.

Those of you who are familiar with The Behemoth’s work will immediately recognize their trademark cartoon art style and quirky sense of humor. Many of BattleBlock’s laughs come courtesy of the game’s narrator, who spews canned, campy one-liners that help give each level the feel of a never-ending game-show parody.

When you dig past the hundreds of collectible heads for your characters, the bells and whistles of the presentation, and the strong pedigree the game has to live up to, you’ve got a deliciously punishing, fun platformer. In fact, I was often reminded of Super Meat Boy—both with regard to difficulty and the tightness with which you can control your character. And that challenge only gets worse on Insane mode, which features remixed versions of levels packed with even more traps vying to send you to an untimely death.

Unlike some of those more diabolical platformers, though, BattleBlock Theater shines brightest when playing with a friend. I really ought to dedicate this review to my girlfriend, whose willingness to lie down on a bed of spikes to offer me a makeshift platform helped make this review possible. I think this game is the only situation where it’s socially acceptable to look a loved one in the eye and say, “Go kill yourself.” While I still had a lot of fun playing alone, it was solving the more co-op oriented puzzles together that kept smiles plastered on our faces for the nearly eight-hour campaign.

A couple of downsides to playing cooperatively do pop up, however—namely the camera and spawning system. If one player gets too far ahead, the camera pulls way back, making it difficult for either player to see what’s happening onscreen. And when one character dies, where they respawn seems to be completely random. Sometimes they’ll appear right next to their teammate; other times they’ll be rocketed back several checkpoints, forcing them to deal with that lovely camera issue again. Aside from these minor gripes, though, there’s nary a fault to be found.

But the story is only the beginning of BattleBlock’s inescapable charm. There’s also a level editor, where you can craft your own gauntlets to test your friends’ skills and indulge your inner kitty. Want to set up a stroll in the park? How about a punishing series of pitfalls accompanied by lasers dealing death from above? The choice is yours.

Then there’s the biggest surprise of BattleBlock Theater: its versus options. With nearly a dozen game modes spread between 2-on-2 competitions and 4-on-4 contests that pit human players against a team of bots, BattleBlock offers enough variety to keep things fresh for many long hours after you’ve finished up the story. From King of the Hill to Capture the Flag, BattleBlock’s take on some classic versus modes, along with a few original to the game, had me and the other EGM editors rolling on the floor laughing. (Props to Intern Chris for taking home the most MVP awards, even if Associate Editor Josh Harmon and I routinely wiped the floor with him and News Editor Eric L. Patterson.) Things can definitely get a bit chaotic—in fact, they almost always do—but you’ll likely be having too much fun to care.

All in all, this is The Behemoth’s best game to date, and fans should take solace in knowing the incredibly long wait between titles was well worth it. And if you’re a newcomer who feels like it’s finally time to jump on the Behemoth bandwagon, I can’t think of a better game to start with.

Developer: The Behemoth • Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 04.03.13
9.0
Between taking in the hysterical story, trying your hand at level creation, or just blowing up some buddies in versus mode, most every gamer will find something to love about BattleBlock Theater. Whether played alone or with friends, The Behemoth’s latest is an absolute blast that’s well worth the price of admission.
The Good Between its story and versus modes and its level editor, this is one of the deepest downloadable games out there.
The Bad The camera and spawning system in story co-op.
The Ugly You ever seen an entire island run by cats? Trust me. You don’t want to.
BattleBlock Theater is an Xbox 360 (XBLA) exclusive.

The battle for Middle Earth is about to begin

Some of my favorite comics growing up were Marvel’s “What If?”s. These comics would look at how things would change in the universe if one thing in the past turned out differently from what we could consider continuity. And when I started playing Guardians of Middle-Earth, a part of me flashed back to those comics of my youth because the concept of this game is much like those comics. Many of us know, or are at least mildly familiar with, The Lord of the Rings. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t recognize the names Legolas, Gandalf the Grey, Sauron, or Gollum. Well, what if 22 players, some more major than others, from The Lord of the Rings universe were all put onto the battlefield at one time. That’s what you get with Guardians of Middle-Earth.

