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Mini-Reviews

Mini-Review – Illusion of Gaia

For me, there are a number of video games that I often find myself reminiscing about because something has triggered a pleasant memory that is attached to them. Most of these games are old, played in my youth, that I have never gone back to replay. One of the most prominent in my memory is Illusion of Gaia, the middle child of an SNES trilogy by Quintet. Though it’s not your typical middle child. Gaia was far better known than its older brother, Soul Blazer. And its younger sibling, Terranigma, was never formally released in North America.

Gaia’s notability is mostly in the fact that it was published by Nintendo, and as such was pushed rather heavily in Nintendo Power. Yet despite this, its siblings seem to be talked about much more often by retro game enthusiasts. Soul Blazer has been christened a hidden gem, and Terranigma’s cachet is being one of those SNES RPGs we never got, which automatically makes it more sought after in the age of the internet. And so, good ol’ Illusion of Gaia often gets forgotten these days, because it was the one of the three that wasn’t forgotten in its own time.

But I haven’t forgotten it. I mean, obviously. In fact, it’s spent a lot of time in my active thoughts in the 20+ years since I first played it. A game that left a lasting impression on my impressionable young mind. Most of this, I attribute to the fact that it was a fantasy RPG that used famous locations from the real world, and had a rather mind-blowing plot twist at the very ending. And so, since these elements were burned into Li’l Ryan’s brain, any time they come up in real life, they trigger memories of Illusion of Gaia.

Continue reading Mini-Review – Illusion of Gaia

Shadow of the Colossus

Hi there kiddies! What did you do with your Friday night? I spent mine playing through Shadow of the Colossus. Doesn’t that sound like fun? Oh, but you’d be surprised to know that it wasn’t as much fun as other people might tell you. Maybe it’s because I played it for 12 hours straight, but after playing through the entire game, I can’t say I’m completely satisfied.

First off I should explain what the game is about. See, this kid travels to some cursed valley in hopes that he might be able to find a way to bring his girlfriend back from the dead. It’s a decent story, but that’s essentially the entire story, and I’ll get to that later. So how is he going to go about this? Well, you see, this disembodied voice tells him that if he can slay the 16 colossi scattered about the land, his girlfriend would be revived. Not too much trouble, I think. So let’s get to business here.

The game revolves around you killing these “Colossus” creatures. And that’s all. Believe you me when I say that that is almost all there is to the game. Fortunately, this is adequately entertaining. Sure, you do have to travel a vast landscape and jump across some platforms to get to them, but the whole game is basically fighting the colossi.

As I said, fighting a colossus is quite fun. While you never have to complete a dungeon or solve any puzzles to get to the fight (you just literally travel to their point on the map), defeating the creature will be just as much trouble as a dungeon would present in any regular game. There are 16 different colossus monsters in the game, and you have to figure out how to both make you way onto and kill the creatures. You see, as you are such a small fellow, and the colossus is a gigantic hairy rock monster, the only way to kill them is to leap onto them, climb up their fur, and stab them like there’s no tomorrow. Fortunately, it’s often a lot more complicated than that. While the first monster is basically a tutorial fight, the rest of them all require you to come up with some cunning strategy to defeat them.

One colossus, for example, is a big turtle-like creature with no visible weak points, except for the top of his head. Unfortunately for our hero, there are no walls to jump from, and his shell does not make for a good climbing point. So you have to consider the environment. It just so happens that there are geysers all about, and tricking him into standing above one will sort of tip him over. But that’s not the end, oh no. See, he’ll regain his balance if you just try to take it from there, so you’ve got to knock him all the way over by shooting out the balls of his feet with your bow and arrow. (BTW, your character is always equipped with a bow and a sword) Then, you can climb up his hairy underbelly and hopefully when he turns back over, you’ll end up on top of his shell, from where you can access his head and drive your blade right into his skull. Of course, he’ll be trying his damnedest to shake you off the whole time, so it won’t be easy.

The thing is, that while all of the monsters have some sort of trick to beating them, you really have to think outside the box for a couple of them. One enemy, for instance, is this lion/boar-thing, and you have to go through this long, drawn-out sequence of having him knock over pillars and stuff so that you can have him collapse a terrace on himself, which breaks his armor and reveals the weak point. colossi like these are what really make the game shine, but some are just way too hard to figure out, and sometimes are very cheap and frustrating, which evens the score.

The rest of the game is minimal, in a substance sense. The world map is huge. And I’m talking Unicron huge here. The nice thing is that you get a horse to ride around on, so traveling from the hub palace to each colossus doesn’t take quite so long. The not-so-nice thing is that where there is no colossus, there is nothing. Oh, there’s plenty of scenery, but nothing else. You may see a stray lizard here and there, but otherwise, this world is empty. Sure, the Wind Waker had a gigantic map that took forever to cross too, but at least the sea was loaded with distractions and things to do. Shadow of the Colossus offers you nothing. You can shoot stray lizards and collect fruit to increase your various meters, but the world is so huge, and they’re so few and far between that if most of them weren’t on the path to a colossus, it would just be a pain to look for them.

Did I mention that there aren’t any regular enemies either? I didn’t? Well I should have. And the thing that really boggles my mind is that there are save points all over the world, yet there is nothing out there aside from a high drop that can hurt you, so why bother saving? Getting to a colossus from the palace doesn’t take nearly as long as beating the monster itself, so what’s the point? Maybe if they would warp you from one point to another a-la new-school Castlevania games, I could see their use, but otherwise, a waste of time.

The last thing I wanna rag on is the slowdown. Now, the graphics are really pretty, and the draw distance is astonishing, but the PS2 was clearly not meant for this game. Whoever ran this project was a very ambitious man. The framerate in this game can get absolutely horrific. Not 4-player Perfect Dark horrific, but horrific all the same. I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t downplay the graphics a little to fix this issue. I can understand slowdown if there’s a lot going on in a game, but there’s never a lot going on in this game. It’s almost despicable.

I guess I lied, cause I have one more thing to complain about: the story. you get a little tidbit at the beginning, setting out the plot of why everything’s going on. And it would be fine if they left it at this and just slapped on a normal ending. But no. There is no story development at all, during the course of the game, and then at the end, they wire together this huge conspiracy with new characters coming out of the woodwork and loose ends every which way. The whole plot makes very little sense, and while the plot of Killer 7 also made little sense, it did to very intelligently with a huge complicated plot that left you to piece most of it together yourself. Shadow of the Colossus gives you a starting point and then dumps a whole bucket of crap on you right at the end. I’m not going to give it away (not that it matters), but if I were to say I found the ending unsatisfying, I would be making a huge understatement.

So what’s good about the game? Well, for one, I already said that the fights with the colossi are pretty spectacular. Even when they’re really hard to figure out and pushing an hour each, it’s still fun. A lot of the fights are really intense and suck you in so that you feel like you’re really there. One fight in particular, against a flying dragon-type colossus, was based pretty heavily around riding the horse and shooting arrows, and it gave me this awesome Zelda vibe, and I can only hope that Twilight Princess will be as sweet as that particular battle. Seriously, if you haven’t played the game, go find someone who has it and ask to play that fight. It’s incredible. The last boss is pretty sweet too. The first half of the fight is like an incredibly hardcore D-Day parody. The second half is kinda weak and hard, but you’ll forgive it for the awesome thrill of just making it up to the boss.

Another facet of gameplay that I really like is that they totally ripped off the new Prince of Persia games as far as platforming elements go. While there isn’t any running across walls or manipulation of time, most of the jumping puzzles feel like they were ripped straight out of one of the PoP games. It’s mostly hanging from walls and climbing up ledges and that kind of shit, but I can’t deny that on more than one occasion I called the main character “Prince” by accident because I could have sworn I was playing PoP.

