For the February 2008 edition of "Press Start," Peter "The Rizk" Rizkalla makes his thumbs sore playing Portal, Burnout Paradise, NeoGeo Battle Coliseum, No More Heroes and Buzz! The Mega Quiz.
I've said it before and I'll say it again; graphics, sound and gameplay do not indicate a great game. Those are only parts of a great game, like ingredients in a recipe. The one, sure-fire way to tell if a game is great is if you find yourself constantly going back to play that game over and over again. You can tell a game is great when you can't wait to get home from work so you can play it; when the game is so enjoyable that it's almost addictive. You ever have a game like that? That's what makes a good game!
I have spent countless hours checking out these games, and tons of cash for a gym membership to get my butt back in shape after playing these games, all for the sake of you the reader. Every one of the games in this month's article has an addictive quality to it and that's what makes them great. I think it might be time again to hit up the gym and work off some of this poundage. In the meantime why don't you just enjoy the awesome titles that I have to offer you in this month's edition of "Press Start!"
Portal for the PC; Publisher: Valve; Developer: Valve; Release Date: October 9, 2007; ESRB Rating: T for teen; Genre: first-person shooter / puzzle; Players: 1; Support: N/A; Online: N/A
Weighted Companion Cube Is My Friend
"Sir, can I see that game over there?" "Thank you." "What kind of game is this... ?" "First-person shooter, never mind then." "What about that one... ?" "That one's also a first-person shooter!?" "Well are there any games in this entire store that aren't first-person shooters... ?" "What do you mean, try the store across town!?"
If you're laughing right now, then you feel my pain in this situation. There are way too many first-person shooters out there! I really don't mind the fact that there are too many of them, what I really mind is the fact that there are too many mediocre first-person shooters out there. They're all the same... boring! But God loves gamers and to prove it he has split the heavens and said "Let there be Portal."
You're Not Even Going the Right Way
Portal isn't even a first-person shooter really; it's more like a first-person puzzle game. You take control of an unnamed female character (I'll explain later how you can tell the character is female). You start off in an enclosed room made out of steel with glass walls. You hear a computerized voice tell you that you are part of an experiment; get used to hearing this voice because you hear it throughout the game. The experiment is meant to test how well your problem-solving skills are when using an experimental gun.
The gun actually does no damage; rather its purpose is to create portals on walls, ceilings and floors. The primary fire of the portal gun shoots a blue beam that creates the first portal while the secondary fire shoots an orange beam that creates the second portal. This allows you to then walk through one portal and come out the other. It also allows you to pass small objects through the portals. This makes for some truly enjoyable and challenging puzzles. Portal also creates a very realistic sense of momentum, with some of the puzzles requiring you to fall from a great height into a portal that sends you flying out of the other portal at breakneck speed. In some instances you will create portals so close together that you can see yourself walking by through the portals (see what I mean?).
First You Will Be Baked and Then There Will Be Cake
All throughout Portal the computerized voice is giving you praise for how good you are doing and promising you cake as a reward for completing the experiment. The voice also says some really funny things throughout the game. If you are a fan of the Half-Life series, you will notice that Portal makes many references to it, such as remarks about Black Mesa.
Valve has created a first-person masterpiece with this one. You'll find that Portal isn't a very long game, but that's what makes it great. It's doesn't drag out for hours and it leaves itself open for continuation. Portal is already the most highly praised PC game since Half-Life 2 and is most deserving of that praise.
Burnout Paradise for the Xbox 360; Publisher: Electronic Arts; Developer: Criterion Games; Release Date: January 22, 2008; ESRB Rating: E10+ for everyone 10+; Genre: racing; Players: 1; Support: racing wheel; Online: multiplayer 2-8
Check Your Mirrors and Back Out Slowly
The Burnout series is back for another ride. Any fan of Burnout knows that you can't go wrong with this racing franchise; every Burnout game has been good. Well... all except for the abysmal Burnout Legends for the Nintendo DS. This time around, Criterion Games has decided to take the Burnout series down an unexplored road and the result is a racing masterpiece.
