Games 3/27/12: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13, Isle of Tune

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13
For: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
From: EA Sports
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Price: $60

From Kinect support to the chance to reenact Tiger Woods’ upbringing, “Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13” boasts its share of new features for the back of the box.

But the most paramount addition by far to “TW13” is a new swing mechanic that isn’t even a new way to swing so much as a dramatically better way to understand how your swing works.

The act of swinging hasn’t fundamentally changed: You still pull back on the left stick for the backswing and push forward to follow through.

But “TW13” finally properly relays the importance of maintaining a steady tempo by making it effortless to gauge it. An inconspicuous meter provides an overlay for your swing’s ideal span while that swing is in process, and a swing feedback system uses layman’s terms and dead-simple visuals to grade the speed, power and accuracy of your backswing and followthrough. Study them, and eventually the tempo just comes naturally — something that might happen with or without this interface, but never so knowingly and with this much satisfaction.

“TW13” offers a comparable interface upgrade for planning shots as well. Along with the usual tricks — zooming in to see your lie, asking your caddie for help — you can adjust your stance on two different levels and put precise-to-the-degree spin on the ball.

Per usual, numerous difficulty tuners allow novices and pros to respectively automate the planning process or do completely away with assists. But the presence of these new interfaces is a godsend for the rest of us who want to understand this stuff and do it ourselves. The interfaces are subtle, but they do the job perfectly, and their inclusion alone marks the biggest fundamental step forward this series has taken in years.

The monumental upgrade for “TW13’s” traditional controls stands at awkward odds with the series’ new Kinect control scheme, which is beholden to that tech’s minuscule appetite for precision.

To golf with Kinect, you actually face the screen instead of golf toward it (as you would with the Wii or Playstation Move remotes). That’s necessary for the Kinect to see your swing motion’s span, but it also means “TW13” can’t register the minutiae of a swing’s accuracy nearly as sharply as traditional controls can.

Other quirks abound. Planning a shot with motion alone is laborious, the menus are too touchy, and while some of the gestures (crouching to look at the ball, shading your eyes to zoom) are amusing, the Kinect’s occasional tendency to completely ignore a swing is not. The controls are fun for giggles and local multiplayer, but they hold no candle to the traditional scheme if you’re playing to excel.

(“TW13’s” Move support, now in its third year, has a greater capacity for grading your swing honestly, but it, too, is best relegated for casual play.)

Alongside returning features (career, four-player online/offline multiplayer, global online tournaments), “TW13’s” most novel new feature is the Tiger Legacy Challenge, wherein you relive Tiger’s career highlights — and not just as a pro. “TW13” adds the Woods family yard to its roster of venues, and you get to play out Tiger’s childhood accomplishments as well as his amateur and professional feats.

For social players, the Online Country Club feature is likely more intriguing. You can join other clubs while managing your own, which entails inviting members, poring over petitions for rule changes, and creating member tournaments. You also can challenge other clubs on the course (and reap some nice in-game rewards if you emerge victorious).

Elsewhere, a Skills Challenge feature introduces a dynamic (and game-wide) in-game achievements system. The persistent in-game rewards system lets you activate single-round perks that slightly enhance a facet of your game, and you can even use rewards to play a downloadable course for free. Master a downloadable course, and it becomes yours to own for free. (You can, of course, buy them — and any other unlockable reward — immediately for real money.)


Isle of Tune
For: iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch (universal app)
From: Happylander Ltd.
iTunes Store Rating: 4+
Price: $1

The iOS App Store isn’t exactly hurting for apps that allow even the most hopeless wannabe musician to compose something tuneful. But you’d be hard-pressed to find one that does it quite like “Isle of Tune,” which combines music composition and city building into one hypnotically fun trip. “Tune’s” interface is straight out of “SimCity’s” playbook: Using the design palette, you can lay out roads and place decorative pieces (houses, signs, streetlights, bridges, trees and plants) in whatever arrangement you like. But only after placing up to eight cars on those roads and pressing the Play button does “Tune” truly come to life. As the cars drive by each piece you place alongside the road, the piece plays a note from the instrument it represents. And because each piece’s note is configurable — different colored houses have different pitches, for instance, and you can adjust volume and beat delay independently for each piece — there’s no end to how complex the resulting composition can be. Creating intersections allows your song to take random turns as the cars on the roads do, and you can place stoplights and adjust the speeds of individual cars to complicate things even further. “Tune’s” charming and accessible interface belies its incredible capacity for creating surprisingly rich music, and if you don’t believe it, the app’s Game Center-powered sharing tool — which allows you browse and download other players’ compositions while also sharing your own masterpieces — provides shining proof of the possibilities.

