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A Look at Fuzion Frenzy 2 (Xbox 360)

Fusion Frenzy 2

Games based around mini-games have never been more popular. The genre has been popularized by Nintendo staples such as “Mario Party”, “Wario Ware” and more recently with “Wii Play” and “Wii Sports”. Microsoft introduced its own mini-game based title “Fuzion Frenzy” on the original Xbox. The game garnished pretty decent reviews and opened the door for Fuzion Frenzy to become an Xbox-based franchise. After a near five year wait, Xbox 360 owners finally have a chance to revisit the series with the Hudson Soft (Bomberman) developed “Fuzion Frenzy 2”. But does the game live up to the original title, or the slew of titles from the genre?

The game is set on a futuristic television game show called Fuzion Frenzy where contestants duke it out on various planets across the universe. According to the game’s background story, the original Fuzion Frenzy competition had been banned by government officials due to the show’s competitive nature. But thanks to overpopulation issues, the show returned to television airwaves four years later in an attempt to encourage immigration into space. To drum up interest, the organizers reinstated six of the most famous Fuzion Frenzy players to compete against each other. Enter Fuzion Frenzy 2.

You get to choose amongst seven planets to complete on, these planets include Earth, Blazer, Moisture, Amuseth, Eternite, Machina and Icicle. Each of the mini-games is based on the various terrains and environments featured on the specific planet. You get to participate in battles based around various elements such as water (Moisture) and fire (Blazer), among others. Each planet offers various degrees of challenges, with some games being harder than others.

Fuzion Frenzy 2 includes two modes of gameplay: Main Battle and Online Battle. Main Battle lets you either play against three of your friends or against computer-controlled characters. This mode gives you three different play options, Tournament, Mini-Game Frenzy and Custom. The first game is basically the main bread and butter of the game with a T.V. style presentation, while Mini-Game Frenzy lets you choose which mini-game to play. The final offering, Custom, lets you create your own tournament with games you choose.

The online portion of the game is similar to the offline version. The game gives you the option to either play in a ranked match or player match. The player slots can either be filled randomly or you have the option of only playing with people who are on your friends list.

It’s important to note that Fuzion Frenzy 2’s control scheme takes some getting used to. Casual gamers might get frustrated early on with character maneuverability as some of the controls schemes aren’t always clear from the start. One solution is patience. But patience shouldn’t be an issue with mini-game titles. Gamers should be able to feel comfortable almost immediately after the game kicks off. Users generally react negatively to things they don’t understand from the get go, and gamers might be quick to discard a title such as Fuzion Frenzy 2 thanks to its control scheme. But a little patience, mixed in with some practice should make the game quite enjoyable in the long run.

One most disappointing factors of Fuzion Frenzy 2 is the lack of character depth and attachment. You don’t feel as attached to the characters as you would with a title like Mario Party. The characters are pretty uninteresting and there’s no real reason to choose one character over another. It would be great to be able to download character packs off Xbox Live. Perhaps we could play as popular Rare characters such as Conker or Kameo, or download a Halo player pack and play as characters from the franchise. Anything would be better than the game’s current cast.

Another let down is the game’s audio. The game screams for users to use their own custom soundtracks. Not only is the music bad, but the game’s dialog is pitiful. Fuzion Frenzy 2’s voice work is definitely one of the worst sounding deliveries in this new gaming generation. Perhaps what’s more daunting is the fact that you’ll be forced to hear the same line of dialog over and over again.

The game looks pretty decent. The characters are well detailed and animate fluently. Sure these graphics won’t floor you when comparing them to recently released Xbox 360 titles, but the visual package works nicely thanks to its vibrant colors and modest animations.

All in all, Fuzion Frenzy 2 is an entertaining and straight-forward mini-game romp, but it’s clearly not as fun as some of the offerings available on rival consoles. The game has plenty of mini-games to keep you playing, but it’s not enough to make this game a must-own 360 title. Its suggested retail price ($59.99CDN) alone makes this purchase one that’s extremely hard to swallow. But in the end, Fuzion Frenzy 2 is decent enough to satisfy fans of the genre. Fuzion Frenzy 2 gets a 3.5 (out of five) star nod.

