Games 7/28/09: Treasure World, NCAA Football 10, Shatter

Treasure World
For: Nintendo DS
From: Aspyr Media
ESRB Rating: Everyone

It’s a shame it’s taken this long for a game to take the plunge and base itself completely around the Nintendo DS’ built-in Wi-Fi capabilities. But if we had to wait this long, at least it was for a game that isn’t afraid to run with the idea — to the point where it arguably isn’t even a game anymore.

The overriding goal in “Treasure World” is to collect enough fuel to help a fellow named Star Sweep refuel his ship and resume his galaxy-wide treasure hunt. To do this, you employ the Star Sweep’s trusty robot companion, Wish Finder, to find stars in the galaxy, clean them, and collect whatever fuel or treasure is hidden inside.

Translated, Wish Finder is your DS’ Wi-Fi finder, and the stars in the game’s galaxy are Wi-Fi hotspots in ours. Whenever the DS discovers a new hotspot, Wish Finder discovers a new star in the game.

Essentially, you play “World” by carrying the DS around with you and letting it discover stars by itself while you go about your day. “World” is one of those rare DS games that runs even when the lid is closed, so you conceivably can boot the game up, drop it on your bag and collect a mountain of stars for later perusal. Depending on the density of Wi-Fi signals in your area, “World” might nab hundreds of them within a few hours. Just mute the DS before you stash it, because the game dings loudly whenever it finds a star.

All those stars add up to treasures and fuel, which you can trade with Star Sweep for yet more treasure. A few stars also hold Web keys, which players can take to clubtreasureworld.com and, among other things, trade for items unavailable elsewhere.

That treasure, believe it or not, goes toward enhancing a music creation tool reminiscent of “Mario Paint” from the Super Nintendo days. Every treasure in “World” emits a musical sound when tapped with the stylus, and you can arrange them on a stretch of grass to create some surprisingly intricate and tuneful melodies, which can be shared with other players on clubtreasureworld.com.

That, along with the oddly satisfying compulsion that comes with collecting so much stuff, would be all “World” would need if it didn’t so badly hamper the music creation tool’s versatility. Nice though the tunes can sound, they can’t exceed five seconds in length, which is a killer. The clubtreasureworld.com site also includes no means to export the songs, which would have transformed “World” into the world’s strangest ringtone creation device.

Such limited functionality makes “World” impossible to universally recommend. Connoisseurs of the truly weird and original will find more than enough of both to justify “World’s” $30 asking price, but those in search of a game that truly feels like a game will walk away perplexed and probably underwhelmed.

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NCAA Football 10
Reviewed for: Xbox 360 and Playstation 3
Other versions available for: Playstation 2, PSP
From: EA Tiburon/EA Sports
ESRB Rating: Everyone

If you’re a fan of EA Sports’ college football juggernaut but haven’t yet introduced your console to the joys of the Internet, now probably is the time to fix that, because “NCAA Football 10’s” two most prominent new features require it.

“10” marks the return of the too-long-lost ability to create a custom-designed school for use in exhibition play as well in the game’s offline/online dynasty modes. But in a surprising move that’s bound to burn some, the tools for doing so are available on a Web site (teambuilder.easports.com) instead of inside the actual game.

The decision to go this route makes more sense than it doesn’t. The Web tool — and, particularly, the portion where you can edit every single player’s name and attributes —works exponentially more efficiently with a mouse and keyboard than it ever possibly could be with a controller. Being able to turn any image file into a truly personalized team logo with a few mouse clicks is a pretty nice touch as well.

Still, there’s no reason EA shouldn’t — in next year’s game, anyway — provide at least a bare-bones in-game tool for those who lack the means to take advantage of what turns out to be “10’s” best new feature.

But “10’s” other nifty addition, the metagame “Season Showdown,” couldn’t exist any other way. Once you enable “Showdown” by picking your favorite school to represent, “10” keeps a continual tally of your game-wide accomplishments, converts them to points, and combines your score with the scores of other players representing the same team. Schools facing each other during the real NCAA season also face off each week in “Showdown,” which plays (and presumably culminates) like a popular-vote version of the 2009 season.

Elsewhere, “10” is a whole lot like “NCAA 09,” albeit with the customary annual refinements. The new “Road to Glory” mode, hosted by ESPN’s Erin Andrews, essentially is last year’s “Campus Legend” mode with a better presentation. Other presentational touches include the return of marching bands — no small deal in a game such as this — and various stadium effects.

The biggest on-field beneficiary is the playcalling screen, which functions the same as ever but includes a few new tricks — chaining plays together to exploit defensive weaknesses, setting up overriding strategies beyond formation, defensive coverage adjustments with a flick of the right stick — that both add depth for studious players while allowing less experienced players to feel empowered without understanding all those formations.

Alas, the same can’t be said of the optional Family Play controls. Giving new players a simpler control scheme with which to get comfortable is a fine idea, but this scheme goes overboard and feels childishly simple even by the humble standards of EA’s football games from 15 years ago.

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Shatter
For: Playstation 3 via Playstation Network
From: Sidhe Interactive
ESRB Rating: Everyone (mild fantasy violence)
Price: $8

“Shatter” is the latest attempt to freshen up the “Breakout” formula of hitting a ball into a collective of bricks with a paddle. It also might be the first to truly pull it off, thanks to a number of ideas that give it more depth than its peers. The object is the same, and nothing about the paddle controls or angle the ball takes off the paddle should surprise “Breakout” veterans. But “Shatter” includes a mechanic that allows you to apply a gravitational push or pull to the paddle, which lets you bounce the ball without actually hitting it. The push/pull mechanic also affects anything else floating around the level, including broken brick fragments (which, when accumulated, add up to a special attack) and stray bricks that stun your paddle upon contact. It sounds like a gimmicky trick, but it essentially doubles the available plans of attack of any other “Breakout” game. “Shatter” further goes its own way with its willingness to mix horizontal, vertical and even radial levels. The audiovisual design, reminiscent of “Lumines” and “Wipeout,” gives way to some clever brick arrangements, up to and including boss fights against what essentially are living bricks. The only downside: Sidhe didn’t find a way to make “Breakout” multiplayer-friendly. Outside of leaderboards, “Shatter” is strictly a solo endeavor.