Games 12/6/11: Mario Kart 7, Carnival Island, Medieval Moves: Deadmund's Quest, Need for Speed: The Run, Age of Zombies: Anniversary

Mario Kart 7
For: Nintendo 3DS
From: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: Everyone (comic mischief)
Price: $40

“Mario Kart” is the only racing franchise in existence where the worst experience a player has is when he or she leads a race. That misery persists in “Mario Kart 7’s” single-player cups, where opposing racers routinely will pelt you with blue shells and other unavoidably cheap weapons any time you dare control the lead before the finish line comes into view.

Fortunately, “MK7” is — like each of its six predecessors — exponentially best enjoyed when playing against friends (eight players, local wireless or online). That same horror persists, and it’s doubly pronounced with friends whose need to terrorize one another is as paramount as any need to win a race. But when everyone’s tormenting everyone and having a laugh in the process, any pretense about “MK7’s” shortcomings as a pure racing game fall away.

In other words, the seventh “Mario Kart” game isn’t too fundamentally far removed from the first. If you’ve grown tired of the act and wish Nintendo would at least do away with items that require no skill to deploy effectively, you’ll have a bone to pick with this one before you even turn it on. And if you still love the formula, “MK7” finds the series at its prettiest, most versatile and — thanks to 16 new tracks that are all kinds of inspired in their design — most elaborate.

Though they range from cosmetic to curious, there are still changes to the formula worth noting. “MK7’s” courses — the new ones as well as the 16 remastered tracks Nintendo hand-picked from just about every previous game — include stretches set underwater and in the air. In terms of locomotion, neither is a game-changer: You glide in the air and drive with some drag underwater. But the extra surfaces add vertical alternate paths to courses that already have horizontal shortcuts to seek out. A single track can have racers simultaneously racing beneath the surface, atop it and high above on a rooftop.

Nintendo also takes a nudge in the right direction with a couple new items, the tanooki tail and fireball, that allow you some measure of defense against shells and other weapons. The blue shell and lightning bolt remain invincible as ever, but hey, baby steps. The truly lucky will get the new Lucky 7 item, which grants a seven-piece variety pack of items to deploy as needed.

In the “funny but probably useless” column, you can toggle a new first-person view that lets you steer by turning the 3DS like a steering wheel. The viewpoint puts you at a competitive disadvantage and negates “MK7’s” 3D effects, which are the most eye-pleasing of any 3DS game thus far. But it’s amusing, a little exciting and, in a multiplayer session where everyone agrees to drive that way, potentially riotous.

In terms of features, “MK7” delivers what’s expected of it. The Grand Prix has eight cups of four races each, and completing each difficulty tier unlocks new characters, including your Mii. Collecting coins across all modes unlocks new kart parts, which you can mix and match to create the kart of your speedy, weighty and stylish dreams. Time Trials and Balloon/Coin battle modes return, though the excellent Mission mode from “Mario Kart DS” does not.

“MK7’s” online component also comes through with lag-free racing and a polished interface that makes it easy to race against friends, recent opponents or random strangers. The Community mode is particularly nice, as it allows you to set up an always-open lobby for friends to access as they please, though you’ll have to create separate communities different race and battle modes.


Carnival Island
For: Playstation 3 (Playstation Move required)
From: Magic Pixel Games/Sony
ESRB Rating: Everyone (comic mischief)
Price: $40

Medieval Moves: Deadmund’s Quest
For: Playstation 3 (Playstation Move required)
From: Zindagi Games/Sony
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (fantasy violence)
Price: $40

Every motion control system needs its own collection of carnival-themed minigames, and “Carnival Island” would appear to be the Playstation 3’s me-too equivalent. But the hand-drawn animation that opens the game’s story mode suggests there’s more to this collection than simple imitation, and while that isn’t all the way true, it bears out to an encouraging degree.

