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All reviews - DVDs (2) - Music (10) - Games (20)

Fable II

Posted : 8 years, 12 months ago on 26 October 2008 02:54 (A review of Fable II)

Even though the first Fable wasn't as good as creator Peter Molyneux claimed it would be, it was still a fun action-RPG to play through. The same could be said for the sequel.

Once more there's a massive, fantastic looking world to explore and once more everything feels very restricted. The world is devided into different sections, which takes the player out of the game instead of making the player feel he is really there.

But there's a lot to be said for the countless customising options (clothing, hair, weapons), the various job you can make yourself useful in, all the houses and shops you can buy, the women you can marry and make a child with, the dog that stands besides you at all times and helps you in finding treasure and the story, which isn't very engrossing but still does the job of pushing you forward.

Fable II is a great fantasy game with incredible graphics and fun gameplay, but nowhere does it become deep enough to really satisfy the hardcore gamer. Still, there's a lot of fun to be had, even moreso for the casual player.


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Toki Tori (WiiWare)

Posted : 9 years, 4 months ago on 16 June 2008 05:36 (A review of Toki Tori)

Was the fact that this game was made by a Dutch developer, Two Tribes, the reason I downloaded Toki Tori? Perhaps. But the great impressions by various professionals over the world was a good indication of the quality of this game. I've played through it and wrote a review for the website I work for, but I'll give you my short impressions here as well.

Toki Tori is an awesome puzzle game, plain and simple. It reminds me of those old PC platform games or the countless free Flash games you can play on the web. It's just level upon level of platforms with hard-to-reach eggs you need to collect. You move this chicken by pointing the Wiimote at the screen, which works fine, and the little animal has various moves (although they're limited to a certain amount), like building a bridge or freezing enemies, to make it easier to get to all the eggs. There's no time limit, but it can be hard enough to find a way to reach all the eggs in the later levels.

What's so good about Toki Tori is that it sets out to do something very simple at first glance (entertain the player with a simple concept) but that so many developers seem incapable of doing these days. It's a perfect fit for WiiWare but truth to be hold, these are games I'm likely to buy in the stores as well, in contrast to a lot of ambitious big butget games these days.

There are some flaws, of course. The game would have been so much better with a time trial mode, so players could try to get a best time at the levels, and the game doesn't exactly ooze character. It all looks kinda cheap, or secondhand. It's hard to describe, but there's just something uncharismatic about the main character. Thankfully the world around him is varied and nicely rendered, so I'll stop complaining right now. I had great amounts of fun with this game and if you're still pondering on what game to buy for WiiWare, this and LostWinds are great additions.


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LostWinds

Posted : 9 years, 4 months ago on 1 June 2008 08:30 (A review of LostWinds)

Last week I downloaded LostWinds as the only game to celebrate the release of WiiWare. I reached the end in just under three hours, which made the job of reviewing the game for the website I write for a lot easier, but it’s a shame the creators couldn’t have made the game a bit longer. Is it because of the policy that a WiiWare game has to be limited to a certain size? That could very well be, but truth is that it’s quite refreshing to play such a short game with the constant quality it maintained.

In LostWinds, you control a little guy with the analogue stick on the Nunchuck and the wind by making direct gestures with the Wiimote. Think Kirby’s Power Paintbrush (NDS) or using your brush in Okami (PS2/Wii) and you’re getting close to imagining using the wind in this game. It can make the main character jump, float for a bit and you can influence stuff like fire, rocks and water, as well as throwing around some minor enemies.

However, the game’s structure has much more in common with, say, Metroid. The game’s main area, a beautiful village with surrounding fields and waterfalls, has all these places that you can’t reach yet and by unlocking new abilities you’ll be able to backtrack to certain parts to get access to the previously blocked areas. Backtracking isn’t a problem, because toying around with the wind (making the 3D background move, for example) is fun enough and the whole game is compact enough to ensure you’re not backtracking for more than a few minutes.

The game is just a simple platformer with puzzle elements. While the puzzles never get tricky, the use of the wind feels so natural that you’ll always get a feeling of satisfaction when you ‘solve’ one. Furthermore, the use of graphics and sounds made me remind one of the best 2D platformers ever, the very first Rayman. If you want to impress me with your game, just make something that reminds me of the glory days of the limbless Ubisoft mascot and I’m sold.