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A Look at Nintendo’s Wii

Nintendo Wii

On Nov. 19, 2006, Nintendo released the Wii, its fifth home console. The latest Nintendo console managed to garnish quite a bit of fanfare since its release with demand overstepping supply. And despite its graphical inferiority in comparison to its current-gen competitors, the console managed to become the must-have item of the 2006 Holiday season. But does the console really stand out? Is the Wii truly a revolutionary gaming concept?

The Wii’s uniqueness lies in its controller, the Wii Remote (also known as the Wiimote). The Bluetooth controller, which resembles a standard television remote, acts like a pointing device that works in tandem with the Wii’s sensor bar (positioned either over or below your TV set). Your hand movements are then replicated on-screen. The system works surprisingly well. The movements are smooth and precise. The Wiimote and its motion detection is more than just a gimmick, it’s a unique feature that will change the way we play and interact with our video games.

The overall Wii gameplay experience is pretty involving. The new control scheme opens up a lot of possibilities where users can literally be immersed in these vast gaming environments. “Wii Sports” and “The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess” are prime examples of Wii titles that manage to captivate gamers’ attention and make them believe that they’re part of a virtual world.

The Wii also incorporates an innovative menu system that’s divided up in specific channels. The menu is populated by 12 squares, with each of them having the potential of hosting some form of media or channel. Currently, the Wii Menu features six default channels; the Disc Channel, the Mii Channel, the Forecast Channel, the Wii Shop Channel, the Photo Channel and the News Channel. A seventh channel can be added by downloading the free Opera Internet browser (free download only available for a limited time). Each title purchased for the Virtual Console (more on that later) takes up occupancy in an unused space on the menu. Thankfully, the Wii Menu uses a page system that leaves plenty of room for future expansion.

The Nintendo Wii has online functionality, but not in the traditional gaming sense… at least for now. Thanks to the inclusion of 802.11b/g, Wii owners are Wi-Fi ready from the get go. And thankfully, Nintendo offers a service called WiiConnect24 in which users can take advantage of the unit’s Wi-Fi capabilities.

Since there are presently no online multiplayer games available for the Wii, the free WiiConnect24 service compensates by offering two specific online channels, the Forecast Channel and the Internet Channel (which is currently in beta form). A third online-enabled channel, the News Channel, should be opening up shortly (Jan. 27) as it is prominently displayed on the Wii Menu.

The WiiConnect24 service is expected to evolve into a form of social networking where gamers will be able to interact with each other’s game spaces at all times, even when a user’s console is on standby mode. The service will also be used as a means to distribute media such as demos and additional game content. With the eventual addition of multiplayer gaming, the WiiConnect24 service looks extremely promising and will perhaps one day rival Microsoft’s excellent Xbox Live online component.

Gamers can also experience over 25 years of Nintendo gaming through the Wii’s Virtual Console. The Virtual Console offers NES, SNES and N64 games along with SEGA Genesis and TurboGrafx-16. The games are acquired by using Wii Points, which can be purchased on the Wii Shop Channel (100 points equals $1USD). The current prices are; 500 points for 8-bit games (NES), 800 points for 16-bit games (SNES, Genesis and TurboGrafx-16) and 1000 points for 64-bit games (N64). It’s currently unknown whether or not these will be the standard prices for all titles.

Virtual Console games require the use of either a Virtual Console controller or a Nintendo GameCube controller (each sold separately). The 8-bit classics can be played by holding the Wiimote horizontally. The Virtual Console controller mimics the look and feel of the SNES controller thus making it the preferred choice for 16-bit gaming. However, the GameCube controller is better suited for N64 titles thanks to the positioning of the analog thumb-stick. All Virtual Console titles are playable with its designated controller, while most titles are playable using the GameCube controller.

The Nintendo Wii is 100% backwards compatible with GameCube titles as it supports the unit’s 8-cm discs. The console features four GameCube controller ports and two memory card slots.