Burnout Paradise is not just unlike any other Burnout title, it's unlike any other racing game, period. In a typical racing game players must start at a menu and choose their mode, car and type of event before playing. Once the event is done they are directed back to the menu. Going back and forth from gameplay to menus makes for a lot of loading time, but that's just the way it's always been. In Burnout Paradise there is no selection menu. You are given a car right from the start and you then freely explore Paradise City. Once you start the game, there is no loading time because Paradise is completely free roaming! As you explore the world of Paradise City you will find many helpful areas, such as gas stations to fill your boost gauge, auto repair shops to repair the damage to your car, shortcuts, billboards to drive through, and a whole lot more.
We Don't Need No Stinking Airbags!
To start an event all you have to do is pull up to one of many intersections and spin your back wheels. This will start one of many events in Burnout Paradise such as races, road rages, marked man events and stunt runs. Once you win the event you are awarded a mark on your license (in Paradise that's a good thing), then you are back on the road, "free burning" like you were before.
As you play through Burnout Paradise you will unlock more and more cars. Many times you will be told that there is a specific car somewhere in Paradise City burning up the roads. If you can find it and take it down in a wreck, then the car is yours, which adds an enormous sense of challenge. Graphically, Burnout Paradise is amazing; the cars look amazing and can look even more amazing when you customize their paint jobs. The outrageous sense of speed that you get from playing through Paradise only comes from the perfect framerate that it produces. When you take down someone or get taken down yourself, the speed of the game goes into slow motion to really give you a sense of just how bad the damage is and, believe me, it gets pretty bad (in a good way).
You'll Finally Understand Just How Slow You Are
The only thing that bugs me about Burnout is the unbalanced mix of songs in the soundtrack. Don't get me wrong, hearing Twisted Sister blast through your speakers while burning through a race is just plain awesome, but when you're driving through Paradise City in a powerhouse muscle car and wrecking the holy hell out of your opponents, the last thing you want to hear is Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend" start playing on the radio! This could have been redeemed if only there was the option to include your own set of MP3s into the mix of songs.
Aside from all that, Burnout Paradise has turned out to be incredible. When the Burnout Paradise demo was released on Xbox LIVE, it was given some seriously bad heat, which is unbelievable when you see how well the final product turned out. Burnout Paradise is the most addictive racing game ever made and is arguably the best racing game in the Burnout series, maybe even better than the legendary Burnout 3: Takedown. I'm probably going to get a lot of heat just from that last comment!
No More Heroes for the Nintendo Wii; Publisher: Ubisoft; Developer: Grasshopper Manufacture; Release Date: January 22, 2008; ESRB Rating: M for mature; Genre: action / adventure; Players: 1; Support: N/A; Online: N/A
Cranberry Chocolate Sundae... Sounds Pretty Good
If any of you remember Killer 7 for the GameCube and PS2, then you remember an art style like you never saw before and a feel to the game that had also never been done. Well, the guys who put together Killer 7 are back again with a new Wii exclusive, No More Heroes. No More Heroes still keeps that same Killer 7 cel-shaded 3D, "film noir" feel to it, but also adds a good amount of comedy. NMH is a semi-full-roaming action/adventure title. It's kind of like a mix of Grand Theft Auto and River City Ransom but with a lightsaber! Gimme a second, let me explain.
You play as Travis Touchdown, who lives an anime, punk rock lifestyle. Travis wins a lightsaber from an eBay auction and then decides to become an assassin. He then finds out that in order to climb the ranks to become the world's #1 assassin, he has to take out the world's top 10 assassins, who all conveniently reside in the city of Santa Destroy.
