Rants and raves about all the latest in video games and other forms of mindless entertainment.

August 29, 2005

Review: Nintendogs (DS) - Puppy Love

VGP Score


The latest piece of work to come out of the Nintendo factory is the fluffy and furry Nintendogs. It's a virtual puppy simulator, that for all intents and purposes, is basically a simple application that does nothing more than let you play with your dog. Sounds pretty lame on the surface, and I for one was convinced Nintendogs would fall flat on it's belly on the game side of things. I couldn't have been more wrong. First off, the one thing that I let slip past me, was that this game has freaking puppies. And they're absolutely adorable. Who doesn't like little puppy wuppies? Nobody! The box art alone will tug at your "cute" strings, and draw you near via undetectable humanomagnetic field. Very scientific. Clearly, Nintendo has found the holy grail of marketing schemes with Nintendogs. Who wouldn't feel even a little criminal for ignoring a product placement featuring the most adorable puppies playing with Nintendo DS'? Nobody! The game plays on a very powerful gimmick, and this game has proven to me once and for all, that good gimmicks do exist, and a game oriented around them can be very fun.

When you boot up the ol' "N'dogs" (as most lovingly refer to it), you get a chance to visit the kennel and peruse the offerings of 6 breeds of puppies (18 in total across all 3 versions). When you're ready, you get to purchase a dog for about half of the change you have, and you get to take it home and begin playing with it. I guess first and foremost I should make note of one of the few problems I had with Nintendogs, since this particular one is used so heavily. The first thing you do is choose a name for the pup, and the game prompts you to begin calling the dog so the game can recognize your voice, and the dog can learn his/her own name. Once the dog learns their name, they respond attentively when called, but getting then to learn their name is obnoxious. The game will ask you to say the dogs name upwards of 10 - 15 times, and doesn't make mention of how long it will take, so you begin to wodner if you're doing something wrong. You aren't, so before Nintendogs gets good, it begins annoyingly. Small gripe, and it gets even smaller when you begin to experience the rest of Nintendogs. When you first get the chance to start adoring your new bundle of furry joy, you can start teaching the pooch to do tricks. Using the stylus, you can lead him into doing a sit, lie down, shake a paw, roll over and qwirky things like "chase your tail". The way you do it is by leading him into the trick, and then verbally saying "Sit" or "Lie down".

The amount of times it takes for the dog to learn the trick ranges from a convenient 3 - 4 times, to the obnoxious 10 - 12 times. Once they've learned the trick, they will do the entire trick on voice command, which is great, but at times the voice recognition is touchy at best, but overall the dogs are fairly obedient. The tricks are performed with whatever vocal command you attach to it, so you can even if you're so inclined, teach the dog to roll over at the order of "Pirates! AHOY!". Weirdo.

The Nintendogs pant and paw like real dogs, and often display a hint of that life-like nuance like leaning into an ear scratch, and bowing down into a combination stretch-yawn. In the house alone, where you will most often play with your dog, you can toss around balls, throw frisbees, play with toys (like the bubble blower, which blows bubbles as you blow into the microphone. Sweet!),and even whip out the miscellaneous items like disposable cameras, tissue boxes and photos of other dogs. Your dog will approach items differently as well. From a timid and wary approach to items they don't like, to the free spirit chase of items they have a lot of fun with. There's really a wide variety of things to do with the dog, just in your house. Taking your dog for a walk will make it stronger and will often yield red ribboned gifts that could be toys or charming canine apparel. There are competitions that test your dogs ability to catch a frisbee, perform tricks and exhibit their agility. They're the only way to earn money, which you'll use to buy food, water, and shampoo for your dog. Again, the "sim" part of Nintendogs is stressed. There's definitely very little traditional game here, but what Nintendogs offers is warmly amusing, and hits a soft spot in everyone. The game is down right addictive, and rightfully so. Those pups are just so darn cute! Admittedly, the game gets repetitive after about a half hour, so the game is designed for short bursts of entertainment. Not that the game won't be played a lot, it just won't be played for long stints. In the end though, Nintendogs offers a realistic and meaty sim style puppy game, that can and will be loved by all. It's definitely a killer app for the DS, and is the most darling thing since real puppies.

The only real major problem I had with Nintendogs was that when you sleep the DS, the game tends to freeze up and you will lose all unsaved data. Is it because of the stress on the DS hardware, or perhaps just a bug that was never fixed or even discovered? Who knows? Just don't sleep your DS with N'dogs in it. After all is said and done, Nintendogs is extremely fulfilling for such a small time investment. It's never been more fun to control a living breathing creature, and guide them around a virtual world at your whim. Come on Nintenladies!

August 26, 2005

Review: Geist (GC) - Metaphysical steaming pile

Geist is one of those games that does a few things right, but is hampered by another few fatal flaws that just ruin the entire experience. The game stars John Raimi, a medium and recon private in a futuristic army. You're sent into an undeground operation, only to be taken captive and have your ethreal spirit torn from your physical body. You then must use your powers as an invisible and haunting ghost to get your body back and stop the Volks coproration, which is using a portal to hell to create an army capable of taking over the world. Fairly thin on the surface (and arguably a total scam on Doom 3), but the plot of Geist, while not nearly as complex as say Metal Gear Solid, Killer 7, or heck even Killzone and Halo, is still a mature storyline that looks good on Nintendo and their second party developer N-space. The game, unfortunately, doesn't fair quite as well.

First and foremost, the game is at max a 10 hour game. There are only 9 missions, and each is do-able in under an hour, even when you run into one of the games many, and frequent glitches. I'm not one to complain about game length, but that rule only applies if the game I'm playing is worth playing again and again. This is not one of those games. The game takes a first person approach to the adventure game; and no it is not a "first person shooter", since there is equally a number of first person "adventuring" missions as "shooting". So for argument's sake, it's a first person adventure game. Fair enough...now where's my adventure? In ghost form, Raimi can scare humans and other living creatures into a state suitable for possessions. Geist plays up the possession of people and objects quite a lot. In fact, apart from the story, the possession is by and large the best part of the game. You aren't in any position to be fighting or attacking enemies in ghost (spirit) form, but you can solve puzzles that allow you to progress from one area to another. An example of this possession puzzle solving is when you possess a small mouse and return it to the owner, who then shoves you into a small cage. You awaken to a small room with a woman, a dog, a bird and a bunch of equipment to possess. In order to progress, you must possess a light bulb, which you can then explode using the "host action" ability, which then scares a talking parrot beside the exploded bulb. You then possess the scared parrot to sqwak and eerily screech ghostly voices, which then scare the woman. Possess the woman, and leash the dog, which then lets you scare one of the game's main enemies, who has an inate fear of canine kind. At times like this the game throws you into a daze of awe. The spirit mechanics are very fun, but only make up about one third of the entire game. The rest of the game is possessing people with official clearance to enter certain rooms, and last and certainly least, possessing people with guns who can shoot through the army of soldiers who apparently shoot to kill anyone who looks even remotely suspicious. Nice guys, huh?

The first person shooting is atrocious at best. First and foremost, there's an artifact of the Gamecube controller that will automatically make all first person shooters inherently bad on the the console: the c-stick. It's barely functional as an aiming/movement tool. So right there, any and all FPS'ing in any game will have that strong slight against it, unless you're smart and design the game around a control scheme that doesn't do that, a la Metroid Prime. Four years in, there's really no excuse for it. The aiming reticle is violently touchy. I can't even recount the number of times I swayed the reticle back and forth across an enemies head as the game's touchiness tempted me to toss the controller at the screen. The reloading has a fair lack of responsiveness, as pressing Y to reload, will sometimes and sometimes not work. It's a gamble each time really. It's not as bad as it sounds, but a problem none the less.

The enemy AI is dumbed down to the point of enemies standing in one spot and shooting at you from 50 feet away with pin point accuracy. No really, an enemy will be an entire room away from you, firing at you with unparalleled accuracy, while you try to empty entire clips into him and hit nothing but air. This flaw in the game doesn't even take into account the massive amount of glitching the game does. The enemy types also don't vary much, if at all. There are only a handful of human soldier enemies, and even less "demon" enemies. The bosses aren't even that varied. In fact, I fought the same boss 4 times throughout all of Geist, and another boss twice (including one very obvious rip off of Katamari Damacy). When the game only has 9 missions, a four times repeated boss encounter is unacceptable, even detestable. Weapons vary even less. Tsk tsk.

Now, I understand graphics don't comprise much, if any of the games overall quality, but Geist's graphics are sub-Dreamcast at their very best. For a game that was delayed again and again, and has been in development so long some even thought of it as vaporware, you'd better have something to show for it. This game has nothing. It's as hard on the eyes as the action is on your hands. Not something I'd be willing to pay top dollar for, not even close. In fact, there are Dreamcast games that look better than this, and when you're dealing with a console ten times more powerful than said ancient and deceased console, failing to even meet a 6 year old standard is pitiful. I should also note that collision detection is as broken as the control scheme. There are even times when enemies from the floor below you half pop through the floor you're on. Pathetic.

