Games 7/26/11: Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon, Wii Play Motion, Puzzle Agent 2

Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon
For: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
From: Vicious Cycle Software/D3Publisher
ESRB Rating: Teen (animated blood, mild language, mild suggestive themes, violence)
Price: $40

Before it was cool to love “Deadly Premonition,” “Earth Defense Force 2017” was everyone’s ironically adored game of choice — a low-budget, sloppily-assembled but wholly lovable Japanese third-person shooter that took bad graphics, terrifying voice acting, comically stiff controls, jerky animation and mixed in a too-ambitious-for-its-own-good scope and some dead simple but absolutely chaotic shootouts to create one inexplicably great time.

With “Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon,” we have the third-person shooter equivalent of a cherished unsigned band putting out its major-label debut. An American developer has wrestled away the reigns, and it’s clear a bigger budget was in play during development. “Armageddon’s” control tweaks — both on foot and in vehicles — are a night-and-day improvement over “2017,” and while the visual presentation remains behind the curve, it’s considerably more stable and much better equipped to handle the action when everything is collapsing and exploding.

“Armageddon” has similarly matured in terms of content. Four soldier classes — trooper, jetpack, tactical and battle — each have a separate experience points system that unlocks new weapons as you play, and with more than 300 weapon variants on offer, you’ll have to play through the campaign multiple times to unlock everything.

For its part, the game includes remixed versions of finished missions and co-op support (four players online, two players offline) to make that prospect more enticing. Per genre custom, an arcade-style survival mode also is available for six players to shoot through together.

All of those frills are well and good, and they make “Armageddon” a technically better game than “2017” even as they take away some of the ricketiness that made that game so lovable.

Fortunately, if you can get over that, what remains is a game that, more polished and Americanized or not, still embraces what ultimately made “2017” a blast to play.

As the subtitle makes perfectly clear, “Armageddon” has not replaced giant insects with soldiers or stuffed the action into claustrophobic corridors. This isn’t a cover-based shooter against moderately large bugs: It’s an all-out bonanza against absolutely monstrous bugs, robots and spaceships on massive battlefields that are every bit as destructible as the balsa wood buildings from “2017.”

That, in this age of every third-person shooter running for cover, is what’s most important to preserve, and “Armageddon” hangs on for dear life.

The downside to all this is that, for all the chaos “Armageddon” unleashes, that chaos doesn’t change much from mission to mission. New enemy types appear, the remixed levels are a nice touch and the class and weapon variations certainly provide some additional flavor, but the core action — shoot lots of enemies, and then shoot lots more — doesn’t change much from the first mission to the last.

“Armageddon” isn’t much for storytelling, and that’s easily forgiven when your orders are to kill everything that moves and the act of doing so is mostly great fun. But when you don’t have much storytelling to do, you also don’t tend to mind your rhythm and tempo very closely. In “Armageddon’s” case, that leads to missions that start loud, stay loud, end loud and sometimes outstay their welcome.

This, of course, is nothing taking an occasional break won’t fix. But it’s something to bear in mind if your plan is to blitz through “Armageddon” during a quick rental rather than buy it and play it at a more measured pace.

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Wii Play Motion
For: Wii
From: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (cartoon violence)
Price: $50 (includes Wii Remote Plus controller)

The Wii remote has been granted a new lease on life with the news that it will play an integral role in Nintendo’s Wii successor. So if you were on the fence about investing in a new remote — in particular, the Wii Remote Plus, which combines the original remote and Wii MotionPlus attachment into one device the size of that original remote — you can invest with a little more confidence.

And if you’re going to do that, you may as well repeat history and throw in an extra $10 for another “Wii Play” minigames collection that’s much better than its throwaway price suggests.

Similar to its predecessor, “Wii Play Motion” offers 12 minigames whose primary purpose is to demonstrate the versatility of the controller inside the box. This time, with MotionPlus capabilities baked into the included remote, that means games with significantly better motion control fidelity than the much simpler games in the original “Play.”

(As a side note, know that while “Motion” scatters two-to-four-player multiplayer support across most of its minigames, any additional controllers you use either must be Wii Remote Plus controllers or have the MotionPlus attachment.)

With increased controller versatility comes an increase in minigame versatility, and while “Motion” never feels like an active game in the “Wii Sports” mold — you very easily can play all 12 games sitting down — it certainly encourages players to do some surprising exercises with the remote.

The most clever example, Spooky Search, even has you pointing the remote anywhere but at the screen, brilliantly using the built-in speaker to clue you into the location of ghosts so you can grab them and struggle, Ghostbusters-style, to pull them into a ghost trap.

Star Shuttle, on the other hand, turns the remote into a virtual space shuttle, using all the buttons as thrusters and tasking you with carefully docking onto a space station. If you ever played the infamous refueling minigame in “Top Gun” for the original Nintendo Entertainment System, this will ring familiar. (Fortunately, it isn’t nearly as difficult.)

In a nod to the remote’s ability to recognize subtle motions, Treasure Twirl has you raising and lowering a deep sea diver by carefully rotating the remote like a throttle while tilting it to control the diver’s lateral movements.

The arguable gem in the package, Teeter Targets, requires an even softer touch: The remote becomes a teeter totter, which must contend with real-world physics to not only keep a ball in air, but guide it into different targets to clear a level.

Other games — an ice cream scoop balancing challenge, an elaborate version of whack-a-mole, a target-shooting game with multiple level themes, a virtual stone-skipping simulation — utilize the remote in less surprising ways. But while some games are deeper and more engaging than others, “Motion” doesn’t have any that feel like duds or even filler. All 12 work as expected, and all 12 are blessed with Nintendo’s unique brand of personality and presentation.

“Motion” isn’t hurting for replayability, either. Teeter Targets, for instance, features 30 levels and three additional endless modes, and each level and mode includes its own high score table. This isn’t the exception, either: Every minigame in “Motion” features its own handful of bonus levels and solo/multiplayer modes beyond the original mode, and every level of every mode has a leaderboard that records your and your friends’ best scores and times.

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Puzzle Agent 2
Reviewed for: iPad
Also available for: iPhone/iPod Touch, Windows PC, Macintosh
From: Telltale Games
iTunes Store Rating: 9+ (infrequent/mild cartoon or fantasy violence, infrequent/mild mature/suggestive themes, infrequent/mild horror/fear themes)
Price: $7

Though not wholly original, “Puzzle Agent” nonetheless felt like a breath of fresh air for adventure games. Instead of more of the same point-and-click cause and effect, “Agent” unfurled its mystery through an intelligent assortment of brainteasers in the same vein of Nintendo’s terrific Professor Layton games. The storyline opted for a surprisingly low-key sense of humor rarely seen in video games, and the visual presentation — a mix of color pencils and charcoals, occasionally deliberately zoomed in to give everything an odd blur — remains one of a kind. If you played “Agent” and liked it, the long and short of “Puzzle Agent 2” is that it has more of it on offer. Loose ends from the first game’s cliffhanger ending are tied up somewhat, but new loose ends emerge in their place. The tone and visual style confidently migrate to the sequel untouched, and while “PA2” introduces some welcome new brainteaser types and cuts down on a few that were overexposed the first time through, most of what you see — from riddle types to how they’re presented — will be at least somewhat familiar (and, unfortunately, mostly easier). Still, for most fans of unsung FBI agent Nelson Tethers’ first adventure, this will suffice. The first game made a splash because it was a surprise, but it was the design, polish and variety of puzzles that ultimately made it endure. That, difficulty quibbles or not, applies the second time around as well.