As I said before, the graphics are spectacular. The landscape, which is pretty much all you’ll be seeing, is easily as beautiful as a real valley, even when most of it is comprised of deserts and mountain ranges. Flowing rivers and waterfalls are everywhere, the grass is lush and green, and you can see incredibly far into the distance (as far as PS2 games go). Even though the world is empty, there is still plenty that you can just look at and enjoy. The colossus monsters are pretty slick-looking as well. For rock monsters that are half-covered in fur, they’re awfully pretty. It’s just a shame that the PS2 isn’t cut out for such high-end graphics, as the whole framerate debacle really takes it down a notch. Also, there are some issues where lighting is concerned, but it’s minimal and can be overlooked.

The music in the game ranges from great to forgettable. Whilst in battle, the music will change depending on the situation, and suits the fights really well. But out of combat there’s rarely any music, and when there is, it’s not so great. Another notch off is that fact that they included a warning beep for not only the life meter, but also the stamina/breath meter. I hate those warning beeps. Yes, even in Zelda.

The controls are pretty spot-on, except for the triangle button is jump, which is totally weird. Otherwise it’s mostly good, with your basic jump, attack, grab ledge/wall, switch weapon kind of stuff. I have to say though, that sometimes controlling the horse and climbing around on a colossus can be quite difficult. I don’t blame the controls for this though, I place blame entirely on the camera. I swear, this is the worst camera ever since Sonic Adventure It does what it wants, when it wants, how it wants. No matter how many times you try to place it so that you can see what’s going on, it will snap right back to a view of the floor. There may be an option to set the camera to stop from having a mind of its own, but I didn’t see one when I skimmed the options menu, and as such I highly doubt it.

There are also a couple things to do after you finish the game. First off, you’ll unlock a time attack mode that you can play if you choose to play again through the same save file. In this mode, your job is to beat each colossus in a given amount of time. For every two times you top, you’ll be given a new item that may either boost your strength or defense, mark fruit or lizards on your map, or give your weapon a special attribute. You also get hard mode for finishing the game, and beating hard mode will let you do the hard time attack, which yields better items.

So in the end, what do I have to say? Was it well worth my evening? I’d say yes. While the game is plagued by many, many flaws, It comes off at best as a half-assed Zelda wannabe. Because most of the time, it does feel a lot like Zelda. While it would most certainly get boring after a day’s playing, if you rent it and fly through, there’s a very good chance that you’ll come away with a good impression. Just for the love of Zeus, don’t buy it. This game is definitely a renter at best. If you can, even try to get someone else to rent it and then just mooch a few fights. If you play the flying dragon fight and only the flying dragon fight, you’ll have seen the very best that Shadow of the Colossus has to offer without having to suffer through too much of the inexplicably empty world or the horrid camera. And one last note, just skip the ending. Make it up yourself if you really need closure. All you’ll gain from the ending sequence is a pounding headache and a burning hatred for the people who wrote that crap and especially for those who gave it the green light.

NB: I changed my mind. Read that here.

The Good Stuff:
  • Some mind-bending “puzzles”
  • Beautiful landscapes and enemies
  • Decent controls
  • Feels like a simplistic Zelda
  • Time attack is frantic and fun
  • Plenty of special items to earn
The Bad Stuff:
  • Some puzzles are too obscure
  • The world is empty
  • Collectables are a pain to get
  • Some heavy slowdown
  • The camera does what it wants, not what you want

Letterkills – The Bridge

Letter Kills is one of the three bands that I started listening to after being introduced to them by the Nintendo Fusion Tour of 2004, along with AnBerlin and Autopilot Off. It’s the only one of those three that I still listen to regularly. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend any of tour’s shows that came close to here, but that’s another story altogether. Today, it’s a CD review for you.

As I was saying, I started listening to Letter Kills pretty recently, and with just cause; they’re a relatively new band. The album in question happens to be their debut, so it’s not like there was a band to follow before the release. Anyway, I didn’t listen to them a whole lot right away. I downloaded a couple songs to see what they were all about, and wasn’t too keen on the band. This happens a lot, I find, and predictably enough I listened to ’em again a couple months later. Now we have a reaction.

I think the foremost reason that I didn’t get into Letter Kills on the first try is because of one song: “For the Weekend.” It’s a slow acoustic song, and of a lower quality than most would appreciate. But when I listened to it for the first time in so long, I realized that it’s actually rather well-written (cliche as it may be) and a little touching. Then I listened to the song I’d never bothered with the first time around, entitled “Lights Out.” This is where our story truly starts.

As the first track on The Bridge, “Lights Out” does an impeccable job of hooking the listener. It’s hard, fast, and powerful. You’ll get more or less the whole Letter Kills experience with this song, but that’s no reason not to keep on listening. Follow-up songs “Don’t Believe” and “Whatever it Takes” keep the pace up well and are composed of some sweet riffs and great singing. The former even features some intense guitar soloing that will seal the deal if “Lights Out” alone didn’t make you want to listen to the rest of the CD.

“Brand New Man” takes the speed and power down a notch, and relies on more of a beat to get by than hardcore guitar work, but does it really well. “Clock is Down” also sacrifices speed, but brings the melody to the forefront, and sports a snazzy of not emotional chorus that takes the song from slow to hard rock. “Time Marches On” brings back the hard rocking sound of the first few songs, but has a feeling all to its own, as it’s got a slower yet stronger beat and blurs the line between metal and rock. “Carry You” does kind of a flip-flop and has pretty intense verses while the chorus feels a bit slower (though in reality, it isn’t).

“Hold My Heart (Part Two)” is where it really gets interesting. When you first look at the track list and see that part two comes before part one, you’re gonna be wondering what’s up. Upon listening to it, you’ll realize that even if the placement is a little unorthodox, this could be plainly used as a closing sequence to the first part. It does seem more like an opener though…

“When You’re Away” is in the running for my favourite song. It’s easily got the strongest case, but I’m still on the fence. You have to listen to this song at a high volume, or else the awesomeness of it is all lost. There’s a lot of feeling in this song, and the powerful chorus nearly makes it a shoe-in for the top spot. “Radio Up” is essentially your run-of-the-mill rock song, but it’s really good at what it does. “Shot to the Chest” is another one of those slower-verse/power-chorus types, but it does keep up the level of kickassery towards the second half of the song. Also worthy of mention is that it features a good amount of screaming, which I think lead singer Matt Shelton pulls off really well. He never overdoes it, and it never gets in the way of the lyrics.

Finally, “Hold My Heart (Part One)” is your token slow finisher, and boy does it git ‘er done. Not only does it have a lot more heart (har har) than most rock bands display in their slow songs, but surprisingly enough, the backing vocals have just as big a part as the lead vocals in making the song as touching as possible. Token it may be, but it’s certainly worth far more than the term implies.

I read in a couple other reviews that Letter Kills is actually composed of devout Christians, and if that’s cause for worry for you, forget it. The songs don’t directly reflect it, and you’d have to look pretty deeply into the subtext for anything that might hold religious value. In any case, they’re more or less your standard punk/rock band that plays a slightly above-par game. There’s not a lot special here, but I can’t in good conscience tell you that you could just as well skip over ’em. I’ve searched high and low for the disc, but no such luck, so chances are that you’re going to have to go the download route too. Let’s just hope they’re not another Span and their second album doesn’t wind up being mediocre and borderline boring.