This is a great time to introduce the fact that Geist is a game that will glitch, and will glitch a lot. We're not talking simple collision detection problems, and not even severe collision detection problems. This isn't about a few textures not rendering, or even choppy framerates (which are all present in this game irregardless). No, these are game breaking glitches and they happen a lot. If you possess a living creature and back it against a wall, and dispossess them, Raimi's spirit exits through the back of the creature, and sometimes clips right through the wall into null space. You can't return to the actual game, and all you can see is the heads up display and a large black void. Restart! You'll be terrified to open every door, no not because of demonic minions lurking behind them, but for fear that the game will fail to load the next room. Three times in my entire experience with Geist, the game refused to load the room I was trying to enter, in fact it decided to stop loading all rooms. RESTART! There's even a point where you need to possess a key character in order to progress, but when I reached him he was a stand still mime, whom I couldn't even scare because his character model was frozen in place. GRRRR! RESTART! I counted a total of 9 game breaking glitches through the Geist experience. Glitches that forced me to restart the game on the console, while losing all of my unsaved progress. Unacceptable and utterly repugnant.

All in all, what Geist does right is the possession. It contains a decent plot, but nothing to go gaga over. The meat of the game is the possession, I just wish there was an even greater emphasis on it, and not the running and gunning. If enough thought were put into it, I'm sure an entire game dedicated to the possession of Geist could make for a remarkable title. There is a lot of potential in Geist, but it's fumbled at every opportunity. When it succeeds, it's fantastic, but the problem lies in that these instances are so rare, that they barely constitute any redeeming value. The game needs work; quite a lot of it. The glitches in Geist make the game near unplayable, and the shoddy controls frustrate the whole experience, especially during the shooting sequences. It's a technological blunder, and even worse as a total game. I for one would love to see the potential of Geist realized in a sequel, but for now, we're left with this terd of a game. If you're curious about the possession techniques of Geist, rent it, for the rest just stay away. Nintendo and N-space for now are completely inept at creating an adult, first person experience.



August 24, 2005

I'm late...Vol. 2

Yeah, so I've been running late with everything, and haven't posted in over a week. Needless to say things won't resume until at least this weekend. If you're interested, I've listed the main stories I've been looking into.

J Allard defending Microsoft's idea of (shitty) backwards compability...
The idea of 2 SKU's for Xbox 360, and Next-gen pricing in general. Hopefully a post will fall on the end of this week, being Saturday or if not Sunday.

August 16, 2005

Sly Kaplan: Distractous Announcementus - Look at the shiny DS

The sneaky minds at Nintendo pulled a one-two-punch today with a dual announcement, with no doubt a hidden agenda. Nintendo announced that the DS would see a price drop next week to an MSRP of $129.99 USD, meant to coincide with the release of Nintendo's trojan horse, Nintendogs. The price drop coincides with the release of a key Nintendo title, the announcement of the price drop does also. Did it never phase anyone about why Nintendo waited until a week before the date the price drop is supposed to go into effect, to go public with this stuff? Within the same few hours, Nintendo also announced that the release date of Zelda has been officially pushed back until after the 2005 fiscal year (March 31. 2006), into the fiscal year 2006. A vague statement indeed, as it could mean any date inbetween April 1, 2006 and March 31, 2007. We weren't even given a time period of release, except that it would be in the 2006 year and after March 31, 2006. It comes as no suprise that Nintendo needed a positive announcement to counter this saddening news. At this rate, Nintendo might as well port over the Twilight Princess engine to Revolution development kits, and give it a next-gen face lift. Keeping Zelda as a launch title for Revo would fortify it's place in the console market. Revolutions would sell themselves if gamers knew Zelda was a launch title.

That aside, it's rather deceptive, and more obviously so. It's not unheard of for a company to make two announcements in the same time period, but never in the same day. Square Enix announced that FFXII and Kingdom Hearts II would be delayed into 2006, but a week later announced a specific release date of September 13, 2005 for the feature film, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. Microsoft pulled a similar stunt with 360, when asked about backwards compatibility, they stood firm on their original statement of 'only best selling games being back compat' but then said "Hey look, Halo 3!". It's a common occurance in the industry, but never has such a move been so transparent and painfully obvious. The Nintendo DS price drop is clearly meant as a distraction from the disappointment of Zelda's tardy arrival. Sneaky indeed. I never believed for a second that Nintendo would get it out by the holiday season. I also don't think Nintendo had ever intended on releasing it this holiday season. The pre-mature announcement of Zelda: TP at E3 2004 was meant as a distraction: a so called hype-theif. I don't blame them either. This is Nintendo's last great hurrah on the Gamecube, so they might as well make it count.

In regards to the reasoning, Perrin Kaplain says "This delay will increase quality and make it a multi-million seller!". I'm not quite sure I get what she's saying. More development time, make a great game it does not. It also has no bearing on how many units it would sell. In fact, Nintendo could release Twilight Princess as a half finished game, and it would still sell in the millions; once glance at Halo 2 proves that. Not only that, the game would still get great to perfect reviews, not because the reviewers played and enjoyed the game, but because it's Zelda. The Tri-force pedigree is so rich, that no game can bring it down from greatness, and thus forth every Zelda has to be great as a rule. With such a full and competitive holiday season, Nintendo is probably doing more bad than good. Being pushed into the 2006 fiscal year means our boy Link is going head to head with Kingdom Hearts II and Final Fantasy XII, two games that have been delayed month after month and watered mouths since early 2003. This also means the Gamecube is without a significant release for over a year, considering the last BIG blockbuster release was Resident Evil 4, and that came out this January. Nintendo's going to have to bite the bullet and get rocking on that Revolution info, because as a gamer, I simply refuse to wait around while Microsoft and Sony waft the fumes of Xbox 360 and Ps3 under my nose.

No object is shiny enough to distract angered and disappointed fans Nintendo. We want Zelda, not 20 dollar savings at Best Buy.

August 15, 2005

Join the fight, we want YOU!

One of my readers brought to my attention this utterly hilarious piece of work. If you read it, you'll be treated to some fancy letter heads, and hilarious Thompson-isms, but the ultimate thing to note is the writers daring attempt to egg on Sir Thompson with an illustation of his own; see below.

While I can't say "Picasso", I can say "Join the fight". Below I've concocted my own Thompson death scene. At this point, he should be praying for death, as the amount of embarassment and indignant publicity this man has gathered is inhuman.

If you're reading this, I suggest you create your own version of Jack Thompsons death. Make it as brutal as possible. Once complete, submit them to a free photo dump website like Photobucket, and email the pictures to me, and I'll form a compendium of Jack Thompsons fanart. In this war, there are those who will use words, but I personally am starting a new sect of visual assaults. Make sure you use artisitc techniques like chiaroscuro shading like I did in my mega tank. All the power to you fellow GAFTs (Gamer's Against Fuckers like Thompson)!

August 11, 2005

Fun with Engrish!

In lieu of making Jack Thompson the laughing stock of foot notery, I've decided to translate his reply from my last post into Engrish, just to see how the Japanese perceive what this man says. All I can say is the gaming mother land is probably both very confused, and very terrified...I know I would be, if a creepy, rickety old man with Albert Einstein hair and homely eyes started speaking in what sounds like German...I'd be evacuating Hiroshima.

"Permits me anyone gambling industry and, generally like olds of year of 1st, 12 from assossicated speech separated, is mainly. As for _ those compilation, and sale ones being careless, the あ. I jaw "21 year am old," it can worry Gamer and that culture less. That does not stop the fact that they are these sales of the product in the individual whose olds of year of 12 where type it moves enterprise is younger. Assossicated including the people like you, the fact that everyone it protects your enterprise which has the fact that it makes responsibility, you do not have to try."

I never expected Thompson to be the kind of person to "jaw 21 year olds". Boys will be boys...

To be quite frank, the engrish version uses more sophisticated language than the original english version. An anomoly indeed. Quite frieghtening.

August 10, 2005

Review: We Love Katamari - Oi! Oi! Moshi! Moshi!

VGP Score


We Love Katamari, we really do. Who knew that the rolly polly antics of Katamari Damacy would catch on, and set fire to the industry and redefine what can be called innovation. It turns out, we do love Katamari, and we loves them a lot! Katamari Damacy makes it's return in an almost unchanged form. The concept is still the same: collect stuff to collect bigger stuff. The world is full of stuff, so whose to say there isn't extra stuff for the Prince and King of the Cosmos to abuse by rolling into gigantic balls of crap, which will later be hurled into the heavens to become...planets. Not stars, planets. From what I can tell, the game is operating on exactly the same graphics engine as the last outing, so there is no grand change there, but whose to say thats much of a bad thing?

