I wanted one thing from this game: for it to be better than last year's Iron Man 2 game that I gave a 5/10 bollocking. Thor needn't worry though as this is a much better tie-in.
Rather than follow the earth-bothering, flannel-shirted nature of the movie, this game simply takes place in the fantasy realms of the Thor universe in a separate story-line, which turns out to be a good move.
Famed comic book writer (and unfortunately the scribe of the afore-mentioned Iron Man game), Matt Fraction, has penned a very basic plot, but it is at least unobtrusive. We'll presume he saves the compelling material for the comics.
The likenesses and voices for Thor and Loki are taken from the film, although Loki seems to be doing most of the snake-tongued speaking. Thor doesn't seem to have a personality at all and has got less lines than a pull-string cowboy toy. The facial animations are a little stiff, so you kind of want to look away during most cutscenes anyway.
Unsurprisingly the game is a beat em' up adventure game, with linear levels, a few collectibles and a smattering of boss fights. What is surprising though is the unexpected areas of decent quality. The combat gets around the problem of Thor only using a hammer, by throwing in elemental attacks to the triangle button instead of the usual strong attack to go with the regular melee beatings. A tap of R2 will make Thor throw his Mjolnir hammer to reach enemies at a distance.
Developer: Game Freak
Confession time. I’m way too old for Pokémon. When the craze started I was too old for Pokémon. Hell, the first time I came across Pokémon it was a friend’s son that tried to explain it to me. I was more baffled by the time he’d finished. It wasn’t because he’d done a bad job. It wasn’t because I couldn’t begin to see the appeal of the game (“that’s not fun, it’s admin”) It wasn’t just because it felt like the sort of pocket money sucking evil created by cynical toy manufacturers in Japan. It was probably a combination of all of the above coupled with one other major point: I didn’t understand it in the slightest.
Still, given the “job” – my friends’ ironic quotation marks, not mine – my path crossed with Pokémon time and time again so I had to persevere. I still don’t really understand the game. I still don’t understand the appeal of all the admin and training and repetitive stuff. And yet, once again, I find myself many, many hours into it and trying to complete the damn thing. They’re dead clever, these Japanese toy companies...
After the brief – and clever, in my humble opinion – diversion of the HeartGold game (not that it did much for childhood obesity around these parts), Black is a return to forward-moving Poke-gaming (assuming that’s even a verb).Click here to read the rest of Neil's review...
Puzzle fans may already know that Playtrix's 4 Elements hit the PC back in 2008 to rave critical reviews, but now their innovative puzzler is back in portable form. This is extremely bad news, folks, because what little free time you might have away from your rig is about be entirely consumed once again.
First things first. The box art and blurb may suggest that 4 Elements is an RPG, but the rich fantasy world simply provides the context for an enormous range of addictive puzzles based around the beloved match-3 mechanic. Four elements need to be brought into line by completing books of magic, and each completed puzzle deciphers and adds pages to the grimoire in question. Like most match-three puzzlers, players still need to make chains of three or more gems to clear them from the board... but in a novel twist, doing so creates a channel through which holy water can flow.
The objective isn't to make a certain number of matches or completely empty the screen; rather, your goal is to funnel the precious fluid through the stages in order to unite it with a withered tree or similar magical item. Making chains of five or more gems creates a massive explosion (and a much larger channel), meaning that intelligently making the right moves is paramount to success. It's classic match three action through and through- but the refreshing fluid mechanics and increasingly tight time limits make for a more interesting and cerebral experience than you might imagine.Read on to discover whether 4 Elements is a perfect match (three) for you...
Publisher: Square Enix
Re:coded is an curious entry to the Kingdom Hearts collection. Coming across as a sort-of sequel to Kingdom Hearts 2, built from the ground up as a kind of remake of the episodic titles that only released on mobile phones in Japan, it's a mish-mash of game styles, storylines, characters and worlds from previous titles in the series. I'm not going to lie to you, it's a bit of a mess.
Things get suspicious when cries for assistance begin appearing in Jiminy Cricket's journal. Someone or something is pleading for help, reaching out from the pages that chronicled previous events in distress. To combat this, Mickey, Donald and Goofy digitise the journal and send in a virtual version of series protagonist Sora to go sort things out.
