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Press Start: May 2008 -- Take It To-Go!

In this month's "Press Start," Peter "The Rizk" Rizkalla checks out Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword, God of War: Chains of Olympus, Nanostray 2, Insecticide and, yes, Teenage Zombies: Invasion of the Alien Brain Thingys.

A while back I wrote an article in which I included reviews for Sony PSP games only. The article turned out really good! So good, in fact, that I have once again decided to write an article reviewing games for one specific platform. But, then again, I said to myself, "Why just do one platform when there are so many? Why not just write reviews for games on a type of platform." That's when I said to myself, "It's time to release an article dedicated to portable games!" After that I stopped talking to myself.

Some really good portable games have been released recently and I just had to get my hands on them. A few well-known franchises have made a return, and a few indie titles have hit the shelves also, so this month we have a fair mix of both. But I must warn you, enjoy the reviews of these games while you can because up until now I have filtered out all the good games from the gawd-awful games. Remember, this is AWN, people! We only bring out the best of the industry! But a guy can only take so much crap, and you never know what month Ol' Pete might snap and just start venting (hint, hint). But since that hasn't happened yet, enjoy the awesome portable games in this month's "Press Start"!

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Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword is exactly the kind of action/adventure game the DS needs.

Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword for the Nintendo DS; Publisher: Tecmo; Developer: Team Ninja; Release Date: March 25, 2008; ESRB Rating: T for teen; Genre: action/adventure; Players: 1; Support: N/A; Online: Nintendo Wi-Fi rankings

Ninja Star-dom

Now that's what I'm talking about! Ninjas are the coolest thing to happen to video games ever. All of history's greatest games had ninjas in them, all the way back to the first Ninja Gaiden on the original NES. I gotta tell ya, I was skeptical at first about the idea of controlling this game almost completely with the stylus, but it really turned out great.

Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword for the DS is exactly the kind of action/adventure game the industry can learn from and is also the kind of action/adventure game the DS needs in its library, especially with the whole "Nintendo systems are only for kids" stereotype that the DS has garnered. Players, once again, take control of the famous ninja hero Ryu Hayabasa, as he wields the legendary Dragon Sword against hordes of ninjas, monsters and other baddies.

Slice 'Em Up, Ask Questions Later

Like I just said: slashing, jumping, double jumping, throwing shurikens and performing any other kind of attack is done completely with the stylus. Blocking is the only maneuver not done with the stylus; that is actually done by pushing any of the buttons on the DS, including any of the directional buttons. The story is typical ninja fare, with there being a light sword and a dark sword and the "forces of evil" trying to get their hands on the dark sword to obtain ultimate power. Attacking just means slashing the enemy with the stylus in any direction and, depending on the direction you slash, means Ryu will perform different sword strikes.

Sliding the stylus up, however, will make Ryu jump and another quick slide up is how to perform a double jump. Many other moves, like rolling, downward slashes and the Izuna Drop, are all very easy to perform and, of course, no Ninja Gaiden game would be complete without a little Ninpo magic. Ninpo magic attacks are performed by first filling the magic gauge by collecting red orbs, then drawing the symbol of the Ninpo magic when prompted. More and more Ninpo magics can be unlocked, along with some new maneuvers to keep things spicy. NGDS is actually surprisingly nonlinear; many times you'll find yourself having to backtrack with a newly acquired ability and overcome an obstacle that you could not overcome before.

Never Eat a Ninja's Lunch

The jumping is the only thing that is a little tricky. Sometimes it can be difficult to get your character to land exactly where you want, but oftentimes there are very small consequences for inaccurate jumps. Still, it would feel a lot better knowing you can jump right where you want when you want to. You would think that, with so many moves performed with the stylus, things would either get confusing or out of control, but that's not the case. Tecmo took their time on this one and made the controls very natural.

Unlike many other Ninja Gaiden games, NGDS breaks the tradition of being difficult as hell and comes out with a difficulty that doesn't make you want to put a bullet through your head. But if you really do want a difficulty setting that makes you grind your teeth down to small, dull pearls, then you can always unlock the hard mode and have yourself a masochistic time! If you're a fan of Brain Age-style games, then Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword is not for you. But if you are the kind of gamer that loves ninjas and a good fight, you owe it to yourself to pick up this awesome DS title.

