Variety being the spice of life, Peter "The Rizk" Rizkalla exposes himself to Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Mercenaries 2: World in Flames, Galaga Legions and N+.
Everyone loves a little variety. Think about the food you eat; if you like cheeseburgers, but you start eating them every day, then soon enough you're not going to like cheeseburgers anymore. You got to change it up a little; why do you think that there are so many buffets in Vegas? That's what kills me about some guys; everybody has that one friend that does nothing but play the same damn game over and over again like Halo 3 or Call of Duty 4 or Madden! It's not because they don't have the cash to pick up another game; it's because they just can't open their thick skulls and consider that, yes, there are other good games out there.
If you happen to be the kind of guy (or girl) that I'm talking about, then allow me to open a whole new door for you. Like I always say, it's a great time to be a gamer because this month we got shooters, puzzlers, adventures, action, comedy, oldschool, newschool, all kinds of good stuff. If you happen to be the kind of gamer that loves a good variety and doesn't just spend their cash on the mainstream games, then you're going to love this issue also. Come hungry to this month's edition of "Press Start."
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii Sony PSP, Sony PlayStation 2 and Ninteno DS; Publisher: Lucas Arts; Developer: Lucas Arts; Release Date: September 16, 2008; ESRB Rating: T for teen; Genre: action/adventure; Players: 1; Support: N/A; Online: N/A
You Don't Need To See His Identification
I love the Star Wars series. I mean, who the heck doesn't? But up until now, the Star Wars action/adventure games have been crap. The only good Star Wars games were the Rogue Squadron games, which are spaceship shooters, and the Knights of the Old Republic series, which are RPGs, and even then players never really got to enjoy a good solid light saber fight (the sloppy light saber controls in the Jedi Knight series don't count.)
These Aren't the Droids You're Looking For
A lot of hype has been surrounding Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, mainly for two reasons. One, because even months before Force Unleashed was released, it showed off the most incredible-looking force powers. More incredible than any other Star Wars game or movie! And two, because the story of Force Unleashed is a direct part of the Star Wars story itself. The events of Force Unleashed happen right in between the Star Wars: Episodes III and IV movies. Right out of the box, you start off using Darth Vader. Everyone's favorite dark lord has been hunting the last of the Jedi and he lands on the Wookiee planet Kashyyyk in search of another Jedi master. As you force blast your way through hoards of Wookiees, you finally reach the hiding Jedi Master. After defeating the Jedi Master, Darth Vader finds that this Jedi has a son who is incredibly strong in the force. Darth Vader decides to take on this boy as his apprentice behind the emperor's back. Years pass, and the boy grows into a powerful Sith -- that's when things get even more interesting!
Bar none, this is the best-looking Star Wars game ever. The force effects are incredibly dramatic; you'll almost cuss when you see Darth Vader charge up a force push and take down an entire building! At the beginning, the Apprentice has a few force powers at his disposal, such as force grabbing and throwing, but can soon perform powers such as force lightning, throwing his light saber like a boomerang, and whipping out light saber combos that we all wish we could do in real life! Even later, the Apprentice can combine powers such as channeling force lightning through his light saber and also force grabbing an enemy, holding them in midair and throwing his light saber to impale the enemy. The only force power you don't use is the Jedi mind trick! Throughout the game there are secret pick-ups that give the Apprentice new costumes, allow the Apprentice to advance his force powers, and also change the color, style and effect of his light saber.
He Can Go About His Business
The story fits seamlessly into the Star Wars canon and the voice acting is outstanding. The dialogue communicates believable characters and never takes itself too seriously, adding a few comical moments here and there (but don't expect to see the emperor riding a unicycle or anything like that!) As you progress through the gorgeous levels, you will come in contact with huge bosses like Rancors and junk titans, who, after being beaten on for a while, can be finished off with a pre-rendered finisher that is initiated by timed button presses, just like in God of War. The only real problem with Force Unleashed is that it's a little buggy. You'll come across small things like collision bugs, but nothing so crazy that it interferes with the game. This is the absolute best Star Wars action/adventure game ever made. In fact, this is the kind of action/adventure game that ranks right up there with the God of War series and the Devil May Cry series.
