Tuesday, September 30, 2008

DS-209

There's an interesting rumor going around right now. It was started by Japan's business newspaper, Nikkei, and concerns a new model of the DS. No, it's not going to be DS2, but rather an upgraded model of the DS Lite that will feature a built-in camera and music player, along with bigger screens. Although this story has now appeared in many places, including Boston's free newspaper, The Metro, Nintendo has refused to confirm or deny it. Nintendo of America recently released the following statement:

“The Nikkei newspaper wrote a recent story about a DS solely based upon their own research and speculation, without interviewing Nintendo. While Nintendo is always working on new hardware, we have not made any announcement about a DS and we cannot comment on the Nikkei story.”

So what does this mean? Since they didn't come straight out and debunk the rumor, this could indicate that it's true, but is it what we really need? After all, the DS has established itself as a straight-up video game console, unlike Sony's PSP which is trying to be a bit of everything. I think that adding extra functionality to the DS could only serve to dilute it's purpose, and may end up taking focus away from what it does best. Then again, the incresing popularity of non-game "edutainment" software (such as the recently released Cooking Guide) have shown that a lot of people are interested in using their handheld for things other than simply gaming, and maybe to them the prospect of having a camera and music player just adds to the attrativeness of Nintendo's system. Of course, adding extra componants into the hardware will also increase the price, which could end up moving the console further away from the mainstream, rather than towards.

It's an interesting prospect, and I'm sure we'll be hearing more from Nintendo about it at some point soon. And if they do add a bunch of extra functionality to the DS, will it still be the same system we all know and love? Maybe not, but one thing's for sure: It'll be one mean mother[crusher]!

Copywrong

One of the big features to be found in the upcoming Guitar Hero: World Tour is the song creation mode, where users can lay down their own tracks, either straight onto the console, or through a PC using a MIDI sequencer. Many have dreamed of all the great songs they're going to re-create, minus lyrics of course, and share with the rest of the world. It's actually going to be rather difficult for Activision so sell any DLC, what with every player recording and releasing famous songs all the time. Or is it? During an interview with 1up the company revealed that they will not be allowing any copyrighted music to be released over the service. In fact, they will be checking every user-created track for anything that sounds a little too familiar.

Now this is rather interesting. I don't know exactly how copyright law works, but can you really copyright a riff or drum pattern? I know that if you record something and I sample it that I must pay you royalties to release that music, but if I write a riff that someone says sounds like Smoke on the Water, is there really the same problem? I mean, it's going to be really difficult for Activision to find every single musical element that's been ripped off from a famous song, and most of those were probably stolen from another song anyway (because people borrow ideas from each other all the time). Also, if I copy a really obscure track from a small British electronic label, how long will it be before it's taken down? Surely the song must be recognized before it can be deemed copyrighted, and I can't imagine they'll be able to spot all of them, unless they have a special computer program that can automatically check every note pattern and check it against a massive database of all known music, which I doubt.

Anyway, the point is, suddenly this much-anticipated feature doesn't sound quite as great anymore. I was looking forward to hearing people's recreations of famous songs, but I guess there won't be any of those, meaning that Activision must instead work out a regular DLC release schedule, like in Rock Band, to ensure people have access to a constant supply of new music. Oh yeah, and just to show you how the song creation mode works, they will be shipping the game with their totally original tracks Misirlou, Walk this Way, and YYZ. So it's do as we say, not do as we do, eh Activision?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Two faces of Sonic

The holiday season is almost upon us. With it comes an onslaught of new games, for all manner of systems. Kicking off October is Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood for DS, which hits stores tomorrow. For those unaware, this is the first attempt by Bioware (the creators of Star Wars: KOTOR and Mass Effect) to make a Sega-themed RPG on a Nintendo handheld. It follows the tale of Sonic and pals, and they adventure around searching for, you guessed it, Chaos Emeralds (why don't they deposit those things in some kind of vault?). Drawing influence from Japanese RPGs, the combat is turn-based, but with strong attacks being initiated by following Elite-Beat-Agents-style rhythm markers. I won't go into all the rest of the details now, I'll save those until after I've played it.

With the game's release so imminent, it's no surprise that major sites are beginning to write reviews for it. The first one I saw was 1up's, which was very positive, and awarded the game an A. However, once IGN released their review, things got a little confusing. See, they only gave it a 6.5/10, which isn't exactly all that good. All this really goes to show though, is that reviews are completely subjective, and you can't expect one person to be able to sum up everyone's feelings on a particular title. I have a feeling that IGN will be receiving some hate-mail from rabid Sega fans (do they even still exist?), or at least rabid Bioware fans, complaining about the low score, probably be people who haven't even played it yet.

Well, anyway, I'll still be picking up a copy tomorrow, and I'll let you all know what I think once I've had some time to check it out. So don't worry; IGN and 1up may not be able to agree, but the definitive opinion is on it's way.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

An episode to watch, men

Whether or not you're aware of it, Warner Bros. are currently working on a game based on Alan Moore's seminal graphic novel, Watchmen. This comes as little surprise, what with the movie slated for a March release, but Warner recently shared some details to MCV about this download only, episodic game for Xbox Live, PSN, and PC.

Samantha Ryan, Warner Bros’ senior vice president of development and production said "We wanted to provide a compelling experience and felt a shorter, more focused game was the right approach. We like the idea of being innovative and industry-leaders by taking a fresh approach to movie tie-ins. It’s tough to say which properties will work best in the digital space. We’re hoping fans of the film and the graphic novel will respond well to our unique approach. We know it’s risky for us, and the safe move would have been to cram out a retail game alongside the film release, but we didn’t feel that was the right decision.”

Okay, so it's neat that they're tying a unique approach, but will the game be any good? I have, lets just say, many feeling on the prospect of this masterpiece of fiction becoming a movie, and not many of them are good. I won't go into them all now; after all this is a video game blog, not a movie one, but one of my main concerns is that they won't be able to fit the whole story into one film so will have to cut out much of the good stuff to make room for the action. This isn't as much of a problem with an episodic release schedule as they can take as much time as they need to fully flesh out the story.

This may not be something we have to worry about though. According to 1up, this will actually be a prequel that will tell the story of Rorschach and Nite Owl back when they were still cleaning up the streets. It will be a Streets-of-Rage-style side scrolling beat-em-up, where two people can team up to fight crime together. This prospect seems a little weak to me when you consider the source material, which contained a lot of character study and social commentary. The other problem is that Alan Moore will not be involved with the production as he has esentially condemned all adaptations of his work, and has had no part in the Watchmen movie, much as with V for Vendetta.

Not too much more is known about it for now, and while a part of me is curious to see the final product, the other part (the realist) dreads the aboniation that it may well be. Well, at least if I buy part one and it sucks, I can forget about the other parts and delete the dreadful chapter from my hard drive. And never speak of it again.

