Games 4/13/10: Blue Toad Murder Files: The Mysteries of Little Riddle, Supreme Commander 2, Final Fight: Double Impact

Blue Toad Murder Files: The Mysteries of Little Riddle
For: Playstation 3 via Playstation Network
From: Relentless Software
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (alcohol reference, cartoon violence)
Price: $7.50 per episode, $15 for a bundle that includes episodes 1-3

As is always the case with a Playstation 3 game, “Blue Toad Murder Files: The Mysteries of Little Riddle” requires a Playstation 3 controller.

Not required, but arguably equally valuable to those who wish to maximize their immersion and success, is a pen and some paper.

Superficially, “Riddle” is, like the recent “Sam & Max” and “Tales of Monkey Island” reboots, part of the pleasantly surprising revival of point-and-click adventure games, which have found new life as downloadable games served in episodic installments. In this case, the three available episodes center around the murderous developments taking place in the quaint English town of Little Riddle, and players are tasked with solving each crime before the killer gets away.

But where most point-and-click adventure games employ a system of cause-and-effect in which players figure out how to use various objects in the environment to trigger story advancement, “Riddle” takes the murder mystery motif to heart.

The storytelling in each episode comes punctuated by 16 challenges that unlock clues and paint a clearer picture of the killer. But while some of the challenges are self-contained brainteasers in the traditional sense, “Riddle” just as often tests players’ memory of events that have transpired up to that point. That includes information about the environments of Little Riddle, the answers its residents give during questioning, and pretty much any other cue that might be construed as a clue. Some of these challenges are straightforward quizzes, but others are packaged within something more clever, and “Riddle” doesn’t necessarily focus on the obvious in either format. So don’t feel bad about using the aforementioned pen and paper: Real detectives don’t commit every last detail to memory, and “Riddle” seems to prefer challenging players to pick their observations carefully rather than simply memorize and regurgitate the obvious stuff.

The nature of the action, or lack thereof, seems an odd fit for a Playstation 3 library better known for the likes of “God of War” and “Uncharted,” and it’s an understatement to note a game that’s niche even by adventure game standards isn’t for everyone.

But “Riddle’s” presence on the Playstation Network makes more sense when you realize the same folks who created Sony’s phenomenal “Buzz!” quiz games are behind this series as well, and many of the same things that make “Buzz” special also are present here. The same cartoony character design that makes Buzz such a distinctive character does similar favor to the people of Little Riddle, and the writing and voice acting that give life to the narrator and characters are more polished (and spirited) here than in most $60 games.

The addition of four-player multiplayer support (local only) is another nice touch in a genre where lack of multiplayer functionality is practically a foregone conclusion. “Riddle” doesn’t do anything fancy with the multiplayer component, but the ability for players to work together on clues or compete to outsmart each other is all it needs to turn itself into a surprisingly successful party game.

“Riddle’s” first three episodes are available now, and the fourth, fifth and sixth episodes will be available at the end of April.

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Supreme Commander 2
Reviewed for: Xbox 360
Also available for: Windows PC
From: Gas Powered Games/Square Enix
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (fantasy violence)

The bad news about “Supreme Commander 2” is the same bad news that’s held true for every real-time strategy game developers have attempted to migrate from PCs to consoles: If you’re playing it this way, you’re settling.

The good news? You’re settling a lot less this time around.

Contrary to the buggy volcano that erupted when Hellbent Games ported the first “Supreme Commander” to the Xbox 360, “SC2” generally functions as it should. It isn’t as pretty as on a top-shelf PC, but it’s pretty enough, and outside of the occasional framerate dip, it keeps up on the performance side as well.

A handful of interface changes also makes “SC2” more accessible to consoles without neutering the depth that has made the series what it is. The number of unit types in each faction has decreased in favor of fewer unit types with higher upgrade ceilings, and the new tech tree and research points system make upgrading these units notably less laborious than it was in the first game. That adds up to a less imposing learning curve than what “SC1” threw at players, which allows the game to get off to a faster start and drop players into battles that neither overwhelm nor insult them.

Most important, “SC2” does not — as happened in “Halo Wars,” for instance — nullify players’ ability to build units and structures how and where they want. “SC2” softens the curve without flattening it, meeting players halfway for an experience that’s approachable but free of the lingering suspicion that the kid gloves are on.

This isn’t to suggest “SC2” completely closes the gap between a controller and the keyboard and mouse. The game maps all major commands to buttons in ways that make sense, and the one-button shortcuts that allow players to select multiple units certainly help. Even better is the ability to zoom so far out that the map turns into a virtual game of Risk, with units represented by easily-identifiable icons that are just as easily dispersed as needed.

But when the battle is in full rage, it’s still easy to get rattled when there’s no keyboard and mouse to provide the flexibility and speed a controller simply cannot replicate. Even with the action zoomed out and the whole map visible at once, the analog stick’s cursor control is too loose to replicate the more natural sensation a mouse allows. That isn’t the game’s fault, but it also can’t not be mentioned.

Fortunately — arguably — “SC2” is designed in a way that encourages players to face off against equally disadvantaged human competition. There are three campaigns (one for each faction) and a so-so story accompanying each, and the Skirmish mode allows solo players to set up custom matches with computer-controlled opponents and allies. But online play is the real heart of “SC2,” which supports any combination of four human and A.I.-controlled players one can devise using the three factions. The large maps and lack of unit construction restrictions become enormous assets when combined with customizable victory conditions, and the shortcomings imposed by the controller become less of an issue when they apply to everyone equally.

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Final Fight: Double Impact
For: Playstation 3 via Playstation Network and Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Arcade
From: Capcom
ESRB Rating: Teen (animated blood, mild violence, suggestive themes)
Price: $10

Most longstanding game publishers are savvy enough nowadays to tap into players’ nostalgic nerves. But nobody has as much fun doing it as Capcom does, and if the PSP compilations, “Mega Man” revival and brilliant “Dark Void Zero” weren’t proof enough, “Final Fight: Double Impact” should do it. “Impact’s” main attraction is, naturally, the arcade-perfect translation of 1989’s “Final Fight,” which endures remarkably well as one of the best 2D brawl
ers ever made. The port is spotless, and Capcom does it modern justice with online leaderboards and two-player local/online co-op support. That alone would comprise a job well done for most publishers, but Capcom showers its source material with additional love by way of a superbly remixed soundtrack, an awesome optional visual presentation that filters the graphics through a mock arcade cabinet screen, and a large assortment of in-game achievements that unlock various “Final Fight” multimedia and give longtime fans of the game entirely new challenges to overcome. Additionally, and because Capcom can, “Impact” also includes an arcade-perfect port of another game, “Magic Sword,” that’s too obscure to sell on its own but a fantastically fun sidescroller in its own right. The same care that goes into “Fight” — co-op support and achievements included — graces “Sword” as well, giving fans of arcade gaming’s most golden years something to discover as well as something to treasure.