Press Start: October 2007 -- Legendary

In this month's "Press Start," Peter "The Rizk" Rizkalla reviews the latest editions in the legendary Halo and Metroid Prime franchises, as well as Heavenly Sword, Drawn to Life and Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD Remix.

There is a reason why this article is named Legendary. The big three have pulled off some really good ones this time around. Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft each have a big name featured this month, not to mention a couple other titles that also reveal some legendary prowess. It's a good time to be a gamer, people; no matter what system you own, there is a winner out there with your name written all over it right now. Let's not forget that hard-working artists, animators, programmers and producers have spent many years perfecting their craft so that we can reap the fruits of the greatest industry this world has ever seen.

That's what makes this industry great, that's what makes these games Legendary. Check out the reviews and make sure you play these games for yourself. It's gonna be a fun ride in this month's edition of Press Start!

All hail Halo 3! But does the game live up to the insane hype?

Halo 3 for the Xbox 360; Publisher: Microsoft; Developer: Bungie; Release Date: September 25, 2007; ESRB Rating: M for Mature; Genre: first-person shooter; Players: 1-4; Support: system link, 2-16 players; Online: multiplayer matches and co-op, 2-16 players

Oh The Anticipation

Halo... just say the word and watch as it makes millions of fanboys quiver like Jello. Anyone with an original Xbox would probably be excommunicated by his friends if he did not own Halo or Halo 2. It's been three years since the last installment of this ridiculously popular series and fans have begun to foam at the mouth with expectation. After enjoying Halo and Halo 2 on the older original Xbox, fans can now rejoice as the Halo series comes to the current generation Xbox 360 for the first time ever. Halo 3 opened to the largest crowd of anticipant gamers ever. It was like a celebration; even Mountain Dew sent road crews to make appearances at many video game stores during the Halo 3 release. They even got this new soda which is supposed to make you a better gamer by letting you grow a sixth finger on each hand, or something.

Needless to say, people developed a love for this game before it even came out. But was it worth it? Does Halo 3 live up to this insane amount of hype? Is this game as good as people expect? Will Batman and Robin be able to escape the evil clutches of The Joker? (sorry...)

What A Cool Name... Master Chief

The story line picks up exactly where Halo 2 left off. Master Chief was last seen on the Forerunner and then crash-lands on earth. A crew of Marines and the Arbiter come to his aid and the story begins. Right from the start you will notice that the graphics are a big improvement from the last two Halo games. Texture maps are cleaner and the lighting is a lot better. Even the characters in the cut scenes look a lot less blocky.

Graphics are a big improvement from the last two Halo games. Texture maps are cleaner, the lighting is better and the characters are less blocky. Courtesy of Bungie Studios/Microsoft Game Studios.

There isn't anything new to the gameplay. There's your standard first-person shooter controls, the ability to wield dual weapons, turrets, grenades, vehicles, all that jazz. There are a couple new things added to the gameplay, like now when players man a turret they can rip the damn thing from the stand and take it with them; when you take a turret from its stand, the view changes from a first-person view to an over-the-shoulder third-person view, which is a great addition.

The single-player campaign is Halo's shining star. Halo has an incredibly deep storyline, so deep in fact that there are books that have been published that chronicle the Halo story. Players, once again, control the main hero, Master Chief. Military forces are locked in a battle against the Covenant. The Covenant is an empire of aliens who seek to destroy the universe. That pretty much makes them the bad guys. The single-player campaign does not necessarily have to be a single-player campaign; players can team up to take on the main adventure cooperatively over Xbox LIVE. In fact, almost every mode in the game will allow a friend to join in at any time!

In addition to the main adventure mode (this is a no-brainer), players can hop online and take on millions of Halo 3 players in different types of matches over Xbox LIVE. Players can now create their own matches and match rules, which is a lot like what we've seen in PC-based first-person shooters for years now. Before Halo 3 was released, Microsoft announced a new mode for Halo 3 called Forge. Forge allows players to create there own maps, or so it seems. Forge is not actually a map-builder, as you cannot create terrain as in other games such as TimeSplitters: Future Perfect. You can only move or add items and weapons to pre-existing maps. The theatre mode in Halo 3 automatically records videos of the last 25 matches you've played and gives players the ability to take screenshots of in-game footage. Other players can then sign on to Xbox LIVE and view your videos and screenshots. The theatre also records a film every time you edit a level in Forge mode, which isn't really a problem, but it does take up one of the spots in the list of 25 videos.