Strawberry on the Shortcake... Sounds Even Better
The gameplay is pretty interesting. Swinging your lightsaber is done by tapping the A button, but the position of your Wii-mote determines whether you perform high attacks or low attacks. The B button lets you punch or kick your opponent, which doesn't do much damage, but rather stuns him. Once he is stunned, you can either run away in fear or you can perform a wrestling maneuver. Along the way, Travis can acquire new lightsabers, learn new wrestling moves and even buy and find new wardrobe items like sunglasses, t-shirts and jeans.
Of course it's not all killing -- you actually have to pay money to kill, so what do you do when you need money? You get a job. But don't worry, "job" is just the word they use for "mini-game." Between killing sprees you will have to do various odd jobs; heavy emphasis on the word "odd"! Checking out the job center will allow you to take up jobs like coconut collecting. Like I said, these are actually mini-games, so don't expect to get bored with them or spend too much time on them, especially since your employer will pay you $2,000 for every coconut you collect. You can then use the money to accept assassination jobs, buy new clothes and upgrade your lightsaber.
Blueberry Cheese Brownie... That Just Sounds Nasty
Super maneuvers with weird names like the "Cranberry Chocolate Sundae" can also be performed, all of which have effects like being able to shoot projectiles or slow down time. Performing a super maneuver isn't really about skill; instead it's actually more of a crapshoot. As you kill opponents, slot machine wheels will start to spin at the bottom of the screen and, just like a slot machine, if three of the same icons line up, then the super maneuver activates.
The music is also a treat in NMH. You will hear a subtle mix of modern-sounding synthesized music with old-school, 8-bit-sounding sound bytes. No More Heroes is a more-than-welcome Wii exclusive, but there are a couple things that really could have made it even deeper. It would have been great to be able to change the height of the camera angle during battles so that you could see more of what is going on. Also, the ability to counter and reverse enemy attacks would have been great; kind of like the countering ability found in Assassin's Creed. But these deficiencies do not hinder the enjoyment of No More Heroes in the least. No More Heroes is an awesome ride and a superb addition to the Wii library.
NeoGeo Battle Coliseum for the PS2; Publisher: SNK Playmore; Developer: SNK Playmore; Release Date: December 11, 2007; ESRB Rating: T for teen; Genre: fighting; Players: 1-2; Support: N/A; Online: N/A
Winning with Chip Damage is Cheap
Fighting games are a lot like Jello... There is always room for fighting games and, of course, if you can find a good fighting game, then you can always find your old friend Pete spending many hours playing it! NeoGeo Battle Coliseum is a recently released fighter from SNK that features characters from many past SNK games, such as Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, World Heroes and even Metal Slug.
NGBC keeps true to the 2D fighting experience with beautiful 2D art and animation. The framerate is smooth and the moves are gorgeous. More than 30 characters are present in this awesome fighter, including fan favorites such as Genjuro and Haohmaru from Samurai Shodown, Lee Pai Long and Mr. Big from Art of Fighting, and Hanzo and Fuuma from World Heroes. Players choose a two-character team and can switch between characters anytime during a match.
Quit Turtling in the Corner!
The gameplay rules are kind of tricky. In a two-player match, you win by knocking out both of your opponents' characters; in the single-player arcade mode, you are given a time limit to beat as many characters as you possibly can before time runs out. You automatically win when time runs out. The only way to lose is to have only one of your characters knocked out. Every character has a list of special moves and super moves. NGBC is actually very similar to Street Fighter III: Third Strike, with the exception that there is no parrying in NGBC.
As in Third Strike, many characters have signature punch-and-kick combinations. Also as in Third Strike, characters can link regular punch-and-kick combinations with special moves and then link the special moves into super moves to create huge combos. Players can perform double supers where both characters come out at the same time and beat down on one opponent. The combos are endless.
In addition to an awesome offensive system, NGBC has an interesting defensive system. Players can roll-through oncoming attacks like in Capcom vs SNK, but doing so now drains your super meter. This is a feature that should have been a reality years ago to prevent "turtles" from mashing on the roll-through command all day.