We Love Katamari comes brimmimg with extra things to do, and improvements over the original Katamary Damacy. For starters, the sense of scale has swollen to ungodly proportions. In the last KD outing, the largest possible size for a Katamary was about 1000m, give or take, and the largest objects you could collect were mountain sized land masses. This time around, the largest possible Katamari size is around 3500 metres, and you're even granted the opportunity to roll up the King of the Cosmos if you're skillful enough with a bounding Katamari. Mountains eventually become the smallest of objects to pick up, and the sheer number of items for rolling over has increased by a generously appreciable amount.

We Love Katamari would almost seem like an all too appropriate name for the game. After all, not even Namco could have guessed that the highly addictive gameplay of WHK's sister title would have caught on like some viral outbreak. Everyone everywhere had heard of Katamari Damacy, and despite the fact that there were many naysayers among the testy gamers, most loved it and couldn't put it down. It turned out, We the gamers actually do love Katamari. Call it self-absorbed, but the title's toungue and cheek inference, permeates right into the game. After the end of the first game, people of earth became amazed by the katamari rolled in the previous title, and thus ask the Prince and King of the Cosmos to roll up special katamari just for them. Sort of like a gift. Whether or not the katamari is impressive enough, the chinsey humans regift the Katamari to the King for planetary formation. Who wouldn't want to take a few steps on Yokozuna Planet?

So the fans of the previous game, ie: Us, send the Prince and King on missions to do whatever it is katamaris do. In the last game, missions were semi-varied, but there were generally only 4 types of missions. This time around however, strategic, colourfully varied missions take place in diverse locations. Where as in the last game, there were only about 3 "Complete" stages in the game, this time there are well over 12. The game also throws some humourous missions at the gamer, when a wannabe sumo wrestler asks you to roll him over food to fatten him up, so that you can complete the ultimate goal of rolling over the opposing wrestler. It's indeed side splitting to see in action.

Another example of the new mission types is a campground locale, where your job is to roll an enflamed ball of junk over other junk, as to keep the fire burning with disposable objects as fuel. Wait too long to collect more things, or fall into a pool of water, and you'll extinguish the ball and fail the mission. Not only has the game become challenging, it's formulated it's own type of quirky strategy. And while I make it seem like these new type levels make it a different game, rest assured that in the end all we really want to do is roll a katamari, and that is exactly what we're still doing. Instead of just rolling this time though, you roll with style...Before long the player finds himself in a NASCAR mode katamari race where the Prince rolls about ten times as fast as normal, and later engaging in a celestial raid of the planets, moons and constellations with the goal of rolling up the Sun. Even the credits have a cute little mini-game with the gargantuan King using the appropriately sized Sun as a Katamari. It's an all around fun-fest.

The game also offers a somewhat free form style of play this time, so at any given moment, you could have anywhere from 3 to 5 different missions ready to go, and you get to pick which order you do them in. Another place where We Love Katamari trumps KD, is in it's replay value. In the first Katamari, when you watched the credits roll, you were done. There weren't any hidden or unlockable missions, and there certainly weren't many things to do since most of the missions were restricted to the standard types. However, in WHK, we're treated to secondary and even tertiary missions for each stage. For example, a "Get as big as possible within this amount of time", may ask as a secondary mission to "Get this big as fast as possible". Not an astronomical change, but still engaging enough to keep the player coming back for more.

It should go without saying that the plot behind We Love Katamari is about as absurd as it's dialogue and inert obsession with hallucinogens. Chronicling the childhood of the King and just how he became the King, the games plot is told through ten chapters, which are all depicted with semi-animated flash sequences which will make you laugh, cry and scratch your head; filled with obscene stragetude like the King's broken hair piece creating a heart shape when connected to a half loaf of bread, belonging to his future wife: true love is born!

As expected, the crazy and catchy soundtrack of the previous game makes a strong comeback with a jived up version of the main Katamary Damacy theme song, with an even more extravagant opening sequence to go along with it. The game even allows the player to chose which song they'd like to hear when playing any given level. A personalized katamari simulator, so to speak (I kid, I kid). The only real problems I had with Katamari is that the camera can sometimes sneak into tight corners and show an obscured view of the level which does nothing good for a level where you're racing against the clock. That, and short but still existent load times have peaked their head into this game. Blame it on the huge numbers of items in each stage and the expanded sense of scale. Other then that, controls are tight, graphical glitches are absent, and the game itself is still as fun as it was last year. We Love Katamari doesn't get bragging rights to being chalk full of innovation this time around, and Namco anticipated that. Instead compensated with a wholely refined gameplay, greater mission types, greater level variety, and even mutating physics for Snow, Speed, and underwater stages. We're even gifted with secondary missions for almost every level, and a bushel of unlockable content, including a full listing of the games soundtrack to be listened to at the gamer's whim. Good on you Namco. I love Katamari, my neighbours love Katamari, and even my dog loves Katamari. We all Love Katamari.

August 09, 2005

Review: Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow (DS) - Suck or Blow?

This is a new experiment feature meathod for reviewing games. It's definitely not going to become standard, but if response is positive, we'll continue to do it. The guest reviewer today is Jose Lopez (aka DiGiTaL MaStEr 87), and we'll be going head to head, or at the least discussing back and forth the pros and cons of the game. We both apply a score, and the VGP score is the average of those two scores. Enjoy!

Adam Malcolm VS Jose Lopez
VGP Score


Adam's Score - 9.4 / Jose's Score - 9.8

Adam Malcolm: Well first off is gameplay, so I guess I should just first state: wow. This game refines what it means to be a Castlevania game. It's an action RPG at heart, and features one of Castlevania's largest and most labrynthine maps in the history of the franchise. How did you find the exploration?

Jose Lopez: Honestly, I'll say that the exploration is easily the best of the Castlevania series. As usual, there's backtracking, but it's not as tedious as it has been in the past. All the areas interconnect at just the right spots to make exploring the vast expanses of the village and castle rather simple, and the teleporters make it even easier. No complaints at all.

AM: The teleporters do make it easier. I do really wish they would place the save points closer to the warp points, since I was sometimes deciding which warp to use based on closest save point, and not which area was closest to my next goal. Not a major complaint though. Speaking of which, I do wish there were more save points, or at least check points in the game. I was kind of annoyed by having to backtrack to a save point just to make sure I didn't lose a rare soul I collected, but overall I found navigating the map intuitive. I should note that this is the perfect game for the DS' second screen. With such a convoluted maze, you'll be checking it a lot, and keeping it on the top screen constantly makes navigation that much easier than say Aria of Sorrow or Symphony of the Night. How about the combat?

JL: Well, the combat really puts a wealth of options at your disposal in terms of fighting styles. The sheer amount of different weapons available in the game (each with their own advantages, disadvantages, and special abilities) leaves plenty of room for you to develop your own technique. Many weapons, however, need to be unlocked or created. Unlocking weapons in Boss Rush Mode is rather easy, since you just need to beat the mode in a certain amount of time, and only three weapons need to be unlocked this way (Terror Bear, RPG, and Nunchaku). However, creating weapons is a hassle at times, since you need to locate a specific soul and fuse it into your current weapon. Some of the souls are more common, but you can count on eventually sacrificing rare souls in order to get Ultimate weapons. Though it's a unique idea, and quite enjoyable at times, it can also be stressful and annoying as well. However, I'll say the combat system, as a whole, is quite superb

AM: I'm inclined to agree. I do recall some bitching on your end about tracking down certain rare souls just to upgrade a weapon, but the rewards are usually worth it. The amount of weapons is at times daunting, no? However, it makes for a fully customizable game. You name a weapon, and this game will have it, and with the ability to equip two sets of armour and weapons, you an combo a handgun and great sword together, or perhaps a hand-to-hand weapon and boomerang. It opens up some really great options for fighting off different kinds of enemies. What was your favourite two weapon combo?

JL: Personally, I enjoyed the Valmanway [great sword] and Death's Scythe

AM: Good choices. I was more of a fast/ranged attacker. I played up close and fast with the fisted weapons like Whip Knuckle with the handguns and rifle. Call me a coward, but I normally depended more on clever soul usage to defeat my enemies.

JL: What souls did you use most often, aside from the essentials (like Bat Company)?

AM: I mean yeah, souls like Bat Company were essential for travel. The flying armour and Zephyr souls were temporarily in my arsenal, but overall, I would have Amalaric Sniper and Gergoth on one set, and Zombie with Barbariccia on the other. You?

JL: Here's my two favorite sets: Axe Armor, Alastor, Golem & Amalaric Sniper, Skull Archer, The Creature.

AM: I loved Skull Archer. I almost forgot to include the support souls. I always had Creature and Treant on one or the other set, so I could switch between them and recover health and MP faster. Did you find that there were many souls that were just useless and added for kicks and filler? I mean, how many times did I summon a bat or Corpseseed? Never!

JL: None of the souls are worthless, perce, as maxing out the ones that can be leveled up wields much more powerful effects for the most part

<AM: I know, but there were sets that worked so well that others were obsolete. I think there should have been creative puzzles for the different weaker souls.