I'm Not Going to Bed Anytime Soon

The mechanics of Halo 3 make it just a slightly-above-average first-person shooter, but the idea that there will always be competition online in itself makes this game worth having. The single-player/cooperative campaign is the highest point in the game, with a deep story, lots of mission objectives and beautiful cinematics. Of course, the music in Halo 3 would not be complete without the chanting monks. Most of the time during the main adventure there will be no music, which is good because it can become a distraction; but every once in a while the game will start playing a melody that fits the mood pretty well.

Halo 3 is a fun game, especially if you have lots of friends to play it with. Hopefully Bungie will surprise us with some interesting updates on Xbox LIVE in the future.

rizk03_MetroidPrime3-Wii.jpg

Metroid Prime 3, reportedly the final installment of the Metroid Prime series, is a huge step in a different direction from the previous Metroid games.

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption for the Nintendo Wii; Publisher: Nintendo; Developer: Retro Studios; Release Date: August 27, 2007; ESRB Rating: T for Teen; Genre: first-person shooter; Players: 1; Support: N/A; Online: N/A

It's Hot in this Suit

The finale, the fruition, the completion. This is the final installment of the Metroid Prime series, or so we're told. Metroid Prime 3 is a huge step in a different direction from the previous Metroid games. In Metroid Prime for the Gamecube, Samus Aran ventures all alone on the huge world of Tallon IV, fighting off mutated space pirates. In Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, also for the Gamecube, Samus discovers the planet Aether, a world that is ripping itself apart. Aether was twice as big as Tallon IV. Both games were very similar; they both controlled the same way, they both gave you that feeling that you were all alone and it was very easy to get lost in any of them. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption is different in almost all aspects.

Metroid Prime 3 opens up with Samus in her spaceship. Samus pilots her ship to an ally military space station, where she learns that all military space stations are linked by a controlled network. These networks are controlled by living supercomputers called Auroras. The space pirates have somehow managed to inject these organic computers with a virus that spread throughout all the other space stations. Scientists were able to purge the virus, but things are still a little shaky. So right from the beginning of the game, you do something that has never been done in any other Metroid Prime games: freely interact with non-playable characters.

Don't Try the Morph Ball at Home

The controls are a whole new world as well. In the first two Prime games the developers chose to forgo the traditional FPS dual analog controls for a more fluid and unique system. In Metroid Prime 3, the controls are almost like the traditional FPS controls. Movement is done with the analog stick on the nunchuck, but aiming and turning is done by aiming the Wii remote. Using the Wii mote to aim is sensitive, responsive and surprisingly accurate.

The graphics are some of the best we've seen on the Wii so far. The lighting and particle effects are outstanding and the character models are very well-animated. The frame-rate runs very smoothly at a constant 60 frames per second, which is an exemplary feat considering the significantly more immense worlds that Samus ventures through.

Fans used to clamor about the fact that in Metroid Prime and Metroid Prime 2, every once in a while, if the lighting was just right, you could catch a short glimpse of the reflection of Samus' face in her visor. Now when players bring up the scan visor in Prime 3, the reflection of Samus' face stays clearly on-screen. Even Samus' expression has been enhanced; her face now looks like she has a lot more emotion.

The guys over at Nintendo and Retro Studios have never been slouches when it comes to the music of Metroid, so you can expect to hear some charming tunes in Prime 3. The music is fitting for each circumstance; some are familiar tunes that have been remixed, most are newly made compositions, and all are memorable and engaging.

The Grapple Beam: Available at Wal-Mart

Now comes the part of the review that I hate the most. Is there anything amiss about Metroid Prime 3? Well, there aren't that many, but there is one notable problem. There is no multiplayer; neither local nor online, none! This is kind of a problem because Nintendo has taken the opportunity to include online multiplayer in a lot of their games for the Wii, so it's kind of a mystery why it has been excluded from one of its most revered game titles. Sure, they announced that it wouldn't have multiplayer a while back, but it still hurts.

Aside from the exclusion of multiplayer, Metroid Prime 3 has one of the best control schemes in any first-person shooter outside of a mouse and keyboard and is the most beautiful Wii game to date. The gameplay is thoroughly enjoyable and the story progression is like no other Metroid game. Leave it to Nintendo and Retro Studios to put some serious effort into game development and constantly bring something new to the table. This is definitely a must-have for the Wii and will unquestionably become a best-seller in the near future.

rizk05_HeavenlySword-PS3.jpg

Heavenly Sword is like a huge, very well made, animated feature production. The presentation is amazing, with well-designed menus, well-placed camera compositions and great voice acting.