Rush delivery

This week in Rock Band, we get Rush's Moving Pictures album, which was promised a month ago, but sadly delayed due to technical reasons. Alongside these seven tracks, we get another six from various artists. It seems as though EA and Harmonix are picking up the pace when it comes to releases, in order to get to the 500 song mark that they promised by the end of the year. Although all the tracks are the usual price of $2 each, the whole Rush album is available for only $11 if you choose to purchase it all.
This week's tracks are:

By Rush:
Tom Sawyer (original)
Red Barchetta
YYZ
Limelight (original)
The Camera Eye
With Hunt (Part III of Fear)
Vital Signs

Bad Religion - Sorrow
The Cult - She Sells Sanctuary
Hot Hot Heat - Bandages
Kasabian - Shoot the Runner
Sleater-Kinney - You're No Rock N Roll Fun
Stone Rose - Love Spreads
Note: Click on any song for expert drum videos

So despite the fact that I have so much new Rock Band 2 stuff to play, and two of the Rush songs have been previously released in the game (albeit cover versions), I decided to purchase the entire album. I didn't bother with the other songs, as I think I have enough for now, but I'll briefly run through my thoughts on Moving Pictures:

First of all we have Witch Hunt, which fits into Tier 4. Bear in mind that the number of tiers in Rock Band 2 has been reduced from 9 to 7, so the easiest tracks are now in Tier 0, and the hardest ones are in Tier 6. The song itself has it's challenges, but isn't too tough. The verse is fairly standard, but it speeds up for the chorus, and has some fast fills. This is really just preparation for what lies ahead though.....
Next we have Limelight, also in Tier 4. This one is fairly similar to the previously released version, but with a few changes. Some bits are easier, some harder, but overall it's still a very fun song to play, with plenty of variety throughout.

Now we move up to Tier 5, starting with The Camera Eye. This song has a tough intro that soon becomes a more traditional rhythm. It gets harder as it goes along though, and has some fast drum rolls right at the end. Make sure you don't screw these up, as the track is 10 minutes long, and it would suck to fall on the final hurdle!
Next we have Tom Sawyer. As I was already very familiar with this track, from the original Rock Band, this made it tougher for me when parts of the song were different from what I had become used to. Sure, it definitely has some easier bits in, but the fills later on are harder than the other version. Overall, it's very similar to what we already had though.
The next toughest song is Vital Signs. This one has constant 16th notes throughout the verse, so make sure you practice on something like Everlong to get good at the technique. Thankfully, it changes in the middle, and has a rather easy chorus, but there is plenty more fast drumming later on.
Now we come to Red Barchetta. This one starts off easy, and continues this way for a few minutes. About half-way through though, the 16th notes begin, and they're tougher than in the previous song. Thankfully, they don't last throughout the entirety of the track, but there is still another difficult rhythm towards the end.

Finally, we come to YYZ. I should probably preface this by telling you that this was the track I was most looking forward to this week. Unfortunately, there was a valuable lesson to be learned after the release of The Who's Young Man Blues that I chose to ignore: Namely, great rock songs are great because the people playing them are really skilled musicians. The reason why YYZ is such an awesome song is because Neil Peart is a fantastic drummer, a lesson I could no longer ignore when faced with the notes in front of me. If you hadn't figured out what I'm trying to say, it's that YYZ is hard. Really, really hard. It doesn't look too bad in videos, but trust me, trying to get my hands and feet to coordinate after the first minute or so of the song is going to require a lot more practice before I can even get through. Yes, you heard me right: As of today, I haven't even finished it on expert, which makes this track harder than any other I've purchased. Oh well, I have plenty of time ahead of me to get better, it just sucks to have to admit I've been bested.

In other Rock Band news, Mad Catz have announced a portable drum set that will be coming soon. It looks a little like something that was made by an enthusiast with way too much time on their hands, other than a real product by a proper company, but if it improves my changes of being able to rock out at work, then I'm all for it. Now all they need to do is release Rock Band on DS and I'll never see my friends or family ever again!

The Official Rock Band Portable Drum Kit is currently listed on GameShark for $59.99, or Buy.com for $49.99, although neither is available for order quite yet.

Friday, September 26, 2008

And we'll all float on

Sony have been losing a lot of exclusive franchises over the last few years, such as Grand Theft Auto, Devil May Cry, and most recently, Final Fantasy. One game that they can still claim sole rights to is the upcoming do-it-yourself platformer, LittleBigPlanet. This title has had my interest since first shown last year, and has tempted me to buy a PS3 as I know I won't be able to play it any other way.

While there have been many videos released showing off the game's various features, an interesting one just surfaced on 1up that shows it in a slightly different light. Okay, so it's a pretty obvious pick for a user-created level: Super Mario Brothers world 1-1. I can't imagine there's a single person reading this that doesn't know that stage like the back of their hand, and you're probably just as excited as I was to see how it turned out. Well, I won't comment too much on the actual level itself; whoever created it did the best with what they had to work with. What really stood out to me is how floaty and imprecise the platforming looks, when compared to the 23-year-old game it's trying to imitate. Check out how many times he has to repeat jumps during the duration of the stage.

This worries me that the actual "game" part might not be nearly as fun as the making stuff part. On top of this, there was an announcement on Sony's official forum that the title will not ship with online level creation mode, so those thinking that they will just spend all their time making things with buddies will have to invite them round to play in the same room, at least until the first major update.

But why am I worried about this? As I said, I don't even own a PS3. The thing is, Sony have served me really well for the last two generations and I've been waiting for the big thing that would push me into their third. It seems that every time I'm tempted to buy one though, something happens that shows me I don't need to yet. Couple this with the PS3's still-expensive price and confusing variety of SKUs, and I'm left feeling fine without that big black box under my TV, at least for now. Sony have nothing to worry about though; if all else fails, they still have one more ace up their sleeve: Blu-ray. With the rapidly falling price of large 1080p TVs and the death of HD DVD, I have a feeling I'll still be getting one at some point in the future, and I have no doubt that others will be persuaded for the same reason.

There are some strange things going on in this console generation, and I think further discussion is required at a later date. For now, check out the LittleBigPlanet video. Maybe I'm just reading into it a little too much.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The dope on GTA

Those folks over at Rockstar sure know how to keep things secret. I've already talked about their ability to control hype through careful marketing, but it's still surprising to see them get so much attention after the release of just a single screenshot. In this case, I'm talking about GTA: Chinatown Wars, the DS title that's supposedly, allegedly, we think coming out this winter, but details are still under tight wraps.

