Press Start: November 2007 -- The Storm Before the Calm

In this month's "Press Start," Peter "The Rizk" Rizkalla checks out Folklore, Guilty Gear XX: Accent Core, DK Jungle Climber and Spider-Man: Friend or Foe.

Dare I say that the holiday season is around the corner? There is no doubt that game developers have been preparing for this moment as they do every year. I'm no weatherman, but I can guarantee a freakin' hailstorm of games from now until the beginning of December. Stores will be filled with eager kids looking for cool new games, overly eager fanboys looking to buy the new versions of games they already have, and oblivious parents who can't remember what the hell their kids want.

I already have my wish list ready. Sit back and let ol' Pete give you guys a list of games that will put a twinkle in your eye and give you a reason to be thankful this Turkey Day. Don't forget, all of the big-three systems have been out for a year or more and there should be no excuse at all for any of them not to have an impressive library of games by now. I expect nothing but the best from the greatest industry in the world and neither should you, so let's see what the game industry has in store for us!

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The graphics in Folklore are simply awesome. The character designs are outstanding, while the environments in the living world are very realistic. All Folklore images courtesy of SCEA.

Folklore for the PlayStation 3; Publisher: SCEA; Developer: Game Republic; Release Date: October 9, 2007; ESRB Rating: T for teen; Genre: action / RPG; Players: 1; Support: N/A; Online: level sharing.

What the heck happened? When the hell did video games start having even greater production values than movies? It seems like only yesterday that games were comprised of beeps and whistles for music and pixels the size of Zippo lighters for graphics. Sure the games back then were great and are now considered classics, but they never had a presence or created an atmosphere like they do today. Case in point, Folklore!

Folklore is an action/RPG that is set in modern-day Europe. A legend surrounds a small village called Doolin, where people can actually travel to the land of the dead to visit the dearly departed. Players can choose to control either Ellen or Keats, who are perfect strangers, but are both drawn to the small village. Ellen receives a mysterious letter, supposedly from her dead mother, and sets out for Doolin to find her. Keats is a reporter for an occult magazine who receives an equally mysterious phone call, which also leads him to Doolin.

Let's talk a little about the graphics. Simply put... they're awesome. You'll notice some outstanding character designs, from the costumes of the main characters to the design of the many enemies, or "Folk" as they are called in the game. All of the gameplay takes place in either the living realm or the Netherworld. The environments in the living world are very realistic and have a desolate and pale atmosphere with very subtle grey and earth-tone colors. The Netherworld is very stylized, with bright colors and abstract-looking terrain, but it still has that dark feel to it.

According to the story, people can only enter the land of the dead one day out of the year, but, if someone wants to visit on any other day, they must offer up a memento to enter the Netherworld. The gameplay is traditional action-adventure in the Netherworld; players must attack enemies and absorb their spirits to learn new attacks. Absorbing the spirits of enemies that you have already absorbed will allow you to learn even stronger versions of already learned attacks. The enemies you will encounter range from "damn that thing is annoying" to "

For those of you who remember the totally awesome DK King of Swing on the Game Boy Advance, Jungle Climber is the same kind of game, but even more totally awesome.

DK Jungle Climber for the Nintendo DS; Publisher: Nintendo; Developer: Paon; Release Date: September 10, 2007; ESRB Rating: E for Everyone; Genre: adventure; Players: 1-4; Support: wireless singl- card multiplayer; Online: N/A.

Right off the release of the Donkey Kong movie documentary King of Kong, Nintendo has released a couple of new titles starring everyone's favorite barrel-chucking primate, and one of those titles is DK Jungle Climber. Now for those of you who remember the totally awesome DK King of Swing on the Game Boy Advance, Jungle Climber is the same kind of game, but even more totally awesome.

As in DK King of Swing for the GBA, the object of the game is to navigate Donkey Kong through the levels using the L and R buttons as a means of controlling the character's left and right hands when climbing. Also in King of Swing, players could hold down both the L and R buttons to charge up for a rolling attack. Now, in Jungle Climber, players can just tap the A button to launch the rolling attack, rather than having to wait through a charge. DKJC is actually even more of a challenge than its GBA predecessor. One hit kills you in this game, whereas, in KoS, as long as you had bananas (which you always did), you could spend them at any time to fill your energy.

Diddy Kong has a much more active role in DKJC. When Diddy is with you, he can help you use various tools, such as swinging a giant hammer or flying through the level using giant, shiny feathers. Diddy can also be launched from DK's back to extend the distance of the rolling attack and reach places that DK cannot otherwise reach. But you have to be careful; one hit kills Diddy and the next hit kills you. The same old enemies are back and are just as challenging. Levels are crowded with Kitters, Stingers and Neckys, which are basically bipedal crocodiles, giant killer bees and coconut-spitting vultures.