JL: Bat's actually a decent soul, though Corpseweed may not be the best of choices

AM: Overall though, great combat. An exhausting amount of customizability makes this game accesible to every kind of gamer out there. It's an admirable trait in games these days, wouldn't you agree?

JL: I agree completely, especially on a handheld game. I just wish that the same customizability could carry on into the Julius mode, but I guess that may be expecting a little bit too much.

AM: It's only one cart, they can only do so much, especially since the normal campaign has so many endings and alternate sidequests.

JL: Indeed

AM: I think the best part of the combat, or at least where mettle was tested the most was in boss fights. How did you find the bosses?

JL: Some I found to be quite easy, while others were ridiculously difficult. For example, I found Flying Armor, Balore, and even Paranoia and Zephyr to be extremely easy, but then Aguni, Death, and Abaddon really pushed me to my limits, and I was forced to quickly learn their patterns and abilities and find solutions to the problems they presented. I believe that Abaddon, most of all, was a pain. His attacks were all over the place, and though the Persephone and Medusa Head souls made the duel a bit easier, it was still ridiculously difficult.

AM: I think in that exact example, it's the only boss fight I'd call "poorly designed". It's hard to a point where it's "memorize the patterns", there's nothing intuitive. I can guarantee most people won't beat him on their first try, simply because his attacks aren't too predictable, or intuitively dodged. Others I would give that quality too. I think most of the bosses, even the hardest, were doable on the first try if you were up to snuff. Most bosses have predictable attacks, that can dodged, even if they're not anticipated in advance. Great work from Konami on this part.

JL: What did you think of the final boss of the main game, Menace?

AM: Well that's a good question actually. He's one of those bosses that requires a good amount of leveling up and some strong and leveled up souls, so right there you need a small time investment to get suped up for the battle, unless you're a godly gamer. I wasn't too troubled by it though. The multiple forms wasn't a big problem either, since I actually found the second form easier than the first, but overall a very well designed boss. I guess this is a good time to bring up the quality of the visuals...the sprites, and boss sprites in this game have an uncanny level of detail for a 2-D side scroller/platformer.

JL: It's also important to note that there are several 3-D effects found within the game, including some enemies (like Alastor).

AM: Ah, I almost forgot. The invisible soldier holding the giant sword?

JL: Yes. Though the soldier's ghost was 2-D, the sword (which was, in actuality, the enemy) was a 3-D model

<AM: I was taken by surpise. I was glad to see some 3-D incorporated into a 2-D game. A nice touch. The number of frames added to the animations had to have been doubled. Those fire effects when fighting Dario? Wow, some of the best 2-D stuff on any handheld really.

JL: You didn't get to experience the best 2-D of the game, though the final boss of Julius Mode is totally different from that of the main game, and though I won't spoil who it is for anyone, let's just say it's a nice bit of nostalgia and easily the best looking boss fight of the entire game.

AM: I have to admit that I haven't completed Julius mode yet, but you do get control over 3 different characters, which works quite well. I love playing as Alucard...a good nod towards arguably the best Castlevania before this.

JL: Yes, Alucard is a blast to play as, as are Julius and Yoko. However, I do wish that you could change their equipment, maybe have them learn new skills and spells and abilities as they level up, and maybe even have more differences in their game aside from a different final boss.

AM: That's definitely a good idea for the next game, which I pray to God there will be sooner than later.

JL: Actually, Castlevania DS 2 has been announced for release next year and it's rumored that it's going to be a sequel to the events of Julius Mode

AM: I mean, there's just such a high quality production value here. The environments are varied to such an extensive degree. I sure hope you're right about that sequel.

JL: It's definitely going to be a sequel to Dawn of Sorrow, since IGA has stated that the handheld Castlevania games will all be focusing on the events prior to Dracula's eventual demise in 1999 from now on.

AM: Good to know. What did you think of the soundtrack and other sound effects, etc.?

JL: Well, the soundtrack was pretty good overall. I loved some of the new themes, such as the Lost Village and Condemned Tower. I also loved the three classic themes that returned in this game ( Vampire Killer, Bloody Tears, and a boss theme from Castlevania 64 ). However, I did have some issues with a few of the newer themes, as some were down-right forgetable. Overall, though, the music is definitely above average, as is to be expected from this legendary series. The sound effects were also great. My favorite was Alucard saying "Julius" in Julius Mode. I don't know why, but it just sounds so great. All the other sound effects are superb as well though. Hearing different death sounds for most enemies was definitely a pleasant surprise, and all of Soma's voice work was great as well. I was very impressed. What did you think?

AM: I'd have to agree. The actual soundtrack was just underwhelming entirely. Nothing really to note. However, I tremendously enjoyed the small snippets of voicework in this title, considering it's only a 2-D game on a small DS card. This shows the extra space goes a long way. I mean, the sound effects were great, and I thouroughly enjoyed the array of sounds for each and every ability, weapon and enemy. Great variety that can only make for a better game. But a game is nothing if it can't control well...what did you think of the controls? And especially the new touch screen seals for the bosses?

JL: The controls were fantastic. Precise and intuitive. And though I found the touch-screen seals to be a nice challenge, I loathed using the touch-screen to destroy ice with the Balore soul. Annoying at best. And it's even worse in Julius Mode, when you can't use the touch-screen and must whip the ice blocks to break them. Honestly, Konami should've left the bits with the ice blocks out of the game altogether. Your thoughts?

AM: I think the ice blocks thing was okay, but they should have remained confined to one large chunk of the castle, because they just impeded the fast pace of the game. I think it was just a gimmicky use of the touch screen to be quite honest. Though the final banishment using the magical seals was such a blast. I mean you screw up, and you have to fight the boss back down. It challenges you to practice them and become efficient at doing them, and it's a fairly nice close to the boss battles. It's fairly forgiving too, so if you're not a precise tracer, the game still lets you complete the seal. A great feature. What else are we forgetting?

JL: Well, we still haven't touched on the story or the game's lifespan, so let's start off with story. What did you think of the whole plot revolving around the cult trying to create an "anti-God"?

AM: I don't think much of it. I found the plot to be a complete afterthought in Dawn of Sorrow. I do acknowledge that it was decent enough, but there was never at any point in the game where I was anticipating what was going to happen next, nor did I ever care what was happening in the plot. I found that the game does nothing to draw you in, as the story is told through sporadic scripted events, which I really didn't take much away from.

I also found that the multiple endings, enabled a multiple scenarios situtation, so that there was a different overall story for each scenario, or at least an extended story. So it was confusing at times. I do think the story was good, I just believe they did a crack job of portraying it and even writing it. The scripting was rather juvenile at times.

JL: I'll say I was underwhelmed up until the very end, when the story converges into two. One one scenario, Soma becomes evil, and in the other, Dmitrii is somehow alive and has copied all of Soma's powers. This is where the story really got interesting. I loved seeing the two scenarios as they occured, though I will say the "Bad ending" where Soma becomes evil really leads to some... interesting developments, and the rumors of this bit being used as 'canon' by IGA is promising. Overall, I'd say the story was decent.

AM: Canon? Wow, that would make it the "good" ending then wouldn't it? (duh dun dunnn!)

JL: Yes, however I can't help feel that, if the 'Bad' Ending and Julius Mode are made canon, then the entire Aria of Sorrow / Dawn of Sorrow will end up repeating itself in terms of story with the next games... then again, IGA's always full of surprises, so who knows?

AM: Too true. So we're in agreeance then that the story overall isn't the game's best feature, but it's just one part of a multifaceted masterpiece?

JL: Indeed. Can't say it's bad, but it isn't good either.

AM: So what about longevity? What was your total game time again?

JL: For the main game and Hard mode alone I've racked in a total of about 30 hours (so far)... and I've spent about 2 hours on Boss Rush Mode... and about 10 on Julius Mode... heh... I'd say I've played for about 45 hours overall so far.

AM: Wow. You're a hardcore Vania trekker. I think my overall time, for the normal difficulty single player, Julius mode and some of Hard mode, that the overall clock readout was only about 17 hours. Pittence compared to yours, clearly. Though for a handheld, anything over 10 is above average.

JL: Indeed. I must say I've become a bit obsessed with this game. I've obtained all the souls (including the bonus soul for beating Hard Mode) and also have created all the Ultimate weapons.

AM: You're a beast Jose. No one dare cross your path if every there's an online mode in Dawn of Sorrow 2.

JL: Heh. You're too kind.

AM: So overall then, great game?

JL: Great doesn't do the game justice. I'm going to have to say this is a Fantastic game, and easily the best game on the Nintendo DS as of this writing.

AM: Easily. Best on the DS, and I'd go as far as saying best handheld game, period. It's just an overall great experience. An unprecedented amount of depth for a handheld game, and replay value is dished out in a 9 course meal.

JL: Indeed. What numerical score would you give this game?