Well, some new info has just been released over on Eurogamer, revealing a new drug-dealing mini-game that will be part of the fun. "We wanted to have a drug-dealing mini-game in lots of the GTA games," said Dan Houser, big boss of Rockstar. "It works well with what GTA is, with driving around the map, and it gives you another thing to think about - another layer or piece of the puzzle to keep you motivated." Even though we've only received a single image from the game, it looks a lot like Dope Wars, the free, online drug game that's been around for many years in one form or another. The whole point of that title was to fly around to different parts of the world buying and selling various illegal substances, trying to purchase when supply is high and sell when demand is high. Even though the game really only consisted of rows of prices and didn't have any actual "gameplay", it still proves to be rather popular all these years later.

Incorporating this aspect into GTA could be exactly what Rockstar needs to breathe some fresh life into the franchise. I imagine it will be more fun to steal a car and drive around looking for good places to sell your wares, than just clicking on screens to choose your destination. It also shows that the game won't be tamed for the supposedly-young DS audience, which gets me excited. The fact that it's being developed by the same team who made the PSP versions is also a good sign, as they did quite an impressive job with those titles, and I'm interested to see what they can pull of with the DS's unique control scheme.

GTA: Chinatown wars is currently slated for release in February. You can check out Rockstar's official site for the game by clicking here.

Quarter up

This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reaches into my potential virtual pile of shame and pulls out a couple of titles from the Xbox Live Arcade: Bionic Commando Rearmed, and Castle Crashers. Okay, so maybe Castle Crashers wasn't actually on my list, but it would have been if it had been out at the time.

Both of these titles fit into the category of old-school. One is a re-make of an old NES game, while the other is a throwback to the old 16-bit side scrolling beat-em-ups such as Streets of Rage (God, I love that game!) and Goldenaxe. Now, I haven't had the time to purchase either of these games myself unfortunately, as the lure of major releases is too strong, but will probably end up with them eventually, after I get bored one afternoon and start impulse-buying everything on the Live Arcade before my brain does the math to figure out how much it's costing me!

Anyway, here's the review. As always, it contains plenty of strong language and is definitely NSFW.

Check out the rest of his videos here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

NPD special - Brother vs Cousin

Every month, we're lucky enough to be told the top ten software titles sold, courtesy of the NPD Group. This month we have something special: Gamasutra, in coordination with NPD, have compiled a list telling us the top five games for each system, for the whole year so far. Unfortunately, they didn't release the actual numbers of units sold, so we can't make too many comparisons between consoles, but it's at least good indication of which titles have been the most popular in 2008. All of the figures listed below are for individual SKUs only, and don't include the sales of collectors editions, so the actual numbers may be a little different, but this is the closest we're going to get, I think.

Top selling PS3 titles Jan-Aug 2008:
1 - Grand Theft Auto IV
2 - Metal Gear Solid 4
3 - Call of Duty 4
4 - Madden NFL 09
5 - Gran Turismo 5 Prologue

Okay, so does anyone else notice how well titles with "4" in them seem to be selling? I mean, I know there's been a lot of them this year, but it's still good to know that franchises can remain so popular, even after so many sequels. Plus, if you take the "09" from Madden, then remove the "5" from Gran Turismo, it also equals 4! Oh yeah, and Gamasutra said they were expecting Devil May Cry 4 to be on the list too. Freaky!

Top Selling Xbox 360 titles Jan-Aug 2008
1 - Grand Theft Auto IV
2 - Call of Duty 4
3 - Madden NFL 09
4 - Rainbow Six Vegas 2
5 - Army of Two

It seems there is also a trend amongst 360 users: Four out of five of the games on the list are shooters. This doesn't really come as any surprise; I mean, this is what the system is best known for, but I wasn't really expecting Army of Two to be included; I thought this game was supposed to suck. Oh well, I gets the marketing machine at EA can sell anything if they put their minds to it.

Top Selling Wii titles Jan-Aug 2008
1 - Super Smash Bros. Brawl
2 - Mario Kart (with wheel)
3 - Wii Play (with remote)
4 - Wii Fit (with balance board)
5 - Guitar Hero III (with guitar)

Now, this list is perhaps the most interesting. Considering how the Wiimote was supposed to be the future of video game controls, isn't it weird how four out of five of the top Wii titles ship with their own special controller? Plus, the number one game is universally accepted as playing best when using a Classic or Gamecube controller. Maybe the appeal of the system isn't the motion control after all, but simply the price, coupled with Nintendo's image of being family friendly.

So those are the figures. 360 fans love shooters; Wii fans love peripheral-based games; and PS3 fans love sequels. Okay, so maybe that's a bit of a generalization, but that's what the numbers seem to indicate. As for which console sold the most games overall, well that title goes to the Wii, with approximately 11-12 million software units sold. Considering that the top four Wii titles are all made by Nintendo, that must be one happy company right now. It's funny because both Smash Bros Brawl and Mario Kart were accepted as being very similar to their earlier versions, which really proves that those buying the majority of Wii titles are not enthusiast gamers, but rather families who just want the latest game with Mario in, no matter how many times it's been released before.

Hopefully we'll get another list like this one at the end of the year. Since the holiday season hasn't even begun yet, I'll be interested to see what the figures look like after all the big titles are released, and the Christmas shopping period is over. I don't know if we'll see anything sell quite as well as GTA4, but there are a few titles I really hope to see on the list. C'mon Left 4 Dead!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My piñaradise

The sun peeks over the horizon, bringing with it the warmth and light of morning. A lone bunnycomb, fresh from a heavy slumber, smells a delicious carrot and decides it might be time for breakfast. It leaves it's home and hops through a field, full of fresh flowers, toward it's orange prize. It reaches the vegetable patch and savors the delicious aroma, before selecting a hearty carrot and taking a bite. Suddenly, without warning, a pretztail leaps from the tall grass, a hungry look in it's eye. It grasps the defenseless bunnycomb in it's teeth and begins viciously tearing off shreds of paper until the cute little creature is completely gone. In it's place is a stack of candy, which the pretztail greedily devours. After licking it's lips, it thinks to itself "Hmm.... I quite like it here. Maybe I'll set up residence....."

Okay, so at this point you may be wondering what it is I'm talking about, but I'm sure most of you have some idea. It is, of course, Viva Piñata (note, I finally started using the "ñ"; I was just too lazy to copy and paste it before). I have, of late, being playing not one, but two different Viva Piñata titles: Trouble in Paradise on the 360, and Pocket Paradise on the DS. Now I realize that many folks have no idea what these games entail, and the easiest way to explain would be to describe the first 10 or 15 minutes from the 360 original.

