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Press Start: September 2008 -- Saluting the Hardcore Gamer

In this month's column, Peter "The Rizk" Rizkalla checks out the extremity of Soulcalibur IV, Bionic Commando Rearmed, Too Human and Braid.

Here's to you, the hardcore gamer! You play the kind of games that are extreme in every way because you're a hardcore gamer. You play games like Ninja Gaiden II and Metal Gear Solid 4, the kind of games that give you that extreme and exciting kind of satisfaction, the feeling that a hardcore game should give you. You would never dare pick up the controller and play a game that didn't have the most insane graphics ever because you're a hardcore gamer. You would also never pick up a game that made you play differently, like training your mind or creating music; why...? Because you're a hardcore gamer and you always play games that have a serious edge to them!

We're saluting the hardcore gamer in this month's issue. All of the games this month have a hard, sharp edge to them and are the kind of games that you brag to people that you play. We even threw in a game that the hardcore gamer would play when he's relaxing. (C'mon, hardcore gamers have to do something when they're not fragging noobs.) Throw on your best video game T-shirt and make sure your game-related action figures are in their coolest poses because we are checking out only the most hardcore of hardcore in this month's issue of "Press Start"!

Fanboys rejoiced when Bandai Namco announced that Darth Vader and Yoda from the Star Wars franchise would be added as playable characters in Soulcalibur IV.

Soulcalibur IV for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3; Publisher: Bandai Namco; Developer: Project Soul; Release Date: July 29, 2008; ESRB Rating: T for teen; Genre: fighting; Players: 1-2; Support: N/A; Online: 2 player matches

Transcending History and the World

I swear, if Japanese developers are great at only one thing, then it's got to be this: they really know how to make awesome games with cheesy dialogue. I know, I know; the dialogue was made for that country and it doesn't translate well here in the States, but let's talk about that a little later.

The Soulcalibur series is a pretty popular fighting game series for good reason. It started out in arcades with a different name, Soul Edge, and the entire series has commonly been known for its outstanding fighting system, gorgeous visuals and extremely forceful animation. Soulcalibur II was released with a special guest fighter for each of the previous-gen systems, such as Link from The Legend of Zelda on the GameCube version, which was so cool that I'm still playing it! Soulcalibur III was released with a very sophisticated create-a-fighter option, which I'm also still playing with.

This Victory Strengthens the Soul of...

Now we have Soulcalibur IV, which has been released with both of the previous special features from II and III. Now, if the create-a-fighter option and special guest fighters have both made returns to this new installment, then it begs the question, "Who the heck are the special guest fighters this time around?" Fanboys everywhere rejoiced last January as Bandai Namco announced that Darth Vader and Yoda from the Star Wars franchise will be added as playable characters in Soulcalibur IV. After the medic resuscitated me, I went off and reserved a copy.

The gameplay in SC IV is the same awesome fighting system from previous SC installments, plus classic and newer characters have all returned. © NBGI.

What kills me is that Yoda is an exclusive character on the Xbox 360 version, while Darth Vader is an exclusive character on the PS3 version. Ain't that a big puddle of Rancor spit! Hopefully, Bandai Namco will also make Darth Vader and Yoda available on opposite systems through downloadable content so we can actually have some real lightsaber battles! But wait, another Star Wars character that has been added to SC IV is Darth Vader's apprentice from Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. That's right! The main character from a game that hasn't even come out yet and here's the best part... he's like the best character in the game! Darth Vader does big, forceful moves that do huge damage, but he moves pretty slowly. Yoda, on the other hand, jumps all over the place with very flashy moves like he did in Star Wars: Episode II, but it takes a while to knock out an opponent because he doesn't do much damage. The Apprentice is fast, stylized, does great damage and uses more force powers in the game than both Yoda and Darth Vader. Also, he has air combos! No other character in Soulcalibur history could perform air combos and he's only a special guest!

Astaroth Looks Like a Chain Chomp

The fighter selection roster is huge. Classic characters from the SC series like Maxi, Ivy, Voldo and Mitsurugi have all made returns, as well as Rock, who was significantly absent from Soulcalibur II. Newer additions like Zasalamel and Tira have also made a return. The gameplay is still the same awesome fighting system from previous SC installments, but you might notice that most characters' moves have been changed around slightly. Also, the Soul Charge technique isn't around anymore. The parry system is back in Soulcalibur IV, but, to be quite honest, I never really liked the parry system in the Soulcalibur games mainly because, once you parry an opponent's attack, it doesn't leave your opponent open; they can just parry you right back when you try to attack them, so oftentimes you're going to find that you and your opponent are just parrying each other back and forth, over and over again. Thankfully, a lot of attacks can be dodged with some fancy side-stepping and, also, a lot of the characters in the game have custom counterattacks. This might make things a little aggravating for newer players because you have to learn each character's custom counterattacks, but seasoned fighting-game players will have no trouble.