Again, the game is short, but it’s well worth the thousand Wii Points it costs (over here anyway), and thankfully the sequel is already in the works. I cannot wait to see what the developers of Frontier (yes, the people behind the addicting Rollercoaster Tycoon series) will think up next.


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Tokyo Police Club - Elephant Shell

Posted : 9 years, 5 months ago on 9 May 2008 11:43 (A review of Elephant Shell)

This is it then. When Tokyo Police Club released their A Lesson in Crime EP a few years back, the world was shocked. How could this fresh new indie band be so damn good? Seven songs that together lasted just around fifteen minutes, it was impossible not to get dragged into the hyperactive music, with frontman Monks often shrieking and shouting through a loud-hailer and fast handclaps perfectly timed to the beat and melody of the music. After these seven short songs that left such an impression, it was a waiting game for the first full length.

So, this is it then. The debut album of TPC is finally here and it has no doubt shocked most fans of the Canadian band that has been signed to Saddle Creek some time ago. Gone are the hyperactive vocals and fast handclapping, and in the place is the same old indie/emo teenage angst we've come to known and grow bored of.

At first, anyway. After a few plays, the ears get used to Monks' overly winy vocals (especially noticable on the re-recorded version of audience favorite Your English is Good) and the more laid back melodies and it becomes more obvious that it's still one of the best emo records made in recent years. The fire is still there, it is just more subtle.

It takes time to adapt to this more poppy Tokyo Police Club, but the focus on the strong pop songs they can make isn't a bad one per se. First single Tessellate might be a bit too cheesy for some, but on other comparable tracks, like In A Cave and Juno, it works better. Then there is the strange one out of the bunch, The Harrowing Adventures Of..., a song that seems out of place at first but in time unveils itself as one of the strongest emotional masterpieces.

On tracks where the edgier TPC is still present, like Sixties Remake and closer The Baskervilles, the longing for the rocking EP becomes more apparrent and the listener has to wonder: is it a good think this band went for another direction, since we already have A Lesson in Crime, or could they have done so much more with that sound? Still, the excentric soundscape TPC is known for is still present here. It's just now what the world expected. And the band that made A Lesson in Crime is still the one I love more.

Strange debut then. A solid one, but not as refreshing as it had could been.


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Desaparecidos - Read Music Speak Spanish

Posted : 9 years, 5 months ago on 8 May 2008 11:49 (A review of Read Music/Speak Spanish)

It's difficult to start a review of a record that, a couple of years after it has been released, right now stands as my favorite record of all time.

What makes Desaparecidos' Read Music/Speak Spanish so good?

Is it the way frontman Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes, Commander Venus, Park Ave) shrieks and shouts in a way he has never done before, often sounding like he swallowed his tongue and on the brink of throwing himself of a building?

Is it the fact that this is the only record to ever have come out from Desaparecidos, before Oberst decided that the band was in danger of becoming to popular and split up?

Is it the nine songs (or ten on another version of the record) that all critisize the discontent of the middle class citizens of the United States in such a way that it never seems preachy, rather well analyzed and close to hearth?

Or maybe it all just sounds so great, with nods to the Pixies and Dinosaur Jr.

This record needs to be in any indie fan's collection.


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Grand Theft Auto IV

Posted : 9 years, 5 months ago on 1 May 2008 08:53 (A review of Grand Theft Auto IV)

Critics are hailing the release of Grand Theft Auto IV as the second coming of Christ. Big fat tens all around and hardly a spot of complaint around. Fair? Yes and no. Like almost any other game out there, GTA IV still has stuff to dislike, although of course the good outweighs the bad easily. With the 360 version in my console for the past few days, it’s time for my impressions and I’m going to try and be as realistic about it as possible.

I never got caught in the hype by the release of GTA IV, but Monday, the day before it came out, I had it bad. I couldn’t wait to finally put my teeth in a new city again. See, GTA is all about the city for me, it has always been that way. I love cruising around a virtual city and pretending I’m really there, getting to know each street a bit better by the day and knowing my way through it eventually. It’s a strange sort of satisfaction that I also get in real life, and the free roaming aspect of the GTA games make it possible. The prospect of doing it all again, with a more detailed city than ever before, was a great one and thus I stood waiting for the game to come out on Tuesday morning in front of the local retailer. I bought the special edition of the Xbox 360 version. Don’t ask me why, I could’ve just as easily bought the PS3 version but in the end, the prospect of exclusive downloadable content got to me. From impressions I’ve read everywhere since the release, it doesn’t really matter which version you buy from a graphics point of view. The PS3 version is a bit more warm, the Xbox 360 version has a better framerate. No real issues for both parties then.

