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3 on 3 NHL Arcade Review

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Electronic Arts’ (EA) “NHL Hockey” franchise has always been stellar when compared to other professional hockey games. It’s rare that an NHL Hockey iteration doesn’t end-up as one the year’s best titles. So when a game like EA Canada’s “3 on 3 NHL Arcade” is released on the PlayStation Network (PSN) and on Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA), gamers tend to take notice and expect some sort of quality release.

Comparing 3 on 3 NHL Arcade to it NHL ’09 counterpart is like comparing apples to oranges, as both titles differ quite a bit from each other. NHL ’09 gravitates more towards the sports simulation genre, while 3 on 3 NHL Arcade is more or less a fast-paced, no holds barred, pick-up and play hockey title.

What truly makes 3 on 3 NHL Arcade unique in comparison to your standard hockey game is its arcade style gameplay. With 3 on 3 NHL Arcade, gamers can boost their players abilities by gaining special power-ups. These power-ups offer a wide variety advantages that range from a super slap shot to an uncanny speed boost. Gamers gain access to these power-ups by simply checking opposing players during gameplay.

Sounds fun right?

It’s hard to not be disappointed by the game’s content though. You only get to play as either the red or the blue team, and you end-up having the ability to choose four players from a meager 40 player NHL roster (mind you there’s only four goalies to choose from). It’s also important to note that there is no tournament or season play incorporated within 3 on 3 NHL Arcade, all you get is 3 on 3 gameplay. And to add to the disappointment, there is only one default rink available to play on. With this much variety, you can imagine how quickly things start getting mundane.

You know there’s something wrong when the full unlocked game doesn’t really offer that much in comparison to its demo. And to be honest, why would anyone want to purchase the full game when the just of the title can be experienced for free?

Visually, 3 on 3 NHL Arcade uses the same graphical engine that powers NHL ’09, with a little less polish of course. The ’09 engine ends-up pushing a game that not only plays fluently, but also looks fairly decent.

As much as the game can be enjoyable amongst friends, 3 on 3 NHL Arcade doesn’t offer any real replay value as a single player title. One has to wonder why the game wasn’t offered as an add-on to NHL ’09 instead. Gamers looking for a full hockey experience should definitely stay away from 3 on 3 NHL Arcade, and seriously consider shelling out an extra few dollars for NHL ’09 or NHL 2K9.

3 on 3 NHL Arcade is currently available on the PS3 and Xbox 360 for $9.99 (or 800 Microsoft points) through their respective distribution channels.

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A Look at Burnout Paradise’s Party Pack

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Last week, Criterion released its latest downloadable content (DLC) for its constantly evolving arcade racer “Burnout Paradise“. The new content, dubbed Burnout Party, is Criterion’s first attempt at local multiplayer for Burnout Paradise. So how does this $10 (or 800 Microsoft points) DLC fair?

Burnout Party enables up to eight gamers to play amongst each other on a single television using one controller. How is that possible you ask? The concept is pretty simple, the game dishes out mini-game challenges that players must complete within a certain time frame or under specific conditions. When an attempt is completed, the gamer then passes the controller to the next player. After a round is completed, scores are tallied-up and posted on a leader board, the players move to the next challenge (up to eight rounds).

The challenges are fairly easy and will surely please every type of gamer, whether you’re casual or hardcore. The challenges range from racing through oncoming traffic to completing a double-barrel roll. The update features enough mini-games that gamers might start ignoring their Wii’s when friends come over. The add-on is even as exciting when playing with as little as two people.

The latest Burnout Paradise patch must be installed in order to play the Party Pack. Don’t worry, the patch is mandatory and you are automatically prompted to download it as soon as you launch the game. The new patch is well worth the download as it not only includes the highly touted race restart feature, but also comes with minor gameplay and graphical enhancements.

Sure this might not be the split screen gaming we’ve grown accustomed to with past Burnout iterations, but Burnout Party is a pretty decent replacement that is well worth its meager $10. Burnout Party is available on both PS3 and Xbox 360, and is also available within the “Burnout Paradise: The Ultimate Box” for the PC.

