Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Because you demanded it: More Game Bytes

Since last week's Graphic Lit column was all about Free Comic Book Day, and that event has since come and gone, I see little reason to post it here. If you really want to read my list of now-over-and-done events, you can click here. As a apology for the lack of comics content, I thought I'd post an extra-long edition of Game Bytes, since I haven't done so in awhile. Enjoy.

“Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters”
Sony, for PlayStation Portable
rated E10+ (animated blood, fantasy violence), $39.99.

It’s always cause for concern when a new developer takes over the reins of a beloved franchise. In the case of “Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters” — overseen by High Impact this time instead of the folks at Insomniac — most of those fears are unwarranted.

Despite being made for the small screen, “Size” plays similar to past R&C titles. As before, Ratchet and his robot pal are off on a grand adventure across the galaxy, attempting to save a small girl while using a variety of odd and impressive weapons.

The only serious problem here is the game’s camera, which does just about everything it can to hinder your enjoyment. The game also suffers from a lack of imagination. It feels more like a side project than a sequel in its own right.

Still, neither of these caveats is a serious dealbreaker. Despite its problems, “Size Matters” offers enough platforming fun to please most PSP owners.

“Cooking Mama Cook Off”
Majesco, for Wii
rated E (alcohol reference), $49.99.

The Wii edition of this cooking simulation is an improvement on last year’s DS version, if only for the addition of multiplayer, not to mention more recipes.

As before, you attempt to complete elaborate (or not so elaborate — American cuisine seems to consist of hot dogs and popcorn) meals by performing quick, simple tasks.

This time you use the Wii-mote to stir, chop, turn on the oven and perform a host of other kitchen-related activities.

The tasks are clever, but the game really lacks depth (you don’t really learn anything about cooking, for example), and most of the recipes feature too many similar steps — chopping an onion for the millionth time tends to wear out the novelty.

Ultimately, this is a game best enjoyed in short bursts with friends and not something you can delve into for hours. I await a cooking game that really expands on the basic ideas offered here.

“Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07”
EA Sports, for the Wii
rated E, $49.95.

Being able to swing your Wii controller around like a golf club was one of the Nintendo console’s great promises, so it stands to reason that EA would attempt such controls for the Wii rendition of their Tiger Woods franchise.

So how does it handle? Awkwardly if we’re being honest (and we are). It’s twitchy to the point where the slightest wrist flicker can lead to an unwanted swing while other times a full-arm windmill results in no swing at all.

Once you figure out the control nuances, “Tiger” can be fun, though your arm does get tired quickly. But I’m looking more toward the next iteration and hoping the game responds to my swooshes a little more intuitively.

“Cake Mania”

Majesco, for Nintendo DS
rated E, $19.99.

Essentially a baking version of the arcade classic “Tapper,” “Cake Mania” has you rushing around the kitchen putting together iced baked goods for an increasingly irritable series of customers.

The game has one basic premise — make and decorate the cake the customer asks for before they leave the shop in a huff. It doesn’t offer any variations on that theme, it just gets faster as you progress.

That in and of itself would not be a deal breaker if the screen itself weren’t so tiny. It’s very hard, for example, to see what types of cakes folks are requesting — is that a circle or a pumpkin on the bottom of that double-layer cake? And the kitchen is so cramped that it’s far too easy to tap on the wrong item. I unintentionally sent too many cakes into the trash when I was only trying to put a cute rose on them.

“Cake Mania” has a sound enough premise to keep casual gamers attention initially, but it ultimately doesn’t do enough to make them want to keep baking.

"Marvel Trading Card Game"
Konami, for PlayStation Portable and Nintendo DS
rated T (alcohol and tobacco reference, blood, mild fantasy violence, mild language, suggestive themes), $29.99.

With a title like that, you're certainly not going to confuse this game with, say, your average WWII shooter or fantasy rpg.

