If you’ve been waiting for the sequel to Crimson Skies, your wait may be over. Don’t be discouraged by the adorability of the title character – this is timeless dogfighting from an era long before Michael Vick.
You are World War I flying ace Snoopy, and you are flying approximately 20 missions to defeat the evil Red Baron and defend freedom. Look for mostly well-done cameos from Snoopy’s owner Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Sally and more. Along the way you get to collect upgrades to your flyer, like the potato gun and the Woodstock missile. The game is mostly aerial combat with a just a little Sim Flyer in the mix.
Peanuts creator Charles Schulz would be pleased with the way his most popular character has been rendered on the PC, PS2 and PSP. The game looks a lot like the holiday specials we remember from childhood, only now in 3-D! It is bold, colorful and will make you smile.
The game play is simple, but solid. Fly, barrel roll, strafe, and bomb to your heart’s content. Of the three systems, the PSP version seems to be the players’ choice for the most solid controls, and that’s saying something for Sony’s red-headed stepchild of a handheld.
The difficulty is mixed, though. Some missions are so simple that you’ll feel like this is a kiddie game, while others will have you tearing your hair out in frustration. It would be nice if the difficulty scaled over time, but after the first couple of missions if seems that annoyance can strike at any time.
Snoopy v. The Red Baron is is a solid air combat game and the rare licensed game that doesn’t make me want to try and revoke the developers’ license. It’s a nice addition to a genre that has been pretty quiet of late, and it would be neat to see a longer, slightly smoother sequel, perhaps for PSN.
For being fun and nostalgic, if somewhat uneven, Snoopy v. The Red Baron gets 4 Weiners out of 5.
You’ve seen a lot about Fable II on this site. Actually, I should say you’ve seen a lot about Peter Molyneux, Fable’s creator, who has Chronic Foot-In-Mouth Disease. You may have seen an article or listened to a Weinercast here and there in which his penchant for over-promising and under-delivering has been discussed.
I’m a fan of the original Fable and was ready to give Fable II a fair shake. I eagerly slipped the disc into the Xbox 360 and waited impatiently through the Microsoft and Lionhead bumpers for the actual Start screen to show.
Starting the game allows you to choose between playing a male or female Hero — a choice unavailable in the original — and is followed by a beautifully rendered cutscene that drops you into the middle of the action into the town of Bowerstone from the first game. It’s hundreds of years after the time of Fable, though, and the world has changed greatly. You’ll find early on, for instance, that no one really believes in Will (magic) anymore, and that firearms are now commonplace. Fable II represents a more rational, almost Renaissance-like world compared to the more fairytale-like medieval world of the original Fable.
Many of the elements of the new edition of the land of Albion will seem familiar. Yep, there are still Demon Doors that lead to treasure once you’ve figured out what’s needed to open them. Chests containing goods abound. The chief difference is that the Hero’s Guild is no more; it was destroyed in the time between the two games, and there are no heroes anymore until you come along. (It’s implied throughout the game that you are a descendant of the character from the first Fable, who is referred to as the Hero of Oakvale.)
Fable II is a game that I would say appeals to both “passengers and sailors”. That is, it’s very easy for even the most casual gamer to enjoy, while also offering rewards for those who wish to play deeper inside of it. Let’s take two cases to illustrate: the Dog and making money. A lot has been said about the Dog, and I find the concept and the implementation both innovative and refreshing. Honestly, what hero runs around with a minimap in his head? The dog is a much more natural way of finding your way around. There’s also a trail of “reverse breadcrumbs” wherever you go — you’ll find that following a golden, glowing trail will lead you to your quest destinations.
There’s so much going on in Fable II that it’s tempting to delay pursuing the story while interacting with the rest of the world, much as I did. You’ll find that the story itself is well-plotted and full of unexpected twists and a couple of breathless, I-can’t-believe-that-just-happened moments.
Take A! And B! And A again!
And then there’s money — it’s ridiculously easy to come by. A number of jobs have been implemented in the game. These are essentially minigames that you’re paid to play. They have different “skins” as it were, but the play is more or less the same whether you’re a blacksmith or a woodcutter. You mash the A button at the right time, you make gold. That’s it. You can rack up a few thousand gold coins in a short time. If you’re eager to upgrade your gear it’s an easy way to make some money; if you’re looking at a longer-term investment you can put your cash into real estate by buying a house or business. Your rental fees accumulate even while you’re not playing, so it can be a big moneymaker over time to invest for the long term.