When I started the game I was pretty much disorientated because of various reasons. No subtitles made the English chatter with Eastern Europe accent terrible, so after the intro movie I turned them on right away. The game was dark as fuck, so I adjusted the image in the game’s menu – something I can recommend to everyone. If it’s night or a rainy day in Liberty City, you are going to feel like a short sighted fool without changing the color and brightness. The other thing that disoriented me was the movement of the main character – Niko – and the cars he drives in. Everything in the game has a more realistic weight to it, so the cars really feel like heavy objects and it takes a good hour before you start to get good with them. If you get good at them, it’s not a problem anymore and you’ll appreciate the realism. However, the same cannot be said for Niko’s legs. Niko moves incredibly slow unless you tab the action button. This in itself is not a problem, but in the heat of a firefight or cop-chase, you might forget to press it altogether and you’ll walk way too slow. It would be nice if the game would recognize that you are in an action packed sequence and make Niko run by itself.

Now that I’ve basically got the bad parts of the game out of the way (and really, they don’t fuck with the overall experience that much), it’s time to talk about the good. For me, of course, that is the city itself. The overall distance in the game is smaller than in San Andreas, but because of the added detail every street has its own look and feel (which changes of course with the time of the day and the weather), and because of that the city just feels much bigger. The three islands (two of them represent New York, the third one New Jersey) are divided into smaller areas just like New York and they all have their own inhabitants and subcultures. Furthermore, the game has plenty of shops, strip- and comedy clubs, pubs and so forth to really make the place feel alive, next to the added pedestrians and cars of course. This is exactly why each time I fall in love with the new installment of the GTA franchise and once again, Rockstar hasn’t disappointed me.

Another high point is the story and the acting that creates it which is better than ever. All characters fit in the universe created in the game, they feel in place and all have a different sort of humor to lighten up the dark story. Most characters will give you missions after you meet them and things go into known GTA territory, just like fans of the series like it. Added to this is the friendships you need to maintain with various main characters and girlfriends you get to know during the game. You can take your friends and special ladies out for diner, to the strip club, shoot some pool or play some darts, it’s your choice and you’ll find out eventually what they like and don’t like. There have been complains by various people that it makes the game feel too much like real life, doing chores and having a girlfriend to nag about the clothes you were is bad enough in reality let alone in a game, but overall I think it’s a nice progression from San Andreas that isn’t too much of a drastic change, and for once I’m happy that you don’t have to work on the muscles and stamina of your character like in the previous GTA game. It didn’t add much to the gameplay while having good relationships with certain characters in GTA IV certainly has its advantages.

I’m a honest journalist and I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t checked out the online multiplayer yet, but from what I’ve heard it’s a nice addition to the series and a great way to pass some time, if you get it to work. Yes, especially with the PlayStation 3 version it seems it’s a downright bitch to get into an online match and if you can play only one match in an hour you should consider yourself lucky. However, I cannot see this as a negative aspect of the game as it’s only logical that Rockstar is having trouble coping with the insane amounts of gamers buying and playing the game as we speak. I suspect that in a week time, things will be looking better.

The realistic psychics of the main character and the cars aren’t everyone’s cup of thee and you have to find a minute to tweak the lighting in the game so that you can actually see what’s going on, but if that’s the only thing that’s wrong with a game then we should all be thankful that Rockstar delivered such a great game to us. The critics might be caught in the hype a little bit, because the rankings for this game are so through the roof that I can’t think of any game deserving this much praise, but the negative comments about the game lacking a certain ‘next gen’ feel are very much undeserved. While the graphics aren’t the best you’ve ever seen, you have to keep in mind the developers had to keep a whole city constant and a very big city at that as well, and the ‘next gen’ feel is in the details, not the overall shine. Cups of coffee pedestrians drop, picking up a dildo in a sex shop an throwing it towards the owner, picking up your girlfriend with her commenting on the same clothes you have been wearing for a week, your mobile phone that gives you access to your contacts, the radio with hours of chatter and various styles of music that is now complimented by different channels on your television, the internet, the hundreds of made up brands on tv, radio and street advertisements that make fun of current real-life happenings, stealing someone’s car only for the owner to keep hanging on to the door while you’re driving away, the list is endless and you’ll be swimming in it like in a cold swimming pool in the summer: it feels refreshing, it feels like the good life. That’s exactly what GTA IV is: the good life. Enjoy it for months to come.