Now, let's talk about the voice acting again. In SC II the voice acting actually wasn't that bad, so this seems like a step down. I mean, c'mon, with a little extra effort even the most Japanese of Japanese games can produce good voice acting like the kind found in Street Fighter 3: Third Strike or The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. The voice acting is almost as bad as in Lost Planet. This is a small issue with the game, but it's worth mentioning. I'm just upset that they got rid of the original narrator who had been doing the narration since the first SC in arcades. Aside from this small issue, Soulcalibur IV is an awesome fighting game with satisfying combat and graphics that fully show off what current-gen systems can really do.

Capcom has shown love to new- and old-school gamers everywhere with Bionic Commando Rearmed, a remake of the original Bionic Commando on the NES, but now with 3D graphics and all kinds of new stuff.

Bionic Commando Rearmed for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC; Publisher: Capcom; Developer: GRIN; Release Date: August 13, 2008; ESRB Rating: M for mature; Genre: action / platformer; Players: 1-4; Support: N/A; Online: N/A

He Cost More than Lee Majors

I wish I could have added this one to last month's article! Capcom has shown love to new-school and old-school gamers everywhere with Bionic Commando Rearmed. Rearmed is a remake of the original Bionic Commando on the NES, but now with 3D graphics and all kinds of new stuff. Like the original BC, in Rearmed it's the year 2029 and you take control of the classic red-haired military hero Nathan "Radd" Spencer as he is sent behind enemy lines to rescue Joseph "Super Joe" Gibson.

He Kicks Butt at Prize-Grabber Machines

Rearmed makes BC look great in its new 3D threads; the entire game has been remade to look absolutely gorgeous. Not only that, but all of the classic music and sound effects have been remixed and reapplied to the game to give it that nostalgic, retro feel. You are armed with a gun, a bionic arm and an inability to jump. In the NES BC the bionic arm allows you to latch onto ledges, ceilings and other structures so you can swing and climb your way through the levels; the same is true for Rearmed, but now you can use the arm to do many other things like grab and throw barrels and enemies, deflect bullets, and a whole bunch of other stuff. New items and weapons have been added this time around, like the shotgun and the plasma rifle, along with classics like the rocket launcher, but don't worry, the useless three-way cannon from the original BC has not made a return (thank God).

The best part about Rearmed is that now you and a friend can play through the adventure cooperatively, which makes for awesome gameplay. © Capcom.

The best part about Rearmed is that now you and a friend can play through the adventure cooperatively, which makes for awesome gameplay. When you and your friend get too far apart from each other during gameplay, the screen splits to accommodate both of you. It's a little confusing as the screen is splitting, but when you consider how in typical co-op games the camera zooms way out and everything gets really small, this split-screen feature is a perfect fit for Rearmed. In addition to the main adventure there are training-exercise areas that challenge you to use your bionic-arm skills to get from one point to the next. More and more training exercises are unlocked as you visit each of the non-hostile areas in the main adventure. The training exercises are fun, but they are only one player; it would have been great to have two players racing each other towards the goal.

No, the Main Bad Guy Is Not M. Bison

In addition to all that content, you also have a multiplayer arena which is a completely new feature for the BC series. Up to four players can blast away at each other in various levels and with all the weapons in the game. Everything about Bionic Commando Rearmed is completely outstanding, except for the fact that none of the multiplayer features are online; everything is local, but at a price tag of only 10 bucks, who the heck cares! BC Rearmed is an incredible remake of the original and is positively stuffed with new content. You'll be enjoying it until years from now when they have to make a remake to the remake!

Too Human is set in a highly advanced technological age where there are humans, machines and humans who are part machine, and who are all part of Norse mythology.

Too Human for the Xbox 360; Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios; Developer: Silicon Knights; Release Date: August 19, 2008; ESRB Rating: T for teen; Genre: action RPG; Players: 1; Support: N/A; Online: 2 player co-op

Too Human Is Too Legit to... Nevermind

Man, it took a long time to get this one out! Too Human had been in development for more than 10 years and it is finally released on the 360. The idea behind this action/RPG is that the world is set in a highly advanced technological age where there are humans, machines and humans who are part machine, but the characters and enemies are all part of Norse mythology. There are people who are just regular mortals, there are people who are revered as gods and there are robots who are given the names of monsters like goblins and trolls. Players control the main character, Baldur, and also choose what class they would like Baldur to play, such as champion, defender, berserker and others.

The first thing you will notice is that the graphics look really good. All throughout the game you will see some of the most well-designed characters and environments. Everything looks great, but you can tell that the graphics could still use some polish, especially when the camera gets really close to a character. Things like the weird-looking eyebrows could have been easily cleaned up with some better shadow effects and better texture mapping. During battles the moves and attacks are good and swift, but it feels like the moves would be a lot more satisfying if the animations were pushed a little harder and made to be more dramatic. The voice acting is an A+ and the dialogue is intelligent, witty and very believable. The great dialogue just adds to the great story that Too Human offers. Baldur is a god who brings his personal vendetta to the war against the machines. Other characters in the game, including the anonymous henchmen, also feel very three-dimensional. The orchestrated music is very well placed and also really adds to the Norse feel of the game.