Heavenly Sword for the PlayStation 3; Publisher: SCEA; Developer: Ninja Theory; Release Date: September 12, 2007; ESRB Rating: T for Teen; Genre: action/adventure; Players: 1; Support: Sixaxis motion control; Online: N/A

Damn, This Sword is Heavy

I can think back to my animation classes back in college and remember my professors lecturing about things like composition, lighting, chiaroscuro and the rule of thirds. I can also remember the guy sitting next to me recording the whole session with a tape recorder and frantically writing down every word the professor said. I'm thinking those were the kind of guys who created Heavenly Sword. This sucker is like a huge, very well-made, animated feature production.

The story is set in a "feudal China" atmosphere. An ancient sword, which was once wielded by an ancient god, has been in the possession of an ancient clan (it's more fun when things are ancient). The legend says that a boy will be born in a certain year, destined to be a warrior who can once again wield the sword. The sword would kill anyone who tried to use it, except the prophesied warrior. Instead, in that very year, a girl, Nariko, was born to the chief of the clan. The clan saw this as a curse and mourned their misfortune; not a very "progressive" clan, if you ask me.

A Red-Haired Asian Girl? It Could Happen

Players control Nariko who, despite the sword's curse, wields the heavenly sword. The presentation of Heavenly Sword is amazing. Even the menus are very well designed. Right from the opening cut scene, you notice that the camera compositions are very well placed and the facial expressions and body language of the characters are very well animated. The voice acting is arguably the best voice acting in gaming history. The attitudes of the characters don't feel forced, as in a lot of other games, and the timing of the dialogue is very appropriate for each situation.

The fact that the character models are very well made and very well texture-mapped is a testament to the PlayStation 3's hardware. Sometimes the camera will get in real close to Nariko's face just to show off how high-res her freckles are. Shots like that make you ask yourself, "Is this another attempt at good production or are the developers just showing off?" Heck; if you got it, flaunt it!

The gameplay is an all-around hack-and-slasher, where you fight off hoards of enemies and solve the occasional puzzle. Every once in a while, you take control of Kai, Nariko's sister, and snipe down some bad guys with a crossbow. Heavenly Sword has an interesting way of handling projectiles. Players can either just let things fly to their hearts' content or they can have the camera follow the projectile all the way to the target. When the camera follows the projectile, players can control its course by tilting the Sixaxis controller. This works with anything that can be fired or thrown; Kai's arrows, cannon balls, swords and even dead bodies.

Please, Enough with the Attacks to the Groin!

Heavenly Sword has been in development for a pretty long time and has turned out to be a very welcome title for the PS3. It's actually been called the female God of War. The graphics are amazing, the gameplay is fun, and the motion-sensitive Sixaxis controller actually works in this game and is precise and responsive. The only thing that's a bummer is that this game is short. You can practically beat it in one all-nighter. The music is good, but it's not exactly Asian. In fact the music is more Middle Eastern than anything else. You'll even hear the singer speak in Arabic throughout the game and it kinda throws you off.

It also would have been good to be able to jump in the game. The only time Nariko takes to the air is when she's in a combo. The frame-rate does not move at a constant 60 frames per second, but still runs very smoothly, considering that most of the time there is a lot of stuff happening onscreen. Heavenly Sword is definitely a great game and is more than welcome as one of the best original and exclusive titles on the PS3. I just wish it was longer.

rizk07_DrawnToLife-DS.jpg

Drawn to Life allows the player to create the look of the game by drawing nearly everything.

Drawn to Life for the Nintendo DS; Publisher: THQ; Developer: 5th Cell; Release Date: September 10, 2007; ESRB Rating: E for Everyone; Genre: action/RPG; Players: 1-2; Support: wireless multi-card play; Online: N/A

It's Like that Take On Me Video

Now here's a shiny bit of creativity. THQ has been working on this one for a while and now Drawn to Life has seen the light of day. Drawn to Life is an action RPG, where you play as a god to a cutesy society of people called Raposas. All the Raposas have lost faith in you, except for one, Mari. Her village has been covered in darkness and she is the only one who hasn't stopped praying to you. But of course you're a merciful god, so you hear her prayers and provide a warrior to rescue Mari, her family and her village from this darkness and the villain who creates it.

What makes Drawn to Life so amazing is that you create so much in the game and make it look any way you want it to look. You create the hero, you create the weapons, you create the vehicles, you create the clouds; you basically create nearly everything that is useful in the game. Everything is created by drawing on the DS touch screen. Players have the option of bringing preset templates to life instead of drawing it out themselves, but where's the fun in that?

What the Rapo!

Most of the gameplay is classic 2D side scrolling and platforming, and your created character actually moves pretty well. Drawn to Life plays similarly to Super Mario Bros. Enemies can be hurt by jumping on their heads, and you even have a Mario-esque "butt stomp" maneuver. Like I said before, you also get weapons and vehicles that you "draw to life." Drawn to Life is not all platforming; sometimes you will be able to shoot your way through space in a spaceship or rip into enemies with a snowball launcher.