The Good Stuff:
  • Starts off with a bang
  • Excellent speed balance
  • “Hold My Heart (Part Two)” makes a great interlude
The Bad Stuff:
  • Doesn’t really stand out from other punk rock albums
  • Take-it-or-leave-it screaming

HIM – Dark Light

When I heard about the new HIM album back in July or whenever it was announced, I was marginally excited. Being the fan of HIM that I am, I probably should have been more excited, but all it got from me was a lackluster “Wooh” and a light air-punch. You know what I mean. If not, diagram. What can I say? I like drawing diagrams.

Fortunately, as time passed and live versions of a couple new songs from the album became available to download, my excitement rose exponentially. The two songs, “Vampire Heart” and “Killing Loneliness” were awesome. Though “Killing Loneliness” was cut short due to bass troubles, I listened to the songs many, many times. My Last.fm page might have you believe differently, but trust me, those songs were played almost too many times between when I got them and when the CD came out. And that’s pretty much where we are now. Dark Light was released on September 27, and now that I’ve had a week (and about 40 plays) to let it sink in, I think I’m ready to give it a great big review. Of course the review won’t really be that big, it is a mini-review after all.

We last heard from HIM when they released their greatest hits CD, entitled And Love Said No. Featuring two original songs and 15 other great songs, it’s been my favourite up until now (though most fans would disagree and say Love Metal is the best), but Dark Light has come and made me question that preference. There’s something wrong with that sentence, but I just can’t point it out.

All you really need to know is that Dark Light rocks. I’ll go as far as to say it’s got a bit more pop influence than what HIM’s exhibited up until now, but that’s not at all saying that they’ve changed. There’s no selling out here, we’re still talking full metal assault on your eardrums, it’s just that most of the songs seem more upbeat and whatnot than usual. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing either.

The album kicks off with “Vampire Heart”, and while it’s a great song all around, the album version is slightly less kickass than the live version. A little shake-up, but it was expected. Then we get what they’re touting as their new single, “Rip Out the Wings of a Butterfly”, or just “Wings of a Butterfly” for short. This is where that pop thing I mentioned factors in. It’s a great song, but I do have a complaint. See, the song is almost entirely chorus. There are only two verses, and they’re very short. Normally no big, but it makes the song seem kind of short and half-assed. That aside, it’s awesome. Awesome in its most aural form. After that comes along my new favourite song “Under the Rose”. While a couple other bands have songs with remarkably similar titles (read: exact same), this is not another cover. It’s got the catchiest chorus I’ve heard is some time, a really sweet guitar solo, and the rest of the song isn’t bad either. Plus it gives me an excuse to use a flower as my MSN Messenger avatar. Don’t make any assumptions. The last of the fearsome foursome that headline this album is “Killing Loneliness”. This one I actually prefer to the live version. Can’t think of anything else to say about it.

Now, it’s kind of weird, but as far as I care to say, the title track is the weakest on the disc. It’s not that “Dark Light” is a bad song, it just doesn’t stack up so well to the four kickass songs that preceded it. “Behind the Crimson Door” is average enough, and is more or less forgettable. Mind you, that even though I say that – and I’ll probably say it again before the review is done – none of the songs on the CD are bad. They’re all pretty good, some just don’t stand out as much as others. “The Face of God” is another one I really like. It’s got a really subdued maraca (I think?) part during the first half of the chorus that always catches my ear, even though you’d normally have to listen for it specifically to even notice it. “Drunk on Shadows”, unfortunately, failed to make me care much for it.

At first, I was apathetic towards the second-to-last track, “Play Dead”, but one day it just kind of popped into my head and after really listening to it, I’ve come to truly appreciate it. I’ve always liked slower songs, and “Play Dead” is great in every respect. Also, there’s some really beautiful piano work towards the end, which is always a good thing. The last song is another slower one (well, maybe not that slow), a popular way to end a CD. But aside from the correct placement, “The Nightside of Eden” is another weak song. Forget what I said about “Dark Light” being the weakest, this one just doesn’t strike me as good enough. I just don’t really like it that much.

I’m having a really tough time deciding just where I should rank Dark Light against the rest of HIM’s work. On one hand, most of the CD just plain kicks your ass, but there are a few songs that are barely worth mentioning. Very similar to the debut album Greatest Lovesongs Vol. 666. Though I didn’t like the good songs on that one nearly as much as I do the ones on the newest offering. I suppose that with the aid of “Under the Rose” and “Play Dead”, I’ll have to put this one at the top of the chart.

No matter how it stacks up to it’s brethren, Dark Light is easily a keeper. If you like HIM or just rock, metal, whatever, there’s a good chance that you’ll enjoy it. It’s more than worth your $16. The front sleeve (Inside the case. It comes in an actual sleeve.) art is pretty snazzy too, so that’s a plus. A plus that makes no difference in musical worth, but it’s still a plus. Go out and buy it. All those underlines and quotation marks don’t look so good on such a large font. Website.

The Good Stuff:
  • “Under the Rose”
  • Sweet cover art
  • Maracas. Barely noticeable maracas, but maracas nonetheless.
  • Beautiful piano on “Play Dead”
  • The Bad Stuff:
  • Not as good as past releases
  • A little short
  • “The Nightside of Eden” is totally forgettable
  • Some new TV shows, reviewed

    Every year, around mid-September, a phenomenon happens. That phenomenon is the new TV season. This is a season where many new shows will have the chance to test their mettle against each other, as well as current favourites, and see if they can make it more than two episodes. If they make it that far, chances are good that they’ll see at least one whole season. And the best from that group will go on to see many more years and the stars will be able to bask in the limelight of being on a popular to semi-popular TV show. Today, I take a look at a handful of the new shows on TV this season.

    The War at Home
    TV.com page

    Easily my favourite new show of 2005, this is more or less a basic family sitcom. It does, however, take a few interesting turns. For one, the characters will now and then talk to the camera to clarify things, or add a punchline. It’s been seen before (Titus) but it’s certainly not seen often. Secondly, and the part I like most, is that it really pushes the limits of what you can see on sitcoms. The only show that’s ever been more racist, sexist, and just plain off-colour that I can think of is All in the Family. As I said, there’s tons of shock material, including heavy doses of drugs, racism, homophobia, cybersex and even cross-dressing. The characters are great, being your less-than average sitcom family including the slow-witted, short-tempered father (Michael Rapaport), the glue-that-holds-it-together mom (Anita Barone), the teenage daughter (Kaylee Defer), one very odd/effeminate son (Kyle Sullivan) and another sneaky, blackmailing son (Dean Collins). There’ve been three episodes so far, and I’ve really enjoyed watching it. If you’ve not seen it yet, it’s on between the Simpsons and Family Guy on Sunday evenings.

    How I Met Your Mother
    TV.com page

    This is another good one, though in a different vein than the previous. It takes place (kinda) in like 2031 or something, and is about this guy telling his kids how he met their mom. Obviously. It all starts when the main character, Ted (Josh Radnor), feels like he has to get married when his best friends (Jason Segel and Alyson Hannigan) get engaged. It’s basically your average sitcom, and there’s not a lot to make it stand out in the sea of sitcoms, but I like it good. The best part, I feel, is the hilarious antics of Ted’s other friend, Barney (Neil Patrick Harris). I probably wouldn’t enjoy the show half as much if this character were not present. Barney is to this show as Joey is to Friends. In the first episode, every time he gets off the phone while arranging a meeting with whomever, he always says “suit up!” and nobody ever does. I hope they keep the gag running. It’s always funny when he gets mad at them for not suiting up. I never watched Doogie Howser, MD, so it doesn’t spoil the character for me as it does for other people (TV Guide and my parents). Oh, and Alyson Hannigan is hot. That’s always a plus. Monday nights. I don’t know when.