On the down side, the Wii does not include high-definition (HD) technology. For some reason, Nintendo decided to skip HD for this generation (they’re actually on record saying that it will be included in their next console). The Japanese gaming giant does sell component cables that let gamers experience their Wii console in a non-interlaced 480p resolution, but the only way you can secure these official cables is to purchase them online directly from Nintendo. For many gamers these days, standard definition is not an option. Luckily, Wii owners can get their hands on third-party component cables, but the quality of these said cables can sometimes be less than desirable.

The Wii is enjoying a successful launch with the console selling out everywhere. Early sales estimates indicate that Nintendo’s latest hardware centerpiece has sold over 1.2 million consoles in North America and sitting comfortably in second place behind the Xbox 360 (which, in the same territory, has 4.5 million consoles sold). It will be interesting to see what kind of effect the limited supply will have on the demand in the long run. The big question is whether or not gamers will wait patiently for an eventual Wii purchase.

As proven in the previous gaming generation, there is room in the industry for three consoles. But will third place be good enough for Microsoft, Nintendo or Sony? How dedicated are these media giants to the industry? Time will tell, but for now it seems like Nintendo is poised to make their return to the top!

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Flight Simulator X Flies on to Computer Screens

Flight Simulator X

Microsoft Game Studios recently unleashed “Flight Simulator X” for Windows, the latest iteration in its acclaimed flight simulation series. But does the new game live up to the high standards set forth by previous titles in the franchise? Is the new version simply a graphical update?

In actuality, Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X is so realistic you might as well use it to teach yourself the basics of flying. Flight Simulator X has a little bit of everything for everyone, which simply means that the game is easily playable by any party interested in what it has to offer.

The new version builds upon the success of its predecessors by reproducing near-perfect real-world flight situations that are so deep and immersive that it’s actually hard to categorize it as a video game. The franchise has morphed into a sophisticated training tool for pilots and enthusiasts.

Flight Simulator X is available in two editions: Standard ($59.99 CDN) and Deluxe ($79.99 CDN). The main difference between the two is the amount of content available. The standard edition ships with 18 aircrafts, 40 high-detail airports, 28 highly detailed cities and 30 plus missions, while the deluxe edition ships with 24 aircrafts, 45 high-detail airports, 38 highly details cities and 50 plus missions. But no matter which edition you choose, Flight Simulator X will feature more than 24,000 airports, which allows gamers to venture into their hometown or visit their favourite locals. Flight fanatics should definitely consider purchasing the deluxe edition as they will get the most out of their money.

Traditional gamers will enjoy the inclusion of mission-based gameplay. These new scenarios give users the ability to take part in a series of action-orientated missions that have specific goals which must be achieved before its completion. These missions will clearly satisfy gamers who would get bored of the traditional sim offering.

This tenth edition features a massive graphical engine upgrade. Flight Simulator X compliments its visual enhancements with real-word situations like weather effect, day cycles and seasonal changes. The game also bolsters visually explicit environments that showcase an extremely detailed bird’s-eye view of the surface. Gamers will be able to enjoy an aerial view of the simulated life depicted by Flight Simulator X, which includes (among other things) traffic, farmland and livestock. A truly engulfing experience.

Flight Simulator X also features online capabilities where gamers have the opportunity to either be an air-traffic controller, a pilot or co-pilot. The degree of interactivity between users is entertaining and unique. Gamers will need to work together in various instances to complete tasks. They will be able to chat in real-time with their online cohorts either through a headset or by typing using a traditional keyboard. These new online capabilities are definitely a welcomed feature that help expand Flight Simulator X’s gameplay experience.

Control wise, the game offers various control schemes. The obvious is the keyboard/mouse scenario which can be overwhelming for a new user thanks to all of the various key commands. Luckily, Microsoft included a physical keyboard map with all copies of the game. The game also includes support for an Xbox 360 controller, just plug-in your wired controller and you’re ready to go. The Xbox 360 option still requires the use of the keyboard for some particular tasks. For an even more realistic experience, a Logitech Wingman-type controller is the preferred control scheme. There is nothing more satisfying than using a simulated throttle-type controller for completing precise flying maneuvers.

The PC requirements for Flight Simulator X is a machine with 1 GHz equivalent or higher processor with a minimum of 256MB of RAM combined with a 32MB DirectX 9 compatible video card. But the game actually requires a lot more juice to be able to run this in all of its graphical glory. A computer purchased within the last six months should be able to decently handle everything this game has to offer. Even at lower detail, the game is still highly enjoyable.