So, at the start of the game you are given a small garden. It's not much, just a patch of rough ground, but you also have a shovel with which you can begin flattening it into soil. After you've uncovered some fresh earth, you encounter your first piñata: A whirlm (a small, worm-like creature). Clicking on it shows that it's attracted to gardens with uncovered soil, which is why it appeared here. You then notice that in order to have it become a permanent resident, it requires a certain amount of grass in the garden, so now it's time to begin laying the grass over the newly-uncovered soil. Once you have enough, and have fulfilled the whirlm's requirement, it changes from black and white into color, indicating that it's now a resident; you can even name it if you want. Soon another whirlm joins the first, and now you can start working on the final requirement: The romance one. The whirlms have the easiest romance requirement in the game; all they need is a whirlm house in the garden. Thankfully there is someone who builds piñata homes, and a quick trip to the menu lets you select this option.Once the house is in place, little hearts appear over the creatures' heads which means it's time for some lovin'. Romancing basically involves playing a little mini-game, then sitting back and watching the cutscene of the piñatas "dancing" together. This then produces an egg, which soon hatches into another whirlm. Now you have three.

Soon, a sparrowmint (a small, bird-like piñata) comes to visit. See, they're attracted to gardens with whirlms in them. However, you soon realize that in order for it to become a resident it actually has to eat a certain number of them first. So it's time to say goodbye to your new wriggly friends (hopefully you didn't name them all by this point) as they become part of the circle of life. Now you have a sparrowmint in your garden, and other species are beginning to take notice. I wonder what's required to make all of them set up home here.......

So this is the basic premise. Every crop you plant attracts different species', all of which have increasingly harder things you must do to get them to become part of your garden. Things soon become quite hectic though, and you find yourself being torn between many things at once: You may be planting vegetables over here, while watering flowers over there, while trying to feed fruits to piñatas to make them romance, while breaking up a fight between rival species', while tending to a sick piñata, while....... Okay, I think you get the idea. Thankfully, once you have successfully done something there will be an easier way to repeat it. For instance, once you have a certain species of piñata in your garden you can ask the hunter to catch you another; once you've grown a specific type of fruit it becomes available from the shop; once you get a species to romance it's simply a case of feeding them some romance candy to get them in the mood again. All these factors are great as it means you never have to repeat anything twice and can instead concentrate on the tasks ahead. Of course, there's really a lot more to the game than this, and experimentation can cause piñatas to evolve or reveal special abilities they have, such as being able to turn fruits into fertilizer which can then help with growing crops. Even though Viva Piñata has no real end-goal, there are so many things to discover that you can find yourself being caught up for hours planting new seeds, breeding exotic creatures, and maybe even dressing them up a bit!

So now that you're all caught up, how do these new games compare to the original? They both have similarities and differences, and I think I should discuss them one at a time so things don't get too confusing.

When I first heard about the DS version of the game, I was worried that it would be drastically simplified, in order to appeal to the children who watch the cartoon show. I was quite pleased to find that, for the most part, this isn't the case, but there are definitely aspects that have been changed. The first big difference is the tutorial. In the 360 version you learned as you played; you would be guided through the first 20 minutes or so, after which you were on your own. Pocket Paradise makes sure you understand the basic mechanics before you even see your garden. It also takes you away from it every now and then to teach you a new mechanic, often in painfully-slow detail.

Thankfully, the basic gameplay remains the same, which is no small feat really. Navigating around with the touch screen is great but I sometimes wish I could speed up the camera as I like to zip around my yard. Instead they allow you, with the press of a button, to bring up a simplified overhead view so you can see everything in your garden, and focus straight on anything you want. All the familiar species' are present, along with a few new ones, and they can still be named and accessorized.

Certain things have been strangely altered to actually make them harder than on the 360 version. For instance, you can't buy romance candy anymore, to ease the piñata breeding process. Instead, you get the candy by sending you piñatas off to parties. Parties are basically like little challenges; you will be asked to fetch one or more of a specific breed, at which point they can be shipped off to make some little child very happy. They are soon returned, safe and sound, with some romance candy (don't know where the hell they got that from!) and a slightly higher value than when they left, which can be good if you're looking to sell the piñata for cash later on.

They've also incorporated some of the hidden secrets more into the core gameplay. In the original, many of the piñatas had hidden talents that you only discovered through experimentation. Getting a piñata to eat a certain type of food, for instance, might produce another product like milk, honey, or fertilizer. In the DS version you are pretty much required to use these abilities as certain items won't be available in the shop until you first discover them, if they even are at all. I suppose this makes sense really, and it means you have to try things out that you might usually skip.

It does, however, mean that something big is lost: The experimentation. Because you are required to utilize these things during the normal course of gameplay, they make it a bit easier by pretty much telling you how to do them, or at least unsubtly hinting at them. This is also true of the piñata variants. Rather than having to try many things out to change you piñatas' colors, each one has only one variant, and you are told exactly what you need to feed them if you look up the species' details.

These are not the only things that have been simplified. Overall, the game just feels easier. It may be partially due to the limitations of the DS, but I never found myself hectically juggling between many tasks at once. I generally seemed to be able to focus on only one or two things without worrying about the rest of my garden too much. While this may sound like a good thing, it definitely cuts down on the excitement factor and can make the game feel a bit slower paced than I would like.

There are also far less menu options in this version. This can be a blessing when you have to keep going back to the store to buy things, but it means that some of the features are sadly missing. One of the main things I'm sad to be without is the ability to see how much space everything takes up in your garden. Since you can only have a limited number of stuff, be it houses, plants, or even piñatas, it's really helpful to see exactly how much space you could gain by selling something. Instead, in the DS game, you are simply told that your garden is too full and you must just remove things until you have enough room for whatever it is you plan on acquiring.

Even though Pocket Paradise doesn't offer everything the original does, what they managed to pull off is very impressive. Gamers who like collecting things should have a field day, as this one still has many species of animals and plants to discover. Navigating around is handled excellently with the touch screen, but unfortunately the fixed-camera, 3/4 view just isn't the same as being able to view your garden in glorious, high definition 3D, zooming out to observe everything at once, or zooming in real close to watch a cute creature at play. They have still managed to capture most of the fun of the original though, which is no small task when you consider the huge difference between a DS and an Xbox 360!

So speaking of the Xbox 360, now might be a good time to begin talking about that version of the game, entitled Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise. While this one is billed as a true sequel, it really feels more like, to use a cliche, Viva Piñata 1.5; it uses the same game engine, character models, sound effects, and even a lot of the same dialog so should feel very familiar to fans of the first one. Unlike in the DS version, which holds your hand a lot near the beginning, this one drops you right in the thick of it. I found that many different species were visiting my garden right away, and many options are open to you right from the start. It feels as though you are expected to have played Viva Piñata before, as a lot less is explained when new options become available.

First-time players can become familiar with the mechanics by completing challenges. These are the parties I mentioned before, and are in both the DS game and the 360 original. The big difference in this version is that they no longer pop up randomly; instead, you can select from a list of them whenever you choose. The early ones introduce you to many of the things you need to know to do well in the game, but they can be a little hard to focus your full attention on when so much else is going on in your garden. Having the option to start these challenges whenever you want is a really good feature though, and helps give the title a more structured feel.

