Monday, December 1, 2008

Holiday Shopping Guide 2008

Hylian Sheild
Price: $54.88
Nintendo Wii
Price: $250
Comes with Wii Sports

World of Goo
For WiiWare
Price: $15

Wii Fit
Price: $80

Mario Kart Wii
Price: $50

Super Smash Bros. Brawl
For Wii
Price: $50

For WiiWare
Price: $10

Nintendo DS
Price: $129.99

Personal Trainer Cooking
Nintendo DS
Price: $20

Locke's Quest
Nintendo DS
Price: $35

Spore Creatures
Nintendo DS
Price: $30

Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
Nintendo DS
Price: $30

Chrono Trigger DS
Price: $40

Month in Review: November 2008

Game of the Month, November 2008:

World of Goo
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Publisher: 2D Boy

Best Game Released, November 2008:

Little Big Planet
Platform: PS3
Publisher: Sony

Most Anticipated List, November 2008:

1. Bob's Game, DS
2. Personal Trainer Cooking, DS
3. Dragon Quest IX, DS
4. Punch Out!, Wii
5. Sin & Punishment 2, Wii

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Coaching a New Team

Game: My Spanish Coach
System: Nintendo DS (also on Wii)
Release Date: November 6th, 2007
Developed and Published By: Ubisoft
Genre: Puzzle
Cost: $25-$30

Last year Ubisoft started their “My Coach” series of games to help people learn various skills, including foreign languages French and Spanish, with Chinese and Japanese versions coming out soon this year. It seems as if the only real difference between those four games are the languages. Here I’ll be reviewing the Spanish version.

Ubisoft claims that by playing 15-20 minutes a day, you have everything you need to become fluent. The game also claims to be useful to people with any amount of Spanish knowledge, beginner to advance, but is this realistic?

The game begins with the player taking a test to see how much Spanish they already know, and depending on their score, the player is started at different levels of lessons. The problem is the test does not go up to the higher levels of Spanish, and people with intermediate or advanced knowledge will be frustrated having to go through lessons of things they already know.

Each lesson contains 10 words for the player to learn. To prove word mastery, the player completes mini-games, including Multiple Choice, Whack-a-Mole, Word Search, Flash Cards, Memory, Bridge Builder, and a spelling contest. Some of the games are more fun than others (word search and memory are my favorites.) As far as learning goes, the multiple choice and flash cards are probably best.

While the game gives you many words to memorize, it doesn’t help much with grammar. The Bridge Builder game helps with sentence structure, but it lacks depth, and you’ll end up doing the same sentences over and over long after you’ve had them memorized.

The 50 standard lessons go by quickly, and upon finishing those, there are over 900 more to complete. But don’t be fooled: these aren’t so much lessons as they are random vocabulary words to memorize. This has a definite "tacked-on" feeling to it, as if Ubisoft was too lazy to come up with actual lessons.

The polish on the game is decent. The player chooses between a male and female coach, and the game includes a few cultural notes on Spanish speaking countries, good for young children. Controls are done with the stylus, and, for the most part, work well. My personal favorite feature is the grade system: the game tells you what level of Spanish you are at (First grade, second grade, high school freshman, ect.) It’s just a cool little feature, and doesn’t really matter in terms of gameplay.

The game also comes with a phrasebook and dictionary, but these are too small and lacking to be replacements for pocket-sized reference books, though may be adequate for little kids.

Another problem is the sound quality. Compared to sound on other DS games, such as Phantom Hour Glass, it just isn’t as good as it could’ve been, even with the volume turned all the way up. Unless you’re using headphones (the game recommends it), or playing in a quiet place, it can be difficult to hear the words.

My Spanish Coach was a good concept, but Ubisoft was lackadaisical in execution. The idea of learning languages on a portable gaming system like the DS is great, and hopefully someday Ubisoft (or some other developer) will put the necessary effort into creating a more effective learning game.

Can you really become fluent just buy playing this game 15 minutes a day? No. The only real way to language mastery is to speak it as often as possible. If you want to fluentize* yourself, you should find people you can speak the language with. But is My Spanish Coach a game worth buying? I recommend it for young children first learning the language. For everyone else, while it may still be useful, there are better, more effective, language-learning tools I would first recommend. (Mango Languages, for example. They’re simply the best there is right now.)