Flight enthusiasts and sim junkies should definitely consider picking up a copy of Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X. The game has so much to offer when it comes to realism that it becomes the perfect training tool. But be warned, this is a hardcore simulation that might easily overwhelm a traditional gamer. Luckily, Microsoft offers a trial version of the game at http://www.microsoft.com/games/pc/flightsimulatorx.aspx, which gives gamers an accurate rendition of what to expect from it. Overall, Microsoft Flight Simulator X gets the four out of five star treatment.

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Emergence Day Arrives! Gears of War Review

Gears of War

The buildup surrounding the launch of Epic Games’ “Gears of War” for the Xbox 360 had many wondering whether or not the game would live up to its hype. And to add to the brouhaha, Epic Games and publisher Microsoft Game Studios decided to officially launch “Gears” on Nov. 12 with a daring launch event entitled “Emergence Day ’06”. In the end, the big question remained, was this new franchise really deserving all of this attention?

In Gears of War, gamers take on the role of disgraced military strongman Marcus Fenix. Fenix, a former war hero, embarks on a mission to rid the war-torn planet of Sera from the clutches of the dreaded Locust Horde who’ve crept up from beneath the surface to terrorize mankind. The game kicks off with Fenix’s rescue from imprisonment by friend Dominic Santiago. Fenix and Santiago then join forces to make their way out of the prison complex and soon start fending off an intense Locust attack.

Be warned, Gears of War is not your typical shooter. Epic decided to use a third-person perspective instead of the traditional first-person view that has been used in many titles in the last few years. Gears also takes elements from tactical shooters such as Rainbow Six, which encourages the gamer to cover and wait for the perfect opportunity before launching an onslaught. Gamers who dash into action end up rushing to their deaths. Scenarios sometimes require several attempts before you realize what the correct checkpoint completion procedure is. This trial and error style of gameplay is interesting as you’ll be challenging yourself by trying to figure out the correct course of action in order to complete the scene.

Gears of War is the first game to hit store shelves that uses Epic’s latest Unreal Engine (version 3.0). As soon as the game boots up, gamers will immediately be treated with the engine’s unique attributes that easily makes it the best looking next-gen title thus far. It will be interesting to see what developers using the engine will come up with.

As noted in the previous paragraph, the visuals in Gears of War are outstanding. Characters animate smoothly and realistically. The environmental effects are gorgeous and will literally have your jaw drop in amazement when you end up witnessing what the game has to offer. The great thing about Gears is that it utilizes a distinctive cinematic feel that immerses gamers in an engaging story through a dark and creepy war-torn world. It could be awhile before gamers get to experience a game with this much graphical depth.

Multiplayer is also a strong component of the game. Gamers can complete the story campaign with a friend thanks to Gears’ solid cooperative gameplay, which requires teammates to work hand-in-hand to assure survival. But the best multiplayer experience is reserved for Xbox Live subscribers as the game offers three modes of gameplay (Warzone, Assassination and Execution) in addition to co-op mode. The real fun lies behind Execution as gamers are required to literally execute a downed opponent. Execution is basically a two-step procedure, bring down your enemy and then go up close and pound the final nail in their coffin (by either curb stomp, chainsaw or torque bow).

Gears of War is available at retail in two formats, the Standard Edition ($69.99CDN) and the Limited Collector’s Edition ($79.99CDN). The Collector’s Edition comes bundled with an additional DVD showing behind the scenes footage of the making of the game and includes the MTV special “Gears of War: The Race to E3” along with the “Destroyed Beauty” hardcover art book.

Gears of War is definitely game of the year (GOTY) material, and it will be interesting to see if Gears can topple such heavy weights as “Final Fantasy XII” and “The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess” and take the GOTY crown. But in the meantime, it’s safe to say Gears of War deserves a near-perfect score, and that gamers should find a way to experience this game. Finally a game that managed to live-up to its hype. Welcome to next-gen gaming!