“Island” features seven carnival standbys — frog bog, skeeball, hoops, coin/ring/baseball toss and shooting gallery — in its base offerings, and because the Move controller is just plain more precise than the Wii remote or Kinect, the games work exactly as you’d expect and respond to your motions precisely as they should.

The responsive controls are, naturally, “Island’s” most important virtue. But the game’s best asset lies in the way it breaks from convention in designing 28 additional games simply by rearranging those seven base games.

While some of these variants are simple tweaks to the rules or the way the playing field is arranged, others — replacing the baseball with a swingable wrecking ball, turning the skeeball lane into a slot machine, providing frogs you can steer in the air after launching them with the frog bog — are considerably more clever. Many of them exercise enough creativity to feel like different games entirely instead of mere offshoots.

“Island’s” four-player multiplayer (offline only, sadly) very obviously positions it as a party game, but it bears repeating that the story campaign — about a dormant carnival you gradually return to life — is legitimately charming as a solo endeavor. If you like a challenge, all 35 games include a checklist of bonus objectives to complete, and many of them are certifiably tough. Naturally, because this is a carnival, you’ll win tickets from games that let you collect prizes for your character and unlock a few exhibits (a magic mirror, for instance) that are just for fun.

At first blush, “Medieval Moves: Deadmund’s Quest” appears to have nothing in common with “Island” past its controller. But like “Island,” its best asset is the way it adopts a genre (light gun shooter) that’s part and parcel with motion controls and takes it down a novel new road.

In “Quest,” Deadmund (a friendly skeleton fighting unfriendly skeletons, and the story explains all) handles the walking while you handle the rest — swordplay, arrows, throwing stars, dynamite, a grappling hook and a periodic jump, duck or gear turn. You can choose which path Deadmund should take when he reaches a fork in the road, but otherwise, he moves forward automatically.

The resemblance there to light gun shooters is unmistakable, as are “Quest’s” enemy formations and the way it scatters bonus items you can pick up if you’re quick enough to do so before Deadmund runs past them.

But Deadmund’s arsenal makes “Quest” a much more versatile and lively experience than your typical shooter, particularly because you can mix attacks as freely as you like. Swordplay is ideal for close-quarters combat, and how you wield the Move controller is how Deadmund will wield his sword and shield. Imitating a quill-pulling motion allows Deadmund to shoot arrows at faraway enemies, while a quick sideways fling of the controller lets him throw stars at advancing enemies.

“Quest” intuitively maps all these tasks to one controller, but if you have two, it’s best enjoyed that way. The sword and shield are assigned to separate wands, alleviating the need to hold a button to use the shield, and shooting arrows is more fun when you imitate the bow motion with two controllers instead of point the one at the screen like a gun.

Either way, though, “Quest” is terrific fun — more an arcade game than what typically constitutes a quest in video game terms, but a fast, active adventure that is too nimble and seamless to feel gimmicky.

“Quest’s” storyline is a solo endeavor, but a separate Battle mode — designed primarily around surviving formations of enemies in an arena you can zip through using the grappling hook — offers competitive and cooperative play for one or two players (online or splitscreen). It’s simple, but it’s fun for the same reasons the story is fun, and a persistent leveling system gives it legs by letting you upgrade weapons and unlock new characters as you accrue experience.


Need for Speed: The Run
Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Also available for: Wii, Nintendo 3DS, Windows
From: EA Black Box/EA
ESRB Rating: Teen (language, mild suggestive themes, violence)
Price: $60

If “Need for Speed: The Run” was a sitcom plot device instead of a game, it’d be that one where a character makes a list of pros and cons and fills out both sides of the paper doing so. Great mechanics and a cool premise — a coast-to-coast, “Cannonball Run”-esque race — do battle with some regrettable design choices, and while “The Run” ultimately comes out ahead, the final score is closer than it should’ve been.

The benefits of driving cross-country are obvious, even if the story that creates the opportunity is drab. (Happily, the much-maligned on-foot chase sequences — interactive cutscenes that look flashy and push the story but aren’t fun to play — are so short and infrequent as to not even factor.)

“The Run” takes place in the United States as we know them, and while it’s doled out in stages instead of as a single, uninterrupted cruise, the recreations of numerous locales are extremely visually impressive. The premise also provides some considerable terrain variety, with San Francisco’s hilly streets and Colorado’s slippery mountains demanding different disciplines than South Dakota’s straightaways, downtown Chicago’s sharp corners and New Jersey’s perilously tight alleys.