Aside from the “What If?” scenario, there really isn’t much more to this story as Guardians of Middle-Earth is a MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena). The basic purpose of MOBAs is that you and your teammates must assault enemy towers along three lanes of combat. Each character has their own unique abilities, even with all 22 characters falling into one of five classes (striker, defender, warrior, enchanter, tactician). Being somewhat familiar with some of the characters, like Legolas being an archer, and Gandalf wielding magic, will definitely accelerate your learning curve as you’ll find who fits your play style a little faster, but you don’t need to be familiar with Tolkien’s classic fiction to really embrace a character once you find one in your wheelhouse.

The most impressive thing about this game is that MOBAs are traditionally PC games and yet this is the first game in this genre that has found a way to transition the PC control schemes many MOBA players are used to smoothly over to a console. The transition isn’t completely perfect as there are some minor issues with aiming and just seeing your character when the trenches get full with a few characters from each team and suddenly it seems like fireballs, lightning bolts, and every other matter of magical attack is flying across a small space on your screen. But usually it works itself out rather quickly when someone pays the price. In regards to how it feels though, the game handles smoothly and I found myself losing hours at a time with this game in what felt like a blink of the eye.

Something else that Guardians of Middle-Earth brings to the table besides its controls is that it introduces a new 1-Lane mode. This mode is all about great, fast-paced action where you and your foes will grind the battle out in the trenches and only the team that works the best together and is most familiar with their characters will be able to push the line of conflict.

Along with the 1-Lane mode, there is plenty of Lord of the Rings flavor beyond the characters if that is the primary aspect of this game that is making you curious about downloading it. Once you reach a certain player level, you can start unlocking custom loadout belts that you use by placing a variety of gems in to boost your health, defense, offense, magic, or combination of those. The custom loadouts are great because this can help you master several characters instead of just one or two and gives you something to keep working towards as you move through the levels. Not to mention it can afford you some flexibility if your friends want to throw down in 1-Lane or traditional 3-Lane for a while.

If you aren’t familiar with MOBAs because you are more of a console gamer than a PC gamer, this is a great way to jump into the genre. If you do like MOBAs, you’ll be impressed with how smooth Guardians of Middle-Earth feels on a console. If you like Lord of the Rings, you won’t be able to not try every character and work towards unlocking them all. All in all, I was blown away by how much fun I had with this game and it is definitely worth its $15 (1200 MSP) price tag.

SUMMARY:  Easily as deep and addicting a MOBA as you’d find on the PC, Guardians of Middle-Earth should appeal to newcomers and veterans of the genre alike. Add in the Lord of the Rings flair and this should be money well spent for most gamers.

  • THE GOOD: Sets a high standard for future MOBAs on consoles
  • THE BAD: Sometimes difficult to tell just where you are when the action gets overly frantic
  • THE UGLY: Gollum. Always Gollum.

SCORE: 9.0

Guardians of Middle-Earth is available on PS3 (PSN) and Xbox 360 (XBLA). Primary version reviewed was for XBLA. 

One MOBA to rule them all…

J.R.R. Tolkien’s massive Lord of the Rings universe has provided us some of media’s most memorable characters. From Gandalf to Gollum, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone not familiar with this fantasy realm. Rarely though do many of these great characters ever exist in the same place at the same time in the books or movies and so in the vein of a classic ‘What if?’, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment is bringing us Guardians of Middle Earth.

This MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) game allows players to control one of 20 different iconic characters from the main series, as well as the expanded universe, as two teams of five players battle to eliminate their opponent’s towers. The major difference for this game, however, is that unlike most other MOBAs, Guardians will be available on consoles. Normally, this would be a problem in regards to the control schemes of most MOBAs that dictate a mouse/keyboard combo as the proper way to play. But Guardians of Middle Earth blew me away when I went hands-on with an Xbox 360 controller and found it had been simplified to a point that made it manageable, yet still a ton of fun.

Each character has a simple basic attack set to the right trigger and a variety of special powers that unlock as you level up with them set to the four face buttons. You could also carry a hodgepodge of different potions that perform the expected functions of restoring health or boosting stats for yourself or your party.

There are also the expected character classes depending on whom you choose. Sauron is a tank, Gandalf is your magic user, and Legolas is your hit and run ranged character. Along with these series staples there are characters from the expanded universe you can use like Wulfrun, a dark magic user best utilized as a defender, and who may be recognized for his role in The War in the North video game. There is also Hildifons the Hobbit, who is only briefly mentioned throughout Lord of the Rings canon, but who makes his first spectacular appearance in this very game as a brilliant tactician whose powers can set up barricades and force opponents into well laid traps.