This provides an excuse for going back to a load of familiar locations - Wonderland, Traverse Town, Agrabah - though you'll find them all littered with blocks (or blox) - glitches and bugs that must be remedied. Cue some Keyblade action...which pretty much involves mashing the A button. It's worth noting that there are deeper tactical options that go beyond tapping X every once in a while to evade attacks - Birth By Sleep's command deck returns to let players micro-manage attacks - but by and large you'll be hitting that A button and watching Sora flurry about like a Tasmanian devil.
We can all bemoan the lack of good, interesting, original product on the DS. For example, my ongoing pointed, Nintendo handheld-related question has been why no Blades of Steel? In early GameBoy days, that was my go-to title, a slick, violent ice hockey sim that, to my mind, hasn’t been beaten since.
A lot of DS / DSi product is very, very samey or slow to appear: come on chaps, why so long for a new Brain Training experience? But, every now and again, it comes into its own. The Professor Layton series has shown that it’s the perfect device for puzzlers and, with this release of Pictionary, there’s a chance that the system could replace the need for a travel games / game compendiums.
There is one unavoidable fact, however. Single player sucks. As in Dyson levels of suckage. As in, well, insert your own analogy involving lower league sports teams, people you hate or porn star names. It’s terrible: amusingly so for a few minutes, but then to levels of frustration you will find hard to express as you grimace with rage.
As an example, get a piece of paper and draw a rough oval. Now, within that oval, add a much smaller circle: think childish representation of something Page 3 is famous for. Got it? Marvellous. Now. What is it? Aside from a childish representation of something Page 3 is famous for.
Platform: Nintendo DS
Developer: 5th Cell
Publisher: Warner Bros
Heart on sleeve time. I LOVED Scribblenauts. Yes, it was flawed. Yes, the stylus-based controls were hideous – “and now pick up the gun and, no, Maxwell, where are you going? Don’t go down there! No, away from the bear! Oh bum, he’s dead.” – and yes, there were frustrations with words that it didn’t recognise. But seriously, what an achievement it was. It was genuinely different from any other puzzle-based game out there. It tested, if not the limits of your imagination, then at least some of the grey cells you’d pass on the way. It also used the DS in a brand new way.
On a personal level, any game that allows me to pitch God Vs Satan (or, indeed, Santa) and attempt to use Cthulu to rescue a kitten (note: fictitious demons of the underworld are not a good pet recovery system) is a very good thing. Accordingly, for all the niggles, it was easy to overlook them and revel in the sheer, very regular, joys.
A year or so on, and the cleverly named sequel has hit the shelves. At a basic level, things are still the same. You control Maxwell, the smiley chap in the pointy hat, and endeavour to see him through a number of frequently eccentric problems. To solve the problems, you write the things you need into existence.
Developer: Mitchell Corporation
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Remember Pang? Just in case your knowledge of obscure late 80s arcade titles isn't quite up to scratch, Pang (aka Buster Bros) challenged gamers to pop some balloons with vertically-firing harpoons, but we haven't seen the series raise its head since the year 2000. Until now. Mitchell Corp and Rising Star Games have decided to relaunch the ancient series on the Nintendo DS with a magical new twist. It's a brave move to be sure... but by providing a fully-rounded game that's bursting with content, Magical Michael is actually vastly superior to its venerable predecessors.
The classic gameplay is still intact. Magical Michael, a suave magician, has accidentally unleashed some dangerous balloons around famous tourist locations and is naturally tasked with popping them before they can cause too much damage. His default weapon is a vertical linear harpoon that he can use to split and eventually pop his spherical nemeses... but as a magician, he's also got a fair few extra abilities to bring to the party. Powerups include decks of cards that can shred multiple balloons, magical defensive forcefields, strong shots that persist for some time as well as some handy time manipulation skills. Even with his magical powers, dodging and popping the balloons is still a tricky and rewarding task that demands some serious concentration.Read on for more budget balloon blasting!