“The Run’s” breadth of vehicles and tuning options is narrower than the norm, but it offers a satisfactory array of cars built to handle different surfaces and weather. The tug of war that ensues between responsive handling and the perennial sense of being one twitch away from disaster will strike some simply as less-than-optimum handling controls, but it does make for an exciting (and visually impressive) time on the road. The opposing driver A.I. is similarly polarizing: It brazenly rubberbands at points where a close finish makes for good drama, but you may not appreciate driving a spotless race that still finds an opposing driver cutting a 10-second lead down to nothing in seemingly no time.

“The Run’s” boldest idea comes with its attempt to treating a racing game like an action game. You get a limited number of resets (lives, basically) per event, and each event has a handful of checkpoints that you’ll revert to if you wipe out. Considering every event is pass/fail — if you don’t outright win that stretch of the race or complete the event’s objective, you have to redo it — it’s a novel, sensible approach.

Occasionally, though, you’ll get pegged for a reset simply by driving a little bit too off-road at the wrong time. Other times, the same offense doesn’t trigger a reset. “The Run’s” definition of out of bounds is frustratingly arbitrary, especially considering most tracks have approved shortcuts that reward you for going off the track.

This wouldn’t be an issue if the reset process wasn’t so obnoxious. “The Run” has deflatingly long load times between events, but it also frequently takes forever to load your last checkpoint in the middle of a race. Couple that with a supremely annoying reset loading graphic that flashes like a strobe while you wait seemingly ages for a chance to try again, and the mechanic’s intentions of maintaining momentum completely backfire.

That seemingly innocuous issue is the spark that ignites the fire that will polarize those who find “The Run” exhilarating and those who find it antagonizing and frustrating.

“The Run’s” story is fairly brief, but the game complements it with a lot of challenge events that reward medals instead of impose pass/fail restrictions. Online multiplayer (eight players) is pretty straightforward, but the inclusion of the Autolog social network — a persistent interface that makes chasing friends’ times in single-player events as much fun as racing them directly online — gives the game plenty of legs for those who like its methods and wish to master them.


Age of Zombies: Anniversary
For: iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch (universal app)
From: Halfbrick Studios
iTunes Store Rating: 9+ (frequent/intense cartoon or fantasy violence, infrequent/mild mature/suggestive themes)
Price: $3

With respect to the angry birds and that cute “Cut the Rope” monster, no character’s ascension through the App Store has been as fun to witness as that of the Bruce Campbell-esque Barry Steakfries. His personality, and the sense of humor that drives it, are what transformed “Age of Zombies” into something more than just another twin-stick shooter with zombies in it. If you played that game, you should know “Age of Zombies: Anniversary” isn’t a sequel, but rather a graphical remaster of the original game that’s designed to take advantage of iPad and Retina Display-equipped iPhone screens. You can decide yourself whether a pretty new wrapper is worth a second purchase. If, however, the whole experience is new to you, “Anniversary” is worth a look. As a (virtual) dual-stick shooter, it’s fundamentally faithful to genre conventions. But those other games don’t necessarily have this game’s personality, and “Anniversary’s” storyline — which finds Barry traveling to different time periods to conquer cowboy zombies, gangster zombies, future zombies and more — is pretty funny. The weapon variety is high, as is the opportunity to chain together considerable chaos for high scores, and the game’s polish — from control responsiveness to graphics to support for iCloud save data syncing — belies the price tag.

Games 3/29/11: Crysis 2, Playstation Move Heroes, Swarm, Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime

Crysis 2
Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Also available for: Windows PC
From: Crytek/EA
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood, partial nudity, strong language, violence)

At least nowadays, “Crysis 2” is a rare breed of first-person shooter. It tells a thoroughly epic story over 12 hours instead of four and within a single game instead of across a cliffhanger-riddled trilogy. Rather than start furiously and plateau, it also continually gets better as those hours pass.

Good thing, too, because the first two hours? Not so great.

The alien invasion of New York City eventually enters full bloom, but before you face it firsthand, you’ll have to contend with a private military that will kill you for your nanotechnological armor, which affords you superhuman physical abilities and the limited ability to cloak yourself and become nearly invincible.