One of the additions to the game is the ability to travel to the snowy Piñarctic or the scorching Dessert Desert. These areas contain new piñatas that must be caught by laying traps and choosing appropriate bait. Once captured they can be shipped to your garden, where you can begin fulfilling the requirements to make them become a permanent resident. Unfortunately, these areas do little to enhance the gameplay, but at least provide a little variety from what we're used to.

Another new feature is the Xbox Vision Cam support. This allows you to scan in special cards to instantly acquire new items and piñatas, as well as do special things like change the time of day, or the weather. The game ships with one of these cards, but many more can be found on Rare's official website. In fact, players can make their own cards by taking pictures with the in-game camera, then uploading them. There are two main problems with this system though: The first is that scanning the cards can be a real pain; the camera was clearly not designed for reading barcodes, and it can sometimes take a lot of adjustment before it finally recognizes the card you're holding. Once you get it right though, it can be kind of cool. I even found that printing off the cards isn't necessary; simply putting them on a PSP, then holding it up to the camera seems to do the trick. Just don't ever try scanning cards in a dark room; it only leads to frustration.

The second problem with the camera support is really a much bigger one. Namely, acquiring items through cards just feels like cheating. The fact is, I can easily get any item or piñata in a matter of minutes; even the rarest, toughest to catch ones can be mine with a simple scan. Therefore, I don't plan on using this feature much, as what's the point of even playing if everything can be gotten so easily?

The final addition to the game is probably the most important one: Full online co-op. Now you can join with up to 3 of your friends to enjoy gardening together. Unfortunately, I haven't had the chance to try out this mode as no one on my friends list seems to be playing the game, and there's no way I'm letting strangers into my garden! However, it's a very welcome feature, and I'm looking forward to playing this way when I can.

Overall, Trouble in Paradise feels like a more refined version of the original. They've tidied up the controls and added some new modes and features, but haven't strayed too much from the core gameplay of the original, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. As a side note, I strongly recommend putting on your own music as you play. Not that the game has a bad soundtrack, but there is nothing better than seeing two piñatas do their romance dance to whatever strange song you're listening to!

So after all this, which one would I recommend then? Well, if I had to choose, I would pick the 360 version, but if this isn't an option then the DS one is more than satisfactory. Veterans of the original game may not find too much new to excite them, but first-time players are in for a treat. Even though I've gotten other games in the last week, I will certainly be enjoying some more candy-fueled gardening when I get the chance, and I recommend all of you do the same. Just remember to brush your teeth when you're done!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Fall update gets ever closer

It's not long now until we get the Xbox 360 fall update. For those unaware, it's going to be the most significant change to the dashboard that we've received since the system launched three years ago. Alongside all the exciting features like the ability to play games straight from the hard drive, and the new party system, we also have the Miis avatars to look forward to.

But wait! Isn't the process of creating a virtual character going to be long, technical, and require a lot of complicated computer know-how? Actually, no it's not; it's going to be a relatively simple procedure that can be done in a matter of minutes, as demonstrated by Major Nelson in a newly released video. Honestly, it should look very familiar to anyone who's spent any time with Nintendo's little white box, yet Rare insist that they came up with the idea before the Wii even launched. Of course, isn't that what companies always say when accused of plagiarism?

Anyway, here's the video. Enjoy your Michael-Jackson-free Xbox Live experience while you can, because in only two months I think you're going to be seeing a lot of them running around!
<a href="http://video.msn.com/?mkt=en-US&playlist=videoByUuids:uuids:af0e0dcd-5cff-43a2-bd32-4841fe6a89d1&showPlaylist=true&from=msnvideo" target="_new" title="Avatars in the new Xbox experience">Video: Avatars in the new Xbox experience</a>

Saturday, September 20, 2008

From Japan, love Dan

I got a package in the mail yesterday. It came to me from my bestest friend Dan, who currently resides in the land of the rising sun. Since he moved there, he's been at a loss to find games he can play (due to the whole language issue), so he asked me to send him some DS titles from America. In return, he offered to send some games to me as well. Considering the fact that he's a huge fan of RPGs, and I'm a huge fan of rhythm games, this seemed like the perfect exchange.

So what did he send me then? Well, first of all, I got a copy of Moero! Nekketsu Rizumu-damashii Osu! Tatakae! Ōendan Tsū, or simply Ouendan 2 for short. For thoese unaware, Ouendan is the title that was remade in America to become Elite Beat Agents, my all time favorite DS game. As well as having fun gameplay, it also had some very amusing story elements to it. I realize that I wont be able to follow the plot in the Japanese version, but the universal language of music is lost on no one, and I'm jonsing for a little J-pop action.

The second title is the one I'm really excited about. I've mentioned Daigassou Band Bros DX once before, when a video was released showing off it's rhythm gaming fun. Well, now I have a copy in my hands and it's awesome! I wont go into the details now, but what I've seen is far beyond any other rhythm game on the system, in terms of options. You can play along to a variety of tunes, on many instruments and on various difficulties; you can make your own music by recording in real-time, placing notes down one at a time, or playing on a virtual guitar à la Jam Sessions; you can even sing karaoke using the DS mic! There is so much more to discover in this title, and I promise to share some of my musical creations with you when they're completed.

Since I only got these games yesterday, I haven't had enough time to really get to know them yet. I've spend about an hour with Daigassou, and haven't even tried out Ouendan, but you will certainly be getting my extended impressions once I've formed a more solid opinion. From what I've seen though, I don't think I'm going to be disapointed. Domo arigatou gozaimasu Daniel-san!

DLC sells...but who's buying?

This week in Rock Band, we get another full album. Well, almost a full album. The title track from Megadeth's Peace Sells...Buy Who's Buying? is actually one of the songs included in Rock Band 2, which explains it's mysterious absence from this week's offerings. On top of this, we get a four-pack from bands performing in the Rock Band Live Tour. The Megedeth songs are regular price (although it's only $11 for the entire album), but the others are at the budget price of only a dollar a piece. Nice.
Here are the songs for this week:

By Megedeth:
Wake Up Dead
The Conjuring
Devil's Island
Good Morning/Black Friday
Bad Omen
I Ain't Superstitious
My Last Words

Rock Band Live Tour:
The Cab - One of Those Nights
Dashboard Confessional - Hands Down
Panic! at the Disco - She's a Handsome Woman
Plain White T's - Natural Disaster
Note: Click on any song for expert drum videos (except One of Those Nights; I couldn't find any).