Sony has released a shining gem for the PSP in the form of God of War: Chains of Olympus.

God of War: Chains of Olympus for the Sony PSP; Publisher: SCEA; Developer: Ready At Dawn; Release Date: March 4, 2008; ESRB Rating: M for mature; Genre: action/adventure; Players: 1; Support: N/A; Online: N/A

Working on the Chain... Gang

Now this one looks pretty familiar, don't you think? We've celebrated the release of God of War titles before, haven't we? Sony has released a shining gem for its smallest gem, the PSP, in the form of God of War: Chains of Olympus. The story of Chains is actually a prequel to the events of the first God of War released for the PS2 a while back. Kratos is back in all his supercool, super-brutal splendor. This time around the gods have favors to ask of Kratos and this is a big one. Kratos must stop a rouge god named Morpheus; now before you go getting your hopes up with visuals of Kratos jacking in to the Matrix, let me explain that this Morpheus has no relation to Laurence Fishburne. Morpheus the god has engulfed the world in darkness and, one by one, the good gods are falling under his influence. Kratos must raise up the only god that can stop Morpheus, which is the fallen sun god Helios.

All kinds of new puzzles, storylines and environments have been added to Chains of Olympus, but this title still feels like an expansion pack. © SCEA.

Action That Fits Even in the Smallest Purse

You'll be happy to know that not much has changed from the original GoW formula. Kratos still kills off many monsters while collecting orbs to power up his weapons. He also fights off some very interesting new critters, such as the fire-breathing Basilisk. All this is done through the always-stellar visuals that the GoW franchise is known for. Players will definitely be treated to some beautiful 3D architecture and smooth, believable character animations. Speaking of the animations, an interesting thing to note about Chains is the fact that the lip-syncing is flawless. That is not an easy task in 3D, as many of you may already know.

The story is entertaining mainly because the dialog is so believable. Having great dialog is typical of any God of War title. TC Carson makes a return as the voice of Kratos and does an amazing job. It was revealed in God of War II that the narrator's voice was actually the voice of the titan Gaia, which is played by Linda Hunt. Linda Hunt returns in that very same role and sets an unmatchable tone for the entire game. Her voice talent is very welcome and should always be welcome in the God of War series. OK, OK; enough of my celebrity gushing, back to the game!

I Imagine Kratos Being an Angry Drunk

I have to tell you I feel very sorry for the families of these game designers because, judging by the countless hours that must go into creating these huge worlds and puzzles, these guys must never get to see their families! All kinds of new puzzles have been added to Chains and also expect to see plenty of "button-prompted" action sequences throughout the game. Like I said, not much has changed from the previous God of War titles, which is both a good and bad thing. It's bad because there is nothing really new, other than the story and environments, which make Chains of Olympus feel kind of like an expansion pack. But it's good because nothing was ever wrong with the first God of War games, so why try to change something that works? The only thing that really bugs out is the poor choice of control for certain moves; for example, blocking is done with the L trigger and jumping is done with the X button, so you would expect to be able to roll by holding block and hitting jump. Instead, players have to hold the L and R triggers together then move a direction to roll. This cramps up your fingers a little, especially if you have big hands.

The PSP library to this day is still lacking exclusive titles but, as a trend, all of the exclusives have been very good, with the exception of the Metal Gear games. God of War: Chains of Olympus is just what you would expect from a God of War title: a great action/adventure game for the PSP.

Nanostray 2 brings much more to the table than its predecessor, especially in the area of graphics.

Nanostray 2 for the Nintendo DS; Publisher: Majesco; Developer: Shin'en; Release Date: March 11, 2008; ESRB Rating: E for everyone; Genre: arcade shooter; Players: 1-2; Support: wireless single-card and multi-card play; Online: Nintendo Wi-Fi rankings

Shoot, Shoot 'Em Up, Shoot 'Em Up

Let's get one thing straight. Before there were shooters, there were shooters. Let me explain: before the Halo 3s and the Army of Twos and the BioShocks, there were the Ikarugas, the R-Types and the Gradiuses. These were the arcade-style spaceship shooters and they were hard! Arcade spaceship shooters have pretty much died out nowadays, or, should I say, spaceship shooters in arcades have died out. The only time you see an arcade-style spaceship shooter is when the older ones are re-released in a compilation titles like Capcom Arcade Classics, but that's not to say that there can never be any more arcade-style spaceship shooters. In fact, Nanostray 2 is exactly the answer to that prayer.