    Out of Practice
    TV.com page

    Not so great. I only watched the first episode, and I wasn’t all too impressed. It’s basically about a family of doctors and their various misadventures. I can’t be bothered to tell you any more, because when the second episode came on, I opted to go play video games instead of watching. I mean, it wasn’t a bad show. Not at all. It was funny and all, but I just couldn’t get into any of the characters, and it just doesn’t stand out as something that I really want to watch every week. Check it out if you feel like it, don’t let my apathy discourage you. You might like it. Mondays after How I Met Your Mother and Two and A Half Men.

    American Dad
    TV.com page

    Yes, it technically started last season, but it was only on a limited trial run of seven of the 20 episodes they’d produced for the first season. So it’s this season that it really gets into full swing. While it may be overshadowed by its universally loved big brother, Family Guy, American Dad is an excellent cartoon. I’ll admit it, I wasn’t immediately taken with it, but after a few episodes it finally grew on me and now it’s another reason I can’t wait for Sunday night to come ’round. The show is centered on CIA agent and father Stan Smith, who is constantly trying to better his family skills and keep his country safe from communists and terrorists. Other characters include his wife Francine, son Steve, daughter Hayley, goldfish Klaus and alien Roger. All the characters offer up a lot of great material, whether they’re funny themselves, or set up other characters for funny. And of course, you can draw a lot of parallels between this and Family Guy. My only complaint is that Klaus is a great character, but is severely limited by the whole “being a goldfish” thing. Oh well, it’s still way more entertaining than the Simpsons has been for the last couple years. If you need me to tell you, it’s on Sundays right after Family Guy.

    And that’s about it. Expecting more? To tell the truth, I really don’t watch much TV, and those are the only shows of the billions of new ones out there that I’ve watched. It’s not like there were gonna be tons of these tiny little TV show reviews. It’s a mini-review after all. Besides, everything else I watch has been on for more than a season now. If you really need to see what other good things have started this month, check somewhere else on the internet.

    The Good Stuff:
  • Alyson Hannigan is hot
  • Now I have something to watch on Mondays
  • The War at Home is way better than Malcom in the Middle
  • Another cartoon on Sunday!
  • The Bad Stuff:
  • Out of Practice is really hit-or-miss
  • American Dad is underrated because people expect another Family Guy
  • The War at Home gets old kinda quick
  • Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children

    Ok, before I start this up, if you’re a Final Fantasy 7 fanboy/girl, and refuse to believe that anything relating to the game can be wrong, just stop reading now. If you hate FF7 and are looking for a good bashing of the movie, stop reading now. Finally, if you don’t want spoilers, stop reading for the love of Odin. This review goes over pretty much every little nuance of the story (as weak as it is), so it’s absolutely loaded with spoilers. Anyone else may continue. And if you’re a hot chick, you may E-mail me some naked pictures of yourself.

    As the title may have lead you to believe, I’ve now seen the Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children movie. What I have to say about it is pretty much irrelevant to how I feel about it, and the technical stuff here is more or less for me to nitpick and tell anyone who wants to see the movie (and doesn’t mind spoilers) what to expect. So let’s get the show on the road already.

    The first thing I’m going to go over is the story. That shouldn’t take very long, since it’s the most bare-bones plot I’ve seen since Super Mario Bros (the game, not the movie). It starts off summing up what happened in FF7, and then goes on to tell you how people have become poisoned or whatnot by some mysterious force. Not long after, we learn that these people (all children, by the way) are sick because they have Jenova’s DNA or whatnot and the world doesn’t like them for it. Then these three dudes appear (with Jenova DNA of their own), bearing a resemblance to Mr. Oh-so-cool himself, Sephiroth. Turns out they’re looking for the remains of Jenova so that they can have a reunion of some kind. Blah blah blah. Cloud and company enter, cloud fights bad guys, Turks appear, say they want to help restore the world, secretly hold remains of Jenova. So stuff goes on, fight scenes happen, and the bad dudes take all the infected kids to a pool, brainwash them, and then attack the city. Leader of bad guys (forgot his name, not looking it up) summons goofy-looking Bahamut, kids become un-brainwashed, Cloud & friends defeat Bahamut. Rufus (Turk leader) reveals Jenova remains, bad guy leader gets them, Cloud chops them, bad guy cries, fight scene, bad guy turns into Sephiroth (Ooh! What a surprise!), more fight scene, Cloud wins, gets shot, come back to life, lame ending.

    And that’s it. I should mention that the entire plot is completely obvious after the first ten minutes or so of the movie, so it’s not like you’re going to be surprised at all even if you didn’t read the summary. I mean, nothing at all happened, with the exception of Bahamut, that I didn’t see coming from a mile away. The tale was interesting to watch, but it was more predictable than a clock. But whatever, I’ve never been to worried about how good a plot is anyway. Unless of course, I’m reading a book.

    Now while the plot is passable, there are a few things I have to pick out. For one, the brainwashing of the children was totally irrelevant. They did nothing but stand around mindlessly while they were brainwashed, and as far as I remember, the bad dudes never even mentioned using them for anything. But I digress, there are some bigger issues abound. Like Rufus, for example. When he first appears, he’s in a wheelchair, all cloaked as if he’s horribly scarred or whatnot. Later on, he hops off the wheelchair and throws off the cloak, revealing that he looks just as normal as ever. But he’s still got an eye-patch. Any guesses? Yep, it too gets thrown off, and under it is a perfectly good eye! Why? Why? There was no logic behind pretending to be crippled and deformed. Maybe he just wanted to fool everyone. But there was no real reason presented.

    And the biggest issue I have with the movie is the entire Bahamut scene. Firstly, the leader of the bad guys takes the Bahamut materia and absorbs it into himself. The game had us believe that materia was clipped onto your armor/weapon or whatnot, and not that you’d absorb the damn thing and create a neon tumor. Then when the big dragon appears, he looks like a total homo, with stupid-looking armor and terribly designed wings. I swear, this incarnation of the King of Dragons does almost as much injustice to him as his FFX representation. And then to top it all off, the good guys start attacking it! Why would you attack a goddamned summon monster? Theoretically, they should just be able to summon it again. but that’s not even the worst of it all. Near the end, Bahamut flies way, way up to the top of a tower, and Cloud has to follow him somehow. Let’s see, what’s the best way to do this? Well the idiots that made this movie decided that each character from the FF7 game should fly in and throw him up a bit more. It’s impossible to describe this pile of shit scene with words, so I drew a diagram. and then, finally, Cloud actually manages to carve this gigantic beast – the most revered summon of like ever – right in two. Stupid, stupid, stupid. And Cloud wasn’t even using any materias. At least, I didn’t see any tumors of colour on him.

    That’s pretty much all I found unacceptable there though. Otherwise, it’s only extremely nitpicky, like physically impossible fighting maneuvers and hair that was never meant ot look realistic. And to be fair, it’s time I said what was good about the movie.

    Firstly, and most obviously once you’ve seen their first couple scenes, Reno and Rude make great comedy relief. Nearly every scene they’re found in is hilarious or at least will make you smile a little. then there’s the fact that Reno can crawl up walls like Spider-Man, which I found extremely entertaining, especially when Rude tried to climb up with him on one occasion and promptly fell flat on his back. they’re easily the best characters in the movie. I was never too big on any characters from FF7 (with the exceptions of Vincent and Barret), but if these guys played a role in the game at all similar to the one they had in the movie, I can’t believe that I missed it. Another thing that was awesome is Barret’s gun arm. In the flashback at the beginning, the gun was tiny and I made an angry note of that right away, but when he popped in later on, it was huge and shot like fifty bullets at a time. After rereading it, that sentence sounds unnecessarily phallic.

