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Super Mario Galaxy Review (Wii)

Super Mario Galaxy

Nintendo’s storied mascot Mario is back in an all new adventure for the Wii dubbed “Super Mario Galaxy. The latest Mario iteration is the sequel to 2002’s “Super Mario Sunshine” for the GameCube. How has the Super Mario franchise evolved since its predecessor, and how does the famed platformer translate on Nintendo’s Wii?

The game kicks off with Mario being invited by Princess Peach to attend the Star Festival in the Mushroom Kingdom. As Mario makes his way to the castle to meet-up with Princess Peach, the kingdom is suddenly attacked by King Koopa himself, Bowser. Bowser unveils his latest creation, his very own galaxy, in which he proceeds to rip Peach’s castle off of the ground and kidnap the helpless Princess. In the chaos, Mario manages to grab hold of the castle as it’s being hurled out of the ground. Soon after, Mario is awaken by three Lumas (star beings who assist our hero through out the game) who prep him up for his latest journey through Bowser’s galaxy.

Super Mario Galaxy is without a doubt the best looking Nintendo Wii game. The game features bright colours and system-pushing textures that edge out any other Wii game on the market. The intelligent spherical level design puts every other modern day platformer to shame as you never get bored of what the game ends-up throwing at you. Super Mario Galaxy is also played through an auto-camera system (eliminating camera issues that plagued previous 3D Super Mario titles) which makes the game accessible to pretty much anyone.

The latest Super Mario title also contains one of the most entertaining and memorable scores to date.
Galaxy features over a 100 different tracks (mixed in with the traditional Mario sound effects we’ve grown accustomed to) that range from revamped classic Super Mario tracks to new orchestral compositions. At times throughout the game, the musical themes play in sync with the gameplay, adding an interactive musical element to Galaxy. Super Mario Galaxy’s orchestral score was composed by Mahito Yokota alongside original Super Mario Bros composer Koji Kondo (who penned four new tracks for Galaxy).

At first glance, the game’s controls might seem a little intimidating to your average gamer. But in actuality, Super Mario Galaxy features one of the most simplified control schemes in modern gaming. The game is played with both the Wii Remote (Wii’mote) and the Nunchuk. Gamers control Mario using the control stick on the Nunchuk while the Wii’mote uses its “A” button for action sequences (jump, swim, grab and speak) and its “B” button to shoot Star Bits while aiming at the screen. The Wii Remote is also used as a pointer to grab Star Bits.

All of the moves Mario moves that gamers are accustomed to are present in Super Mario Galaxy (backwards somersault, wall jump, long jump, ground pound etc.) The only new move comes in the form of a spin attack that is accomplished by shaking the Wii’mote. The spin move also comes in handy when jumping as it will allow you to make a higher jump.

Super Mario Galaxy also includes a new innovative co-op mode that lets a second player interact with the main player while he’s experiencing the game. To play this point-and-click “Co-Star” mode, Wii owners simply need to have a second Wii’mote. With the additional Wii’mote, player two can collect Star Bits, shoot Star Bits, stop enemies, make Mario jump and spin. This mode is accessible at all times during a game session.

If you own a Nintendo Wii, do yourself a favour and pick up a copy of Super Mario Galaxy. If you don’t own Nintendo’s latest console, then this game gives you enough reasons to justify purchasing a Wii. There’s something for everyone in Super Mario Galaxy as it’s simple enough for anyone any family member to pick up and contains enough challenges to satisfy hardcore gamers. If you’re only on the market for one Wii title this year, then don’t think twice about picking up Super Mario Galaxy.

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Mass Effect Must Wait

Mass Effect

The courier guy showed up at my doorstep earlier this morning with this, a review copy of “Mass Effect” for the Xbox 360. I am going to be out of town for most of the weekend with no access to an Xbox 360. It would have been great if I would have had the opportunity to post some early impressions, but I got to be out of here shortly. I’ll have a review of the game at some point next week.

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Ghostbusters the Video Game Sequel

Game Informer has revealed that its Dec. issue will feature a cover story on the Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd penned latest Ghostbusters sequel, which will be created in video game form. According to the teaser page on Game Informer, all of the usual suspects (Harold Ramis, Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd) will return for the Xbox 360, PS3, Wii and PS2 video game. The game is expected to be released in 2008. This game has no relation to the proof of concept that was released earlier in 2007 which featured a “Gears of War” ‘esque Unreal Engine based third person view. This game will be on my radar next year. More on this as the story develops.

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Blue Dragon Review (Xbox 360)

Blue Dragon

After being on the market for two years, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 console still lacks a solid RPG lineup in its video game library. Earlier this year, Microsoft published Mistwalker/Artoon’s “Blue Dragon” in Japan. The title was well received by Xbox 360 owners in the land of the rising sun, so it was just a matter of time before the RPG would make its way to our shores. The big question was whether or not the game would translate well to North American audiences.

