Games 11/16/10: Goldeneye 007, Kinect Sports, MotionSports, Fighters Uncaged, The Fight: Lights Out, Superstars V8 Racing

Goldeneye 007
For: Wii
From: Eurocom/Activision
ESRB Rating: Teen (blood, mild language, mild suggestive themes, violence)

We’ve seen classic first-person shooters get reissues with slightly sharper graphics and slightly modernized controls. But “Goldeneye 007” represents the first time a publisher has brought a cherished shooter through the nostalgia wall and fully into the present, and the result is an extraordinary mix of old and new that feels startlingly fresh.

For starters, let’s be clear: This isn’t a simple cleaning up of the classic Nintendo 64 game. The new “Goldeneye” is a new game that adds new layers to the storyline (now starring Daniel Craig instead of Pierce Brosnan), parlays those layers into new environments, and uses the old set pieces as inspiration for new mission designs rather than for purposes of copying and pasting. Modern amenities — destructible environments, regenerating health on lower difficulties, the customary visual improvements and all they bring — make their presence felt, but its the way the game spins revered levels into new experiences that shines brighter.

At the same time, “Goldeneye” does not forsake its roots. Dispatching enemies stealthily — a game-changer back in 1997 — remains fun in 2010, in no small part because of “Goldeneye’s” immense gun selection and multilayered level design. But at no point does “Goldeneye” punish players who would prefer to recklessly run, gun and punch their way through. Most modern shooters do, and “Goldeneye’s” ability to retain its old-fashioned values while modernizing most everything else is perhaps its most impressive achievement. Other little touches — neutralized enemies fade away here the same way they did out of technical necessity on the N64 — provide undeniable winks without running interference on players who have no connection to the original game.

Technically speaking, “Goldeneye” looks good for a Wii game and certainly covers its bases in terms of controls. The remote/nunchuck combination works terrifically, very rarely confusing the need to adjust the gun’s aim with the need to turn, and the game includes a variant that caters to the Wii Zapper accessory. But those who want to play “Goldeneye” a little more traditionally (albeit with dual sticks, something the N64 lacked) can use the Classic or Gamecube controllers to do so.

“Goldeneye’s” campaign runs roughly twice as long as most of its contemporaries — a nod, intentional or not, to the days when first-person shooters prioritized length and elaborate level design over cutscenes and corridors.

But “Goldeneye’s” legendary status was built on the back of its multiplayer, and Eurocom’s successful replication of that will ultimately define this game as well.

True to form, “Goldeneye” includes four-player splitscreen, and the playable characters (Oddjob, Jaws, Julius No), modes (deathmatch, team deathmatch, Golden Gun) and modifiers (melee only, tiny players, paintball, invisibility) return from the original.

But “Goldeneye’s” online multiplayer (eight players) elevates this to the arguable top of the Wii’s first-person shooter heap. The lack of voice chat support for Nintendo’s neglected Wii Speak peripheral is disappointing, and the welcome ability to form four-player parties is still hampered on the ground floor by Nintendo’s clumsy friend code system. But players who want to just jump in and play some lag-free online “Goldeneye” finally can do so, and Eurocom rewards those who do with an experience points system that doles out better weapons and gadgets as players level up. Online multiplayer also takes advantage of the higher player count to add some new modes centered around team and objective-based play.

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Kinect Sports
For: Xbox 360 (Kinect Required)
From: Rare/Microsoft
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (mild cartoon violence)

MotionSports
For: Xbox 360 (Kinect Required)
From: Ubisoft
ESRB Rating: Teen (mild violence)

Time will tell just how capable Kinect is as a full-body motion control device, but one thing is clear right now: No matter how good the hardware is, it always will bow at the mercy of its software.

Witness, for instance, the six sports (soccer, football, horseback riding, hang glinding, boxing, skiing) of “MotionSports,” which takes those sports and mostly doles them out in pieces. The soccer section has penalty kick and goaltending minigames, for instance, while the football section has challenges that test passing, running and kicking, but neither provides anything close to a replication of the full sport.

The bite-sized portions wouldn’t be such a big deal if “MotionSports” didn’t bog itself down in load screens and multiple menu tiers every time players complete or even attempt to just restart a minigame. Players will spend as much time waiting as they will playing because of how inelegant the interface is.

But the real problem with the simple games is that they should be able to handle their undemanding tasks far better than they do. Kicking a soccer ball or football is literally hit or miss, with the game regularly ignoring kicks and, if players take one step back too many, stopping the action entirely. The passing game offers no sense of control whatsoever, while boxing and horse riding feel as laggy and gesture-dependent as a bad Wii game from three years ago. Skiing and hang gliding work better, but they’re also the least demanding games, asking players to perform soft motions or simply lean instead of do anything intensive. The experience they provide over playing with a standard controller is negligible.

Perhaps we could blame the system and not “MotionSports” if its counterpart didn’t profoundly shame it, but that’s exactly what “Kinect Sports” does.

For starters, “Kinect Sports” presents more complete recreations of its offerings (soccer, beach volleyball, table tennis, bowling, boxing and five track and field events). Only soccer feels at all abstract, because players only pass, kick and block, but it’s still a regulation game of soccer instead of a tray of samples.