So which did I purchase then? Well, first of all, I should celebrate the fact that I can play again, thanks to my new drums, but since I have the whole of Rock Band 2 to get through, I decided to skip all the songs this week. Besides, I don't think I'd have any inclination to buy them anyway. I mean, there's one Megadeth song already in the game and it's hard. Maybe I spoke a little too soon when I said the track listing shouldn't provide too much challenge for those who'd mastered the first one; I hadn't played this song yet. By the look of it, much of the DLC is the same, with a fast tempo and a kick drum rhythm that falls on and off the beat, which is really tough to get the hang of. Oh, and by the way, I may have given my initial impressions of Rock Band 2, but I promise to go into more detail about my likes and dislikes once I've had a few weeks to play.

Speaking Of Rock Band 2, something amusing came out this week that proves Harmonix have a good sense of humor. Do you remember all the controversy that was sparked by the release of Rock Band in the UK? When converting the price to US currency, the cost of the game worked out to be around $360, which caused a fair amount of anger amongst the British gaming public. Well, if you decide to outfit your Rock Band 2 character with a nice outfit from the in-game store, you will find a rather funny accessory for sale: The "UK Bandana" retails for $366 and comes with the following disclaimer "Though this price may seem unfairly high, you need to figure in VAT tax, Suggested Retail Price, shipping costs ... you're not being gouged." So, is that funny, or is it mean to those who can't afford the jacked-up British cost?

Nope, it's definitely funny.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A score to settle

How important do you consider review scores? Do you even follow them at all, or do you simply buy the games you're looking forward to, no matter what? Either way, game reviews are a big part of the industry, and some people take them a little too seriously. I'm sure you've seen something like this on message boards before: "WTF? How could you give Game X 9.4 when you gave Game Y 9.5?". This is the question people ask, like that 1% makes a whole world of difference, blatantly ignoring the fact that anything that scores 9.4 or 9.5 is clearly an excellent game.

Nonetheless, that 1% can make a difference, when you start talking about aggregated scores, such as those on Game Rankings. These sites are based solely around the idea that you can take all the numbers people have assigned to a specific title, then just average them out to get the game's true rating. In fact, there was a lot of talk earlier in the year when GTA4 knocked Zelda: Ocarina of Time off of the top spot, to take the title of best reviewed game ever (it seems as though it's dropped back down to number 2 now though, by less than 0.2%). However, none of these aggregate sites have any idea what is considered a good score by any specific reviewer. For instance, one site may say that 5 out of 10 is average, and anything better is good; where as another site may say that 7 is average, and anything less is bad. Without having a set standard for everyone to follow, you can't really get a proper average.

Some reviewers clearly realize that people are putting too much emphasis on the score, instead of the text of the review, so have tried to branch away from the simple X out of 10. Popular site 1up recently changed it's system into something more like school grades, with an A+ being the best, and F being the worst (at least I assume it is, I haven't seen any reviews that were that low). Their theory was that everyone's been to school, so instantly knows what is considered a good grade, and what isn't. However, aggregate sites simply convert these grades back into numbers, with an A+ being a 10 and an F being a zero, which totally destroys the whole point of letter grades to begin with.

Then there are other reviewers who keep things even simpler. I listen to a very infrequently released podcast called Duel Screen Radio, which I think has possibly the best system I know. When reviewing a game, the hosts of the show spend a long time discussing the title; all the good points, all the bad points, expectations they had, funny stories from playing etc... After all this discussion, which could take half an hour or more, they simply give it a stylus up, stylus down, or stylus in the middle, which basically means recommended, not recommended, or so-so. However, by the time you are done listening to the review, you pretty much already know what they are going to give it. I mean, you can't hear someone talk about a game for half an hour without figuring out whether or not they liked it!

This is the really important point here: The text of the review (or in this case, speech). It must be frustrating for a game journalist to spend so much time writing a well thought out critique of a title, analyzing all the aspects of play, only to have people scroll past it all just to see what it scored. Those people are the ones who then jump onto message boards to bitch about that 1% they think it should have gotten. But without reading the text of the review, what does that number even mean? Just because something scored well or poorly doesn't mean that every single person will feel the same way. I mean, even if the next Madden game scored perfect 10s all around, I still wouldn't buy it because I don't like football games.

That's another thing to think about: Personal taste. Everyone has their own likes and dislikes, and it would be impossible for anyone to say definitively that a game is good or bad. Sure, they can say that it's bad relative to other games, but then again, someone could disagree with that too. When people go to a site to see what a game scored though, they don't consider the tastes of the person reviewing it, they simply see it as 1up's score, or IGN's score. I think many of those folks don't even consider the fact that different people review different games, even on the same site. That 1% higher that another title scored was most likely given by a totally different person with a completely different opinion of what's good or bad.

One final thing to think about is the so-called "exclusive review". These are the ones that are not to be trusted. The way they work is, a publisher shops around, looking for the company that will give their product the highest score. They then tell them that they can be the first ones to review it, as long as they stick to that high score they promised. Sites like them as it will get them a lot of traffic, and publishers like them as they get a good initial review out. You can see where the problem is, I'm sure.

So where do you stand on the issue of review scores then? I'd like to say that they don't affect my opinion of an upcoming title, but that's simply not true. My standard may be a little lower than some people's though, as I'm generally happy if a game I looking forward to scores an 8 out of 10 or higher. I'm not saying that anything less makes it a bad game, but with so many great ones being released, why should I settle on something that's only average? However, I always read the full text before I look at the number. Usually, I've already built up an opinion on whether or not it looks good before I even reach the score, in which case it becomes kind of meaningless. Also, some aspect that the reviewer may not have liked may be something that I love, or vice-versa. This is why I consider reviews to be more of a guide, rather than the definitive judgment about the quality of a game. Maybe if everyone felt the same way, we would have a lot more space on message boards to talk about more important things, such as which is better? Cake or pie? (but that's a whole other discussion anyway.....).

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Guitar Herumors

Okay, first of all, I realize that four out of my last five posts have been rhythm game related, but the news just keeps on coming. Second, I also realize that not all of the things I'm about to mention are rumors; the first one has been officially announced, and the second is more like something Activision are considering, but I just didn't think that "Guitar Heconsiderations" was quite as good a title, so I took a little creative liberty.

Alright then, the first piece of news comes to us from Shacknews, and concerns Guitar Hero: On Tour's music creation mode. As well as being able to make tracks in-game, it has now been announced that there will be a PC MIDI sequencer that can be used in song creation."If you really want to compose on your PC, obviously you're going to use the samples in-game, but if you really want to compose on PC or turn your band's MIDI...into a GH Tunes song, you can do that," explains Neversoft project director Brian Bright. "You can press play on the computer, and if you have it connected through MIDI, you can record into the music studio."

Okay, so if I've got this straight, does this mean that I could theoretically take music I'd already made on a MIDI-based device and port it straight into the game? They didn't make it quite clear, but this would be an excellent feature if it was included. If not, the ability to make music on the PC is still really great. Unfortunately, where as PS3 users will have acces to a large range of instruments, those playing on 360 will be limited to drums only due to "hardware issues". Either way, it doesn't sound like something that the average Guitar Hero player would be interested in, because of it's technical aspect. It could be good for those looking to download songs from other people though.