Spawned from the original Nanostray for the DS, Nanostray 2 brings much, much more to the table than its predecessor. The graphics in NS2 have been given a significant overhaul; the first NS had players play from a bottom-to-top, three-quarter angle, which worked out really well. This time around, Majesco has decided to take it back to the oldschool with straight-on, left-to-right views and straight-on bottom-to-top views that are all in 3D art. There is actually a story behind this one, with a female narrator guiding you through the whole way.

NS2 can be controlled using either the traditional crosspad or the buttons method. All in all, Nanostray 2 is an awesome game. © Majesco Entertainment.

Where the Hell Are the Other Ships in This War?

Players used to be able to switch among four different weapons on the fly during gameplay. Now players actually have more weapons to choose from, but you only use one during gameplay, which you must choose at the beginning of each flight. The weapon you choose is actually the kind of special shot you will be able to shoot. To offset this loss, players now have a regular shot (which is very similar to the blue rapid-fire shot in NS1) and adjustable satellites. The two satellites fire the same shots as your ship's regular gun, which adds even more firepower. The satellites position around your ship, and angle of fire can be edited before each flight, and there are three different customizable satellite positions that players can switch among at any time during gameplay, which makes things fun and strategic.

NS2 can be controlled using one of two methods, one being the traditional crosspad and buttons method which, of course, allows you to decide before flights how fast your ship will move when using the crosspad. The second method involves controlling your ship with the stylus, which is actually a great idea and controls well, but there is just one problem with it. When maneuvering your ship with the stylus, you can only view the action on the bottom screen, which means your stylus is going to get in the way of the action. I actually think this would have been a great method for controlling the game had players been able to view the action on the top screen and control it from the bottom.

Thank God for Unlimited Ammo>A small problem is the fact that in the first Nanostray there was a button that, when pressed, attracted all the power-ups on the screen to your ship, whereas now you have to chase after the power-ups. Also, in the first Nanostray you had an energy bar that allowed you to take a certain amount of damage. Now just one hit kills you! All in all, Nanostray 2 is an awesome game; trying to beat it may be harder than eating the cartridge, but it's still a great spaceship arcade shooter.

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Insecticide plays out like a film noir, except with insects! © Gamecock Media Group.

Insecticide for the Nintendo DS; Publisher: Gamecock Media Group; Developer: Crackpot Entertainment; Release Date: March 11, 2008; ESRB Rating: E for everyone; Genre: adventure; Players: 1; Support: N/A; Online: N/A

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night...

Yet another underground DS game by the same guys who brought us Dementium has just hit the shelves. Insecticide is a third-person adventure game set in a "New York underbelly"-style world where insects are now the dominant species. For now, Insecticide is a DS exclusive, but it has already been announced as an upcoming release on PCs as well. Players step into the many shoes of Chrys Liszt, along with her partner Roachy Caruthers. Chrys and Roachy are investigators in the city of Troi, working for the insect police. Insecticide's shinning jewel is its story. It plays out like a film noir and what film noir would be complete without the main character having a dramatic and mysterious back story? A few secondary characters include the humorous slob sidekick Roachy, the tough yet softhearted Eugene "Grubbs" Grubbowski and the always angry chief of police Chief Chigger (c'mon, what police unit is ever complete without an angry chief?).

Even Bug Cops Love Doughnuts

The action side of Insecticide might remind you of a third-person shooter, but it's not. Although, as in a 3PS, players will get the chance to run, jump, shoot and gain new weapons along the way. Gamecock has developed a whole new control style for Insecticide that might be a little confusing at first, but doesn't take long to get used to. Players move forward and backwards with the crosspad and turn left and right by sliding the stylus across the touch screen. Players can also use the crosspad to turn left and right, but not only does doing this make you stop... turn... then move forward, using the stylus is a heck of a lot faster, which leads me to believe that using the crosspad to turn is mostly for delicate turns for precise situations.