AM: That's a good question. I mean we raved about the combat, customization, ease of control, intuitive interfacing, and complained about very little. I think overall I was displeased with the story more than you were, and there was some forgettable tracks from the soundtrack, and a few minor qualms here and there. However, I should say those negative aspects are transient. You get over them. They rarely impede the process of exploration, and don't make it any less fun because of it. I think a 9.4 would do just fine.

JL: I'm going to give it a 9.8. While I did have some issues here and there, nothing was too major and overall the game is just a superb experience. I really wasn't expecting it to turn out as excellent as it did, so I'm not ashamed at all to give it that score.

AM: I don't blame you. You did afterall acheive the fabled 100% milestone. Would you concur on the point of being the best handheld game to date?

JL: Actually, though this may be a bit of a surprise to you, I'm not going to give it that title. It's definitely #3 as of right now

AM: *SHOCK*...Just for reader reference, what would you give the top two slots to?

JL: While I can't decide which deserves #1 and which deserves #2, in my mind there's a never-ending battle between two games for the title of best handheld game ever made: Tetris for the original Gameboy and Dragon Warrior 3 for the Gameboy Color, and yes, I would give them each a 10. Fantastic games.

AM: Good choices, but I'd argue that those two are antiquated even by today's standard, but that's for another day.
Looks like the overall score we're giving Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow is 9.6. DS fans can't go wrong.

JL: Here's hoping the DS sequel that's being released next year is even better!

Review: Shadow of the Colossus - Some mountains are climbed, others are slain...

VGP Score


You don't often come across the likes of Shadow of Colossus. There are many people and games before it that have tried to make 'art' with videogames. If you were privaleged enough to play Team ICO's seminal title ICO, you were treated to some great visuals. The entire game played out like an active, living painting. Every brush stroke mirrored by the input of the controller, and every colour change as transient as the artists pallette. The game was just beatiful. It unfortunately remained rather similar throughout the whole adventure. The game played intuitively, but it was a lot of the same. Team ICO now has their chance to continue on towards the goal they set out to accomplish with Shadow of the Colossus. The team has grabbed a hold of that beauty and artistry, and held onto it maternally throughout the development of Shadow. That thing is what the games industry has desperately needed, and in heavy doses. Shadow, being the spiritual successor to ICO, has retained the quality of looking like art, but also boasts the ability to play like art. The game takes the idea of sim, and truly immerses you in it. Perhaps not as traditional as Will Wright wrote it, but there's definitely art mimicking life, and life mimicking art here. The story begins quaintly: a lone man - a Wanderer - riding in by horseback to a barren land, devoid of significant life, and empty of civilized impedimenta. An impossibly high bridge, bare backing into a shrine where 16 colossal monuments watch, as the Wanderer - someone we lovingly call Wander - places the body of his deceased loved one Mononoke, on the alter. Wander's goal is to find a way to bring her back from the dead and return her soul - at any cost. The Dormin, the omnipotent voice from somewhere offers you the restoration of Mononoke's life in exchange for defeating the 16 colossi that roam freely in the cursed land. Using the sacred sword - which you stole away as you fled from your native kingdom - find and defeat them. No how, or why, just do it and you'll see the lungs of your loved one inflate with a breath of life. Love does crazy things to a man, and this time is no different. No reason necessary, no cost is too high, and no mountain too live...

The game starts the player off with a bow and enchanted sword, his trusty steed and impeccable ambition. The thing to note as the introduction reels through it's 10 odd minute cut-scene, is that the only way in or out of this barren landscape is the impossibly built bridge, which you ride in on. So any life roaming through the flora and fauna of the land, can only escape over this bridge, which is a feat in and of itself to reach. The feeling of isolation and desolation are emphasized, just by this point alone. That same point is reemphasized time and time again, as you head-to-head it with a colossus the realization dawns that it's only you, the colossi and your only friend, Agro the horse. Agro's place in this epic story is not fully realized until the final act plays through. There's great emotional attachment to the characters here, and it's done with so little effort. The idea that the player knows whats going on is tossed, right until the final chapter comes to a close. By the time the credits roll, you'll be taken a back by just how much punch was packed into about an hour of story in a 10 hour game. The emotions invoked here are deep and in some cases painful. During one or two moments this reviewer felt the urge to shed a tear (however, did not). The relationship between Wander and Agro will tug at your heart strings, and there's nary a game that can boast the ame thing.

But how does it play? Really, the game is art in every sense of the word, but there's still a game beneath that canvased disposition. The entire premise of the game is to hunt down these colossi and take them down. Is that it, you ask? For the first playthrough, yes definitely. However I'm going to veto the negative connotation attched to that statement. There are games that impliment half finished ideas, and only those ideas. Shadow is far from a half finished idea. It's a fully honed and tweaked idea, that gives the game something most other one trick ponies don't have: focus. The game never loses track of what it wants you to do, and never distracts you with filler. The enemy is the colossus, and no one else. There are other things to do and collect, like find fruit tees and white tailed lizards to increase health and strength, but those are fairly secondary. The focus never shifts to those things. To cement the point I'm trying to make: the fact that all you do is fight colossi is not a slight against the game. It's 100% in it's favour.

In order to reach each colossus, there's some lengthy travel times and exploration that need to be done first. By holding your sword up in brightly lit areas you can reflect sunlight, which will narrow into a singular beam when you're pointing in the direction of your target colossus. Making your way there will require you to trot through some rough terrains of varying nature, such as scaling mountains, crossing barren deserts, navigating through forest thicket, and breast stroking across lakes of water. Truly sights to be seen. The sheer size of the land is enough to make any Grand Theft Auto or Spider Man 2 fan jealous. The sqaure mileage of this game equates to about twice as much as any of the aforementioned games. Draw distances and texturing (even some of the first vertex shading I've seen on the Playstation 2) are all of the highest calibre. Although, the land is the furthest thing from most impressive in this title. The most impressive features in Shadow are the colossi themselves. Tens to even a hundred times larger than our lonely hero, these beasts represent a technical marvel in videogame design and presentation.

This a great time to take a dive into the waters of ravenous graphics whores. The colossi are huge, the grand scale is immeasurably large, and the number of polygons and textures on these monstrosities number in the tens of thousands. There's no shortage of ambition on the visual front here. Suffice to say, Shadow boasts the best sculpted graphics engine ever seen on the Playstation 2, or even the rival power houses Gamecube and Xbox. That said, there are those who would piss and moan with framerate diatribe, and admittedly, it isn't always perfect. But we're not talking significant drops here. The game for the most part consistently runs at a smooth 30 FPS, and on occasion will drop to around 28. On very rare occassions, it will drop lower then that, but never during any crucial event and it's never detrimental to the experience. The framerte drops happen the least during the colossi fights, and given the ambitious architectural precedence here, these slight drops are more than forgivable. In fact, they're expected. The overwhelming beauty here is more than enough for any hardcore gamer. There's absolutely no disappointment from any angle.

Onwards and forwards as they say. Scaling the colossi require some quick thinking, and active puzzle solving. These monsters are walking, living, breathing puzzles, each with their own criteria for revealing crucial weak points, or places where a greivous wound can be inflicted to knock them over. These weak points can be located using the sunlight via enchanted sword, but getting to them and taking down the colossus is another story. Unlike most reviewers, I have no problem spoiling some of the game to exemplify this point. There are 16 colossi in total, and explaining the ins and outs of one or two won't ruin any of the experience. One colossus, about the size of a small mountain, covered from snout to claw in stone armour, needs to tipped over with the pressure of a water geyser. Afterward, you climb the fur of it's belly, and up to the top of his shell. To do this the player must mount Agro, and lure him over the geyser and take out his ankles, to weaken his support. Another example, and my personal favourite being colossus 5 known as Avion, requires that you lure a flying colossus to swoop down at you, and as he rears into the final stretch of the attack, you jump and grab hold of his wing. From here you take out the tail and wings to bring the bird out of the sky. Some truly remarkable gameplay here. Rest assured that every colossus requires a new strategy. There's nothing reused from colossus to colossus, and that makes each and every new monster a fresh and inventive eperience. I suppose there's even a bit of innovation that accompanies Shadow, as no game has ever come close to so much as attempt combat on a scale as large as there is here. The entire process is fun and inviting, and exhilerating to the very bittersweet end.

The epitome of grandiose arrangements are in the soundtrack that plays before, during and after each fight. When trying to mount the colossus, a thunderous and ominous ballad echoes over and over until you begin the colossal ascension, but when you begin scaling them and going on the offensive, the victorious fanfare begins pounding, and rhythmically gets the blood pumping. It's an equilibrium of both the fantastic soundtrack and epic gameplay that creates this feeling, this aura that you're not only playing the game, but living it. It's a fantastic thing to embrace, and a wonderful experience, because that's what this game ends up being, an experience. Not just a game, but something you explore, you breathe in and you become a part of. I've never experienced anything like this game before during my tenure as a gamer. On top of a 10 hour experience during the first playthrough, the game warrants at a minimum 4 playthroughs, as doing so and completing all modes unlocks a total of 16 items, weapons and armour,that enhance your successive playthroughs; daring and efficient explorers will find some fabulously rewarding secrets and easter eggs as well, especially for fans of ICO.