    There were some other really cool things going on in the movie, like Cloud’s bike. the sides of the thing fan out, and reveal a rack of swords for him to choose from. And by the end, he’s used and lost all of them. The fight scenes were pretty fun, except for the fact that a few maneuvers that various characters pulled off were just plain impossible. And I’m not talking run-up-a-wall impossible here. I can accept a lot of over-the-top stuff, but they crossed a couple lines here. Other than that, though, lots of swordfighting and a cool fistfight with Tifa and one of the bad guys.

    I’m sure there was a lot else that I both liked and disliked about the flick, but I can’t think of ’em at the moment, so I’m gonna wrap this baby up. Like I said before, everything I mentioned was for the sake of the review. None of it really impacts my final judgement. All things good and bad aside, I will say that this movie was a success on the grounds that I was entertained. That’s really all it takes for me to give something a good review these days. As long as I find a movie/game/song/what-have-you entertaining, chances are that I’m gonna end up giving it a positive rating. So the FF7 movie, although a lot of things about it made me angry, gets a solid A-. Somewhere between 85 and 90 on the percent scale. If I’d seen it in a theater, I wouldn’t ask for my $10 back. I would watch it again, but I surely wouldn’t buy it. It was much better than I’d anticipated (I expected very little. Video game movies are always the suck), but it wasn’t perfect. I’ll recommend it, just don’t tell me that it’s the best movie ever (not even in the top 50). I know it’ll be way overrated, because the game was, and those sheep that are Square fans (I personally like Enix a lot) will fall in love with anything that has Cloud or Sephiroth on it. Example: Ehrgeiz. That was one of the worst fighting games I’ve ever had the misery of playing, yet many loved it for its FF7 tie-ins. But now I’m way off-topic. Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children is worth your time. Go watch it. Just don’t ask me to talk about it any more.

    The Good Stuff:
    • Reno & Rude = HALARIUS!!1!
    • Pretty. Very pretty.
    • Barret’s got a frickin’ sweet arm-gun
    • Cloud’s bike is also frickin’ sweet
    • Action scenes are engaging
    The Bad Stuff:
    • Story moves pretty slow, and is mostly irrelevant
    • Smells like fanfiction
    • The Bahamut tower scene
    • Goes too far over the top now and then

    Killer7

    First and foremost, I love Capcom. We all know this. So, as a fan of the company, I give pretty much anything they put out a try, no matter how strange it seems. Well, everything I see, of course. You must understand that some things just pass right on by without ever a mention of it being there. But I’m straying a bit here. Today, my duty is not to ramble on about which Capcom games I’ve played, or how much I adore their franchises, but to review their newest and easily most original offering: Killer7.

    You’ll have to understand before I get into this that Killer7 is just barely more a game than it is an interactive story. While there is a lot of shooting and puzzle solving to do, that’s pretty much all you do aside from watch cutscenes and listen to people. While I may have scorned RPGs for being boring and too simple, and this is a similar case, I have to admit that I simply adore Killer7. This is a game for people who like a hefty helping of story with their game, but don’t feel like wandering across a gigantic world for a single key to open the next dungeon or whatever. It’s for people who’d rather shoot than spend endless hours mashing the “confirm” button to level up. This is a game for those who need a break from normal games.

    Control is a breeze in this game, as there is very little of it to be done. While you do have to navigate through some rather large levels, it’s all done by holding the A button (assuming you’re playing on a Gamecube). See, your character moves on a predetermined path, so you’ve never got total control. However, there are plenty of junctions throughout the stages to guide your character through, so you do have a say in which way he or she is going. It’s as easy as seeing the options appear on screen and then moving the control stick toward which direction you want to go, or which object you’d like to examine. But that’s not all. No, not even close.

    You also have to contend with enemies. The Heaven Smiles. Did I mention that they’re invisible? Yes, every foe in the game (save the bosses) are invisible to the naked eye. Fortunately, you have a sort of enemy-scanning ability at your disposal. Firstly, you’ll have to assume your firing stance by holding down the R button. Then you tap L to scan for enemies, and you’re on your way! Next, you can hit the B button to automatically center your targeting reticule on a foe, or simply aim manually and then blow their brains all over the place. Another thing to mention is that most enemies don’t shoot back. No. They just run up to you and explode. So the challenge is to manage to kill them before they can get too close. This can be hard at times, because they almost always come in pairs, if not more.

    There is another trick to help you smack them down, however. Every Heaven Smile has some sort of weak point. Regular Smiles have a glowing spot on one of their limbs, and shooting it will often kill them right away. There are many, many types of Heaven Smiles. The Bombhead Smile, for instance, has a bomb around his head. His head is his weak point, but there is a explosive cage around it. You have to wait for the cage to open and then make your shot. If you miss and hit the cage… KABOOM!! Another example is the Ceramic Smile. He’ll always run away from you, and won’t take any damage from being shot. However, he has a heart emblem on his chest, and if you can snipe it, he’s as good as dead. There are a couple Smiles that shoot back, though. Those would be the Laser Smile (self-explanatory) and the Galactic Tomahawk Smile, whose name is ridiculous and fires salvos of missiles at you.

    And that’s pretty much it for the controls and enemies. The next topic to cover is probably the characters. But see, that’s the first really strange part of the game. The Killer7 assassins, as they’re known, are apparently all multiple personalities of a single man, Harman Smith. Multiple personalities with multiple bodies. And as you may have guessed, there are seven of them, not including Harman. The first is Garcian Smith. He’s basically the front man for the Killer7. He takes the jobs but doesn’t do much of the dirty work. He’s also a “cleaner”, and by that, it means that he’s the one that picks up the remains of dead personalities and brings them back to life. If you lose Garcian it’s game over.

    Dan Smith, also known as “The Hellion” is my favourite of the seven. He’s basically the badass of the team, and pretty much everything that comes out of his mouth is quotable. His special ability is to charge his gun to perform what is known as the “Collateral Shot”. Kaede Smith – “Barefoot” – is my second favourite, and possibly the most useful of the Killer7, since she’s got a scope on her gun. Sniping the Heaven Smiles before they notice you is a big help. She can also call out a ghost which will break barriers and solve blood-stained puzzles for you.

    Kevin Smith, nicknamed “Four Eyes”, is my least used character. Firstly, he doesn’t talk, so he’s got no cool catch phrases. Secondly, his weapon is a throwing knife. For the record, it works as well as the other characters’ guns, but it just seems so lame. His ability to become invisible is pretty slick though, and can get you out of a jam, should you need to pass by security lasers or Heaven Smiles unnoticed. Coyote Smith, “The Thief”, is pretty badass himself, but not so much as Dan. He packs a magnum, and shouts “You’re FUCKED!” each time he one-hit kills a Smile. His abilities include super-jumping and picking padlocks.

    Con Smith, or “The Punk”, is the youngest of the group and is apparently blind. Explains the bandanna over his eyes. Con carries two pistols and is lightning fast. He can become even faster using one of his abilities, and can also use his small size to slip through narrow passages and his excellent hearing to detect secret passages. The final assassin, Mask de Smith, simply referred to as “The Mask”, is a huge ex-wrestler. He even wears a freaking cape! But nobody would dare laugh, because he’s packing two mini grenade launchers. Those grenade launchers can be charged to fire different types of shells, for taking down different armoured enemies. Obviously, those can be also used to destroy cracked walls, and his brute strength comes in handy to move heavy objects, like oil trucks.

