Games 7/19/11: Wipeout: In the Zone, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D, Bastion

Wipeout: In the Zone
For: Xbox 360 (Kinect required)
From: Behaviour Interactive/Activision
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (comic mischief, mild cartoon violence)
Price: $50

Lest there be any confusion at all, let’s put this right here: “Wipeout: In the Zone” is not, by the standards of such things as technical prowess, controller responsiveness and depth, a great game.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be awesome.

“Zone” is the home version of the ABC game show “Wipeout,” which isn’t so much a game show as a collection of absurd obstacle courses that pummel, trip up and otherwise knock the show’s contestants into a playful form of oblivion (usually water or mud).

The Xbox 360 already has a game, “Doritos Crash Course,” that mimics the “Wipeout” experience, and like “Zone,” it allows you to run through its courses as your Xbox Live avatar. It’s also, at a cost of free, a significantly better value than “Zone.”

But “Course” is played using a controller, while “Zone” is solely a Kinect-fueled experience. And while that means this is the less precise and more potentially aggravating of the two games, it also brings the absurdity of the onscreen activity to life in a way a controller simply cannot.

Provided you crack the manual ahead of time, “Zone’s” controls are mostly intuitive. To make your character walk, run, jump or crouch on the course, you do the same in place in front of the Kinect. Leaning left or right allows for a modicum of balance control when airborne or on a balance beam, and a stopping gesture halts your character’s movement entirely (because stopping to avoid an obstacle sometimes makes more sense than outrunning it).

“Mostly intuitive,” of course, isn’t the same as “intuitive.” Sometimes the game lags for just a moment when registering a new motion, and sometimes, that moment makes all the difference between success and failure.

Be prepared, also, to have some serious trouble aiming your landing when jumping between three or four consecutive targets. The lean controls work well on balance beams, but the sensitivity never feels quite right when you’re airborne.

More troubling than any issues with control, though, are the weird camera angles “Zone” sometimes uses to frame certain obstacles. Though the action mostly plays out like a sidescrolling platforming game, the camera occasionally tilts to odd angles when an obstacle’s size mandates zooming out. Gauging your timing is tricky enough as is, and during some of these sections, it just feels like guesswork.

The good news is that if you don’t take your course time too seriously, a fall or 10 isn’t a big deal — and not just because the instant replays are often hilarious. “Zone” is generous with checkpoints on the course, and the only penalty for falling is that your finish time won’t look as pretty as it would following a perfect run. (You can even skip portions of the course if they’re driving you crazy, though this will penalize your time.)

Similarly, while “Zone’s” issues should be inexcusable for a game centered around getting the best time and improving on it, it’s hard not to have fun if you play with the right mindset and especially the right crowd. “Zone” supports four-player local multiplayer — no online, unfortunately — and your failures are that much easier to forgive when you can revel in the wipeouts of others shortly after.

On a side note, if your ulterior goal with Kinect is to burn a few calories while playing games, this one’s a must-play. A typical event in “Zone” entails two to four minutes of continuous running, jumping, balancing and ducking, and stringing a handful of events together makes for a surprisingly good workout.

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Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition
Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Also available for: Windows PC
From: Capcom
ESRB Rating: Teen (alcohol reference, mild language, suggestive themes, violence)
Price: $40 for standalone disc, $15 as downloadable add-on for Super Street Fighter IV

Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D
For: Nintendo 3DS
From: Capcom
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)
Price: $40

It’s only fitting to dedicate half-reviews to Capcom’s latest releases, because neither feels like a wholly new game.

In the case of “Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition,” though, that’s not a slam. This is, for those keeping score, the third “SFIV” release in three years, but Capcom’s handling it the right way by offering it as a $15 add-on to “Super Street Fighter IV” owners in addition to selling it in stores as a budget-priced standalone game.

Those who choose the $15 route will be able to switch freely between “SSFIV” and “AE” — a good thing, because “AE” isn’t another giant leap forward so much as a means for dedicated players to have access to the same version of the game that appears in arcades. Four new characters bring the roster to 39, but “AE’s” bigger selling point is a barrage of balancing tweaks that casual players may not even notice.

In other words, “AE” is primarily for the fanbase, who will break every last tweak down to the granule. But with that said, everything “SSFIV” added last year is in this year’s edition as well. If the standalone version marks your first foray into this franchise, this is the version to get — and, at $40, a great value for all it holds inside.

The same cannot be said of “Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D,” which turns a throwaway bonus mode from previous “Resident Evil” games into its own game and tries to sell a very empty package for the exact same price.

The idea itself isn’t inherently bad, because those Mercenaries modes, which turned previous “RE” levels and encounters into arcade-style, score-based survival arenas, were great fun.

The fundamental gameplay carries over, too. “Mercenaries'” characters and settings, all lifted from those other “RE” games, look good on the little 3DS screen, and the game offers two control schemes — one that lets you run and shoot simultaneously with a combination of the stick and face buttons, and one in which you use the same stick to alternately run and aim — that nicely compensate for the system’s lack of a second stick.

But Mercenaries mode has always been good for the occasional quick playthrough and not much more. Building a whole game around it doesn’t change that, especially when nothing has been done to meaningfully expand on the premise.

“Mercenaries” attempts to justify its asking price by providing a healthy amount of different characters (and, by extension, different weapons) and special skills to unlock. A scoring and grading system, in addition to tying into those rewards, also adds some arcade-style replay value to the missions.

Problem is, the underlying gameplay, all by itself, is too shallow and too repetitive for either of these perks and even local/online co-op support (two players) to carry it very far. Not much changes from one mission to another, so you’ll essentially do the same thing ad nauseam to get a few rewards that make it minimally and briefly more enjoyable to do it some more until you collect another meager return.

A controversy has erupted over Capcom’s use of a save system that doesn’t allow players to reset their progress and start over once they’ve unlocked everything. It’s a shortsighted move that, were “Mercenaries” worth purchasing and playing, would rob players of the ability to replay the game or let others play through it and unlock the rewards themselves. Fortunately, it’s not, so here’s hoping Capcom learned its lesson and doesn’t apply such practices to a game in which doing so will actually matter.

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Bastion
For: Xbox 360 (via Xbox Live Arcade)
From: Supergiant Games/WB Games
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (animated blood, fantasy violence, use of alcohol and tobacco)
Price: $15

You have to do something a little bit special if you want to be a dungeon crawler that isn’t just another dungeon crawler. Fortunately, magnificently and on multiple levels, “Bastion” rises to the challenge. The basic tenants of a dungeon crawler are here — the isometric perspective, the mix of upgradable character attributes, skills and weapons (ranged and melee, of course), and the fundamental gameplay foundation for which the genre is known. But between the lines, “Bastion” is a whole different animal. The collectible skills — which range from grenades and mines to what by any other name are spells — are diverse enough to accommodate whatever combat approach you prefer. That’s no small thing, either, because “Bastion’s” action is considerably faster and more involved than that of most dungeon crawlers. (Get to know your shield and evasive roll maneuvers, because in a pleasantly surprising development, you’ll need both.) But while the prioritization of action over mindless grinding is “Bastion’s” most welcome development, the game’s presentation remains its calling card. Vibrant floating worlds literally assemble around you as you advance through them, and “Bastion’s” storytelling comes courtesy of a narrator who dynamically tells your story based around how you play the game. Imagine a sports game’s play-by-play, but applied to a wholly different genre and delivered with a level of polish and wit that puts many $60 games to shame, and you have an inkling of how good “Bastion” sounds. The idea makes so much sense, it’s amazing no one’s delivered on it until now.