The immortality issue is the only really big problem with Too Human. Maybe players will be able to die in the sequels, which hopefully won't take another decade or so to come out. © Microsoft Game Studios.

It's Kind of Like Terminator, Only Viking Style

Controlling the game is a change from the traditional that some people might not take kindly to. Using guns is done with the triggers, which is fine, but melee attacks are done by moving the right analog stick, instead of the face buttons; whether you like it or not, this works very well for this kind of game. As you bash your way through hordes of enemies, you will notice that you will be rewarded with some of the most generous (and ridiculous) achievement points of any game on the Xbox 360, as well as huge piles of loot, allowing you to constantly upgrade your weapons and armor, as well as scrap the stuff you don't want for cash to spend on even better weapons and armor. Characters can wield many different types of guns and melee weapons, such as rifles, dual pistols, hammers, spears, swords and dual swords.

Playing through the game feels kind of like playing through an MMO, not just because of the attacks and the loot, but also because a friend can join you to play Too Human cooperatively. There are only a few small things that might rub you the wrong way about this game aside from the problems I already talked about. When you reposition the camera, it cuts to the new position rather than travel to it, so you kind of lose where you are; this really wouldn't be a problem if there were a mini-map on the screen, but that's nowhere to be found either, which, of course, is another problem.

Hooray for Immortality

Up until now the problems have been mild to medium, but here is the spiciest one: nothing happens when you die! Seriously, when you die, a valkyrie comes out to carry your body up to the heavens and then you just reappear right where you died, as if you just left to go to the bathroom or something. This is ridiculous, because it makes it useless to have to replenish your energy when you can just die and come back with full health, and there are no penalties for dying! It should at least require you to start back from your last checkpoint or save point, but that doesn't happen; in fact, Too Human actually has an achievement for dying 100 times. I think that the dying issue is the only really big problem with Too Human; otherwise it's a really good game. Being that this is the first game in a trilogy, let's hope that you can die in the sequels. Heck, let's also hope that it doesn't take another decade or so for the next one to come out.

Braid is one of the most artful and

Braid for the Xbox 360; Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios; Developer: Number None Inc.; Release Date: August 6, 2008; ESRB Rating: E10+ for everyone 10 and over; Genre: puzzle / platformer; Players: 1; Support: N/A; Online: N/A

Why Braid? Why Not Cornrow?

Hey now, wait a minute, back the train up... I understand that puzzle games are good for you and everything, but trying to disguise a puzzle game as a side-scrolling platformer is deception! That's like trying to hide something healthy inside something that tastes good, like putting vegetables on a pizza! All joking aside, I actually love a good puzzle game, and Braid is not only a great puzzle game, but it is one of the brightest pieces of game development in the entire Xbox LIVE Arcade library.

Braid is a 2D side-scrolling platformer about an average-looking main character named Tim. Tim has a perfect relationship with a princess; that's because Tim never ever says or does the wrong thing. Sounds like Tim is a pretty smooth guy, don't you think? But in actuality Tim really isn't that smooth, he just has the ability to control time. So whenever he makes a mistake, he just goes back in time and makes it like the mistake never happened. One day Tim's relationship seems just too perfect and soon his princess is gone -- so now Tim is on a journey to find her.

Great Scott, Marty!

Players control Tim through some extremely clever levels that require him to jump, climb, unlock doors and pull levers, all while using his time-bending abilities to get through each level. For example, in one of the levels you will find a key placed at the bottom of a pit, so you think that there's really no way of getting this key without dying. But what you do is jump into the pit and, once you grab the key, you reverse time so that Tim flies right back up to where he jumped from with the key in hand. The puzzles get way more complicated as you progress through the game. In later levels the entire stage will be frozen in time unless you walk left or right, which requires some pretty fancy moves to get through. Throughout the game there will be puzzle pieces that you can collect that, when put together, will tell some of the story.

Braid is not only a great puzzle game, but it is one of the brightest pieces of game development in the entire Xbox LIVE Arcade library.

You Ever Have a Dream Like This?

The presentation of the game is what makes it so appealing. The gorgeous, fully rendered 2D graphics look like an animated independent film, while the sound and music have a real Irish feel to them. Braid also has some hilarious fun with various moments in game history by having a level that looks like the classic first level of the original Donkey Kong. Also, when you complete a level, a purple Barney-esque dinosaur comes out and tells you, "Sorry, but our princess is in another castle." Other little things that make Braid so interesting are that there is no menu screen and, right from the title screen, you control Tim and have him walk through doors that lead to the different levels of the game. And another thing: there isn't a Level 1! The first level is actually called "Level 2"!

Braid comes out as one of the most artful and "outside of the box" games to have ever been released on the 360. It's not even like a game; it's more like a moving piece of art. I would say that Braid is a definite "must-have," not just because it's a very well-put-together title, but because I can boldly say that you have never played a game like this in your life.

Peter Rizkalla is a lifelong aficionado of videogames and the videogame industry. He has worked in various videogame companies, such as THQ, Namco and 2K Games, and has also won several awards for his animated short films.