“Crysis 2” flashes some of its gifts — particularly, the jaw-dropping transformation of Manhattan into a battlefield that’s crumbling all around you — during these skirmishes. But the human enemy A.I. is impossibly binary, with soldiers almost psychically pelting you with bullets one moment and completely losing track of your position the next. Your armor’s abilities come into play, but not nearly to their potential, and during the game’s flattest moments, you’re forced to mindlessly react rather than strategize.

But “Crysis 2” makes a furious rally once the corporation steps back and the aliens take over. Our invaders flash a much larger range of intelligence, which both makes them a more formidable enemy and frees you to use your setting, abilities and firearms to fight your way — stealthily, from a distance or violently barreling forward.

Without spoiling the details, things only improve going forward. Your armor’s abilities grow more durable, the alien forces respond in higher numbers, and “Crysis 2” drops you into one set piece after another and asks you to fend off enemies descending from all 360 degrees. The chaos increases, but the balance issues from earlier never return.

The relentless depiction of the invasion’s progress is similarly terrific. The “Crysis” brand is synonymous with graphical fidelity, and “Crysis 2” certainly delivers on that renown. But more than polygons or textures, it’s the real-time depiction of New York’s pending demise — buckling streets, crashing buildings, iconic architecture transformed to resemble the Death Star from “Return of the Jedi” — that will stick with you.

The devastation works in concert with a story that, even if it doesn’t make those early shootouts fun, most certainly justifies the private military’s inclusion in the fray. Again, no spoilers here. But the story starts with a bang, develops at a terrific pace throughout the campaign, and goes wonderfully (but sensibly) crazy during the homestretch. Ties to “Crysis” and the inevitable “Crysis 3” lie within, but overwhelmingly, this story soars without any dependency on prior or pending events.

Beyond the inability to play as the aliens — you’re fighting either as Marines or privatized military — “Crysis 2’s” online multiplayer (12 players) is similarly fulfilling. “Crysis”-themed variants on the usual match types make appearances, highlighted by a clever Crash Site mode in which teams race to extract energy from alien pods that crash-land in random locations. The maps are diverse, a full experience points system gradually unlocks new perks across a multitude of classes, and the flexibility with regard to private matches, options and matchmaking (including an area open strictly to inexperienced players) makes it very accessible.

Impressively, the multiplayer includes suit powers at no expense to its balance. Everybody starts off with basic cloaking and weapon resistance powers, but the powers hold a limited charge before needing a recharge. So you can use them as an impromptu crutch or a strategic catalyst, but not both at once. Choose carefully.


Playstation Move Heroes
For: Playstation 3 (Playstation Move required)
From: Nihilistic Software/Sony
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (fantasy violence)

Let’s be clear: Even though the six characters who share the “Playstation Move Heroes” marquee originate from some of the best platforming games of the last decade, they’re strictly here as friendly faces on loan from that genre. The premise and structure allow “Heroes” to sometimes feel like more than a collection of not-quite-mini-games that use the Playstation Move controller in various ways, but broken down to its essentials, that’s what this is.

“Heroes” kicks off with a cute cutscene that brings our heroes (Jak, Daxter, Ratchet, Clank, Sly Cooper and Bentley) together, allows them to make their awkward acquaintance, and gives us a skeletal storyline that explains why they’re trapped in this alternate dimension. It doesn’t really make sense — picture a game show, hokey narrator and all, in which our heroes must rescue “fans” from peril in order to save themselves — but as excuses go, it’s well-made and good for some fun fan service.

The challenges that comprise “Heroes” mix and match different objectives (free fans, protect fans, survive an enemy onslaught) with five different play styles that utilize the Move controller in various ways. Basic melee combat works predictably — swing the Move wand to swing your character’s corresponding weapon — and a variant replaces that weapon with a whip that’s pretty fun to crack. Events designed around shooting enemies and targets with a blaster also function like you’d expect, with the wand becoming a makeshift blaster you point at the screen and fire.

“Heroes” shines brightest during the remaining two play styles, which center around bowling and disc throwing. In both cases, the motions you make are reflected in the strength and angle with which your character throws the disc or rolls the ball, and in both cases, you can continue steering the ball or disc after they’ve left your hand. You even can make the ball jump with a quick flick of the wand.