We also saw for the first time customizable loadouts. Depending on which Guardian you wish to use, you may wish different abilities or buffs and by equipping a gem-laden belt, you can boost many different attributes of your characters. Also, there is a one-lane option aside from the MOBA standard three-lanes so depending on what match you may wish to take part in, may change how you wish to fortify your chosen Guardian.

When all was said and done, although our time with Guardians of Middle Earth was short, I walked away very excited for this game considering its status as a download title. With a bevy of competitive options ready to be explored and with all the attention to detail you’d expect for any game set in the Lord of the Rings universe, I can see myself pouring way more hours than I should into this title as it stands to be the first legitimate offering of the MOBA game style on a home console. I can’t wait to see how ‘precious’ this game ends up being when it hits December 4th.

Clash of the Classics

When I was just a boy, my friends and I would argue for hours on end on the playground about what superheroes would win in an imaginary fight when pitted against each other in all different kinds of wacky combinations. We didn’t just mix up teams from a particular universe, but came up with all kinds of scenarios that put our favorites against all manner of pop culture heroes and heroines. So, when games like Marvel Super Heroes and Marvel vs Capcom breathed even more life into these conversations, you can easily imagine why we were hooked.

Flash-forward nearly two decades, and these games have led to the production of one of the most successful and beloved fighting game franchises there is. Because of this, Capcom wanted to make sure that not only us older games didn’t forget our roots, but also show a new generation the foundations of what set us on our hypercombo-ing path.

Marvel vs Capcom Origins is no ordinary old-school compilation, though. Included with these two original games—which have also had some HD graphic upgrades—are 8-player online lobbies with spectator modes, replay saving, dynamic challenges that unlock levels, and points you can spend on unlockables like characters that were hidden in the originals, end movies, or concept art.

The best part of the dynamic challenges and unlocks, though, may be that they give both games an unprecedented amount of replayability. Plus, if you’re as big a fan as I am, you will absolutely geek out over the sketches and stills of your favorites heroes and villains, as well as the chance to easily unlock the hidden characters that we originally had to input an impossibly long code for—Dr. Doom and Thanos in Marvel Super Heroes and Gold War Machine, Hyper Venom, Orange Hulk, and Shadow Lady in MvC.

Another nice aspect of the game is that everything that made these fighters unique in the first place is still there so you can relive the experience as if it were 1995 again and you were feeding quarters into an arcade cabinet under pink neon lights. The gem system of Marvel Super Heroes (inspired by the Infinity Gauntlet story from Marvel comics) still allows you to enhance your players temporarily with the powers of Space, Power, Time, Soul, Reality, or Mind, and MvC still gives you dozens of assist characters and the Duo Team Attack where you and your partner can combine your hyper combos into one truly devastating maneuver.

Unfortunately, in terms of gameplay, the games are a little too demanding at times, as players who are used to modern fighters will quickly see the age on these classics. Sometimes a little clunky and even a bit frustrating, both these games—but especially Marvel Super Heroes—can feel stiff, and the smooth combo chains you may be used to from Marvel vs Capcom 3 are much harder to string together and pull off in these titles. It’s not that you won’t be able to get the hang of these characters eventually and have fun in the process, but if you play modern fighters like MvC 3 religiously and then expect to be able to jump right into these games, you might be caught a bit off-guard by the stark differences.

When all is said and done, Marvel vs Capcom Origins hits enough of the right nostalgic notes to make it a more than worthwhile purchase for long time fans. I mean, the game even offers zoomed out, angled camera camera views designed to replicate the experience of playing on an old wooden cabinet. Younger fans might be a little frustrated with the less than silky smooth controls, but they should still play in order to truly appreciate how far we’ve come with fighting games. They’ll even likely start creating fun memories of their own once they adjust to the outdate feel. All in all, Origins is a fine compilation that’s more than worthy of a download.

SUMMARY: Marvel vs Capcom Origins does a fine job of staying true to the originals, while the addition of dynamic challenges provide a new layer of addictiveness that helps to overshadow how much these games have aged in the past two decades.