The second piece of news also comes to us from Shacknews, and is about upcoming Guitar Hero DLC. Apparently, the company are considering a subscription-based model for consumers who are looking to aquire a lot of music. Activision Publishing CEO Mike Griffith said "Looking even further out, we're exploring new models, like an annual pass subscription where players can subscribe and get a certain number of songs downloadable each month."

Considering that Activision and Blizzard recently merged, and Blizzard are making so much money with World of Warcraft subscriptions, it makes sense that the company would be exploring this business model in other areas. When I first heard of the subsrciption idea, I though it would be more like GameTap, where your monthy fee gets you access to all the content available, but it becomes inaccesable when you cancel your membership. However, it sounds as though they are offering people a set number of permanent downloads per month instead. Before they start offering this plan though, I think they really ought to work out a regular DLC release schedule, like Rock Band, so customers know they will always be getting something for their money.

The third and final piece of news is the only true rumor, and was told to Rolling Stone by Guns N' Roses' former guitarist Slash. This is what he said when asked about Guitar Hero: Aerosmith: "Well, having the Aerosmith guys do it was very cool ’cause Aerosmith’s one of the bands I was heavily influenced by. And Metallica’s doing it, that’s great. Those are two ones that I think gives it some credibility. And they’re doing a Hendrix one, which is great."

Did you catch that? He said they're doing a Hendrix one. I'm not quite sure how to feel about this. I mean, yeah, that could be totally awesome; Jimi Hendrix is my most wanted artist for rhythm games right now, but I don't think I'd want to buy an entire game with only his music. Also, it hasn't been announced whether or not it will be just guitar, or if it will include the other instruments as well. Well, to be fair, nothing has really been announced, as Activision wont confirm or deny Slash's statement. Oops, I think someone just let the cat out of the bag.

If this rumor turns out to be true though, it could explain why there is no Hendrix music in Rock Band. It's likely that Activision snatched up the exclusive rights to all his songs when making this deal. This is probably why there is no Aerosmith in Rock Band 2, and why the song tranfer feature (to import tracks from the original) didn't include Metallica's Enter Sandman; Harmonix no longer have the rights to either of these bands. This idea, of companies buying exclusive rights to music, really upsets me. It was bad enough when EA purchased exclusivity to the NFL so no one else could make pro football games, but allowing companies to monopolize good music just doesn't seem very, I don't know, rock and roll. I really hope this rumor turns out to be false because I wont rest until I get a chance to play Manic Depression, and I don't want to shell out the cost of a whole game to do it!

So that's all the Guitar Hero news for now. Activision sure are keeping busy with this franchise, and I guess we'll find out soon enough if it's enough to take the rhythm game crown from Rock Band this holiday season.

Another original idea by Activision

Not content with the success of their mega-franchise Guitar Hero, Activision have allegedly begun work on another rhythm game, this one called DJ Hero. They filed a trademark for it back in January, but only recently did Kotaku print the first details of it. It sounds a lot like Guitar Hero (no surprises) but will use a plastic turntable controller in place of the plastic guitar we've all become accustomed to. It will supposedly have a platter for scratching, buttons for sampling, a cross fader, and a sound effects dial. However, I have a feeling that all of these things will still amount to "press the button and turn the platter as colored notes scroll down the screen". This isn't necessarily a bad thing though, as this gameplay has worked fine in rhythm games for years. I just hope Activision doesn't expect some kind of medal for originality.

Another reason they can't claim to have thought of this idea all by themselves is because of Konami. Yes, once again, Konami - the founders of arcade rhythm games - had a very similar title just a few years ago called Beatmania. It falls into the category of insane Japanese rhythm game, as proven by videos like this one, and would no doubt be simplified if Activision wished to make it mainstream. So what happened? Did Konami drop the ball again, by not releasing their game onto home consoles, much as they did with their Guitar Freaks, and Percussion Freaks series'. Well, no. Actually, Konami did release Beatmania on PS2 in the US, but it never really caught on. I even remember them getting in a few copies at my local video game store, after the original Guitar Hero was starting to become popular.

I think the big difference though, and the aspect that could make Activision's game into a hit, is the music selection. Konami have always been content with simply using fast electronic music and J-pop in their games, which works fine for Dance Dance Revolution, but when people are actually playing along (as opposed to just dancing) I think they want songs they know. That's why Activision are trying to incorporate musical mash-ups from many popular artists, but apparently the licensing issues are turning out to be a real pain.

Not much more is known about the title right now, and even though I'm not expecting a lot, I'll be interested to see what the controller ends up looking like. I'll also be interested to see if Activision end up spreading out their current fans between many different franchises, or if they can convince everyone to buy Guitar Hero and DJ Hero, as well as my personal favorite: Harmonica Hero!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The evolution will be televised

This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee takes a look at Spore, Will Wright's latest penis drawing Sim game. Will Wright, in case you didn't know, is the creator of the popular Sim City, and the infinitely-more-popular The Sims. We've been hearing a lot about Spore for a while now, as it's been in development for ages, and the recently released Creature Creator tool has allowed people the world over to get a taste for the game early by making their own creatures that mainly look like, well, take a guess. Now the full game is out and folks can see it in it's entirety, from the single-cell organism stage to the taking-over-the-universe stage.

Now, I have no intention of ever playing Spore. Sure, the premise sounds intriguing, but it's a PC game and I don't play PC games. It's that simple. Besides, judging from what I've heard, not all of the elements of it are fun. Yahtzee clearly feels the same way, and it's not like he's a total hater of the genre; he admits that he can see the appeal in Will Wright's previous games, but this one may have bitten off more than it can chew. Unfortunately, he doesn't really spend too much time talking about the actual gameplay, but how can one really be expected to sum up the creation and evolution of life, in four minutes? Oops, I shouldn't have said "evolution"; the Christian fundamentalists will soon be after me too!

Here's the review. As always it contains plenty of strong language and is definitely NSFW.

Check out the rest of his videos here.

Addicted to rock

You guys may be wondering where I've been for the last few days. Well, I wont lie: I've been playing Rock Band 2. Yes, after months of anticipation, Harmonix' latest band simulator is finally in my living room. It wasn't as easy to get hold of as I was expecting though. I already knew that the game wouldn't be shipping with the instruments, so on Sunday morning I made my way down to Best Buy before work, to pick up the disc and a new drum set. The only problem is that they didn't get in any of the drums, only the actual game. Well, I needed those drums to play, so I started frantically calling Gamestops in the area, only to find out that most of them had only gotten in two sets each, which had already been sold. I was about to get very angry at the fact that stores had lots of copies of the disc, but no controllers to play with, but then I found a Gamestop that had an unsold one, and I was on my way.