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A Look at Star Ocean: First Departure for the PSP

Star Ocean: First Departure

It’s hard these days to be a PlayStation Portable (PSP) owner. Even if the handheld is selling like hot cakes around the globe, it seems like no publisher or developer wants to commit to releasing titles for the unit. Thankfully, PSP enthusiasts have been receiving their fair share of gaming goodness from Japanese publisher/developer Square Enix. Their latest PSP exclusive is a remake of the popular Tri-Ace developed Super Famicom (the Japanese version of the SNES) role-playing game (RPG) “Star Ocean: Fantastic Space Odyssey“, which never made its way officially to North America (or Europe for that matter).

But is the newly dubbed “Star Ocean: First Departure” worth experiencing?

In Star Ocean: First Departure you play as Roddick Farrence, who, along with friends Millie Chliette and Dorne Murtough, are members of Kratus’ (a small town on the planet Roak) defense force. Our heroes end up in the town of Coule where they discover that its townsfolk are mysteriously turning into stone. As the intro story progresses, Farrence, Murtough and Chliette meet members of the Terran Alliance reconnaissance team who were dispatched to the planet to investigate its stone turning viral outbreak.

The game’s updated visuals are based on an isometrical graphics engine that uses 2D character sprites displayed on pre-rendered backdrops. The graphic engine is reminiscent of the one used in the 1999 PSone sequel “Star Ocean: The Second Story” (which will be released on the PSP in early 2009). What you get is a game with stellar visuals that still manages to convey a sense of old-school 16-bit gaming nostalgia. To add to its visual beauty, First Departure has also been juiced up with fully voiced animated anime styled cut-scenes designed by the world renowned animators at Production I.G.

The revamped Star Ocean also features an improved action-oriented real-time battle system. When a battle ensues, you get to freely control your characters’ actions (you can switch controlled characters by pressing the circle button), while your team mates automatically duke it out in accordance to your strategic commands. Your attacks are controlled using the PSP’s X button, while the special arts and spells can be attributed to the L or R shoulder buttons. A break in action is initiated with a quick tap of the triangle button which brings up the command circle. The command circle enables you to use items, cast spells, assign tactics or flee the oncoming melee. With all this said and done, the combat system is pretty simplistic and won’t take long to master.

Star Ocean: First Departure also boasts an item creation system as well as an extensive skill system that can be used to bolster your party’s attributes. For example, certain skill sets will enable you to customize or create new items based on materials you’ve amassed in your inventory. These items can then be distributed among party members.

Star Ocean: First Departure is perhaps one of the best old-school traditional sci-fi/fantasy RPGs to grace the PSP. Its $39.99USD suggested retail price is also a bargain for gamers (or parents) living on a tight budget. Overall this is an excellent retooling of the original Star Ocean that will keep RPG fans entertained until the series makes its current generation debut with next year’s Xbox 360 exclusive “Star Ocean: The Last Hope“.

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Torpex Games’ Schizoid Reviewed

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I have been a long standing champion of retro gaming. You can throw in as much 3D modeling, bump mapping and dolby surround as you want into a game, it doesn’t necessarily make it a good play. The beauty of retro gaming is the necessity in the design of the classics, these are games that were developed in a time where gameplay HAD to come first, because you didn’t have the luxury of winning people over with high end graphics and sound. A certain amount of finesse had to go into designing the gameplay experience. A game had to be easy to learn, easy to control, and most importantly, fun to play.

Fast forward 20 years, to the age of XBOX Live Arcade and downloadable games and you can tell that the standard set in the age of the NES is just as, if not more important today. Games have gotten harder to develop and infinitely more complex, but what makes a game fun to play has more or less stayed the same. Which is the real beauty of console online services like XBLA, PSN and Wii’s Virtual Console. In the age of disposable first person shooters and glorious HD sports games, console makers still provide an avenue to find some entertaining and innovative games that retain that fun factor of older games, but with updated graphics and sound. A few years ago the market for titles like this on any console was next to nothing. Flash forward and retro gaming is back, in a very big way.