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A look at RnSK Softronics’ iPSP 3.0

iPSP

One of the premiere PSP media management solutions has always been RnSK Softronics’ iPSP. The original iPSP (intelligent Picture and Sound Pusher) was actually one of the first third-party application that facilitated media file transfers from your personal computer to your PlayStation Portable (PSP). RnSK’s iPSP was also, at the time, the premiere iLife-to-PSP media management solution for Macintosh users (and eventually Windows users). In essence, it was the fastest and easiest way to send iPhoto and iTunes content to your PSP by minimizing the required effort. iPSP was definitely a cut above the rest when first introduced in 2004.

Recently, the developer released a version upgrade for Mac OS X that takes advantage of Sony’s latest PSP firmware, while also catering to users who’ve stayed away from the occasional firmware updates in order for them to seek the system’s full potential on the homebrew side of things. The new iPSP 3.0 package basically caters to all types of PSP owners.

So what does version 3.0 offer that makes it so special?

Aesthetically, the software has been updated to look and feel like your traditional iLife application. iPSP uses a left-sided media pane which encompasses all of its functions. You choose which process you want to go through and a list of features for that particular function appears in the main window of the application. Some processes require no more than merely dragging and dropping your desired content on the PSP icon situated on the bottom portion of the media pane.

Like previous versions, iPSP lets you transfer full iTunes playlists to your PSP. All the user needs to do is create a specific playlist within iTunes, drop our desired songs (unprotected of course) in the playlist and iPSP will then automatically recognize that playlist and you’ll be able to drag it onto your PlayStation Portable. The same functionality applies to iPhoto; you simply locate the desired library and drag it onto your handheld.

iPSP also features enhanced video compression technology in comparison to its previous incarnation. The application supports creating conversions of the two main PSP compatible formats, which are MPEG-4 and AVC. iPSP will enable you to convert MPEG (.MPG), Windows Video (.AVI), Quicktime (.MOV), Windows Media (.WMV), DVD Object files (.VOB), DVD Video folders (VIDEO_TS), Digital Video files (.DV) and High Definition Video (.m2t), among other formats, to a PSP-ready standard. iPSP supports auto full screen for Widescreen video input, interactive Preview image selection and Custom titles.

PSP homebrew enthusiasts will be happy to learn that iPSP 3.0 even makes things simpler for them. The update now features a dedicated homebrew tab. The new homebrew features not only make it easier to transfer “eBoot” files to you PSP, but it also enables you to customize the homebrew application’s art and icons using simple drag and drop techniques. Having compatibility issues with your homebrew files? iPSP 3.0 makes it a breeze to convert your “eLoader” file to to a format that’s compatible with your PSP homebrew-friendly firmware, which is currently only compatible with PSP firmware 1.5 to 2.6.

The software is also includes disc image management solution. iPSP makes it easy for users to convert disc images for use on their specific PSP firmware. Supported PSPs will now be able to play their games directly from the unit’s Memory Stick. An excellent option for users who want to minimizing their handheld’s power consumption.

One of the neat features of iPSP is its automatic backup of your PSP game saves. Plug in your PSP, and the application does everything for you. You can then go back to previous save points and re-upload them to your PSP at any time. No more worries about overwriting a specific save point.

There’s no word yet on when Windows users will get the 3.0 upgrade (the Windows iteration currently sits at version 2.0.8). But hopefully RnSK Softronics will release a version for Microsoft zealots that will encompass some, if not all, of these updates for the platform.

A trial version of iPSP 3.0 is available for download through its official website at http://ipsp.kaisakura.com/. The latest version requires that users have Mac OS X Tiger installed as their base operating system. The previous version (v. 2.5.9) for OS X is also available for download off the site.

RnSK Softronics’ iPSP is also pretty affordable for what it does. You can purchase a the software for a little over $22CDN from the developer’s official site (http://ipsp.kaisakura.com/). Owners of the previous version of iPSP can upgrade to 3.0 for $9.95USD. Users of competing PSP management products who send in a copy of their product’s receipt can also take advantage of RnSK Softronics $9.95USD competitive upgrade.

iPSP is definitely one of the premiere PSP management solution for Mac OS X users, a definitive 5 out of 5 star application.

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