Mercenaries 2: World in Flames for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 2; Publisher: Electronic Arts; Developer: Pandemic Studios; Release Date: August 31, 2008; ESRB Rating: T for teen; Genre: third-person shooter; Players: 1; Support: N/A; Online: co-op multiplayer
Things That Make You Go BOOM!
The game industry has always had a variety of games to choose from, but it seems like certain game genres become seriously popular as time goes by. Back in the late '80s, action/adventure games were extremely popular. Fast-forward 10 years into the '90s and fighting games were all over the place. Jump another 10 years into the late 2000s and it seems like first-person and third-person shooters are what everyone is playing. Most people would say that Mercenaries 2 would fall into the "shooter" category, but what I see is a third-person shooter mixed with a sandbox action/adventure game like Grand Theft Auto.
It's Like Freelance, but You Get To Kill People
In Mercenaries 2 you can play as three different characters -- Jen Mui, Chris Jacobs or Mattias Nilsson -- but the story basically revolves around Mattias. Basically, you were hired by a Venezuelan political leader named Eduardo Solano to rescue his military commander Carlos Carmona. After you do so, instead of paying the money they owe you, they decide to put a bullet in your ass... literally. So to pay back Solano you break into his estate, blow up all his guards and use his mansion as your new headquarters. From that point on, your main goal is to locate Solano. You then perform various missions to befriend factions and organizations in order to get closer to Carmona. The action is awesome, the way a 3PS should be, and the story can get downright hilarious. I won't spoil anything, but I will say this: just wait until you have to get the Devastator.
In between missions you can roam the open world to find ammo, fuel, guns and money. Also, you can head back to your headquarters and gamble against your director, Fiona, for big cash. Even the obstacle courses that Fiona sets up for you are hilarious; mind you, your headquarters is Solano's mansion, so in one course you have to shoot holes in Solano's paintings in a certain amount of time. In another course you have helicopters throwing Solano's cars through the sky and you have to blow them up in the air.
I Wonder If These Guys are Hiring
As you travel through levels, you can take people's vehicles to get to where you are going and even disguise yourself as a faction member. You can do many other things with the trucks, cars, tanks and other vehicles, such as dive out of a moving vehicle and send it flying into a group of enemies who are conveniently standing next to explosive barrels.
Going online and playing with a friend makes the game even more fun. With the action, comedy and online multiplayer, this game feels a lot like Army of Two. I only have one small grumble about Mercs 2. The graphics are good, but not great. As in Uncharted, textures will fade in instead of pop in, which is a good thing, but sometimes they fade in too late. Sometimes you will drive past a grassy trail and watch as plants quickly sprout from the ground as you drive by them. The first Mercenaries was released by LucasArts, so as a bonus feature Han Solo from Star Wars and Indiana Jones from... Indiana Jones made appearances on Xbox and PS2 respectively. It would have been great to have a new special guest character in this installment of Mercs. Mercenaries 2 is a great 3PS; it might not be a blockbuster, but it sure as heck is a damn good ride.
Galaga Legions for the Xbox 360; Publisher: Namco Bandai; Developer: Namco; Release Date: August 20, 2008; ESRB Rating: E for everyone; Genre: top-down shooter; Players: 1; Support: N/A; Online: N/A
Prepare for Space War
It looks to me like top-down shooters have been making a massive return from the '80s. Like... a totally awesome return! Personally, I say, "Why the heck not?" In any game library you have to have a good amount of top-down shooters. It's like this: if the game industry was a balanced diet, then top-down shooters would be the vegetable group. Lots of them are really good, some of them won't agree with you. But you have to have them because they're good for you. Namco has just served up a healthy dish called Galaga Legions, which is a remake of the original, quarter-swallowing Galaga.
Damn Bee Ships!
Legions is pretty simple; aliens come from every part of the screen and you need to blast them. The idea is simple, but the execution can range from a piece of cake to damn near impossible. Shooting down alien ships is pretty satisfying and, unlike the original Galaga, the main ship now shoots a nonstop, rapid-fire gun, rather than shooting only two shots at a time. Also, the aliens are harder to take down; the reason why is because a lot of them don't go down with only one shot and also because they come at you in groups of 50 at a time! Sounds hopeless, right? Not to worry, because the aliens have an "Achilles' heel." Within each wave of enemies is a bright glowing orange ship, which when shot down will take down the entire fleet. This helps out a lot, but the other alien ships know how to protect the orange ship, whether by moving it really fast or by surrounding it with other ships.