In between the action parts is a whole lot of dialogue to keep the story together, which gives Drawn to Life its RPG element. You find out that the person responsible for all the darkness is actually an evil Raposa named Wilfre. During the action parts, you use the stylus to do many things, like knock on doors to get money and scrub away dark slime from parts of the level. Switching back and forth from using the face buttons to using the stylus is kind of a hassle, but does not make the game any less fun.

I Got No String to Hold Me Down

The game has a very lighthearted art style and might be considered too kiddie by some. But, hey, the same thing was said about Kirby and look how popular he is now! This game was made for the creative-minded gamer. It might not be the best game for people who don't like to do a lot of drawing, but, at the same time, you can always use one of the templates as your character. For the gamer who is very interested in doing some creative 2D interactive art, then, Drawn to Life was made for you.

The story is fun and the music is entertaining, but the artistic freedom is what makes Drawn to Life so great. It does an amazing job of animating user-created content; many kudos to THQ.

rizk09_PuzzleFighterHDRemix.jpg

Capcom comes through with an HD version of one of the most recognizable puzzle games among gamers, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD Remix.

Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD Remix for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3; Publisher: Capcom; Developer: Backbone Entertainment; Release Date: August 29, 2007; ESRB Rating: E for Everyone; Genre: puzzle; Players: 1-2; Support: 1080p resolution; Online: multiplayer matches

3 Hit Combo! Oh Yeah!

An old-school classic remade for the new school. Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD Remix not only has one of the longest titles of any video game, but is also one of the most recognizable puzzle games among gamers. The original Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo first came out in the arcades and then on the old PS1. Another remake of Puzzle Fighter was made in '03 for the GBA, which was actually pretty good.

But, nowadays, gamers have become gourmets. We just have to have everything in HD and we will settle for nothing less; so Capcom comes through with an HD version of a fan-favorite puzzle-game series. SPF2THDR is exactly what you expect and some things you don't expect. Different color gems fall from top to bottom and players need to stack the same color gems together to create bigger gems and then break them before they reach the very top. When a breaker gem appears, players can shatter the large jewels, causing a rain of counter gems to fall into your opponent's playing field.

Thank God for the Diamond Gem

Players first choose a character; the characters are cutesy versions of characters from previous Capcom fighting games. Every time you break gems during gameplay, your character will either strike or taunt the opposing character. That really doesn't affect gameplay, it's just for laughs and for show. However, counter gems will fall in your opponent's screen in different color patterns, depending on the character you pick.

This newer version of Puzzle Fighter contains four different play modes in one game. Of course we get X mode, which is the original, arcade-style Puzzle Fighter. We also get X' mode, which is a more balanced version of the original arcade style. A lot of players will appreciate this one because there's a notable difference from the original, which can sometimes be harder than a cinder block to the face. In addition to these two play modes, Puzzle Fighter also comes with two completely new play modes. Y mode is a lot like Columns for the SEGA Genesis; players have to line up same-color gems in rows of three or more to break them, so there is no need for breaker gems. Z mode is the fastest-paced mode of the four gameplay modes and is a lot like Tetris Attack or Planet Puzzle League. In Z mode, rows of gems and breaker gems constantly rise up from the bottom of the screen and players rotate the gems using an onscreen cursor. Huge blocks can be formed very quickly and the computer opponent is no slouch.

The Puzzle Fighter series was made for multiplayer competition and SPF2THDR is no exception. Online multiplayer is a blast with almost no lag. Of course there is also local multiplayer, where two friends with two controllers can both play on the same screen. It kinda stinks that ranked online matches can only be played in X mode or X' mode. It would have been great to see some ranked matches in the new Y and Z modes. There's a training mode to help you practice your moves and a how-to-play mode, which might even give the veteran Puzzle Fighter player a few pointers. A challenge mode where players could solve preset puzzles in one or two moves would have also been a great addition to the game.

Real Men Use Dan

The gameplay looks beautiful with the new HD graphics, but the characters are still in their low-res suits. It's a small exclusion, but is not actually a problem. The pixilated characters come off as retro and nostalgic. The gameplay music is the same as previous Puzzle Fighter titles, but the main menu music is a new remix of some older tunes from the Street Fighter Alpha series. You're probably not eager to sit there and stare at the main menu just to hear the music, but it's actually pretty cool if you are familiar with the music in the SF Alpha games.

I would go so far as to say that Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD Remix is a must-have for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 owners. Whether you are familiar with this classic franchise or not, it's a great puzzle game that has been made even better this time around.

Peter Rizkalla is a lifelong fan 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.

Tags 
randomness