Platforms: DS (reviewed)
The hot summer months have rolled around once again- and it's time for gamers everywhere to break out the handhelds and select a title to accompany us on the plane and by the pool. The choice of a suitable summer RPG is one of the most important annual decisions that many gamers have to make... but luckily, it's a no-brainer this year. Dragon Quest IX is an expansive, beautiful and utterly charming experience that will keep players entertained long into the Autumn.
Before the freeform questing has a chance to take hold, you'll have to push through a long and overbearing intro section that sets up the typically-complex premise (perfect for the plane journey or road trip if you're lucky enough to be jetting off this year). Taking on the role of an angelic winged celestial, your character is tasked with the thankless chore of invisibly safeguarding of a small town. Harvesting thankful prayers of grateful villagers is the primary source of Benevolessence, which in turn will cause the heavenly tree Yggradsil to bear fruit and usher in a new golden age of... something or other. Before too long, however, a disaster forces your angel to plummet into the mortal realm, losing his/her wings in the process. Having to integrate into human society, the world suddenly opens up as you become a freelance adventurer for hire.Read on to find out why Dragon Quest IX is the feelgood hit of the summer!
Dealspwn Rating: 8/10
Platform: Nintendo DS
Developer: Étranges Libellules
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Could someone pass the gravy? I’ve got a whole slab of humble pie to eat...
In a recent feature, I ripped film tie-in games a collective new one on the basis that, well, they’re all pretty crap. The one I feared the most? Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Burton’s not made a film of note for over a decade, his constant tinkering with established stories is irksome in the extreme and his visual style is firmly locked in Nightmare Before Christmas territory.
While I maintain I was right to fear the film – it’s shockingly bad and how dare he “reimagine” Lewis Carroll’s classic – I’ve now got my hands on the DS game. The box got opened with a cynical sneer, as the game went in the machine I started flexing my sarcasm muscles... and then two hours later, I was giggling like a schoolgirl and loving pretty much everything about it. Curse you Burton and your game-designing minions...
On the downside, it does take the “reimagining” of Wonderland as the starting point. It’s not Wonderland, you see, it’s Underland: the eight-year old Alice misheard it all those years ago. Now the survival of Underland has fallen on her tiny blonde teenage shoulders. The White Queen is in exile and the Red Queen has become all powerful and left Underland in a mess. Alice’s destiny is to find the scattered pieces of armour, collect the mythical sword, defeat the Red Queen’s pet Jabberwocky, see off her brutal reign and restore the White Queen to her rightful place on the throne.
Don’t fancy playing a whole game as a teenage girl, even if she does get to fight mythical creatures? Don’t worry. You don’t. Alice may lend her name to the story, film and this game but you don’t actually control her. Instead, you’re left in charge of four other characters: The White Rabbit, The Caterpillar, Cheshire Cat and The Mad Hatter.
Dealspwn Rating: 8/10
Developer: The Pokémon Company
Slightly remarkably – and somewhat alarmingly – it’s now 14 years since Pokemon was first unleashed on an unsuspecting world. Sheesh. Where has it gone, eh? Mind you, you’re looking good on it. Have you done something with your hair? Very nice. What? And I haven’t aged a bit? Why you’re too kind...
According to both passionate fans of the cult and aging games journalists who never really saw the point of it all, the pinnacle of Pokemon came in 2000 with the release of Pokemon Gold and Pokemon Silver for the GameBoy Color. The mission side of these games were deep and involving and, on a personal level, certainly wiled away a few weeks of commuting across London.
As is so often the case with things celebrating a 10th anniversary, Nintendo have dusted off these old titles and given them less of a revamp, more a complete overhaul and renamed them HeartGold and SoulSilver. They’ve also added a rather novel twist...
The big twist, aside from the improved graphics you’d expect with the intervening years and, particularly, the evolution of GameBoy Color into DS, is one that’s sure to delight Michelle Obama. It’s called the Pokewalker. Frankly, they can call it what they like, it’s still basically a pedometer / Tamagotchi hybrid. It’s a slightly bizarre concept but, like the best Nintendo creations, it’s actually borderline eccentric genius.