Before waves of ships come out at you, you will notice random shapes and lines appearing on the screen. This is basically a very well done radar system. The shapes and lines tell you exactly where alien ships will appear and where they will travel, which brings me to the visuals. Visually, Legions looks great. The new 3D look makes the main ship, alien ships and the background look great. But let's just say you don't like the 3D look; Legions comes with a visual setting called "vintage" that keeps the new gameplay, but makes all the ships look as they did in the first Galaga. Another great feature is the drones. The main ship can now break off the left and right pieces of itself and set them in individual spots to continuously shoot up, down, left or right while the player moves the main ship freely around the screen. This is a huge help considering that the alien ships come from every direction. I only wish the drones could fire in diagonal directions as well.
Is There a Cocktail Table Version of This?
This is the absolute best feature of Legions... are you ready? Remember how in the original Galaga the aliens could capture your ship and use it against you? Well, now you can capture about 20 of their ships and use their simultaneous fire power against the rest of the oncoming aliens. Not only that, but the aliens can be set as drones as well!
Even with all these new abilities, Galaga Legions is still pretty difficult. It kind of reminds me of Ikaruga, but a lot less insane. There is also a Championship mode where the idea is to rack up a high score. There's not much else as far as additional content, which is sad because a multiplayer option would have been awesome. Either way, Legions is still great; it's hard, yes, but you feel free enough to do something about it. The graphics are great and the whole game is positively dripping with "oldschool." It's definitely a winner and thank God that it doesn't take quarters!
for the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP; Publisher: Atari; Developer: SilverBirch Studios; Release Date: August 26, 2008; ESRB Rating: E for everyone; Genre: action/puzzle; Players: 1; Support: N/A; Online: N/A
A Pacifist Ninja... Go Fig'
Have you ever played an online Flash game? How about this: have you ever developed an online Flash game? The fact is there are game developers out there who have had great success with online Flash games. Just look at The Behemoth; these are the guys that created Alien Hominid, which started as an online Flash game and was then picked up by publishers and released on the Gamecube, Xbox and PS2. The same guys then created a recent Xbox 360 exclusive, Castle Crashers. N+ is another online game that started off as just "N." The idea is that you play as a ninja (hence the N), but you don't wield any weapons and you don't kill anyone; this time it's all about gold.
The Greedy Ninja GaidenN+ is a graphically simple game. The main character is a small black stick figure collecting small gold squares within blue and grey levels; that's pretty much it. What makes this game great is actually the physics. You control the ninja as he runs, jumps and launches from wall to wall while dodging bombs, guns, lasers, rockets and all kinds of other mechanical traps. The longer the ninja runs, the faster he goes; the faster he goes, the farther and higher he can jump, which gives the game a very real feeling of momentum. The puzzles are typically the same, where you travel from one area of the level to another, hitting a switch that opens a door to exit the level, all the while collecting as much gold as you can to increase your score and time.
Timing is excruciatingly important in N+. Bouncing off walls at the exact moment will increase your speed and help you to get a better time and also help you get over huge gaps and into impossible areas. Speed also can be your enemy; if you're not careful, you might send yourself barreling into a pile of bombs. Falling from a huge height will also kill your ninja, so you have to either slow your fall by sliding down a wall, or land on a slope so that your ninja can run down it as he lands. The levels are each unique and there are literally hundreds of them. As you play through N+, you will unlock more and more levels, as wells as bonuses such as new colors for your ninja.
Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go!
N+ is kind of like an action version of Tetris; it's a puzzle game, but you have to use action moves to solve it. N+ is fun, with decent design, and it just fits perfectly on portable systems.
Peter Rizkalla is a lifelong enthusiast of videogames and the videogame industry. He has worked in various videogame companies, including THQ, Namco and 2K Games, and avidly attends many game conferences such as E3 and E for All. Peter can be reached at PRizkalla@gmail.com.