What it simply comes down to is this: no game touches Shadow of the Colossus. No game in existence has ever reached such a lofty height as this. While I don't expect everyone to resonate with the opinion that Shadow is the best game ever, I would expect that everyone acknowledge that it does many things so radically different, and does them so well, that it is easily a contender for the game of the year. It's by and large an adventure on par with Resident Evil 4, God of War, and Killer 7. Very rarely would I throw around the phrase: "among the best games ever", and even more rare, as in almost never, would I call a game the greatest ever made. This is one of those rare times. Expect great things from this title. When you can do so much with so little, it wets the pallette just to imagine what Team ICO will do with the power of the Playstation 3. While a direct sequel to Shadow would be utterly fantastic, it's all too obvious and not a likely project for Team ICO. I do however have great expectations for their next title, as this game has proven, it's not how much you have, but what you do with it. A masterpiece has been painted, and the regal colours of Shadow of the Colossus articulate a world of unparalleled beauty.

Review: Katamari Damacy - Can you hear the colours?



Katamari Damacy marks a point in gaming history when we come to realize that something simple can turn into something beautiful. Katamari Damacy takes the weird and whacky approach to game design, and a few heads have been turned. The King of the Cosmos one day decided it would be great to bump into the stars in the night sky and leave Earth without it's celestial nightlight. Tsk Tsk Sir King! We would be pleased if you would help clean up this mess Mr. Cosmos! Take the reigns of a Katamari as the Prince of the Cosmos, and roll up stuff until the ball is big enough to rocket into the sky and ignite into a twinkling ball of gas. You'll do it once, you'll do it twice, and you'll even do it three times in a bedroom...if this is the kind of thing that turns your crank, then Katamari Damacy (Damacy pronounced "da-ma-shi") just may be the next big thing in your life.

Katamari Damacy was released a budget title in Japan by Namco, and by some miracle decided the world should take part in this one of a kind game. The game plays as simple as games can get. Press forward, collect stuff, and keep moving forward. As you collect more stuff, you grow, able to collect bigger and better stuff. The entire premise of Katamari Damacy centres around this idea. It's a simple one yes, but it's performed wonderfully. By pressing forward on both analogue sticks, you roll the ball forward; by pressing up on one and down on the other, your katamari turns. Pressing in both analogue sticks allows the prince to do a quick turn and start rolling in the opposite direction. That's it. The only requirement to play Katamari Damacy is that you have thumbs. Everything else comes natural. There's no lofty time investments necessary, Katamari Damacy is a pick up and play game, that can be played in as long or as little spurts as you'd like. The missions only last for a few minutes each time, the longest being about 12 minutes, and the mission and location variety will keep you coming back for more. The game offers a few different types of missions, like get the katamari "X meters" large in a certain amount of time, or get it as big as possible in "X minutes". The best levels however are the Eternal levels which let you roll around any given stage as long as you want, to as large as you want. A veritable free-roaming-roller.

Visually the game takes no strides to advance the power of the Ps2's techno architecture, and certainly won't impress the players with large numbers of polygons. In fact, it will probably impress you with it's home grown, unique style that uses a polygon deficient visual theme. An odd direction to take, but it's pulled off in tandem with the sense of scale that Katamari Damacy offers. Beginning as the size of 1 cm wide navy bean, you start off by plowing through piles of dice, thumb tacks, paper clips, moving your way up to mahjong pieces and chapstick cartons by the time you grow a few more centimetres. Everything happens in real time in this game as well, so the scale of the game is constantly changing in real-time with no loading transition, which creates a fluid and seemless experience. The billowy Katamari will inevitably grow to the size of small animals, permitting you to roll over and pick up cats, dogs, rats, toys, flower pots, birds...up to the size of people which lets you pick up men, women, children, pop machines, statues, trees, cars, fences, water bouys...and the paramount scale of picking up houses, towers, dinosaurs, godzilla, Ultraman, mountains, clouds, steam liners, icebergs, and even continents. The scale that this game operates on is far more impressive than any game to date. It's just impressive to play through a stage and think, you began by picking up a garbage can and ended up rolling over Mt. Fuji, with no stopping to load more objects into the frame. The Prince of the Cosmos is in essence an earthly undulating brigand. It's a technical feat, and it's bizarrely addicting to boot.

On top of a gameplay that will have you pasted to the screen for hours upon hours, the soundtrack fits the zaney and out of this world game style. I'm not quite sure how many times I caught myself in a lecture just singing to myself "Naaaa na na na na na, na Katamari Damacy! Laaaaa la la la la la, la Katamari Damacy!". With a Beach Boys-esque drum roll (Oh, get it, ROLL! I kill me...*wipes tear*) into the catchiest song in the Cosmos, Katamari Damacy sets a mood so happy, so exciting, and so hallucinogenic (just try and ignore all the references to illegal substances in this game) that anyone not made happy, not cheered up, or without a smile when playing Katamari Damacy is in fact no human. It's been scientifically proven.

The best thing about Katamari, is that it takes a true stand with innovation. It doesn't try to blow you away with eye popping special effects, or complex gameplay. It does something so different, so new, and executes it in such a way that giving it a typical genre would be disingenuous. This game defines innovation. It puts a face on innovative games, and proves to the world that new ideas aren't yet exhausted. So while I'm tempted to only score Katamari Damacy an 8.0 for just being a game (considering it's simplicity may turn off some), the game gets major brownie points for innovative game design. While it takes a step back in terms of power an impressive number counts, it takes two steps forward by being radically different and doing it with finesse and style. Kudos Katamari, Kudos.

Review: Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal (PS2) - Online and on fire!

VGP Score


Ushering in a new breed of platformers, Ratchet and Clank was the ultimate app for any platformer die-hard. It's mix of great platforming, whacky weapons, and clever puzzle solving, as well as a slew of hidden items which emphasized heavy exploration, made it one of the best games ever to be conceived. It's successor, Going Commando, reached even further, combining the winning formula of the first title, and mixing it with some simple, yet unique, RPG elements. The whole idea of an RPG-platformer was new, and it was by far one of the best ideas since sliced bread. Going commando featured all new worlds, expanding upon the axiom, bigger is better. With new concept weapons, and a new "upgrade" feature, Going Commando was something new, but something familiar at the same time. The combination of old and new worked so well together, that this reviewer personally, thought it was the best game of 2003.

With large shoes to fill, the third installment of the Ratchet and Clank series had it's work cut out for it. However, as daunting a task as it is to top Going Commando, Insomniac managed to up the ante with Up Your Arsenal. Without a shred of doubt, I can say this game is flat out the best platformer to date. As niche as the platforming genre is, this game manages to branch out into nearly every possible genre, while pioneering an entirely new type of gameplay, while still engaging that Ratchet and Clank nuance that's progressive from title to title. If there is one word for this game, it is golden.

Where Going Commando shined, Up Your Arsenal sparkles. With a steadier pace, and an overall fiercer nature, the gaming industry cowers in fear over the sheer ingenuity found in the details of this game. For starters, Ratchet and Clank exude a unique personality, which is matched only by the antics of their brethren, Jak and Daxter. The oozing character this game has is great, and it truly shows that quirks and qualms go a long way. From the raging hair band antics of the robot butlers, and the out of this world sense of humour, to the super villain Dr. Nefarious, who begins to air lost soap-opera episodes when his circuits short out; it's hard to imagine this franchise any more hilarious, but it's also hard to imagine someone thinking up these zaney ideas from scratch.

Ratchet is once again charged with the task of saving the universe from the mechanical and organic flood of friend and foe (suprised?), but this time Ratchet isn't a loner space cowboy. In fact, this game is almost a "family reunion" of sorts, as Ratchet's partners in crime (err...allies), the Q-Force join him on his misadventures. Comprised of Helga, Captain Qwark, Skid McMarx, Al, and Srunch, Qwarks monkey, the laughs are neverending. Contrary to the frenzied laughter this game causes, the game takes itself pretty serious when it comes to gameplay, and being aesthetically and aurally pleasing.

The Ratchet bread and butter, is as always, the weapons. In this game however, it's been taken to all new levels, so it's no longer just "weapons", it's mass-artillery. If you haven't already experienced it, havoc ensues around every corner and the sound of gun-fire in the distance is mesmerizing. MUST SHOOT! Admittedly, the game does reduce the amount of platforming from the previous games, but it is still there, and what is there (the bits and pieces), is striking, and more intellectually stimulating than other platformers.

In case this turns you away from the game, fear not as the mass platforming that was cut in favour of fantastical gunplay and battlefields, has been reinstated within a mini-game-ish part of Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal. Old school platforming returns with style, as the outlandishly absurd tales of Captain Qwark are retold in Vid-comics, which are visual retellings of the adventures of the Q himself. With a very heavy emphasis on platforming (2-D platforming), the Qwark Vid-comics offer more challenge than any other part of the game, and there is no question that it feels refined and without flaw. An incredible pick-up, after you realize the platforming is somewhat scarce in this game.