  • THE GOOD: New leveling up and variety of unlocks compliment classic game play well.
  • THE BAD: Games show their age at times.
  • THE UGLY: Far and away, it’s Shuma-Gorath.

SCORE: 9.0

Marvel vs Capcom Origins is available on XBLA (Xbox 360) and PS3 (PSN). Primary version reviewed was for XBLA.

Danger is his last name

The original Joe Danger struck a chord with audiences everywhere by giving us the simple yet fun premise of being a motorcycle stuntman in the vein of Evel Knievel, making sure the control sensitivity was cranked to maximum, and throwing in a first-class level creator that you could share with your friends. Now Joe is back and looking to see if he can strike that same chord again in Joe Danger 2: The Movie.

In order to pump a little depth into the franchise, Joe Danger 2 actually has a story this time around. After another day of jumping buses and doing Superman poses on his bike in mid-air, Joe is approached by a huge Hollywood director who wants him to handle the stunts in all of his big budget action films. Knowing this could be the break he’s always dreamed of, Joe’s more than happy to jump on board. And thus our game begins!

Because of this movie shoot setting, many of the story chapters are themed around motifs borrowed from classic action films. From escaping a megalomaniac’s mountain fortress James Bond style to riding a rickety mine cart like Indiana Jones to being attacked by dinosaurs a la Jurassic Park, Joe Danger 2 offers a lot more variety and challenge than in the previous title, as Joe now has objectives that tie directly into these movies.

As a result, Joe isn’t always on his trusted motorcycle, and one thing that Joe Danger 2 fails at is making sure you’re aware that mine carts, skis, snowmobiles, jet packs, and all the other new vehicles Joe pilots handle just like his motorcycle. You’ll eventually figure it out, but newcomers to the series may feel the first few chapters are far too simple, at least before they start to finally explore the stunt and high score potential of each board and just what it means to truly beat a level in Joe Danger 2. This gives the game some of its “hidden depth,” as developer Hello Games likes to put it, but I would rather my depth be a bit more obvious right off the bat.

Unfortunately, once you do start to realize the extent to which Joe’s abilities as a stuntman can be pushed, the game’s difficulty makes an extreme jump (ramp not included). Joe goes from being able to maneuver through most areas of the main story with ease, to being thrown into the Deleted Scenes, which see Joe sent through a series of grueling courses in the worst vehicles possible—like the dreaded unicycle. Not only must you avoid the dozens of obstacles in Joe’s path, you must also constantly try to maintain balance on the infernal one-wheel machine. And should you lose said balance—even if you avoid an obstacle in the process—you have to start over at the beginning of the level or one of the randomly scattered checkpoints some venues have.

That isn’t to say Joe Danger 2: The Movie isn’t fun. The humor of the story, the unique mission objectives, and the core controls from the first game still make this a worthwhile downloadable experience. It just seems that Hello Games was thinking more about the audience who would be coming back for more instead of those who might be playing as Joe for the very first time. But whether a noob or a wily Joe Danger veteran, one thing everyone should get behind is the online sharing and multiplayer functions. Online leaderboards for time and high scores with your friends on each level are just the tip of the iceberg.

Joe Danger 2 features a fun and frantic 4-player versus race mode, as well as a ghost replay feature for both the single-player and versus levels. The most addictive part of the online features, though, is the returning level creator. With whole new set pieces to build your levels with, Joe Danger 2’s level editor is just as technically good as the first, and with global online sharing capabilities, it should only be a matter of time before we start seeing some truly insane courses that might make the Deleted Scenes look like tutorial levels.

All in all, Joe Danger 2: The Movie should please many fans of the first and has enough depth to keep you playing this game until you start to develop some real-life helmet hair. Newcomers should be warned, though, as they’re in for a steep learning curve. Only through patience will they be able to overcome the insane challenges the folks at Hello Games have laid out for gamers this time around.

SUMMARY: Some new movie-based motifs added nice variety to the levels, but an unusually steep difficulty curve had a part of me pining for the original. Still, if you love Joe Danger, this new chapter is more than worthy of a look.

  • THE GOOD: More gameplay variety combined with a top-notch level builder
  • THE BAD: Difficulty ramps up way too quickly
  • THE UGLY: …I’m scared of unicycles

SCORE: 8.0

Joe Danger 2: The Movie is an XBLA (Xbox 360) exclusive.