There are plenty of hidden areas and secret items to find, so DKJC keeps players coming back. It also has that pick-up-and-go feel, so it's perfect for those who want to play for a limited amount of time. Courtesy of Nintendo.

Now, what totally awesome portable adventure would be complete without some totally awesome mini-games? In DKJC up to four players can compete in either speed-climbing or rocket-barrel races. There are also some single-player mini-games, such as grabbing bananas and jumping over logs. Actually doing these kinds of things sounds kind of stupid, but trust me -- in the game they're really fun.

There are plenty of hidden areas and secret items to find, so DKJC will keep you coming back to it many times over. Also, this game has that pick-up-and-go feel, so you don't have to totally immerse yourself in it. It's perfect for busy guys like us who are looking to have a good time during the scarce amount of free time that we have.

Now, I don't know what it is, but for some reason it's a pain in the butt to find a Nintendo game with online capability. DKJC has no online play, but I actually think there is a reason for it. The multi-player mini-games would have been pretty fun to play online, but there are only two of them. It would be kind of arbitrary to add online for only two mini-games. Otherwise, DK Jungle Climber is outstanding. The graphics are great, they run smoothly and there are some really good-looking 3D models for the dialog scenes, which is a feat for the DS. If you're an old-schooler, the lack of online play will not bother you, and the main adventure will keep anyone entertained for hours! Everything that DK King of Swing did right, DK Jungle Climber does better.

Spider-Man: Friend or Foe for the Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable and PC; Publisher: Activision; Developer: Next Level Games; Release Date: October 2, 2007; ESRB Rating: E 10+; Genre: action / adventure; Players: 1-2; Support: N/A; Online: N/A

I think it's safe to say that Spider-Man has almost as many games with his face on them as Mario. I mean, c'mon, is there really a more popular super hero than Spider-Man? Superman doesn't count. So why not add another Spider-Man game to the pile? But does this one actually stand out among the plethora of mediocre Spider-Man games? Because there hasn't really been a good Spider-Man game since Ultimate Spider-Man on the PS2. So let's see.

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Spider-Man: Friend or Foe does actually stand out among the plethora of mediocre Spider-Man games.

Spider-Man: Friend or Foe is an action "beat 'em up," where some crazy alien enemies that no one has ever heard of called P.H.A.N.T.O.M.s land on earth and start abducting all kinds of superheroes and super villains. Players control Spider-Man and, with the help of Nick Fury, the commander of S.H.I.E.L.D., recruit old friends and old enemies to help fight off this mutual enemy.

The art style is very simple, without being ordinary. The design of the characters and environments is still charming, with cell-shaded texture maps and characters with slightly exaggerated hands and feet. The game allows you and a friend to play as Spider-Man and a partner of your choosing. As you progress through the game, you will collect orbs to unlock new partners, and the roster is pretty hefty. Characters like Rhino, Blade, Black Cat, Iron Fist and Venom are all playable, and that's just to name a few. The gameplay mechanics are also pretty simple, with attacks and throws being very easy to perform, but that doesn't mean that the combos and attacks are boring. The combos can get pretty huge and pretty impressive, especially when you beat the living bejesus out of an enemy, only to have your partner continue the combo for added humiliation.

The dialogue is some of the funniest you will ever hear. Whenever Nick Fury asks the S.H.I.E.L.D. computer for information, it never fails to be a smart-ass. Even during the gameplay you'll hear funny tidbits; e.g., when Spider-Man and Venom team up and clear the room of a group of baddies, you'll hear Spidey say, "It feels great to be a super hero!" Then you'll hear Venom say, "It also feels great to eat a super hero!" That one cracks me up every time! The music is standard fare. There are different tracks for different levels, but nothing to get too excited about.

The main adventure is stuffed full of some good old-fashioned beat-downs, as well as some interesting puzzles and hidden areas, just to keep things interesting. Of course, no real beat-'em-up is complete without boss battles and sub-boss battles. In addition to the main adventure, SMFOF also has a versus mode, where players can choose from among the unlocked characters and battle it out in a one-on-one slugfest.

One of the problems with SMFO F is that, when you play through the main adventure, one of the two characters has to be Spider-Man. If you're looking to play through the game using Venom and Sandman, you're going to be disappointed. Also, there is no online mode. It would have been nice to be able to play through this game with a friend or someone else online. Another problem is that the game is just too easy! You can die, but you can't really run out of lives. Every time you die, you just get penalized with fewer orbs and then come back to life. The explanation for this is that this game was designed for kids, but c'mon, when we were kids we had games that were seriously challenging; heck, some guys today still can't beat those old-school games.

The framerate in Spider-Man: Friend or Foe is smooth and the gameplay is enjoyable, but it's just not a challenge. If anything, SMFOF reminds me of Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks. Yet it's still fun and the ability to choose from a great list of familiar Marvel characters makes this game pretty darn awesome.

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, such as his videogame-themed Flash film Toadstool Funk. Peter can be reached at PRizkalla@gmail.com.

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