Combat feels better than ever with the handy new upgrade system, which allows each weapon to upgrade a total of 5 times on the first playthrough, and for all of those familiar with "Challenge mode", 8 weapon variations are available. An aspect of Going Commando that stood out among all else, was the ability to mod your weapons, to somewhat personalize them, and give them cool after-effects. These mods have now been incorporated into the upgrade system, which actually improve the flow of the game, rather than stunting it with backtracking.

This explains why there are so many versions of each weapon, but don't fret, the weapons still upgrade into it's most powerful form at the very end. Many of the weapons you encounter will be familiar to you as they are staples of the Ratchet and Clank universe. The basic rifle: N60 Storm, the heavy hitter: Nitro Launcher, and the super powerful RYNO makes it's glorious return. Which ever way you look at it, Up Your Arsenal has more to offer in terms of, well arsenal, than any of the previous games. Though, if theres one thing that tops the sheer quantity of weapons it's the maniacal brain behind their creation.

The weapons again range in usefulness dependant on your style of gameplay, and their effects are varied, and once again all useful at some point or another. Some weapons make a return in the form of similar-but-new weapons, like the Disc Blade Gun, reminiscent of the Multi-Star and Charge Cannon, a duplicate of the Blitz Cannon but twice as effective. Also, with a save file from Going Commando the Lava Gun, Bouncer, Shield Charger, Mini-Turret Glove, and Plasma Coil are added to your inventory at no cost and suped up to match the strength of the beefy opposition. Ranging from a firey whip which slices and dices enemies with an eviscerating inferno, to a liquid-nitrogen streaming water-gun that freezes enemies on contact, to the return of barn yard playmates with the Qwack-O-Ray, it isn't hard to see this games jovial, yet wide appeal.

The gunplay is what will really test your metal though. With new weapons come new strategies, and this time you aren't just fighting a corporation, you're fighting an army. This game is a war between you and the Thyrranoids and it gets messy. It will become common place to be enveloped in a blitzkrieg of enemy fire, only to be countered by a swipe of the Plasma Whip (Yes, there are even new melee weapons), or vaporization via the Rift Inducer, which literally dematerializes enemies into small black holes which when upgraded, can fire multiple miniature rifts to create monstrous ones which easily annihilate any of the larger brutes that just so happen to cross your path. And the rush of adrenaline you get from it is breath-taking. It's back to the basics with Ratchet's run and gun formula, but is tossed up a bit for variety during the rescue missions, the vehicular combat, and a deluge of mini-games and slew of brain-teasing puzzles.

With a meager amount of health crates and ammo, the game ramps up the challenge ten fold, also giving enemies the ability to do anywhere from one to 50 damage to your health. In order to turn the tables ever so slightly the maximum amount of health upgrades maxes out at 200 health points now, and they're all requisite for those tough skill point challenges that require the dukes of hazard rather than the lock, shock, and two smoking barrels.

As if the gameplay wasn't already the most refined product to hit the platforming (and RPG) market, the addition of multiplayer battles and online gameplay magnify quality, longevity, fun and overall impressiveness by an immeasurable margin. It's befuddling to see that such a deep, polished single player game (the best I've come across), can be paired with an online/offline multiplayer mode, that is just as deep, and just as polished and at times more polished than the single player experience. Multiplayer, though done before, has never been done online. As impossible as it is to imagine having Ratchet's free-roaming, run and gun mechanic applied to online, it's been done, and it's eons beyond anything we've seen before.

This is no doubt where online gamers will widdle away countless hours of their lives in the name of good clean fun. The online mode houses 10 different playing arenas (locations from all 3 Ratchet games, slightly modified of course), 12+ weapons and gadgets, aerial and vehicular combat, as well as Clans, online rosters, buddy lists, "Challenges", and rankings on nearly anything you could possibly imagine (including how many times you've squatted on top of someone's charred corpse). If online gaming is your schtick, and you consider yourself a Ratchet and Clank pro, test your might online. You may be suprised at how challenging it can be.

In due time, you'll be having just as much fun fragging and being fragged as just about anyone else who tampers with the controller for even a brief moment online. It's undeniable that Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal offers plenty of single player and multiplayer gametime, and to add the cherry to the heap, challenge mode makes a comeback with more unlockables, and more hidden items than any platformer before it.

More challenge, more weapons, more RPG elements, and more qwack. This game has it all, and I'd be hard pressed to offer any other game for 2004, save for maybe Jak 3, which would accompany Ratchet well this platforming season. I could go on for hours about how great Ratchet is, and go into much more detail about the how well rounded the graphics are with new impressive water effects, an even greater variety of planetary exploration, or the tight control and fitting soundtrack, but if my previous words are of any indication, there is no need to go into such things. Prepare to stay inside for a few weeks. Lock your doors, open a window, and get ready for one hell of a ride. In a time where originality is scarce in videogames, Ratchet and Clank comes to a harmonious conclusion with this impressive title.

Review: Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando (PS2) - Role playing the aggressor...

VGP Score


Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando is one of the best games ever made, period. I don't think you can make a platformer much better. In fact, this time around, its a platformer with attitude, and by attitude I mean RPG elements that will blow you away, and keep you glued to the screen for hours. There isn't a dull moment in Going Commando, and it goes without saying, that Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando is the Royal Flush of Platforming!

The game picks up where the last left off. The defeat of Drek has left Ratchet and Clank out of business, or put into early retirement since their aren't anymore worlds to save. Soon after, they're kidnapped and brought to Bogon, where they meet Ambercrombie Fizzwidget, a man who works for Megacorp, where they develop prototype gadgets and weapons. Soon, you're tasked with retrieving a missing item from a mystery person, and along the way you'll discover new friends, new missions, and learn about the attempted destruction of Gadgetron. The story is quite amusing for a platformer, and Insomniac really did go the extra mile to make this game even more immersive. Plus a cameo by Captain Quark is most welcome. The new planets and mission driven story are most impressive, from planet Aranos to Yeedil, this game will have you hooked.

Graphically this game is stunning. If you remember the worlds and environments from the first Ratchet, you'll most likely be familiar with the style of the worlds of this next game. There are even more worlds than before, not to mention the number of polygons has been ramped up in order to compete with Naughty Dogs Jak II. I must say, after playing Jak II, and now Going Commando, there is no comparison. While Jak II has large environments, almost everything in Ratchet 2 (and I mean that) can be destoryed, not to mention the environments are ten times larger and more complex, which adds another degree of depth to the gameplay, because the worlds are so interactive, even more so than the first Ratchet and Clank.

You'll want to take a look around in FPV just to see how alive these worlds actually are. For example, in the Maktar Resort, if you look in the sky you'll see enemy ships flying around, most of which you can blast out of the sky, and you'll also see civilian vehicles flying around in an organized manner, but organized in a way that the traffic looks random. So much so, that you'll be wondering just how they can pack such a lush and live environment, and so many of them onto one DVD. Insomniac hit the nail on the head with Ratchet 1, and I never thought it was possible, but it seems that Insomniac has managed to improve on what was almost perfection.

Gameplay. There isn't a platformer with more gameplay than Ratchet and Clank 2. What makes it so good you ask? Well, heres what...in a nut shell: RPG elements, the Maxi games, the 20+ new weapons and many returning weapons and gadgets from Ratchet 1, which are all fully upgradable, more bots to control with Clank, more Giant Clank, larger worlds with even more life than before, more intelligent AI, and over all, you get to blow **** up. Now lets explain these different things. RPG elements: As you kill enemies, you will earn experience. There is an experience metre under your health, and it will eventually reach its maximum and thats when you level up.

As you level up, you will earn more hit points, in fact, you can earn from 1 - 80 points in a single game. The Maxigames (sometimes called Mega-games) are incredible battle arena challenges where you're challenged to fight different bosses and several enemies, and by several I mean about 100 per battle (with few exceptions). Some examples of the bosses are Chainblade and the B2 Brawler, an octopus like robot that will kick your ass if you don't beat him at his own game. The new weapons and gadgets are not really suprising to most Ratchet fans, as getting gadgets was and still is one of the main priorities in the Ratchet series. This time there is a twist though: You can buy weapons, and at first they seem to be quite weak compared to some of the weapons from the first game. But as you use them more and more, they begin to charge up, until the meter under the weapon is full, and then it upgrades into its ultimate form...or so you'd think.

In most cases, the upgrade includes faster firing rate or incredibly strong attacks. Either way, you'll go looking for trouble just to upgrade your weapons. Some examples are the Lancer, which upgrades to a Heavy lancer, the Miniturret which upgrades to a missle launching Megaturret and my personal favourite, the Chopper, which then upgrades into the Multistar. The Meteor Gun, Spider Bot, Zodiac...and (insert ultimate weapon here), are just a few guns to add to the list of upgradable weapons. You can also upgrade Ratchets suit into many different forms, each increasing Ratchets defensive properties, and minimizing damage done to him, not ot mention they look cool as hell...especially Carbonox!

