Games 11/9/10: FlingSmash + Wii Remote Plus, Power Gig: Rise of the SixString, Rock Band 3, Shaun White Skateboarding, Dream Chronicles

FlingSmash + Wii Remote Plus
For: Wii
From: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: Everyone (mild cartoon violence)

It’s slightly amusing the way “FlingSmash” exclaims on its box that the $40 Wii Remote Plus peripheral that’s bundled inside this $50 package is a free bonus rather than the main draw. But it also says something about “FlingSmash,” which feels like a more complete game than the $10 games Nintendo previously bundled with other similar peripherals.

First, a note about the Wii Remote Plus: In terms of function, it does nothing the Wii remote didn’t previously do with the MotionPlus attachment connected. But it’s a clear upgrade in terms of form, with the MotionPlus’ functionality now bundled into a remote that’s no bigger and no heavier than the original Wii remote. If you’re in the market for a new controller, this is the most elegant solution available.

The controller is available by itself for $10 less than the “FlingSmash” bundle costs, and there’s some irony in Nintendo bundling it with a game that requires MotionPlus technology but is more unwieldy than a lot of Wii games that released before that technology even was available.

But with trial, error and understanding, “FlingSmash” proves to be more fun and more durable than its throwaway price would imply.

“FlingSmash” adheres to the Nintendo storytelling template — cute kingdom in crisis, cute character (Zip, a Kirby-shaped creature with a wild smile and goofy haircut) called on to save the day — but it plays more like “Breakout” than Nintendo’s other sidescrolling platformers. Rather than control Zip (or, if you prefer, his ladyfriend Pip) directly, players swing the remote to fling him toward blocks, gems and other stuff in order to clear a path forward and rack up a high score along the way. Zip bounces off blocks and walls like a pinball, players volley him back like a tennis ball, and the general object is to clear out as much of a level as possible, collect some medallions (that eventually unlock each world’s boss level), and not let the scrolling level trap Zip out of moving forward.

The biggest problem with this unusual control scheme is the game’s failure to show players how best to wield it. “FlingSmash” gives off the impression that holding the remote any old way and swinging it freely will produce a precise, intended result, and perhaps a remote with all this tech built in should do exactly that. But Zip is significantly easier to aim if you hold the remote flat, buttons facing up, and swing it horizontally, and “FlingSmash” is much more fun when he goes exactly where you want him to go.

For those who really dive in, it proves to be a surprisingly fulfilling game as well. “FlingSmash” has eight worlds, each with three levels and a boss fight, and while simply getting through the story takes only a few hours, getting the top ranking on each level is a fun and legitimately challenging endeavor. Getting good scores also unlocks some competitive and cooperative minigames for two players, who also can team up to complete the main campaign together.

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Power Gig: Rise of the SixString
For: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
From: Seven45 Studios
ESRB Rating: Teen (mild lyrics, mild suggestive themes)

Rock Band 3
For: Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii
From: Harmonix/MTV Games/EA
ESRB Rating: Teen (mild lyrics, mild suggestive themes, use of alcohol)

Naysayers love to remind people that, for the price of most music game bundles, players could purchase and learn to play a real instrument.

That admittedly attractive notion makes the debut of “Power Gig: Rise of the SixString” an intriguing development for wannabe guitarists, because while “SixString” is compatible with the plastic instruments you may already own, the guitar bundle ships with a controller that doubles as a real six-string guitar.

But “SixString” errs rather than soars by maintaining such close compatibility with “Rock Band” and “Guitar Hero’s” controllers. Instead of changing the game or bridging the gap between game and teaching tool, it just feels like the same old game style with a controller that isn’t tailored to it. Strumming strings instead of a plastic strum bar definitely counts as an upgrade, but while pressing those strings into sensors might look better than pressing a bunch of colored buttons to play notes in the game, it’s nowhere near as intuitive and doesn’t parlay the extra necessary effort into anything educational.

“SixString’s” other tweaks feel similarly misguided. The presentation of falling notes feels changed for the sake if change, and its smaller presence on the screen does the player no favor. Similarly, while the drumming peripheral wasn’t available for review, its design — four motion-detecting sensors instead of any pads to hit — appears to contradict all the noise Seven45 Studios has made about the importance of playing with a real guitar. Finally, while the game supports three-player local multiplayer, the omission of online play is a sore thumb when the competition has been including it for years.

With that said, “SixString” does feature a 70-track playlist and a pretty goofily enjoyable story mode in which to experience those songs. The interface is a downgrade from its competition, but perhaps not so much that the standalone game wouldn’t be attractive to players who already own some instrument controllers and just want new songs the play.

“SixString’s” hedging looks especially unfortunate in light of the release of “Rock Band 3,” which bests all comers as a game and eats “SixString’s” lunch when it comes to closing the toy/instrument gap.

Though it shares interface similarities with the traditional “Rock Band” gameplay, “RB3’s” new Pro Mode replaces the colors with actual notes. And while the guitar peripheral needed to enjoy this mode makes no bones about being a controller, it’s designed in a way that emulates a real guitar in this context better than the real thing does in “SixString.”