Trimmings like that, along with levels designed to take advantage of them, are what elevate “Heroes” from a vanilla mini-game collection to something a little more ambitious. Rolling a bowling ball at a target is one thing; rolling and steering it around a corner, over a blockade, up a ramp and into some pinball-style bumpers before manually detonating it is another.

“Heroes'” environments are large and elaborate — so much so that you need a Navigation or standard PS3 controller to freely move through them while the wand simultaneously handles other duties. Unlockables and score multiplayers are scattered everywhere, and netting gold medal-worthy scores requires a level of creativity and exploration that’s foreign to your typical mini-game collection.

But “Heroes” isn’t impervious to what ails its peers. Even with the extra coat of ambition, the events mix up only so much from instance to instance, and if you don’t enjoy revisiting old challenges in an attempt to attain gold medal scores across the entirety of the game, you might see all you want to see within a casual weekend of play.

Primarily, that’s due to the game’s unfortunate inability to parlay its events into any kind of competitive multiplayer format. “Heroes” supports two-player co-op, but the second player merely assists via a targeting reticule instead of as a second character. It’s fun, but it lacks the longevity a competitive format would have even with stripped-down versions of the various challenges.
Mini-game collections may be shallow, but they remain popular because they’re an easy choice for party game play, and “Heroes” cripples its long-term value by ignoring that point.


For: Playstation 3 (via Playstation Network) and Xbox 360 (via Xbox Live Arcade)
From: Hothead Games/Ignition Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Teen (animated blood, cartoon violence)
Price: $15

Imagine a re-imagined “Lemmings” in which you control the Lemmings directly instead of simply guide them, and you have an inkling of an idea about “Swarm,” a sidescrolling platformer which tasks you with controlling 50 characters at once instead of one. The goal in “Swarm” is classically simple — get as many swarmites to the exit as possible, and rack up an impressive score by keeping your score multiplier high while also keeping swarmite casualties to a minimum. But that’s easier said than done. The adorable swarmites — bug-eyed blue aliens who demonstrate no free will and no desire to change that — are as stupid as they look, and they’re magnets for danger. Occasionally, when you need a few to sacrifice themselves to protect the rest, their stupidity is beneficial. Mostly, though, it’s just trouble, and when “Swarm’s” trickier levels ask you to perform maneuvers that would require finesse with one character, never mind 50, don’t be surprised to limp to the exit after witnessing the deaths of 500 Swarmites in a few minutes’ time. Level checkpoints frequently resupply your Swarmite army, but you’ll want to keep as many of your original 50 alive as possible in order to access certain level secrets and finish with a score high enough to unlock the next level. “Swarm’s” odd controls — lots of basic functions mapped to the triggers — take some practice, but mostly, the challenge it presents is the good kind. If you love your sidescrolling platformers, like being challenged, and crave something different, don’t skip this.


Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime
For: Playstation 3 (via Playstation Network), Xbox 360 (via Xbox Live Arcade) and Windows PC
From: Atari
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (fantasy violence)
Price: $15

Back when downloadable games cost $5, missteps and cut corners similar to those found in “Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime” were easily accepted. But with a higher price comes a higher bar, and “Slime” — which attempts to apply the dual-stick shooter formula to a license seemingly fit for it — comes nowhere close to reaching it. The structure — enter room, doors lock, kill ghosts, doors unlock, leave room, repeat — grows monotonous in a hurry, in part because the actual act of busting ghosts is hampered by imprecise controls and a proton stream that lacks impact. But it only gets worse, not better, when “Slime” provides new weapons to use, because whatever variety they introduce gets kneecapped by an intrusive contrivance that makes certain ghosts completely impervious to certain weapons. Once the difficulty spikes and the screen crowds with multiple varieties of ghosts, you’re constantly switching weapons according to the game’s demands instead of your own preferences. The resulting chaos is a nightmare when playing alone with three A.I.-controlled partners: Their poor battlefield awareness makes them sitting ducks during boss fights, which, along with the levels themselves, start to repeat during “Slime’s” back half. So if you must play “Slime,” you’d best find friends to assist you via co-op play (four players, online/offline). Just don’t bother if it’s fan service you’re after: Between the flat story presentation (blurry comic panels with way too much text considering the context) and the replacing of the Ghostbusters you know with a cast of unknowns, “Slime” falls short in this regard as well.