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Wii Fit

Posted : 9 years, 5 months ago on 29 April 2008 01:35 (A review of Wii Fit (with Wii Balance Board))

Wii Fit is destroying the industry! It’s making videogames a living hell for gamers! The gamers who like to spew their opinions on forums aren’t exactly mild for Nintendo’s new project. It’s because Wii Fit is basically not a game at all. It might be so successful that it will destroy ‘real’ games. Seriously, will that ever happen? Absolutely not. There is more than enough room now in this industry to have all sorts of genres. And early signs indeed point towards commercial success for this game to keep yourself in shape. I’m here to tell you that it’s well deserved.

Wii Fit will calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI) so that it knows if you are too fat or not. It comes down to this. If you have heavy muscles, you’re fucked, the game will still think you’re too fat. The white plank that comes with the game (Nintendo calls it the Balance Board, screw that, I think white plank is cooler) will know how heavy you are and if you lean on one leg. The game will try to get you more balanced, so that the weight of your upper body is divided on both legs. And you have to lose weight. Well, I have to, apparently. Damn.

There are forty-something little games that will help you achieve the goal you set for yourself. I chose to lose 10kg in three months, which will bring me at a perfect weight. The games you can participate in vary from muscle exercises (push-ups and that sort of stuff) to yoga, in which you’ll learn how to keep your body in balance and breathe like you are supposed to. Next to that, there are also a good amount of mini-games that actually feel like games, be it skiing, rope walking or hula hooping. They break up the clinical exercises. One favorite is the jogging exercise, in which you’ll put a remote in your pocket and you’ll just jog in your room, while on screen you are jogging on an island. It’s kind of disturbing, since you can do that for free in real life, but it can be an extra motivation for people who normally sit on their couch playing games all day. Yes, I’m looking at you.

There are a few little niggles that Nintendo should have fixed. Since this game appeals to a great varity of people, it would be nice if my mother, for example, could get down with this game. Alas, our native language, Dutch, is not included. For the so-called 'non-games', it should be the rule that it is translated well. Brain Training gave an example of how to do it, so why is Nintendo so lazy to not do it with other games? All in all, little irritations are overshadowed by the overal quality, the little details (your Mii will actually get fatter if you are getting fatter), and the clean presentation.

I like Wii Fit, I really like it. My female companion likes it just as much, if not more. So not only am I getting my body into slightly better shape (to know if Wii Fit works very well means to play it for a longer amount of times, however, based on the exercises I’ve already done, I can’t imagine the game having no effect at all on your body), you’re also making the misses very happy. Which counts for something, as she can play it while you play the new Grand Theft Auto and everything is fine in your apartment. Joking aside, there is not much to tell about Wii Fit, other than that it provides what it suggests. If you are not really interested in the idea, it probably means the game is meant extra hard for you. Time to get into shape, Jabba.


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Mario Kart Wii

Posted : 9 years, 6 months ago on 19 April 2008 06:35 (A review of Mario Kart Wii)

Mario Kart is a strange phenomenon. Especially in Europe, the game is insanely popular, yet most fans have a thing or two to complain about. Mario Kart 64 wasn’t up to scratch, Double Dash wasn’t up to scratch, Mario Kart DS online was spoiled by the people who used snaking to win every match. Personally, I don’t agree with all of this. I really enjoyed Double Dash, to the point where my better half and myself still played the multiplayer every week up until this day. To say I had high hopes for the Wii installment would be an understatement. Was the wait all worth it though, or is this just the same old game with a steering wheel?

Well, yes, this is the same old game with a steering wheel. But I see this as a good thing. Mario Kart was always a fun experience and the steering wheel is enough of a change to ensure you’ll be enjoying yourself all over again.

First things first: the wheel works fine. It is just a plastic wheel that comes with the game where you can click your Wiimote in, but it feels pretty robust. You’ll instantly feel how far you should steer to make a corner and with a little practice you’ll be owning the racetracks with no problem. The GameCube controller still works a bit more accurate, though, which is why I find it all the more baffling that Nintendo gives us the option to use that as well. It will give you faster tracks on time trial and make you better in any multiplayer game, be it online or offline. It’s like the company didn’t have enough balls to come out and say: this is the way we want you to play and it works fine, use it. No, they had to rely on old mechanisms just to be sure.