As the name suggests, this is a straight-up adaptation of the trading card game, where you and an opponent lob superheroes at each other until one of you loses 50 points. Special "equipment" and "plot twist" cards add spice to the proceedings.

Though the presentation is a little dry, the game itself is rather entertaining. The only real problem (apart from the long loading times) is that the game board is really small on the PSP screen, to the point where you'll need a microscope to see the various cards (though highlighting them does bring up a more readable version).

"Marvel Trading Card Game" won't woo those who aren't either fans of the comic books or trading card games in general -- the rules are a bit too complicated -- but those who fall into either of those two categories should get some fun out of it.

"Winning Eleven Pro Evolution Soccer 2007"
Konami, for Nintendo DS
rated E, $29.99.

This hand-held version of the widely acclaimed soccer series doesn't bring shame to the venerable franchise, but it doesn't bring much glory either.

For one thing, the players are so tiny on the DS screen that it's hard at times to decipher the action. To make matters worse, your teammates' AI is rather spotty, and there's not much depth to the game in general. It does however, sport Wi-Fi, so you can play online.

It's not a great game of soccer, but if you're absolutely desperate for a game of European football on your DS, it will suit for now.

"Sid Meier's Pirates!"
2K Games, for the PlayStation Portable
rated E10+ (mild violence), $29.99.

I really like pirates -- heck, who doesn't? -- but most pirate video games really haven't given me much of an opportunity to get my "y'arrr" on.

Perhaps that's why I'm so taken with this hand-held version of Sid Meier's (of "Civilization" fame) popular swashbuckling PC game. In it, you play an upcoming young swab eager to sail Central American waters. While you search for your long-lost family members, you can plunder vessels and towns, woo young ladies, dig for buried treasure and rack up reputation points to become one of the most fearsome pirates in the Atlantic.

The game becomes a bit repetitive a few hours in, and the challenge bar isn't set terribly high. That being said, the game offers enough buccaneer thrills to be worth your time. Y'arrr.

"SingStar Rocks!"
Sony, for PlayStation 2
rated E10+, $49.99.

Like "Karaoke Revolution," "SingStar" lets players sing along with some of their favorite tunes and grades them on how they did. The big difference is you're singing along to the original versions, not watered-down soundalikes.

It's fun to try to keep up with, say, Joss Stone, and the accompanying videos provide a nice visual element. Plus, you can play back your version after you're done and add gimmicky vocaltricks, making you sound like a robot, for example.

The only real problem with the game is there just isn't enough of a song list to justify repeated play. "SingStar Rocks" is a fun party game, but you'll burn through its offerings quickly.

"Lucinda Green's Equestrian Challenge"
Red Mile Entertainment
for PlayStation 2 and PC, rated E, $19.99.

The worlds of equestrian riding and video games seem diametrically opposed, but that hasn't stopped Red Mile from trying anyway.

The game starts off strongly enough, with players able to create their own horse and rider from scratch, and then putting them through their paces in a variety of competitions. In between, you'll have to feed and take care of your horse.

Unfortunately, the competitions themselves are repetitive and far too easy to sustain any interest in the game. Only the cross country event offers any challenge, and that's mainly because you are figuring out the layout of the land.

If the developers offered more customization and complexity, they might actually have something here. As it stands now, even the most devout horseman will find this title tiresome.

"Juka and the Monophonic Menace"
SouthPeak Interactive
for Game Boy Advance, rated E, $19.99.

In "Juka," you make potions by combining various elements that you collect by shaking trees, bushes and just picking up stuff off the ground. These potions allow you to do things such as unlock hidden areas and put enemies to sleep. Except when they don't, in which case you'll need to collect the projectiles that enemies throw at you in a certain sequence in order to defeat them. Then there are all the other jars, keys, elements and crystals you'll need to collect.

Is this game needlessly convoluted? Just a bit. It's a shame, too, because it boasts a nice, clean design and several of the core concepts are intriguing. If only they'd pared it back a bit, it would have been more enjoyable.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2007

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