Soon Guys Will Be Kara-Canceling All Day on This
Now with the news of Street Fighter IV being made in 3D, NeoGeo Battle Coliseum could very well be the last great 2D fighter! It's great to see that SNK has kept the traditional King of Fighters art style and the Art of Fighting camera movements that have always added more size to the characters. I'm actually very glad to see that NGBC didn't go the direction of Art of Fighting 3 in terms of color scheme and animation, which was good but just wouldn't have fit with this kind of fighter. I have to admit that the controls of NGBC are the smoothest and most sophisticated of any SNK fighter I have ever played. If you can find a crew of gamers who are already into this fighter, then NeoGeo Battle Coliseum will keep you up for hours!
Buzz! The Mega Quiz for the PlayStation 2; Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment; Developer: Relentless Software; Release Date: October 30, 2007; ESRB Rating: E10+ for everyone 10+; Genre: trivia; Players: 1-8; Support: 2 sets of Buzz! controllers; Online: N/A
Let's Get Buzzing!
If you look back at previous "Press Start" articles, you will probably notice a theme. You'll notice that most of the games I review are either "hardcore" or "old school" or both! But I would like to take a trip down the "casual" side of the game industry and check out a title called Buzz! The Mega Quiz. Buzz! is a "game show"-style title that lets up to eight players compete for points.
Buzz! comes bundled with four controllers that are specially made to be used with the game. At the beginning of each game players can type in a name, choose a character and choose what sound their buzzers will make when they buzz in. The characters you can choose range from funny things like a superhero and a Mexican wrestler, to a disco king and more. The sounds are pretty humorous as well, with sounds like cackling chickens and belches.
The Host Looks Like a Big Muppet
Players can choose to play either a long game or a short game and, believe me, the long games are long indeed! Once a game is started, players can choose to answer questions from different categories such as music, movies, history, science, sports and many others. There are a total of about 5000 questions in Buzz! The Mega Quiz and the game makes sure to save questions it has already asked on your PS2 memory card so as not to ask those questions again.
You'll come across some quirky rounds in Buzz! like bonus rounds, lightning rounds and pie rounds! Yes, I said pie rounds... as in the dessert. Players who answer a question correctly are allowed to throw a pie at an opponent of their choosing or at themselves if they like! Throwing pies is just for fun and watching the reactions of the different characters getting pie-faced is even more fun. At the end of each game, Buzz! will give players awards like "fastest buzzer" or "most wrong answers." You can probably see by now how this game can be very enjoyable with four players and a room full of people.
Alex Trebek Should Play This Game
The Buzz! bundle, with the game and controllers, normally goes for about $40, which is an incredible bargain. Sony has also released a Buzz! Junior for kids that also uses the Buzz! controllers. In addition, Sony has already announced Buzz! The Hollywood Quiz, which will come in a bundle with the controllers or just the game by itself for use with controllers that players already own.
The only thing about Buzz! is that the controllers are not wireless, so you have wires running along the ground while you play. To be quite honest, this isn't that big of a deal when you weigh the pros and cons; for example, remember that Buzz! is made for casual gamers in a casual setting. Casual gamers are a lot less inclined to fork over buckets of cash for games that come with more expensive wireless controllers. Also, gamers would have to run to the store and pick up batteries for their controllers every once in a while, which would be an ongoing issue with the release of future Buzz! games that will have players use the controllers more often.
If you own a PS2, then Buzz! is a great way to have a good time with friends. If you don't even own a PS2, then I must not be talking to you because everyone owns a PS2. EVERYONE!
Peter Rizkalla is a lifelong aficionado of videogames and the videogame industry. He has worked in videogame companies such as THQ and Namco and has won several awards for his animated short films, including his videogame-themed Flash film Toadstool Funk. Peter can be reached at PRizkalla@gmail.com.