Games 3/8/11: MLB 11 The Show, Fight Night Champion, Pixeljunk Shooter 2

MLB 11: The Show
For: Playstation 3
From: San Diego Studio/Sony
ESRB Rating: Everyone

It took “MLB 11: The Show” three years longer than it took “MLB 2K” to map pitching, hitting and fielding controls to the right analog stick.

At least with regard to pitching, though, it took the series only one attempt to do what 2K Sports can’t and get it right.

At bat and in the field, “MLB The Show 11’s” controls are pretty standard issue — pull back and push the stick to swing, flick or hold the stick in the direction of a base to make a soft or hard (respectively) throw. Both work fine, neither breaks major ground, and even though the new fielding metrics leave committing errors up to you instead of up to chance, the game’s endless array of options allow you to revert to the button-based controls if you prefer them.

Pitching, however, is another story. In contrast to 2K’s convoluted gestures system, “MLB11” opts for a deceptively simple, golf game-style system that has you pulling back on the stick to determine power and pushing forward for location.

What makes it special is how magnificently this little pitching meter can split the difference between good strikes and bad ones. Pulling and pushing a straight line to throw a pitch straight down the middle is easy. But if you want to throw Major League strikes (hitting the corners, locating breaking pitches so they just scrape the zone), you need to curve the stick ever so gracefully — enough to move the pitch, but not so much to miss the strike zone entirely. The pitch meter lets you know exactly how you need to curve it, so there’s no confusion when a pitch misses the mark. But consistently putting the soft touch on a paralyzing strike takes legitimate skill that rewards you far beyond merely throwing hittable strikes, and this is the first analog control scheme that understands and embraces that difference.

The successful analog control implementation easily is “MLB11’s” finest addition to what already was the industry’s best baseball game, and it’s arguably the only change that alters the gameplay on a fundamental level.

But that, naturally, depends on how deep your fandom goes. Because while casual fans may not realize “MLB11” includes 30 camera presets to match all 30 teams’ local broadcast perspectives, fans who religiously watch their team’s broadcasts certainly will. “MLB11” allows players to customize the cameras in whatever weird way they please, but the presets are as apt a reflection on the game’s attention to detail as anything else. As usual, the game looks marvelous in action, and as usual, there’s a new crop of animations and other visual touches — some obvious, like dynamic weather, but most not — for attentive baseball fans to discover.

A number of preexisting features make nice strides as well. Two players can team up for local/online co-op, and “MLB11” lets you divvy up positions so each player controls half the lineup. The Road to the Show career mode returns with a significantly deeper player creator and position-specific minor league depth charts that affect your advancement through the farm. Online league tweaks include support for A.I.-controlled teams in the event you can’t round up 29 friends. The Home Run Derby mode, meanwhile, supports Playstation Move, a smart decision that leaves “MLB11’s” core control where it belongs but lets players do the one baseball-related thing — swing a bat really hard — that definitely benefits from Move support.

“MLB11’s” wild card is the Challenge of the Week, an online skills competition that hadn’t yet premiered as of press time. Entering once weekly is free, while subsequent entries will cost you 25 real cents. But Sony is justifying that fee by awarding real prizes to competition winners, so if you’re good enough, that price might be a bargain.


Fight Night Champion
For: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
From: EA Sports
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood, suggestive themes, strong language, violence)

Sports games have gone down the storyline route before, but typically it’s in the form of a branching career mode that tells its story through boilerplate text. “Fight Night” has done that for years, and with the Legacy mode, “Fight Night Champion” does it again.

This time, though, the Legacy mode plays second fiddle to a new Champion mode that, while short and linear, goes all-in in terms of storytelling. Instead of text, “Champion” offers up full-blown cutscenes, complete with plot twists, crooked refs, villainous promoters and, waiting at the end, the scariest bad-guy boxer since Ivan Drago.

For the most part, Champion mode delivers, even if what it delivers is a torrent of boxing movie tropes on caffeine. The story’s predictable, but it’s absorbing, and its best moments apply story-mandated conditions to bouts that you must overcome — often at the expense of your traditional instincts.

Unfortunately, the only time the idea backfires is during the final bout, when contrivance — during the first two rounds, your opponent is invincible and can end you with a single punch — badly undercuts the moment. This isn’t “Punch-Out,” and while the title fight certainly tests your ability to defend yourself, it still undermines what should have been a terrific demonstration of a polished boxing system during what arguably is the game’s most important bout.