The Blue Dragon journey begins in the fictional villa of Talta following the annual appearance of mysterious purple clouds that bring about chaos and destruction in the form of a land shark. But this time around, the game’s main protagonists Shu, Kluke, and Jiro decide to take the matter in their own hands and attempt to fend-off the threat.

Shortly after a brief confrontation with the shark, our youthful characters are dragged into a scenario involving a mothership captained by the ruthless Nene. The heinous blue skinned commander soon reveals to our heroes that he’s the mastermind behind the attacks on their village. A battle ensues after the revelation, which leads to the overpowering defeat of Shu, Kluke and Jiro to the hands of the nefarious Nene.

Subdued, our adventurers break away from the anarchy and attempt to escape the mothership, but are soon overwhelmed with its technology. Out of nowhere, a female voice instructs the trio to each ingest a sphere that will grant them the power and ability needed to escape the ship. Shu, Kluke and Jiro consume the orbs which results in their shadows morphing into ghostly creatures with unique abilities. With their newfound powers, our heroes set off to defeat evil Nene and his mechanical army led by Mecha General Szabo.

On the down side, the game’s story might be too over-the-top for gamers not accustomed to the world of traditional Japanese RPGs. The overzealous characters and offbeat story line can make it difficult for people to get sucked into Blue Dragon. But gamers familiar with Square Enix’s early “Final Fantasy” and “Dragon Quest” games will feel right at home, but don’t expect a story that’s appealing and as memorable as titles from those two franchises.

The inclusion of the shadow creatures is what sets Blue Dragon apart from other RPGs. Each character’s shadow has the ability to unlock and switch classes thus enabling the ability to use different sets of skills. Gamers can raise their classes and learn different skills by successfully defeating enemies and gaining shadow points (along with the traditional experience points gained by the characters). Like every other RPG before Blue Dragon, leveling-up your character/shadow gets increasingly complicated as the game progresses.

An interesting aspect of this game is the ability to change our shadow’s class at any time outside of a battle. Skills gained can be carried over to other classes by simply adding them to your skill roster. In theory, this means that any skills can be carried over to a particular class (sword master skills can be transfered to black magic skills and vice versa). A nice addition as your characters do not need to adhere to skill sets usually reserved for certain classes.

Blue Dragon was developed in tandem by Japanese game studios Mistwalker (a studio founded by Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi) and Artoon. Sakaguchi created the game’s story and acted as Blue Dragon’s producer. Dragon Quest fans will immediately recognize the Akira Toriyama designed characters (Toriyama was not only responsible for the character art in Dragon Quest, but he’s also the creator of the famed Dragon Ball series). The Square Enix RPG similarities are more than influential, they’re more like an attempt to lure fans of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest to the the Xbox 360.

One of the game’s strong points is its phenomenal soundtrack which was composed by yet another Final Fantasy alumni, composer Nobuo Uematsu. Uematsu’s score is compromised of classically styled symphonic melodies that we’ve grown accustomed to over the years through games like “Final Fantasy VII” and “Chrono Trigger”. But what sets this apart from other titles is the cheeky boss battle music featuring 80’s styled heavy metal music sung with high-pitched intensity by Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan (the song’s titled Eternity, Google Gillan and Blue Dragon to get a taste of it).

The original Blue Dragon might not end up being a classic, but it’s a strong start to a franchise Microsoft Game Studios will be building up over the years. With the development of an animated series and a Nintendo DS game in the works, the Blue Dragon franchise is bound to become a household name. In the meantime, Blue Dragon for the Xbox 360 might just be enough to calm your Japanese RPG cravings for the time being.

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NCsoft Acquires Full Ownership of City of Heroes

NCsoft Corp, the world’s leading developer and publisher of online computer games, today announced the formation of a new development studio in Mountain View, California. The announcement comes as the company begins a renewed push to further develop the City of Heroes property, which is now 100 percent owned by NCsoft. Previous to today, ownership of the intellectual property (IP) was split between NCsoft and Cryptic Studios, the original developer of the project.

The new studio will be built around key members of the City of Heroes team from NCsoft and Cryptic Studios including the art, programming and design team leads.

We’re happy to announce that NCsoft has acquired full ownership of the City of Heroes IP,” said Brian Clayton, NCsoft executive producer and manager of the new studio. “Our plans are clear. We are now in a position to make a major reinvestment in the City of Heroes product line. With our existing Cryptic and NCsoft team as the core, we will be able to run our current service without any interruption to our players, expand our studio to deliver triple-A content, and take City of Heroes to new heights.

NCsoft will soon be announcing formal plans for the City of Heroes IP, which will include expansions and sequels to the popular comic-book inspired massively multiplayer online (MMO) game.

Matt Miller, Lead Designer on the City of Heroes project and formerly with Cryptic Studios said, “We’re thrilled to be bringing the CoH franchise to the next level. And we couldn’t be more pleased to be working completely under the NCsoft banner. We feel that City of Heroes’ best days are in front of it.

For more information about City of Heroes, go to http://www.cityofheroes.com.

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E3 2009

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