More than that, though, the games just work like they should. Boxing provides full fist control instead of just recognizing a few gestures, and while table tennis and bowling initially feel awkward due to there being nothing to physically hold, their abilities to recognize speed and spin quickly make playing them second nature. Volleyball easily differentiates between bumps, sets, spikes and even different types of serves, and the absence of lag makes it easy to execute outstanding long jumps and javelin throws without fouling or compromising the approach. “Kinect Sports” offers a tutorial for each sport, but it didn’t need to, and there’s no better testament to its flexibility and accessibility than that.

“Kinect Sports'” offers a nice single-player progression system, throws in some minigame variants of most sports and runs on an interface that completely outclasses that of “MotionSports.” It also supports four-player online multiplayer, which “MotionSports” omitted completely. (Both games have four-player offline multiplayer.) The Wii’s dearth of online-enabled motion games may be the unfortunate standard, but on a system that counts Xbox Live among its essential features, the expectations are higher.

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Fighters Uncaged
For: Xbox 360 (Kinect required)
From: Ubisoft
ESRB Rating: Teen (mild language, violence)

T
he Fight: Lights Out
For: Playstation 3 (Playstation Move required)
From: Sony
ESRB Rating: Teen (blood, language, simulated gambling, violence)

Hand-to-hand combat was an obvious motion game idea even when the Wii was in its infancy, and it makes significantly more sense with the added fidelity of the Playstation Move and Kinect.

On paper, “Fighters Uncaged” enjoys the early advantage, because in addition to fists, the Kinect can recognize different kinds of kicks, blocks and even a head butt. It’s a point the game drives home during an elongated opening training session that needlessly isolates each move inside its own tutorial.

The wealth of attacks is impressive, but it also demonstrates how overdesigned parts of “Uncaged’s” fighting system are. The game uses a three-tiered visual indicator to communicate how close the fighters are standing to each other, and the cluster of similar moves causes the game to rely on gesture recognition rather than use true full-body motion to assess the source, power, speed and location of an attack. The game also slows down and uses additional visual cues whenever it wants players to act defensively — perhaps a concession for a bizarre, diagonal camera angle that makes it hard to discern that stuff more naturally.

Naturally, it all falls apart once the tutorial safety is off. The concessions hamper the experience without compensating for “Uncaged’s” shortcomings with regard to recognizing specific moves or even any move at all. Taking damage because the game fails to act on your motions is entirely too common. “Uncaged’s” lifeless presentation — no character customization, crushingly repetitive single-player progression against a tiny roster of fighters — put the burden on the novelty of its controls, but those controls fall entirely too short for that not to backfire.

“The Fight: Lights Out” isn’t exactly spotless either, and the obvious downside is that, while the two required Move wands nicely double as fists, there’s no way to add kicking to the arsenal like “Uncaged” can. (An optional head-tracking feature also is best ignored, because it just doesn’t work.)

But while “The Fight” only has a fraction of the arsenal, it does more with it than “Uncaged” does with the entire palette. The level of control over each arm is still a little unwieldily — particularly early on before players can upgrade their fighter’s stamina — but it’s noticeably more fluid and never feels gesture-dependent. Your arms will sometimes flail wildly, and you’ll occasionally punch the other guy’s shoulder instead of his face, but a fumbled motion is miles better than an ignored one.

“The Fight’s” seamless action provides a better workout than “Uncaged” does, and the interface is better at rewarding players within the game as well. A surprisingly polished career mode allows players to train and fight at their own pace. And because the game centers around underground fights, players can bet in-game money (which pays for training sessions and gear) on the outcome and nature (clean or dirty) of their bouts. The career mode lets players design their own fighter — something “Uncaged” bafflingly omits — and the seedy presentation allows for touches (a desaturated high-contrast graphical presentation, a live-action Danny Trejo as the game’s mentor) that give it distinction and a welcome tongue-in-cheek quality.

“The Fight” also owns an advantage for its inclusion of local and online (two players each) multiplayer. Players also can watch and bet on other players’ bouts. “Uncaged,” by contrast, is completely multiplayer-free — an foreseeable move, considering the awkward camera angle, but also a final, inarguable indictment of a game that was underdeveloped in every regard.

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Superstars V8 Racing
For: Playstation 3 via Playstation Network
From: Milestone/O-Games
ESRB Rating: Everyone

No one has benefitted from “Gran Turismo 5’s” legendarily long delay more than O-Games, which, in addition to poking brilliant fun at said delay, has softened the wait in just the right way. “Superstars V8 Racing” does not compare to the forthcoming “GT5” in terms of car roster, track selection, modes or single-player investment. But it has a lot of important bases adequately covered, with a championship mode, a modest handful of scenario challenges, and very customizable race settings for single-player and online multiplayer (12 players). Most important, the on-track action feels like the equivalent of what many $60 racing games get. It looks like a full-priced game, and the cars handle comfortably but feel nice and weighty. “V8” also does a nice job of accommodating players of different disciplines: Though it doesn’t run as deep as “Turismo,” it allows knowledgable players to tune cars to their liking and ride purely, while also allowing those who want a more arcadey experience to turn on assists, turn off penalties, deactivate damage and ride as dangerously as they please. The flexibility carries over to online play, where hosts can set parameters according to their preferred discipline. If “V8” develops a following, it could be a good online destination for serious and not-so-serious racing fans alike.