The game shipped with some problems. Audio sometimes goes out of sync with the rest of the game, causing stuttering and other annoying effects. I also have to fault Lionhead, again, for releasing the game without the promised — and still MIA at the time of this writing — online multiplayer feature that so many were looking forward to.
For being worth your $60 despite Molyneux’s best attempts to the contrary, Fable II gets 4 weiners out of 5.
When is the childhood game Seek and Find worth $10? When it is presented with as much care and elegance as Stone of Destiny, a recent iPhone app. Originally selling for $9.99, but now available for only $0.99, Stone of Destiny is a full featured “hidden object” game developed for iPhone by Atrur Ostapenko You are a young niece or nephew whose uncle has disappeared, leaving you a book, a world map, and a metric ton of objects to find. Each level is presented as a beautiful still photo, with objects ranging from Chinese fans to paper clips hidden in plain sight. A double touch zooms in, allowing you to easily scour dusty old libraries and ancient temples for the objects that are required. After each level there is a rune drawing mini-game, and after every few levels you are presented with a classic puzzle such as the Tower of Hanoi.
Stone of Destiny is a classic puzzler’s dream. It is gorgeous, with richly layered items hiding under every pixel. It brings back memories of puzzles you may have done in school and forgotten, and serves these old chestnuts with a delicious touch screen polish. The game is challenging, but not stressful. There is a timer, but it is very reasonable and only “punishes” a player when they really start poking the screen randomly. Ostapenko wraps this all up in a decent story and serves it warm to any player who has a few minutes to kill on a bus. As a result, iPhone users get a truly solid game app that is unlike a lot of the dross that is out there. If you have any interest in puzzles or beautiful art, check this out. If not, why do you own an iPhone anyway?
For being a fun and simple puzzler with excellent visuals, I give Stone of Destiny for the iPhone 4 Weiners out of 5.
Well, if by “queen” you mean “zombie nurses”, and if by “gun”, you mean Pyramidhead and his giant sword, then yes. Silent Hill is back, and everything old and creepy is new and creepy again. This time your protagonist is Alex Shepherd, a young solider returning from war to the psychotic battlefield of his hometown of Shepherd’s Glen. The sleepy little town is, of course, overrun by the Silent Hill cult and overrun with the kind of creatures that would squick out H.P. Lovecraft.
Homecoming marks a change in guard for the series. Instead of being made in Japan, Silent Hill: Homecoming was to be the first in the series produced by a Western developer called The Collective. That was almost the case, except that The Collective had merged with Backbone Entertainment in 2005 to form Foundation 9 Entertainment, and Foundation 9 then merged The Collective with Shiny Entertainment to create Double Helix Games. Silent Hill: Homecoming is a Double Helix production.
Double Helix draws heavily on Silent Hill and Silent Hill 2 for this outing. Most of your classic terrors are there (i.e. Pyramidhead and his sexually abused nurses). In a twist that usually doesn’t work, however, Double Helix adapted some things from the Silent Hill movie. For example, the “tearing” sound when you slip between worlds is straight out of the film, as is the nurses’ reaction to light.
With all of these homages, it should come as no surprise that Silent Hill:Homecoming plays more like a Greatest Hits disc than a new game in the series. The visuals are sharp, the voice acting is reasonable, and the controls are a big improvement from Silent Hill IV: The Room. Silent Hill fans may find themselves playing through looking for a twist that never comes, however. The interactions with classic series antagonists are creepy, but don’t get under your skin the way they did the first time you saw them. And forget about save points. The save system is a ruthless checkpoint system married to a “find the glyph” save point. Prepare to lose time and effort here.
They kept the glyph, but not the title.
Silent Hill: Homecoming is a darn sight better than Silent Hill IV, and is a welcome addition to series fans who have ben waiting to get their Hill on for so long. It’s also not a bad entry point into the series for someone who has heard about Silent Hill, but never played. Just don’t expect anything revolutionary.
For being a solid, creepy game with good visuals, voice acting and controls, Silent Hill: Homecoming gets 4 Weiners out of 5
Welcome back, Blue Bomber. Forget Mega Man X, Mega Man Tutu Adventures, Rush eXtREME, and the rest. Mega Man 9 is the real deal. 8-bit graphics, delightfully tinny rock music, and punishing gameplay. Authentic flicker options complete the thing, making Mega Man 9 a worthy and true sequel.