As Clank you will get to control a heftty amount of servo-bots, which function just like the ones from Ratchet 1, only there are twice as many. There are large ones, small ones, ones that shoot lasers, and ones that can act as bridges. You also get to do a lot more missions as Giant Clank...nuff said. This time round, the worlds are much larger and even more creative. The most creative "worlds" are the battle spheres, where you're literally walking around on a spherical moonlet, where you have to use jump pads to get on top of towers to destory generators and target enemies.

The enemies are also a lot smarter and tougher. They will dodge your attacks, and they become harder to defeat later on, meaning they require more power to kill. This is all interrelated as you need to fight enemies to gain experience, and you need to use your weapons in order to upgrade them, otherwise, later on you'll regret it as you get your ass handed to you.

Its not fair to compare this game to Jak II...but in reality, its been compared to Jak II since before either game was released. Its only fair to put those who are quick to judge to rest. There is no question, Ratchet and Clank 2 will have you glued to your sofa because this game is non-stop action, and fun, and is masterful, in every sense of the word.

No lag, no collision detection issues, and certainly a blast to play. Insomniac has packed about 3 games worth of gameplay into this disc, definately another bar raised by Insomniac.

The first time through will most likely take you well over 25 hours, and that doesn't mean reaching for that golden 100% marker. Afterward, you can restart the game with your previous weapons and have another go at it. This time around there are Platinum bolts to get (sorry, no more gold bolts or gold weapons), which will help create more powerful upgrades and unlock certain bonuses. The mods only add extra replay value, as you'll want to get all of them including the poison mod, which is the most devastating. There are a metric tonne of extra features available to extend the value of Going Commando. Much more than in the original R&C. All the new weapons have two special extra upgrades that are only available on the second playthrough.

This is over and above the normal upgrades that they have during the regular game. And it is in addition to the mods (which can be purchased with platinum bolts.) There is just so much involved with the arsenal of weapons this time, you'll need two of you to take it all in. The same can be said about all the different suits available to Ratchet, as well as his new Gadgets and Clanks new abilites, like controlling Megacorp robots. Its all about experiementation in this game and trust me, its hell'a fun. Its also fun to challenge yourself to try and playthrough certain planets with minimum number of weapons, or finding new interesting ways to destory enemies. (Tough baddies become puny weaklings when Ratchets arsenal is amped to max...and its not an easy to task to jack his arsenal so high, which is why there is so much replay value to Going Commando.

Overall, Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando is an incredible game, that only gets better with every passing minute. If you liked Ratchet and Clank, you'll absolutely love Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando. Its a whole new take on the Ratchet and Clank series, while retaining that familiar feel of Ratchet and Clank 1, and I enjoyed it.

Review: Ratchet and Clank (PS2) - A new breed...

VGP Score


Being the following act to Jak and Daxter as far as platformers go, Ratchet and Clank would have to put on quite a show to impress the loyal JaX fans. Its safe to say that Jak and Daxter and Ratchet and Clank are quite different platformers, but both are part of the same genre in every sense of the word. Its easy to label these two series as part of the same kin, but actually, these iterations of each are nothing alike, but will please both game's audiences either way.

Ratchet and Clank is developer Insomniac's new baby, now part of the Ps2 Hall of Fame. It single handedly redefines how far you can take the platformer genre, when mixed with the different facets of other genres, like puzzle, first person shooter and action/adventure games. Simply put, Ratchet and Clank is a platformer first and foremost, but is also an amalgamation of so many different popular genres, and creates something so new, and so fresh, it breathes new life into what was almost a dead genre (with the exception of Jak and Daxter). It combines the fast paced platforming of it's kin, Spyro the Dragon, Crash Bandicoot, and Jak and Daxter (some of the more memorable moments in platforming), and combines them with gunplay on a massive scale.

Ratchet and Clank starts of simple enough, with Ratchet being a mild mannered mechanic, working on the planet Veldin. His soon to be classic side kick Clank, is a defunct failure of a series of destroyer robots, who in turn realizes the peril the galaxy is in, due to the menacing scheme of the money hungry "Supreme Executive Chairman" Drek. (Yes, the name is rediculously long and weird, but it fits the humour this game offers like a fitted tee.) Clank then leaves the robotics factory in search of help, only to crush his clunker of a ship into Ratchet's planet. Clank teams up with Ratchet to find Captain Qwark and heed his attention, and get him to save the galaxy. Along the way, you'll meet dead beat Hover boarding champions, zaney mechanics, and uncover the true scheme of both Drek and Qwark...

The game plays pretty simple. The level design is top notch, and right off the bat, is one of the most notable things about Ratchet and Clank. In lamens terms, the world is alive. Harmless creatures roam about, and hovercraft and space-age vehicles literally bring the planets to life. Not only that, but all these things are 100% destructable, as well as almost every machine, box, board, lamp and light...and it feels so good. The amount of detail is astounding, as even the smallest of plants and pebbles, even though purposeless, add an element of realism that only enhances the expansive worlds and locales. The presentation is also up among the best. The levels are not linear by any means, and usually end up being very circuitous, which adds a level of efficiency to the game; it saves back tracking, and allows for faster progression through the game; again, this is but one more thing that adds to the games fast pace, and overall intense action oriented attitude. There isn't one thing displeasing about the level design, and each level is isolated as a "planet" in the galaxy. The visual appeal of the game is not limited to the level design however, and reaches much further into the character models and weapon effects.

Ratchet himself (with Clank as a modified backpack per ce) is very smooth, and detailed wonderfully. The number of polygons rivals some of the best looking action adventure games out there, and his motions are also fluid and add a touch of realism. The best of the best, and the cream of the crop, the weaponry of this game is probably one of its main selling points. Its stock loaded with more weaponry than most traditional first person shooters. With over 30+ weapons and gadgets, Ratchet's arsenal is one to behold. Each weapon is unique, and offers new and interesting ways to dispose of the competition. Not only do the weapons look cool, the after effect of blasting one of them off is also cool. The Devastator, your cliche rocket launcher, peters out with an explosion of particles in the same fashion as a common firework. The Tesla claw is handheld lighting storm to put it bluntly, and the Pyrocitor lets loose with a stream of flame. Some of the more innovative and intriguing weapons are the Decoy Glove and Visibomb. The Decoy Glove releases an inflatable doll of Ratchet which confuses the enemies and tricks them into attacking that, leaving themselves vulnerable to the real Ratchet. Lastly, the Visibomb is a remote controlled missile, a la the Nikita missle launcher. This is but a fraction of your arsenal, and it gets more and more powerful as the game progresses.

The actual gameplay consists of typical platforming, the foremost example is on the planet Kerwan, where you must scale 3 huge towers up and down, to reach your goal, which incorporates not only a three dimensional scaling of the walls, but is also very challenging from a strategic standpoint. Secondary to that, are the heavy duty gun battles, and giant boss battles. The game gives a real sense of accomplishment as you buy new weapons, complete new objectives, gather new infobots (which give co-ordinates to other planets) or increase your health which is reminiscent of RPG qualities. These and a wealth of upgrades for Clank, which adds new dynamics to the platforming aspect of the game, and you've got some top notch gameplay here.

Audio wise, the game is fairly normal. Nothing stands above and beyond anything else in the actual score, with the exception of the sound effects. The sound effects, primarily from the guns and weapons, really stand out, and really offer a wide array of aural pleasures. You'll have to hear it to experience it, but fear not, you won't be disappointed.

The game controls very well and is fairly intuitive. Even though this game is a blast to play, the gameplay isn't what will keep you coming back for more. It's the sheer number of unlockables. The game offers a melting pot of cheats, secrets and unlockables. Throughout the game, you'll discover Gold Bolts, which in turn, allow you to purchase Gold weapons, which are upgrades of some of your already strong weapons and increases their damaging qualities one hundred fold. On your first play through, you'll only be able to purchase 6 Gold Weapons, but upon starting a new game, you'll be able to carry over all your weapons and bolts (currency) from the previous play through, and then be able to purchase up to 10 Gold Weapons. Not only this, but the use of Cheats will be unlocked, and the the Skill Point list, which will further unlock more hidden features. Upon completion of the skill points you will open up interviews, behind the scenes videos, as well as some quirky closure to some of the open ended points of the game through the epilogue. Its these features and many others, that will keep you coming back to this game. Even though the gameplay is insanely addictive, the number of unlockables adds that extra incentive.

Like it or not, Ratchet and Clank is here to stay, and it will be remembered, and it will be put in the ranks of the Jak and Daxters and Super Marios of platforming history. Some of the best production values ever, and an ass load of fun and innovation, this game is the re-definition of platforming.