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Torpex Games’ Schizoid Reviewed


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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Skype on the PSP ???

PlayStation Portable

File this one under unconfirmed, quite a few gaming websites are reporting that Sony will announce a Skype client for the PlayStation Portable (PSP) next week at CES in Las Vegas, which takes place from Jan. 07-10. The news was actually leaked off the official Sony CES page.

Adding extra functionality to the PSP is always welcomed, but I am thinking Sony has bigger plans. Adding Skype to the device is probably Sony’s way of testing the market to see if there’s interest in a PlayStation phone. If people cling on to the SkypeOut feature, then this would give Sony enough reason to release a PlayStation Phone. With this add-on, Sony also intensifies its competition with Apple and its iPod (especially the iPod Touch).

Finally the perfect reason to purchase a PSP Headset.

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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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Halo 3 Pre-review Impressions

Halo 3

I’ve finally finished “Halo 3“. The game was great overall, and it was fun to play from start to finish. But I wouldn’t call Halo 3 an innovative title. The game was simply a “Halo 2” rehash with better graphics that simply helped progress the storyline. With all of the hype, I was at least expecting some sort of gameplay innovations.

The transition from the original Halo to its first sequel was more dramatic, at least in my opinion. In Halo 2, you got to hijack vehicles, duel wield weapons and play as the Arbiter. But Halo 3 didn’t do much to improve the Halo 2 formula, which is pretty disappointing coming from a developer like Bungie. I personally felt like the only reason I was playing this game was for its conclusion, which is sad in its own way.

I am going to hold back on writing more as I will be penning a full review by next week, but I just felt like dropping some quick impressions on the blog immediately after completing the game.

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Light and Dark Face Off in Metroid Prime 2 (Preview)

On Nov. 15, our favorite female bounty hunter Samus Aran returns to a GameCube console near you in “Metroid Prime 2: Echoes”. In her latest adventure, Samus crash lands on the planet Aether, a world torn between light and darkness. Samus will face-off against characters from both sides of the light and dark rifts creating a truly unique experience.

From what I’ve played of the title, the core graphics for Metroid Prime 2 are very similar to those of the original Prime, which is still to this day one of the best looking GameCube titles on the market. For the latest iteration, Retro Studios has improved the already stellar graphics engine by adding more detailed environments and features superior lighting effects. Technically you’re getting the same Metroid Prime visual quality enhanced by some modern improvements.

What sets Metroid Prime 2 apart from the original are its multiplayer capabilities. Now up to four people will be able to duke it out against each other in classic first person action. The finished product will include two multiplayer modes, deathmatch and bounty. The deathmatch portion is your straight forward shoot’em-up where the goal of the game is to rack-up the highest kill count. While in Bounty mode your goal is to collect the biggest possible purse before the counter runs out. Sadly, the multiplayer aspect will be limited to split screen gameplay as no LAN or online play is featured in the game. Still a multiplayer Metroid Prime will definitely be a party favourite.

Metroid Prime 2 is definitely worth picking-up for GameCube owners. Lets just hope the that the title doesn’t get overshadowed by the other powerhouse games coming out in November (Halo 2, Half-Life 2 and Need for Speed Underground 2). For one thing, Metroid Prime 2 looks like one of the year’s best GameCube titles.

André Barriault lives in Dieppe and is co-editor at the gaming website – Originally published in [here] magazine in Oct. 2004

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