For those of you who weren’t around or paying attention in “the old days”, Mega Man is a little blue robot designed by the wonderful Dr. Light. He starts out by shooting little power pellets at his enemies as he leaps and bounds through painfully difficult platforming levels. At the end of each level is another robot, this one designed by the Evil Dr. Wily. When Mega Man defeats these evil robots, he acquires their sweet, sweet power. There’s a dog, too. Rush, Mega Man’s canine companion starts with the ability to spring you to new heights, but can gain the abilities to race you across spikes and more.
Exciting new "box art"!
Mega Man has always been part shooter, part platformer, and part puzzler, and MM9 is no exception.There is a “best” way to make it through the game in that some powers are designed to make traversing other levels much easier. I won’t give away too much here, but isn’t Galaxy Man’s board shiny?
All of this is not to say that there is nothing new under the pixellated sun. This time around, Mega Man can collect screws that he can trade to his buddies Auto and Roll for power ups, including Shock Guards and Beat Calls, which will allow you to avoid one spiky death and and pitfall per purchase. There are also a number of challenges, ala XBox Achievements, such as “Complete the game in 90 minutes” and “Don’t miss with the Mega Buster and finish the game”. Yes, its layering brutality on top of brutality, but isn’t it fun?
The first lady robot in the series and she's a mermaid.
In general, MM9 lets you party like its 1989 for only 1000 Wii Points and all the hair you can yank out of your skull while playing. If you have any left, that is. Apparently I’m old, because when I started playing MM9 in front of some of my late 80s baby friends, they began to giggle and squeal that the graphics were so blocky and the music was so annoying, and why did I keep dying? After I threw them out of my house, I continued to enjoy myself, and decided to give Mega Man 9 four weiners out of five.
From our tech in the field, funjon, comes this review of the Cradlepoint CTR-500 portable broadband router. Tired of paying $10/hour at a Starbucks, funjon decides to blaze his own trail. Gaming on the go or no go at all? Read on.
In early July I bought a Cradlepoint CTR-500 portable broadband router. Its quite the useful little device – can set up and share mobile broadband anywhere, including the car. Great toy, if you’ve got a USB data card or ExpressCard/34 data card. Which I do – the Novatel Wireless Merlin XU870. Which as served me wonderfully over the past year.
Except it’s not supported by the CTR-500.
It worked from the start, sort of. The router saw it. With the appropriate AT commands, it would connect. But it crashed and rebooted, a lot. I think the longest runtime was 2 minutes before it went boom.
All is not lost! It appears that with the new (August 08) release of firmware, 1.3.1, the CTR-500 likes my Novatel Wireless Merlin XU870 ExpressCard. Obviously, it continues to not be officially supported, but it will connect. It connected before, too, but this time it doesn’t crash. Or at least, hasn’t yet. In fact, I’m posting this through the CTR-500/XU870 combo right now.
Of course, I went and bought an Option GT Max card used on eBay for $120, so I’d have -something- that worked with it right now. Which, I’ll probably keep for the time being, it never hurts to have a backup (or an officially supported device). With the Merlin, I don’t get the nifty signal-strength feature, but it does seem to be working.
Now I just need to find something to put the router in while it’s in my backpack so it doesn’t get scratched to hell. Oh, and I really need to fix the cigarette lighters in my car, so the router will work on them.
Official support would be even cooler, but making it not crash on this unsupported modem is MUCH APPRECIATED. I’m glad I didn’t spend $350 on a data card (and $200 on a router) in vain.
Now to get a couple of mag-mount antennae put on the car for super mega signal. The router -and- the Merlin card both have external antenna connectors. Hooray for a 80mph WiFi hotspot!
All in all, I’d probably give it 4 weiners out of 5. There have been some teething problems (occasionally config options dont get saved to flash), but it has additional features I’m not using. You can also plug in a USB broadband card, or you can use a phone as a modem, and there’s a wired ethernet port that can be either a WAN or LAN port, configurable in software.
If you’re my friend or my poor husband, you’ve heard me running around for months singing the following (to the tune of “La Cucheracha”):
Viva Piñata, Viva Piñata
It is a nice piñata game!
Viva Piñata, Viva Piñata
No two piñatas are the same!
Yet another piñata clone cries itself to sleep.
Before this week, though, it was a lie. All of my brightly colored papery pals were the same. Same colors, same Candyosity, same names. Never more.