    You thought the character fun was over? Not so, my fellows. See, each character can be “Leveled up” in this game, though not quite in the traditional sense. As you mow down Heaven Smiles, you’ll collect blood. Some of it being normal, thin blood that can be used to fuel special abilities and restore vitality. But blasting off a creature’s limb or killing it by weak spot will net you a bucket of thick blood, which is essentially money in this game. Its first use is to pay a ghost for hints, but the second use is far more valuable. Should you return to Harman’s Room (the safe room for this game) and check channel B on the telly, you’ll find the blood channel. Here, you’ll meet a spooky old doctor who will exchange your blood for serum. The serum can be used to level up your characters in different areas, like power and speed. They’ll also learn new moves, like counterattacks and how to lock-on to an enemy’s weak point. You can only make so much serum in each level though, so no super-powering your assassins in level one! There is an unlimited supply of serum in the second part of level six, but by that time, leveling up will be kinda worthless…

    And that’s everything about the characters you’ll be using to blast your way through the game’s seven levels. While seven might seem pretty short, the levels are huge, and levels two and six are divided into two parts each, resulting in a total of nine levels (though the last one is super-short). The levels themselves are all similar in objectives. You’re always out to assassinate someone. Makes sense, you are a group of assassins after all. But the formula is similar too. In most stages, you’re out to solve puzzles in hopes of collecting “Soul Shells”, which are used to open the way to the boss. Some levels change it up though, and require you to find other things like a figurine collection or colour samples. It’s pretty much the same thing over and over again, but the ever-changing puzzles, settings, and variety of enemies keeps thing fresh.

    Now, I’d like to tell you about the story, but I’m only just past halfway in the game at this point, and it’s not making a lick of sense yet. Or at least, none of the elements are really coming together to form a big picture. As it started, they were going on about achieving world peace, but at the final peace treaty conference, the Heaven Smile terrorists appeared and blew everything to kingdom come. So now the world is in terror, and the Killer7 have been hired to stop them, and apparently other random freak shows. If you like a story that leaves doors open for you to come to some conclusions on your own, you’ll probably like this game, because that’s what the director said he wanted the story to be like. I read it in Nintendo Power. Me, I’m just trying to figure out the parts that they’re trying to get across to you, because a lot of it is chained together in various conversations with ghosts that aren’t all to explicit about what they’re telling you.

    While the stages may be similar to each other and the story is confusing as Hell, there’s one thing that would sway may opinion of the game were I not in favour of it: the bosses. The boss fights, and sometimes the boss characters themselves, are just great. The first one is this anime-looking angel girl, and you’ve just gotta shoot out her wings. Not so hard, because she doesn’t move, but in the second phase you’ve gotta circle around to her back, and shoot out four faces that have made their homes there. A little harder here, because she follows you and tosses fireballs to boot. The second boss is simply a matter of shooting her as much as you can in a set amount of time. When the clock runs out, whoever got hit the most dies. The rest of the bosses (that I’ve faced so far) are all really original and cool. If this was a Konami game, the boss rush mode would easily be enough reason to buy the game.

    So what really is the allure to Killer7? Aside from the fact that the game itself doesn’t offer too much in regards of gameplay, it is quite fun. The draw to keep playing to the end, at least, is very high, not only because the game itself is fun, but because you’re gonna be dying to find any clues whatsoever that will help you figure out what’s going on. the game can also be riotously funny at times. Such times include the first few times you kill with Coyote, when you find out what’s really going on inside the First Life building in level three, and pretty much the entirety of level five. I swear, that has got to be one of the best levels in any game, based solely on how funny/awesome everything that transpires within it is.

    The graphics in Killer7 are cel-shaded, for those of you who managed to miss this game completely until now. And while it’s not the best job I’ve ever seen, it does look pretty damn spiffy. Character animations in cutscenes are very stiff, but it’s something you’ll get over. The countless visual effects are just spectacular, from enemies literally blowing to a million pieces when they die to the way the screen contorts around a Heaven Smile when it’s about to explode. The scenery is often colourful and surreal, with plenty of artsiness and atmosphere. And the animated cutscenes, done in a couple distinct styles, are beautiful and common. Particularly in level five. Music is great too, even though a lot of it went mostly unnoticed, a few tracks were outstanding, namely the theme of level three and the techno beat of the Gatekeeper’s hallways. Haunting laughs are everywhere, because they’re your tipoff to where the Heaven Smiles are. They always laugh when the catch sight of you and when they die. So there’s bushels of creepy laughter in this game. And of course, the voice acting. Possibly the best I’ve heard in a game so far. These people weren’t pulled off the street like most video game VA’s seem to be (see RAD for PS2). Nope, these guys were pros. And if they were pulled off the street, they sure have some hidden talent.

    One thing that may turn people off (aside from the strange gameplay, uber-confusing story, explicit gore and language, occasional sex scene, and unique visual style) is that there are no unlockables. There is a super-hard mode (a la Viewtiful Joe) that is playable once you’ve beaten the game for the first time, but I wouldn’t count that, even though you get a new character for it. And there’s even a super-easy mode for those who finish the super-hard mode. But those are hardly unlockables, they’re just ways of extending the life of the game. But really, there’s no need for unlockables in this kind of game. It’s good enough to stand on its own.

    So the game is brilliant. But as much as I’d like to, I cannot recommend it to everyone. So far, pretty much every review I’ve read was positive, but I know that there are gonna be some people who just won’t be able to grasp the beauty of a game like Killer7. Some people like everyone I know. That’s just how it goes down. Believe me, if I weren’t trying to cut down on my game purchasing, I would totally buy this one. I really should, too, since it’s allowed by my new Capcom and Nintendo only rule (mind you, that rule has already been broken twice). But alas, if I do get this one, it’ll be as a gift. Enough rambling. I highly recommend renting it. If you like it as much as I, then maybe buy it (Probably the GC version, because I hear the PS2 version is slightly censored and suffers from slowdown). If you don’t [like it], you’ve got terrible taste.

    The Good Stuff:
  • Ultra-violence and unrestrained pottymouth!
  • It’s super fun to play
  • Intense graphic style
  • Deepest video game story EVAR
  • Do you really need me to keep going?
  • The Bad Stuff:
  • I itch for more. MORE!!
  • Hard is perhaps too hard
  • Bonus modes offer nothing special
  • Span – Vs. Time

    Way back when in May, I proclaimed Span to be the Band of the Month. I spouted endless praise for the Norwegian rockers, as I usually do when I give a band the honour of being Band of the Month, saying how much I loved their music and that I desperately wish any store in my vicinity would get ahold of their CD so that I could purchase it legitimately. That much I can still stand by. I also mentioned that they would be releasing a second album in the coming month or so. This is why I’ve decided to address you this fine day.

    Now if you’re quick, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I have indeed listened to said new album. What you may not have guessed is that I’m not entirely satisfied with it. It’s not that Vs. Time is a bad album. No. It’s perfectly good listening material. The thing about it is that it’s nowhere near as good as their fist go, Mass Distraction. You know what, scratch what I said about it being perfectly good, as I may contradict that phrase in the next few sentences. Paragraphs, even.

    The CD starts out great, best foot forward for sure. The first three songs are great, and follow up what we’ve come to expect from Span perfectly. “Better Believe It” is an awesome song, without a doubt the best on the CD. It’s even better than a lot of stuff on Mass Distraction. For most of the song, anyway. It’s just that the last bit changes tone completely. That’s no big though, cause it’s still a great song. After that come “Cut Like Diamonds” and “The Outside”, which are also great. No problems here. It’s all great so far, but you’re about to get shocked and bored if you’re expecting another Mass Distraction.