Schizoid is one of those types of games. The kind that grabs you immediately, and makes you wonder where the time went. Developed by Torpex Games, the game is the first to be released on XBOX Live Arcade that has been fully developed using XNA Game Studio Express, Microsoft’s free game development toolkit. Upon first playing the game, you can really tell that Microsoft is putting a lot of power into the hands of their Arcade developers. A few minutes of Schizoid and you’ll remember why retro gaming was so much fun.

The game describes itself as ‘the most co-op game ever’, and this is no exaggeration. On the surface, the game appears fairly simple to play: you pilot a blue ship through a series of levels, and the object of the game is to destroy all the glowing enemies that share the same color as you. Unlike other Top Down shooters like Geometry Wars and Mutant Storm, Schizoid technically has no single player campaign. With you at all times is a 2nd red ship, who you need to help in clearing the level of red enemies. As you progress through the game, you quickly learn that you and your red counterpart have to act together in order to survive. Your ship is vulnerable to enemies of opposing color, which makes it handy to have a second ship watching your back, and vice versa.

Graphically the team at Torpex Games have gone quite a ways to distinguish the look of Schizoid from other comparable games. Enemies take on a very microscopic, biological feel, like protozoa and under a powerful microscope. Breeder enemies spawn eggs which hatch into nebulous Flitts, Skulks and Scorpios target you with claw like mandibles. Even the level design is highly organic, with swaying, fibrous walls that trap enemies and swirling energy obstacles to avoid. You really wouldn’t need this level of detail to enjoy the game, but it goes to show how well crafted Schizoid is over other Live Arcade releases.

Another oddity amongst games of this type is that there is no shooting involved. players destroy enemies by touching them. This makes the control system as simple as it could possibly be; one analog stick is all you need to play this game. Naturally, the game gets harder as you go along, which is why teamwork is such a necessary aspect of the gameplay. Staying together to kill enemies of your color will allow you to get through levels unscathed, which in turn, gives you gold medals for progress. Power ups are scattered throughout the game, which again rely on teamwork. In order to activate a power up you have to bring the two ships together so you can both benefit from increased speed or a powerful bomb attack.

Another innovation is the automatic skipping of levels you have already passed through with no lives lost. This is, in my mind, one of the attractive features of Schizoid. There are hundreds of examples of games out there that force you to trudge through stages you have already passed in order to retry those harder to beat areas. Schizoid saves your progress stage by stage, so you can decide whether you want to play just particular level, or retry all the stages where you may have lost a life. For those of us who enjoy short bouts of gaming, this save system is a welcome feature.

Where this game really shines is in it’s Play Modes. You can choose you have your counterpart’s ship controlled by the computer, or by a friend in Local Co-Op, as well as over XBOX Live. Not to be left out, you can also play the game in Uberschizoid mode, controlling both ships at the same time with the same controller, using dual analog to control each ship. Let me just say that this mode is called Uberschizoid with good reason. It takes a master control jockey to pilot two ships in completely different directions, while fending off enemies and whenever needed provide help for each other. I tried it for a few levels, and I must say, it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing!

Overall the game hits it home in every category. It’s easy to learn, incredibly easy to control and, after 5 minutes of play, becomes wonderfully addictive. The negatives are very few and very minor. The single player campaign is great with an AI controlled wingman, but casual gamers who rarely play online or with friends might not get the full effect of this game’s play modes. The real enjoyment that comes from playing Schizoid is the teamwork factor that comes with playing the game with a friend sitting next to you or over XBOX Live. People who get bored easily with this kind of release might end up unfairly passing it up based on it’s single player campaign. This explains why the clever ‘most co-op game ever’ marketing for the game. Achievements also cater better to a two player campaign, which might get the Gamerscore junkies a bit frustrated. But overall these are very tiny complaints, and don’t really detract from enjoying the game as a whole.