So after all this unnecessary hassle, how are these brand new drums? Well, they're a lot like the first ones to be honest. They've got better pads on them, that are a little quieter and more bouncy, and a metal-reinforced kick pedal. My only worry is that the pedal doesn't have a reinforced hinge, so I have a feeling it wont be long before it breaks. On top of these features, they are also wireless, and run on 3 AA batteries. Overall, it's just nice to have drums that work, but the improvements certainly make them better that the last set I had.

More importantly though, how is the game? Well, it's a lot like the first one, to be honest. The basic gameplay remains identical, but the modes have been mixed up a bit. The first thing I noticed was the lack of a single player tour option, the kind where you simply play through songs in order of ascending difficulty, unlocking more as you go along. This has been the main solo mode ever since the original Guitar Hero, so it's weird not to have it anymore. Instead, the focus is really on Band World Tour mode, which can now be played through individually, instead of with multiple players only. The funny thing is that because I transfered all the songs over from the first game, I kept having to play them whenever a random setlist came up; either that or one of the many DLC tracks I've purchased. This meant that I really felt like I was still playing the original Rock Band, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Alongside the Tour mode, there are a couple of other interesting play options: The first one is challenge mode, where you are asked to play through sets of songs (only from the second game), unlocking harder sets as you go along. It's sort of like the solo mode from the original, only you don't have to play though every track in the game, only a few for each difficulty tier. Oh yeah, and the number of tiers has actually been reduced from 9 to 7, which is a little weird. The second mode is Battle of the Bands, in which you have to play through sets of songs (again), but are ranked against others on you friend list, and can actually see the next score you have to beat while playing. It's kind of cool, and the challenges are updated daily, so should provide almost infinite replayability. Also, some of them have strange conditions, such as playing without the use of Overdrive, which adds an extra layer of difficulty.

As for the songs themselves, I'm enjoying the ones I've unlocked so far. Apparently, my skills from the first game carry right over, as I was able to get high scores on many of the tracks on my initial try, or at least my second one. I think that anyone who's mastered the original should have no problems with the song selection in the sequel, even the very hard final tracks by Dream Theater, Judas Priest, and Metallica. I don't think there's anything quite as tough as Run to the Hills in this game, but it could just be that I am a lot better now than I was when I first attempted that one. However, there are some tough ones in there, which I will certainly need more practice with to get good at. As a side note, expert players may be interested to hear that they've made it easier to get gold stars this time around; you can mess up a few times and still get that familiar "ding" toward the end of the song, indicating that you kick major ass.

Alongside all the gameplay modes, there is a new drum trainer, which basically just amounts to a bunch of beats and fills that you can select between, and speed up or slow down. There is no teacher telling you what to do, it's really just a place to practice your beats. However, I think that they could certainly help out new players who are having difficulty with the drums.

The only other changes are aesthetic really. It's nice to have the difficulties for the songs listed right beside them, for all instruments, but unfortunately it doesn't keep track of your star rating for each one, which is what kept drawing me back to the original. Not being able to see exactly which songs you need to improve in, at a glance, could shorten the life of this game, as the push to beat my old scores and get gold stars on every track just isn't there. Oh well, hopefully Band World Tour will take the place of the old single player mode anyway, and I won't have to worry about it.

So these are my initial impressions. I've only had a couple of days to play, and haven't got to try it out online yet, but I'm definitely enjoying what I've seen so far. I wouldn't worry if I were you though; you'll most likely be hearing plenty more about Rock Band 2 in the upcoming months.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Tourplay

Finally, the rhythm game tracklist trifecta is complete. First we got the list of songs for Rock Band 2; then we found out what we would be playing in Konami's Rock Revolution; and now, Activision have revealed what we can look forward to in Guitar Hero: On Tour. They've been trickling out a few songs at a time for a while, but I guess that approach was pissing people off, so instead we are treated to the entire selection in one go. Rather than list every song, why don't you click here, then come back so we can discuss them a little.

Okay, so I may not be the best person to judge whether or not this is a good selection. I mean, I'm not exactly a huge fan of most rock music, and don't even recognise the names of many of these songs (although I'm sure I'd know them if I heard them). However, there are definitely a few that I'd really love to play if given the chance, such as the Jimi Hendix tracks, Michael Jackson's Beat It, and, of course, The Doors' Love Me Two Times. I also wouldn't mind a go at Hotel California, and Sweet Home Alabama if I had the opportunity. All of the others that interest me also feature in Rock Band 2; in fact, the two games share a total of 17 songs (as pointed out by Joystiq), which I guess isn't too surprising. After all, a great song is a great song.

So even though I'm going to have plenty to keep me occupied when Rock Band 2 is released, it's good to see that Activision are offering some decent music as well. Now I just have to hope that some of the songs I like from GH: OT are released as DLC in Rock Band.

The heaviest DLC yet

This week in Rock Band, we all get the chance to destroy our drum pedals with another helping of metal. Now, you may remember I once described this genre of music as "the stuff with really loud, thrashing, angry sounding tunes and someone screeching over the top", right? Well, this was the stuff I was talking about. The three-pack is brought to us by some group called All That Remains, who I'm sure may be loved by some people, but I'm honestly not surprised that I'd never heard of them. Harmonix obviously realize the limited appeal of these tracks as, once again, they are all offered for the budget price of $1 (Although this will go up to the regular price of $2 in a month).
Here are the songs for this week:

This Calling
Chiron
Two Weeks
Note: Click on any song for expert drum videos

So I probably don't need to tell you this, but I skipped all of them, and for three very good reasons: The first is that my Rock Band drums are still broken, and I haven't gotten my new set yet. The second is that a couple of them look ridiculously hard, with constant ultra-fast kick drum throughout. The guy who got five gold stars on This Calling must be a robot, or at least have cybernetic arms and legs. The third, and possible most important reason, is simply because I can not stand this music. I don't want to seem old by saying it's only noise, but come on! The only possible thing I could say that I liked about these tracks is the name of Two Weeks, and only then if it's a reference to my favorite Schwarzenegger movie; otherwise, I really couldn't care. It's not long until the release of Rock Band 2 though, so I'll have plenty of new stuff to play before long.

In other news, and ad recently appeared on Craigslist, looking for a group of four people to be a part of MTV's upcoming Rock Band 2 TV show. I know, it sounds weird, but when you consider that it's a reality show by the creators of Rock Star and The Apprentice, it begins to make a little more sense. The ad is seeking "four people to form their own band and show us their stuff live on stage for the chance to win the Ultimate Rock Band Experience." Wait though! Before you rush out to sign up, bear in mind that all participants must reside in the Southern California area. So for all of you who don't want to watch actual rock stars on TV, but would rather see people pretending to be rock stars, it looks as though your prayers have been answered, although as of this date, MTV have not confirmed whether or not the show is for real.