    The next song, “I’m One Of Us”, is not bad, but it’s just kind of… So what? There’s nothing special about it. It’s slow and boring. Doesn’t make you want to sing along or even leave an impression in your mind. “Living in a Suitcase” helps the situation by at least being a good song to rock out to. It’s another one that’s nothing special, but it’s a fun song to listen to. But that’s about the end of anything good I have to say. Mind you, I want to take it easy on these guys (like everything I review), so I’m probably gonna be trying to soften the blow of the words that will follow this paragraph. I’ll just say this now; the rest of the CD is very bland and you’d probably just be better off downloading it if you really want it. Even if a store did get a few copies in around here, there’s a slim chance that I’d actually pick it up.

    “I’m Nothing” is just too slow, and ends up being really annoying, as he drags the notes way too much. Ever heard “The Rat Who Would Be King” by Matthew Good? It’s like that, but not quite so drawn out. And this song doesn’t get better the more you listen to it either. “Sea” is just short and lame. Actually, in this instance, that shortness turns out to be a plus. “Nowhere To Be Found” is a little better, but lacks anything to define itself, and ends up sounding like one of those songs they play every two hours on the radio that has no substance but is there because the media wants you to like it. The next song, “When I Fall”, would be a waste if it weren’t for the decent chorus.

    Hitting the home stretch (and you’ll be glad it’s almost over), “Room For One” is alright, but it’s got the same issue as the rest of them. It’s just so dull and subdued. The last song, however “Wish it Would Rain” is pretty good after it gets going. Good enough to play independently from the rest of the tracks. And that’s more than enough to put it above a good three quarters of the other songs. The thing about it, is that unlike every other song on the CD, it actually conveys a little emotion. Not like the songs of Jimmy Eat World’s Futures do, but you can feel a little something from this song. Also some excellent guitar riffs. There’s a hidden track here too, but it’s shameful to actually call it a track, as it’s mostly just ambiance. Kinda stupid, and definitely skippable.

    And that’s it. Pretty much summarizes the whole jist of it. A sad display for the most part, but with it’s high points. Maybe it’s just because I like Mass distraction so much that I don’t want to be open to any other sound they might try? Nah. Vs. Time is a (mostly) boring album. “Better Believe It” is super catchy and I highly recommend it and “Cut Like Diamonds”, but other than those, I can’t say it’d be worth buying. Even downloading seems like a waste of bandwidth (and it took me a good week at less than 1KB/s to secure this one). I can’t in good conscience give this one anymore than a D-. Just barely a passing grade. It makes baby Jesus cry (in pity, because he knows that Span is far better than this).

    The Good Stuff:
  • Starts with a wicked track
  • Ends with a wicked track
  • The Bad Stuff:
  • Mostly everything in the middle is forgettable
  • Pales in comparison to Mass Distraction
  • The hidden track is shitty ambiance
  • Polarium

    Everyone’s played Tetris. It’s like the universal video game. The only more known game is probably Pac-Man. It’s universally loved and known not because it’s like the first real game (Pong barely counts), but because it’s simple and fun. The concept: to place falling blocks in horizontal lines to make them disappear. Of course, those falling blocks will also lose you the game, should you let them pile to the top of the screen. It’s not easy once they start falling fast, but you can certainly play it mindlessly for hours, even if you happen to suck at it like me.

    Conversely, I’ve not run into a whole lot of people who know the game Othello. Possibly named after the Shakespeare play for it’s focus on black and white, I’ve also seen it go by the name of Reversi. It’s a neat game with a simple concept. You’ve got an 8 by 8 playing field, and start with four chips on the center squares; two black, two white. Two players take turns placing chips of their colour. You can flip opposing chips by placing a chip on each side, and create lines like this vertically, horizontally, and diagonally. Once the board is full, the player with the most chips of their colour wins. Again, simple and fun.

    Enter a new age of touch screens and strange, new video game concepts. Nintendo is a pioneer of the video game world, constantly trying out new things, while other companies just stick to the same old or copy Nintendo ideas that work out profitably. And today we take a look at their newest puzzle game, Polarium. The concept of the game is familiar, having to make horizontal lines to clear them, but rather than just making the lines, you have to turn all the tiles in said line to a single colour. It’s a simple task, but can get difficult when you’re trying to fight against the non-stop flow of tiles falling from above.

    Polarum has two main game modes: Challenge and Puzzle. The Challenge mode, described briefly above, is much like Tetris. As I said, tiles are falling from the top screen, and it’s your job to draw lines over the tiles to change their polarity (from either black to white or vicey-versa) to complete and clear lines. You could just as easily tap each tile one at a time, but you’ll lose really quick, and earn very few points while you’re at it. The key is to try to figure out a way to flip over multiple tiles in one line, and create gigantic combos worth tons of points. Of course, this is no easy task, but Nintendo’s given you a small bit of help by adding a border that you can use, should you need it. It’s a little hard to explain, so here’s a picture to help you get an idea.

    The game is quite difficult, as you have to draw accurately so that the tiles don’t pile up too fast, and make sure you don’t miss out on big line combos to score big points. I’ve only ever made it about halfway through level 3, and that’s another thing that should be mentioned. The challenge mode progresses in levels (though they come almost as seamlessly as in Tetris), but you always have to start at the very beginning, so it’s not like you can just start at level 10 if you want. And then there’s the fact that there is an end to challenge mode, unlike most other puzzle games, where it just goes on forever until you lose. But that shouldn’t be too much of a problem, as getting that far would be a daunting task for even the most tactical of us.

    Puzzle mode, on the other hand, is slow-paced, and really makes you use your brain. Rather than just trying to keep up with falling tiles, you’ve got one set of tiles on the screen, and you have to figure out a way to eliminate all of them at once. At first, it’s pretty simple. You’ve just got to master the basics to get past the first twenty puzzles, but after that, they become less symmetrical and require some hard thinking. Not exactly what I’m best at, but I’ve gotten about halfway through the puzzles. And speaking of which, there are 100 stock puzzles for you to solve, unlocking a new 10 for each 10 you complete. What might be seen as uncommon is the hint system in place for puzzle mode. The game will either show you the last path you tried for that puzzle, or suggest start and finish points, should you need help. And trust me, you will need help on most of these.

    If you finish all the puzzles, or just get frustrated with some of the harder ones, there’s also a custom puzzle mode that lets you create your own brain-twisting puzzles. Of course, you’ll know how to complete these puzzles, so they’re no good for you to play, but that’s where our friend Mr. Wireless Link comes in. Should you also have a friend that has Polarium, you can send your custom puzzles over to him, and perhaps get one or two in return to test your puzzle-solving skills. And if you don’t have friends who own the game, but still want to trade custom puzzles, you’re also provided with a password for each puzzle you make, which will allow you to trade with people over the internet and such.

    And what kind of puzzle game comes without a multiplayer mode? Polarium has got one, and it’ a little strange too, in that to play, you turn your DS on its side. It sounds a bit odd on paper, but it works, because the screen is longer than it is tall, and the DS being on its side would lend itself better to the game’s style. Obviously, your opponent’s tile pile would be shown on the top (or right, in the sideways case) screen.

    Grahically, Polarium is less than impressive. While it has no need for flashy graphics, there are people who would complain about it’s minimalist visuals. On the upside, it does sport a couple neat effects. Sadly, the menus are hardcore blocky, and we’re not talking NES or FatBoy here, think back a few steps to the Atari. Yeah, not too appealing. At least the interface is effective, if a bit ugly. Music is pretty dismal, I hate to say. There are a grand total of three, maybe four tracks in the entire game (again, not much more would be expected, but still), and none of them are overly enjoyable, or so I find. They’re all this kind of techno-trance that gets annoying fast. This is definitely one of those games that you’re gonna play with other music turned on in the background.