The days of 8-bit gamin may be long gone, but retro gaming may be alive and well again, reshaping itself into an entirely new entity. As games get easier to develop and distribute, we’ll be seeing more games like Schizoid, which fulfills in every way spirit of old school gaming: Fast, simple, great fun.

by corrigann

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The Lowdown on the Canadian Xbox Live Marketplace Video Store

On Dec.‭ ‬11,‭ ‬Microsoft opened-up the eagerly anticipated Xbox Live Marketplace Video Store for Canadian Xbox‭ ‬360‭ ‬owners.‭ ‬With‭ ‬31‭ ‬videos available at launch,‭ ‬Canadians got their first taste of what to expect from a digital movie download service.‭ ‬But does the Xbox Live Marketplace video store live up to the hype‭?

Lets start by analyzing the cost,‭ ‬Xbox Live subscribers‭ (‬available for both Silver and Gold memberships‭) ‬can download older titles (also known as Library titles) in SD‭ (‬standard definition‭) ‬and HD‭ (‬high definition‭) ‬formats for‭ ‬300‭ (‬$4.80‭) ‬and‭ ‬440‭ (‬$7.04‭) ‬MS Points respectively.‭ ‬Current (recent movies) SD releases go for‭ ‬440‭ ‬MS Points‭ (‬$7.04‭)‬,‭ ‬while HD movies will set subscribers back‭ ‬580‭ ‬MS Points‭ (‬$9.27‭)‬.‭

Prices are higher in comparison to your traditional brick and mortar rental chain.‭ ‬For example,‭ ‬one of the major Canadian rental chains currently gives their patrons the opportunity to rent a new release‭ (‬either DVD,‭ ‬HD-DVD or Blu-Ray‭) ‬for a flat‭ ‬$5.00‭ ‬fee.‭ ‬With that in mind,‭ ‬you could say that Marketplace Video Store users pay a little extra for the convenience of getting movies from the comfort of their living room.

And those expecting a true HD experience out of the Xbox Live Marketplace Video Store might be disappointed as the HD content is only available in‭ ‬720p‭ (‬in comparison to HD-DVD and Blu-Ray’s‭ ‬1080p resolution‭)‬.‭

After the initial download,‭ ‬consumers have‭ ‬14‭ ‬days to view their content before it expires,‭ ‬or they have‭ ‬24‭ ‬hours to complete their viewing after they’ve‭ ‬pressed the start button,‭ ‬whichever comes first.‭ ‬The media can then be viewed indefinitely within that‭ ‬24-hour window.‭ ‬If by chance you weren’t able to complete your viewing within the first‭ ‬24‭ ‬hours,‭ ‬you will need to re-purchase the content.

At the moment, standard definition movies range in size from‭ ‬819MB to‭ ‬2.1GB,‭ ‬while high definition content go from‭ ‬3.2GB to‭ ‬5.6GB.‭ ‬Depending on your Internet speed,‭ ‬it might take a few hours to download your rental.‭ ‬The service does offers a‭ “‬Ready to Play‭” ‬feature that lets you start watching your movie as it downloads.‭ ‬A basic‭ ‬20GB Xbox‭ ‬360‭ ‬hard drive should suffice for SD movies,‭ ‬but HD enthusiasts should consider purchasing a‭ ‬120GB hard drive.

New movies will be released on a monthly basis.‭ ‬The store currently offers movies from three distributors‭; ‬Warner Bros.,‭ ‬Maple Pictures and MPI.‭ ‬More distributors are expected to jump on board as the Marketplace Video Store matures.

Currently,‭ ‬the Marketplace Video Store only offers video rentals.‭ ‬No word yet on when the service will offer TV shows,‭ ‬but the content should be available shortly as the Canadian iTunes Store recently‭ ‬started selling shows for‭ ‬$1.99‭ ‬an episode.

With digital media downloads expected to become the chosen format for entertainment consumption,‭ ‬the Xbox Live Marketplace Video Store is an excellent start.‭ ‬But,‭ ‬hopefully Microsoft will lower the price of the content as the service expands.‭ ‬With Apple and its iTunes Store creeping in,‭ ‬things should start to get interesting on the digital download front.

The Xbox Live Marketplace Video Store first launched in Nov.‭ ‬2006‭ ‬in the‭ ‬US and currently features over 300 movies.‭

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