The Pro Mode features multiple difficulty settings, and the lower settings allow total novices to gather some understanding of guitar science before parlaying that into a serious crash course on the harder settings. It still isn’t the same as playing the real thing, but it significantly narrows the gap.

The downside, of course, is that to fully enjoy “RB3,” you need to pay for the privilege. At roughly $150, Mad Catz’s 102-button pro guitar controller isn’t cheap. Nor is the new wireless keyboard accessory, which, along with a persistent career mode that awards progress no matter what mode players are in, provides “RB3” with its other big headlining feature additions.

Additionally, while the two-octave keyboard is a terrific fit both in regular and Pro Mode gameplay, many of “RB3’s” 83 tracks (to say nothing of all those songs you’ve accumulated from previous games) lack a keyboard track. If you want to assemble a healthy library of keyboard-enabled songs, be prepared to fork over yet more money to purchase downloadable tracks as they become available.

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Shaun White Skateboarding
Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Also available for: Wii
From: Ubisoft
ESRB Rating: Teen (mild language, mild suggestive themes, mild violence)

The most ironic thing about “Shaun White Skateboarding” is that the less it resembles a skateboarding game, the more fun it is.

More than no
t, that’s also the best thing about it, because for roughly two-thirds of its story mode, “White” almost completely abandons the tenants of a serious skateboarding game in favor of something that’s basically a platforming adventure game on a skateboard.

“White’s” fictional universe has been rendered grey and dull by an all-powerful corporate ministry, and players are tasked with literally bringing color and life back to the world by injecting it with flow, which bleeds into the world via tricks performed on the skateboard. “White” doesn’t even try to explain how this science works, and that’s for the best: The story is silly fun, and if it provides the excuse needed for a pretty original visual trick, so be it.

For most of the way, the missions in “White” feel like objectives from a platforming game instead of a hardcore skating sim, and it’s to the game’s benefit. “White’s” physics are absurdly generous — players have to really work to fall off the board, and executing 1080s is easier here than turning 360s is in “Skate” — and that allows the game to formulate objectives that are less about pulling off angle-perfect tricks and more about canvassing levels vertically as well as horizontally.

The vertical skating easily is “White’s” best trick. Certain rails, ramps and streets extend holographically as players skate on them, and during the second half of the game, players can shape these rails and streets to form their own paths through the air. Connecting a series of holographic rails and circling a level without ever touching the ground is terrific fun, and “White’s” finest moments take place when it designs objectives around these mechanics. Halfway through the game, players have to race a helicopter by shaping rails and maintaining the high ground, and the chase, to say nothing its culmination, is one of the cooler things ever to happen on a video game skateboard.

But “White” eventually suffers a crisis of confidence. It tries its hand at real skateboarding objectives, and it doles out time-limited missions that demand more from players than a game with physics and controls this loose should demand. On a dime, fun turns to frustration, the generous difficultly curve turns cheap, and all that was forgivable about “White’s” unusual take on skateboarding suddenly stops making sense. Skilled players will persevere, and “White” awards those who do with the awesome ability to create shapable rails on the fly and traverse enormous gaps. But the stark change of mood and the hassle needed to overcome it will aggravate many into just giving up, cutting their losses and moving on.

Sadly, “White’s” multiplayer component (eight players online, two locally) offers little solace. The score, shape and territorial challenges are nicely designed, and there’s a free skate mode for those willing to endure the minor hassle needed to unlock it. But “White’s” online servers have been mostly barren so far, and unless the game enjoys an unprecedented upswing in post-release activity, they’re bound to stay that way. Well-designed or not, there’s nothing these modes can do if competitors refuse to show.

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Dream Chronicles
Reviewed for: Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Arcade
Also available for: Nintendo DS, Windows PC, Macintosh, iPhone/iPod Touch
From: KatGames/Hudson
ESRB Rating: Everyone

It’s entirely fitting that “Dream Chronicles” got lost this fall among the sea of big-ticket Xbox Live Arcade games that released around it, and not just because it’s a game centered around finding proverbial needles in proverbial haystacks. “Chronicles” is a hidden-object game — which, for the uninitiated, presents players with mostly static environments and tasks them with finding items hidden within the scene that help complete whatever task is needed to advance to the next scene. At that, “Chronicles” does fine, mixing in object hunts with the occasional light puzzle-solving diversion and wrapping it inside a story that, while kind of incomprehensible, is engaging in a strangely soothing way. But object hunts are an odd fit for a system that operates on the strength of a controller rather than a mouse, and while “Chronicles” cleverly lets players “peek” into the scene with the triggers, using a joystick to move a cursor around will always feel awkward. “Chronicles” also is too short and too easy to command the same asking price as “Super Meat Boy” and four tables of “Pinball FX 2,” to name only two recent XBLA games that provide more value and take much better advantage of the system’s strengths. The same game is available for less money on platforms that suit it better, so if the game intrigues you, leave this version be and shop around.