Viva Piñata:Trouble in Paradise from Rare and Microsoft Game Studios builds on the original Viva Piñata formula of building a garden, attracting and breeding piñatas, and sending them off to children who enjoy their sweet sweet candy. Players who “dug” the original will like this one, because it has everything the first game has and more. New gardeners won’t feel left behind: the game has an excellent and reasonably interesting tutorial system that will set you up with gardening basics. Besides, it’s not that difficult a game.
That is not to say that VP:TIP is not without depth. As in the original, your job is to build and nurse a budding ecosystem literally from the ground up. Start with clearing enough grass or soil and you’ll attract adorable little Whirlms in your garden. They’ll soon attract Sparrowmints, who will eat the Whirlms and may themselves be eaten by a Buzzenge as a part of their Romance requirement. It’s all a part of the great circle of life. Or something.
VP:TIP improves on the original in several ways. First, it simplifies the menu system, particularly the buying and selling aspects. Gardeners can now just highlight objects for sale and they are automatically marked, rather than having to trudge all the way to the village. On the retail side, objects are placed immediately in the garden right before the money (chocolate coins) changes hands. This saves you “travel time” and really helps in letting you preview how you want to plan your garden. Check out this gameplay footage:
Other improvements include the introduction of an actual storyline. Professor Pester, leader of the sour piñatas, has a plan to destroy this paper paradise forever. He’s a man (a “straw” man?) with a plan, which both unfurls and unravels as you level up your garden. The Prof’s intrusions can range from just sending Sour Shellybeans to eat up all your seeds to building stone walls that keep essential piñatas out of your garden until you can pay to knock the walls down.
I mentioned “no two piñatas are the same”, and this time its true. Not only can you still name each and every piñata, and design a custom tag for it, but they also all have varying states of happiness. These states are known as the piñatas’ “Candiosity”, and are an indicator of how happy your paper pal is in your garden. The higher Candiosity level, the more your piñata is worth, and the more likely that she or he will stay in your garden and make lots of little piñatas.
The Prof’s machinations, along with a more structured mission system (usually “raise a piñata with maximum candiosity and ship it somewhere around the world”) really add to the adventure without taking away from the sandbox feel.
Rounding out the new features are opportunities to leave the garden, both in game and out of game. In game, you can use signposts to nip off to such exotic locations as the Dessert Desert and and the Pinarctic region. You don’t play in these gardens – you go there, capture new and exciting piñatas, and bring them to your home garden. Out of game, you can search other folks’ gardens if they are on XBox Live, or use the Xbox Live vision camera to scan piñata cards (ala Sony’s Eye of Judgement) and import new piñatas into your garden. Full garden multiplayer, both at home and via XBox Live, completes the set.
If this all sounds like a lot, it is because it is, which is one of the chief issues with the game. The problem is not that it is too deep, but rather that there is too much thrown at the player too fast with not nearly enough space to use it all. For example, in order to get a pair of piñatas to do their Romance Dance (mate) they need a home. Each species of piñata has its own type of home, and even the smallest of these, the modest Whirlm home, consumes a considerable amount of real estate. By the time you’ve built the Sweetle home required to complete the final tutorial mission, you’re out of room for more piñata homes unless you significantly tear up your little slice of heaven. Your garden size does increase, but the first bump isn’t until level 12, by which time you’ll really need the extra space.
The more things change, however, the more they stay the same. The developers obviously spent a lot of time lovingly crafting piñatas and items. Why, then, could they not manage to record all new bits for the speaking characters? As far as I know no one had a deep-seated attachment to the exact phrases spoken by shopkeeper Lottie Costalot as she swindled you out of your coins. In fact, most of her phrases (and the other villagers’) were pretty annoying. There are some new spoken bits, but most of it is reruns.
All in all, though, Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise is a worthy sequel to Viva Piñata. The visuals have been upgraded, and the piñatas actually look like paper. The game controls better, and the new Romance Dance cutscenes are hysterical and adorable. If you haven’t seen a VP Romance Dance, check one out below.
The bottom line is that if you don’t like sandbox games or god games, you’re not going to start liking them with Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise. If you do enjoy them, and particularly if you enjoyed the original Viva Piñata, you’ve got a lot of love coming in this title. Share it with your friends! Just beware of papercuts.
I’m giving Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise 4 Weiñatas out of 5.