Games 7/30/08: Siren: Blood Curse, Space Chimps, Roogoo

Siren: Blood Curse
For: Playstation 3 via Playstation Network
From: Sony
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood, intense violence, strong language)

It takes little imagination to understand why games like “Resident Evil 4” and “Condemned” are popular. They’ve injected the horror genre with the kind of pick-up-and-play gameplay normally reserved for shooters, and with fantastic results.

Problem is, accessibility isn’t very scary. And until that somehow changes, there will always be a need for a game like “Siren: Blood Curse,” which embraces uncompromising design with a suffocating, brilliant enthusiasm that should thrill those with the stomach to handle it.

Available by download only and pieced out like a television show ($15 for a four-episode pack or $40 for all 12 at once), “Curse” reboots the “Siren” series by revisiting the original PS2 game, sprucing it up, remixing the story and adding concessions (most notably, clearer objectives and a map that illustrates them) to make it somewhat more palatable to a wider audience.

Again, though, don’t confuse that for accessibility. While “Curse” won’t remind you of the original “Resident Evil” in terms of control setup, the loose controls it does incorporate, along with a camera that’s far more hamstrung than most modern games allow, means you’ll struggle with things you typically can take for granted. Your visibility options are further crippled by the game’s extravagant use of darkness and fog — an old trick, but one that still works if done right.

Some will argue that such devices are the product of sloppy programming rather than design. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. “Curse’s” bread and butter is a mix of stealth and horror, and the partial (but never total) helplessness these elements bring forth is what makes the game such an unnerving experience. Though many situations put you in a position to fight back, just as many force you to tread quietly and run like hell if you tip off your presence. During those scenarios, “Curse” is tense to the point of panic-inducing and genuinely scary. Stumbling through the grainy darkness with a sure-footed enemy on your tail as a checkpoint lingers mere yards away is what horror games used to always be about, and it’s a sensation “Curse” recaptures with amazing conviction.

With those points in mind, “Curse” isn’t for all. The episodic style makes it easy to digest the game in small bites and piece it out, but it also makes it easy to feel squeamish and head for the exit when one scary episode ends and another lingers. Enter at your own risk: Something very special lurks inside, but only the angelically patient and strong at heart need apply.

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Space Chimps
Reviewed for: Xbox 360
Also available for: Nintendo Wii and Playstation 2
From: Redtribe/Brash Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (animated blood, crude humor, language, mild fantasy violence)

It’s been both interesting and disappointing to follow the emergence of Brash Entertainment, which promised to elevate the image of movie-based games but thus far has simply advanced perceptions that movie-licensed titles are the black sheep of the gaming family.

For whatever it’s worth, “Space Chimps” is the publisher’s best work to date, showing flashes of ingenuity that occasionally put it in the same ballpark (though never the same aisle) as the Mario- and Crash Bandicoot-fronted games it tries to emulate. “Chimps” isn’t afraid to switch gears between puzzle solving, combat, platforming and a few faster-paced challenges that send you grinding down rails or careening down a river, and the best of these challenges are legitimately fun and executed well.

Problem is, “Chimps” also displays flashes of rushed development, and not just a few. For every sequence Redtribe executes without incident, there’s another that’s hamstrung by inconsistent design, a camera that goes haywire or some other technical hang-up that causes you to miss jumps you should be able to complete with eyes closed. An extremely forgiving difficulty curve means you’ll get around these issues with minimal persistence, but watching a clever action sequence come undone by issues the developers were able to avoid during other parts of the game is nonetheless disappointing.

Additionally, the weakest aspect of “Chimps” — bland hand-to-hand combat against equally bland enemies — appears in greater abundance than any other aspect of the game. Nothing about the combat is broken, but nothing about it is particularly fun, either. Just mash the button, move to the next enemy and repeat.

But the biggest problem “Chimps” has remains the biggest issue with Brash’s portfolio overall: It ends far too soon. The single-player adventure will take players of reasonable ability little more than three hours to finish, and it doesn’t really command a return visit unless you enjoy collecting hidden items or trying to pass the levels in time attack mode. A two-player (offline only) mini-game mode offers some additional entertainment, but certainly not enough to quell any feelings of buyer’s remorse.

Were “Chimps” a budget title, the short length would be exponentially more forgivable, but it retails for $50 on the 360 and Wii and $30 on the Playstation 2. Value propositions like that are why we have game rentals and quick price drops, and until Brash understands that, those are the only options you should consider.

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Downloadable game of the week

Roogoo
For: Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Arcade
From: SpiderMonk Entertainment/SouthPeak Games
Coming soon to retail for: Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Price: $10

If ever a video game will teach you not to judge it by its cover, “Roogoo” is it. The object of the game is to match falling shapes — cylinders, cubes, stars and so on — with holes of the same shape. If that recalls images of the square-peg-in-round-hole toy babies play with, guess what? That’s exactly what “Roogoo” looks like, and during the ridiculously easy opening batch of levels, it’s also how the game plays. Fortunately, those lulled into false security by “Roogoo’s” pleasantly colorful look and unpleasantly easy first impression will do so at their own peril. Once acquaintances are made, the game wastes little time tweaking, remixing and piling onto the initial concept, and the challenge ramps up considerably — albeit entirely fairly — in a short amount of time. The concept proves surprisingly viable for a puzzle game concept, and you’ll likely never look at that silly toy quite the same way again. “Roogoo” ships with 45 single-player levels, which is a solid amount for the price, and those who want to throw virtual baby toy parties can enjoy the four-player multiplayer (local or online), which plays the same but employs the usual multiplayer puzzle game tricks.