The more puzzling and dramatic side of Insecticide is that players will investigate many different areas of the game using the touch screen to find clues and essential items from various spots to help solve puzzles and cases. Players will also have the opportunity to interrogate criminals and question witnesses. Insecticide is actually a pretty big game for the DS; it's a lot like a much smaller version of Mass Effect, just with insects and a whole lot of mystery.

Hands Up! All of Them!

In between objectives, players will be treated to some gorgeous-looking cinematics, which help flesh out the story. Now, as gorgeous as the cinematics are, it hurts to see how the actual in-game graphics are held back by the DS' hardware limitations. Oftentimes you will find pixilated texture maps on the small 3D models. The game still runs pretty smoothly and is a great experience, especially when you take into account the outstanding artistic style and feel.

You gotta love the spirit of a good underground title like Insecticide. The DS presents the perfect opportunity for indie developers to test out the waters of the game industry to see if it's biting, before spending the resources on "big bait" such as the upcoming PC version of Insecticide. From what I have seen and played so far, I must say this: I enjoy Insecticide on the DS simply because it is a design masterpiece, but I am much more psyched to play the PC version when it is released.

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Teenage Zombies: Invasion of the Alien Brain Thingys for the DS is a new take on the puzzle platformer.

Teenage Zombies: Invasion of the Alien Brain Thingys for the Nintendo DS; Publisher: Ignition Entertainment; Developer: InLight Entertainment; Release Date: April 15, 2008; ESRB Rating: E for everyone; Genre: action puzzle; Players: 1; Support: N/A; Online: N/A

Brains Suck!

I've always said that ninjas are the coolest characters ever (especially the teenage, mutant, turtle variety), but there are only two things in this world that come close to the coolness of ninjas... guys with huge guns and zombies. Now, typically I would say that using ninjas and guys with huge guns is cool, while, on the other hand, blowing up zombies is just as cool. But in this case you are actually using zombies and, get this, they're the good guys! Teenage Zombies: Invasion of the Alien Brain Thingys for the DS is a new take on the puzzle platformer.

Basically what is happening is that aliens have invaded earth and are enslaving and vaporizing humans left and right. So you've got these really athletic kids that died a while back and have now risen from their graves to save the world. But why the heck would zombies want to save the world? It turns out they don't really care about the world, they're just really hungry and the invading aliens just so happen to come in the form of a zombie's favorite snack, brains.

Do Brains Go Good with Red Wine or White?

Players take control of Zack "Half-Pipe" Boyd, Lori "Lefty" Lopez and Finnigan "Fins" Magee. Each of the teenage zombies has his or her own set of skills which allows them to overcome obstacles and get their rotten hands on brain meat. This title is, at its core, an action/puzzle platformer and players can switch among the three characters at any time during gameplay to surmount the many challenges that await them. Lefty's skills allow her to grab ahold of high ledges and pull herself up. Fins' tentacles allow him to stick to walls and grab ahold of ropes. Half-Pipe scoots around on his skateboard, which makes him the most maneuverable and useful when you encounter a ramp. These are just a few of the skills that each character possesses and players will have to use each character's specific skill set to overcome in-game puzzles and obstacles. Each character also has specific items that they can use to cause a little more chaos and mayhem for the invading brain army.

This Time, Zombies Are Your Neighbors

As you progress through TZ you will notice that there are many humorous bits and pieces in this title. The game was pretty much made to be as funny as it is entertaining. In your undead adventures, you will unlock many different secrets, such as comic strips and mini-games. The mini-games in TZ are actually very entertaining; you don't see many developers putting a whole lot of effort into mini-games when they would rather invest more time in the game itself and then just slap on a mini-game or two as a little something extra. The art style has some gorgeous 2D art, with some interesting yet (unfortunately) forgettable music and sound effects.

Teenage Zombies comes out strong as yet another indie title for the ever-popular (and ever-marketable) Nintendo DS. This is definitely an underground hit and should definitely be checked out, especially if you are an admirer of good, independent work.

Peter Rizkalla is a lifelong aficionado of video games and the video game industry. He has worked in video game companies such as THQ, Namco and 2K Games, and has won several awards for his animated short films, including his video game-themed Flash film Toadstool Funk. Peter can be reached at PRizkalla@gmail.com.

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