    While it may look and sound a little nasty, Polarium has a couple neat features going for it. Firstly, once you get a high score in challenge mode, you get to draw your own little avatar to place beside your score. I’m not sure if it’s a step forward or backward from the Yoshi Touch & Go avatar system, but it’s pretty slick. It also gives you a grade, but I’m not sure if it’s based on how far you get, or how good you score is. Also, while totally irrelevant, the game keeps a running timer of how long you’ve played in each mode. It doesn’t have any value at all, but it’s an interesting feature.

    In the end, Polarium might be a little too challenging for its own good, and it’s not as addictive as Tetris or Dr. Mario, but it’s certainly a game that belongs in any puzzle lover’s library. You won’t be playing for hours on end like other titles, but you’ll probably pick it up every so often and see if you can make it just a bit further in Challenge mode. I know that since I got it, every time I have a spare five minutes, I whip out the DS and start flippin’ tiles. I’ll give it a B+, because despite the fact that it is great, it’s not so great as some before it, and frankly, the music blows.

    The Good Stuff:
  • Brain-racking puzzle mode
  • Challenge mode is fast-paced and fun
  • Original dual-screen use in multiplayer
  • Draw your own high-score avatar
  • The Bad Stuff:
  • The music is boring and repetitive
  • Where did the graphics go?
  • Not as addictive as other puzzlers
  • Yoshi Touch & Go

    The closest thing to a true to sequel to Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island is still rather far from what the gamers of the world were expecting. While Yoshi Touch & Go still keeps the fundamental ideas of Yoshi’s Island, like the Yoshis trying desperately to get Baby Mario back to the stork while Kamek and his toadies constantly try to kidnap the kid, the gameplay has taken a huge turn in a different direction. True, you meander along as Yoshi and huck eggs at stuff, but that’s just the half of it. And maybe even less.

    Yoshi’s first game on the DS is the next in the string of games that utilize only the handheld’s touch screen (Feel the Magic XY/XX, WarioWare: Touched!, Pokémon Dash) and microphone for input. And the way the game is designed, it’s all you’ll really need. But I guess that was kind of obvious. Even if you could use buttons for the game, you’d probably just ignore them. I’ll tell you now, that unless you’re old-school , you’ll probably think this game is stupid and give up on it right away. It’s a very different spin on platforming, so it’s certainly not going to appeal to everyone.

    As soon as you boot up the game, you’ll notice that something is amiss. No intro scene, and just a selection of modes to play, including Score Attack, Endless, and Vs. modes. What? No story mode? You’ll be surprised to find out (I know I was) that the game isn’t structured like a game of these days. No, you have to start from the beginning each time, and your only goal is to get high scores. There are no levels, no bosses, no story, no end. It’s just the kind of game you pick up and go at for a while. Keep in mind that this helps replay value immensely, as you’re always going to be going back to best your high scores, like in most puzzle games. So if regular gaming conventions are thrown out the window, how does the game work? Let me explain.

    The game is cut up into two parts. Firstly, you have Baby Mario falling from the sky. He’s got some balloons to give him some slack, so it’s not like he’s gonna go splat or anything. So anywho, you’re using the touch screen to make a cloudy path to guide the baby through the sky and out of the way of enemies, collecting as many coins as you can. You can draw circles around enemies to encase them in bubbles and turn them into coins to throw at Baby Mario. You can bubble normal coins too, but that’s kind of a waste of time unless you can circle a bunch at once to make a combo. You’ve really gotta be on your game to do well in this part of the game, because there’s a lot going on, and unless you forgo bubbling enemies, it can be tricky to guide Mario exactly where you want him to go. and it’s important to score big in this part, because your score at the end will determine which colour Yoshi you get when you reach the ground. Different coloured Yoshis move faster and can carry more eggs, so it helps to get a good score here.

    The next part of the game is where Yoshi comes into the picture. You’re now on the ground, and Yoshi is plodding along on his way to the stork. It’s your job to help him get there. Everything is basically the same as in the sky, as you can draw clouds and make bubbles around stuff. But here you can also make Yoshi jump and flutter by poking him, and have him throw eggs by tapping elsewhere on the screen. Oh, and I should have mentioned earlier that you can blow into the microphone to have a gust of wind blow away all your clouds, should you ever need to remove them. This part of the game requires even more concentration than before, as Yoshi can only take one hit as opposed to Baby Mario’s three, and you’ve got enemies on both screens and pits to avoid. That, and you’ll have to take care to keep a supply of eggs stocked at all times, because a lot of enemies are impervious to bubblification here. This area also changes depending on which game mode you’re playing.

    Score Attack is the most basic mode, and also the easiest. It’s basically what I described above, but your game will end after you’ve walked 1000 meters with Yoshi. Your goal here is simply to pick up as many coins and take out as many enemies as possible. Make it our with the top score, and you’ll unlock Time Attack. Endless mode however, changes it up a bit. The falling part is the same, but the Yoshi stage will go on until you’re taken down. Rather than the end, when you reach 1000 meters, you’ll get to switch off to the next-ranked Yoshi, and then again for each 1000 meters you last. Besting the top score in this mode will net you challenge mode. Oh, and getting 100 points in Endless will make a Power Star drop, turning Baby Mario into Super Baby Mario for a while, who will run right through anything and toss an infinite amount of stars (as opposed to Yoshi’s eggs).

    I haven’t really played much of the other two modes, so I’m not sure exactly how they go down, but I hear Time Attack has you racing to save Baby Luigi, and Challenge mode is a desperate attempt to stay two steps ahead of Kamek. Word on the street is that beating the top scores in all four modes will unlock some kind of bonus mini-game. The trial is certainly not an easy one, as it took me a while to simply unlock Time Attack and Challenge, and I doubt those two will be any easier.

    From a graphical standpoint, the game has few rivals. The graphics are very similar to those of Yoshi’s Island, with the picture book style and pastel backgrounds. Animation is smooth and abundant. The music is excellent, particularly through headphones, and mostly remixes tunes from games of Yoshi’s past. Sounds are what you’d expect, with the standard “baby” Yoshi noises originating from Yoshi’s Story, and plus ten points for the removal of Baby Mario’s horribly annoying cries. Controls are, well, up to you. If you can’t figure out how to drag the stylus along the touch screen, you should probably be developing some motor skills rather than playing Nintendo.

    Let’s see… Other things… Ooh, one cool thing is that you can pick avatars for your high scores, so that in case more than one person plays on the same game card, you know who got what score. I haven’t tried multiplayer, but it’s supposed to be a 1000 meter dash between two players. And there’s a built in Picto-chat detector too, but I think that it might sap the batteries a little faster when it’s enabled. Neat idea though.

    Personally, I find the game to be a refreshing change from the usual level-hopping action of standard platformers, but as I said earlier, not everyone’s gonna like this. People who held Yoshi’s Island in high regard and are not open to change will most likely detest this game. Hell, people who don’t like different things in general probably won’t like it. But than again, those people probably won’t be playing the DS anyway. The ones who will like it however, are probably the old-schoolers. Those who grew up in the age of arcades and high scores. And of course, people like me who will enjoy pretty much anything you present them with. I’d give this game an unwavering A+. While it’s not really what most gamers look for these days, there isn’t anything wrong with it. It’s fun, it lasts, it plays well, and the superficial stuff is all good.

    The Good Stuff:
  • Great sound and brilliant graphics
  • Unlockable modes
  • Plenty of replay value
  • Stylus/mic control is perfect
  • The Bad Stuff:
  • Not the Yoshi’s Island sequel I expected
  • Can be frustratingly hard
  • Multiplayer is less than fantastic