Score: 56% out of 99% possible

*Fluentize, or fluentise, is not a word you’ll find in dictionaries, though it should be. Use it as much as you can, to spread awareness for this word.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Living In the City Ain't Where It's At

Better get back to the woods.

I was going to do a review of Animal Crossing: City Folk, but I won’t be getting it. I simply don’t have the money to buy a $50 dollar game I’ve already played before. Though I loved the first two Animal Crossings, City Folk just does not seem to do enough different to warrant a purchase.

Nintendo is obviously aiming this game at their new audience of non-gamers, the crowd that probably has never played Animal Crossing before. Those people will eat up City Folk, I’m sure, but what about the core gamers? What do we get for the holiday season this year? Wii Music?

In a perfect world, I’d have extra cash laying around, and I’d probably pick up City Folk and enjoy it for a few hours before growing tired of the same old thing. But alas, I’m not rolling like that.

I love Nintendo, but I’m disappointed with them. It seems as if they simply did not put much effort in this game, knowing they’ll make millions off it anyway. Fans have spent years thinking up endless lists of things to add to Animal Crossing, but Nintendo took the easy way out. I sincerely hope they do not continue this trend. A change is gonna do them good.

The World's New Energy Source Is...


Game: World of Goo
System: WiiWare
Release Date: October 13, 2008
Developed and Published By: 2D Boy
Genre: Puzzle
Cost: $15

My mom really doesn’t know much about games, besides what she overhears me talking about. But she probably said it best when she said, “What happened to Zelda and Mario? I wouldn’t think a game about goo would be much fun.” And yet, World of Goo just may be the best game released this year.

The point of the game is to use goo balls to build structures in order to get your remaining goo to a pipe, which leads to the next stage. It isn’t always as easy as it sounds; there are plenty of obstacles and hazards to navigate, and if you’re not careful, your goo are easily squished. The early stages are easy, allowing the player to get a hang of things, but the difficulty ramps up as the game progresses. It’s refreshing to play a game that is challenging through the strength of its puzzles, and not through ridiculous, frustrating gameplay.

The game’s music is simply fantastic and helps create an intense, yet varied, atmosphere. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought Koji Kondo himself had been the composer. It uses a wide range of musical styles, from horn-laden battle themes reminiscent of the Old West, to carnival-like race-to-the-finish themes, to epic, haunting concertos. The music is so good I’d play the game just to listen to it.

Music aside, World of Goo has a lot to offer. The game reminds me a bit of Pikmin; they’re both well-polished, very unique puzzle games involving simple, yet cute, creatures in an epic world. There are different types of goo you’ll find along the way. Some are detachable, some are highly flammable, and all are expendable. But you’ll learn to be careful about how many soldiers… er… goo you send to their deaths or use improperly, because you may find yourself with too few to accomplish the mission. You’ll restart certain levels more than a few times.

Besides goo, the main character you’ll encounter is the Sign Painter, an anonymous figure you meet only through reading the signs he/she leaves for you. But is this faceless personality a friend or foe? The Sign Painter has got to be one of the best new gaming characters to come along in quite some time. Through these signs you learn about the game’s story. I won’t go into it here, so you’ll have to check out the game for yourself.

The replay value is high, and you’ll keep going back for more, even after you’ve played through the 4 chapters and epilogue, with over 40 missions in total.

Like Barack Obama, World of Goo was a no name that came out nowhere, and is a very legitimate candidate for one of the highest awards in video gaming: Game of the Year. It’s epic, funny, and most importantly, fun. The amount of attention and effort that went into this game is outstanding, and feels more like it was done by one of Nintendo’s famed EAD studios. You would never have guessed it was almost entirely made by a two-man team. World of Goo is truly a quality product, and should not be missed by anyone. And for $15 dollars, it makes a great economical gift, even if it’s just for yourself.

Score: 97% out of 99% possible

Monday, November 17, 2008

True Art

The gaming industry needs to make products not only for profit, but also for quality.

-- Coming Soon! --

The Greatest of Them All

Game: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Platform: Nintendo 64
Release Date: November 21, 1998
Developed and Published by: Nintendo
Genre: Adventure
Original Cost: $59.99

In celebration of the 10-year anniversary of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, let's take a look back at this revolutionary work, and the effect it's had on the gaming industry.

-- Coming Soon! --