Yes, online. This is the second Mario Kart that can be taken online and it is a mighty fine improvement of the NDS version. You can add friends through their friend codes, play against them or against random people all over the world, download ghosts from other players and compare time trials. This can all be done in a neat Mario Kart channel so that everything is crystal clear for you. It works great and there is almost no lag if you have a proper internet connection. The only downside, like mentioned before, is that some players use a GameCube controller instead of a steering wheel and win most matches because of it. The game does make note of the people who use the wheel, however, but that makes it all the more mystifying that Nintendo hasn’t included the option to let players choose to only race against others that use the same control.

The single player is a great experience, with 16 new tracks and 16 old ones. There is nothing to complain about the design of the new tracks, other that there are more tracks that rely on gimmicks instead of pure racing, but that’s where the retro tracks are for. It’s a breath of fresh air though as the tracks in Double Dash were anything but diverse. The retro selection is pretty good, although I would have killed for Baby Park. Still, everyone has their own favorites and you can’t complain when there are tracks like DK Mountain and N64’s Bowser’s Castle. Actually, there are a little too much Bowser’s Castles in the game, although some would argue you can’t have too much of them ever.

There are a few new additions to the game as well. You can now stunt when you hit the air with your kart, giving you a boost when you land. Stunting is done by sweeping the wheel a certain way when you hit the air and it works fine. It’s not about the stunts you do, it’s about the boost you get afterwards. Also new are the motorbikes, which are a fine and natural addition to the franchise. They steer more precise but if you get hit you get hit harder. Also, you cannot boost with them in corners, but you can do a wheelie on straight ways to have a permanent boost.

Lastly, you can of course do a local multiplayer with up to three other players. You can’t select a cup anymore to do a tournament but you can choose tracks and the game keeps track of the score over multiple tracks, so it’s no biggie. The battle mode is surprisingly terrible, because the game adds a whole bunch of CPU controlled team members to the human controlled teams. This way, the outcome of battles never really feel like they were decided by you. A big misstep that’s quite frankly baffling. Great however is the fact that you can go online with another human player on the same Wii. My better half loves that.

Conclusion:
Honestly, did you expect anything less than a thumb up? Mario Kart has always been fun and there are great additions to be found in the game. Online has come a long way and the bikes are fun. The new way to control the game is fantastic, but it was a big mistake from Nintendo to enable the old GameCube controllers as well. Likewise, adding CPU controlled team members in battle mode is a terrible addition that you cannot shut off. They are small missteps however compared to the beauty of the main game. Essential for Wii owners.


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Tokyo Police Club - A Lesson In Crime

Posted : 9 years, 6 months ago on 31 March 2008 09:18 (A review of A Lesson in Crime)

These Canadian indie scene newcomers have signed to Saddle Creek since the release of this debut EP, A Lesson in Crime, and listening to it makes you understand why.

The quality present here is undeniable. Short, fierce pop songs with catchy hooks and strong use of instruments and voice all around. At times, the voice of Dave Monks is whiny, but he redeems himself with another burst of unexpected notes or original lyrics.

The only downfall, according to many reviewers, is the short time of the disc: around 15 minutes. However, for me this was quite refreshing and it makes you want to listen to the record all the more. In a month, the first real record of this band will be in stores and I'm more than ready for it.


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Frontlines: Fuel of War

Posted : 9 years, 6 months ago on 30 March 2008 08:12 (A review of Frontlines: Fuel of War)

THQ has a track record of a few exceptional hits and a lot of average games. Of course, they hoped Frontlines: Fuels of War, the first game from the guys that made the incredibly popular Battlefield mod Desert Combat and went on to from their own studio, Kaos Studios, would fall in the first camp. Alas, Frontlines is another average game with some nice touches.

The 'catch' of this shooter is that you are constantly fighting on the fronline of a battle and succeeding in completing objectives moves the frontline to a location in your advantage. In theory this sounds exciting but in reality it's just an excuse to hang thousands of mindless enemies onto that you can use as cannon fodder.

The levels are compact enough to be refreshing in this day and age where every game wants to be so open you can get lost easily, but all in all the gameplay won´t offer anything not seen elsewere and the single player is a relative short affair. If you take the game online, however, the frontline idea works out much better and on the Xbox 360 you can have games with 50 people online, all hosted by THQ. That is a nice service and saves this game from the boring-camp and brings it over to the kinda fun camp. If you have enough money to waste you can do worse than to buy this game, but if you only buy a few games a year, steer well clear.


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