Fortunately, while Champion Mode ends on a down note, it’s only part of “Champion’s” package, which otherwise brings back traditional “Fight Night” features — the Legacy mode, a 50-plus-strong roster of licensed fighters, local/online multiplayer, an absolutely limitless tool for designing and sharing customized boxers — in their best light yet.

Most impressive is the boxing itself, which feels like a culmination of all the reinventing that took place during the previous two “Fight Night” games.

Like “Fight Night Round 4,” the action is fast, but not dumb. “Champion” heavily rewards players who learn to dodge, block and land counterpunches, which look terrifically painful thanks to the camera angles and swift camera pans the game uses.

Also per “Round 4,” punching is handled through different movements on the right joystick. But “Champion” makes some nice concessions by replacing the needlessly complicated gestures with simpler motions that better accommodate the fast pace. “Champion” also brings back “Round 3’s” button controls, and players can freely switch between the two schemes and even use them simultaneously without visiting the options menu.

The only in-ring stumble comes from the addition of referees to the action. They look good, but they regularly get in between you and your boxer, which can be aggravating when you’re going for a knockdown and your opponent clenches you while the ref’s shirt blocks your view.

In terms of core features, the Legacy mode returns mostly as it was in “Round 4,” albeit with some new training/business opportunities and minor tweaks in terms of overall level progression. Ditto for the custom boxer editor, which was massively versatile already and only benefits from the extra coat of graphical polish applied across the whole game.

Online, though, “Champion” makes some nice new strides. Players can form up by creating and joining each other’s gyms — basically the boxing game equivalent to clan support found in online shooters. Your online boxer’s abilities improve as you fight and accrue experience, and you can enter tournaments and even compete for community-wide titl
e belts. It’s basically the Legacy mode, but with more freedom, human competition, and the potential for glory on a much larger scale for your created boxer. If you’re good enough to hang in this company, it’s far more rewarding than its single-player counterpart.


Pixeljunk Shooter 2
For: Playstation 3 (via Playstation Network)
From: Q-Games/Sony
ESRB Rating: Everyone (mild fantasy violence)
Price: $10

“Pixeljunk Shooter 2” doesn’t mess too heavily with the mechanics that powered its terrific 2009 predecessor, which took the twin-stick arcade shooter down a more heroic road by tasking players with shooting away cave walls and using chemistry and physics to rescue miners trapped inside. Instead, it builds on it. As inferred by the first game’s great endgame twist, “PJS2” begins not inside a cave, but in the belly of a giant beast. And in addition to contending with (and utilizing) lava, water and other elements to alter the environment for safe passage, you must now do the same with biological compounds whose chemic properties are a little less obvious. Similarly, while enemies were present in “PJS1,” they’re a much more formidable force this time, and “PJS2” divides its time between thoughtful exploration and intense arcade combat. Some won’t appreciate the more frantic direction, but Q-Games plays fair by making “PJS2” a longer game with levels large enough to accommodate both speeds without putting them in each other’s way. The higher overall difficulty makes “PJS2’s” offline co-op support even more valuable than it was last time, though the omission of an online counterpart is that much more unfortunate as well. Perhaps as compensation, “PJS2” at least introduces competitive online support via a fun one-on-one duel in which players scramble to rescue and return more miners to their respective bases. Q-Games even gives the mode legs with a surprising array of rewards that unlock as players accrue experience points in ranked competition.

Games 2/22/11: de Blob 2, Stacking, Battleheart

de Blob 2
Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
From: Blue Tongue/THQ
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (comic mischief, mild cartoon violence, mild language)

Any conversation about criminally overlooked Wii games should have “de Blob” in the first paragraph, if not the lead, so THQ deserves commendation for giving the series a second chance on more (and better) hardware.

Fundamentally, “de Blob 2” doesn’t break significant ground so much as make a more ambitious and more diverse return to form. You still play as Blob, a hyper-absorbent and deeply charming ball of goo whose primary abilities include rolling, jumping, smashing and absorbing different colors of paint, which he can use to turn the colorless buildings and citizens of Prisma City into their happy former selves.

To that end, the story remains the same: Free everyone and everything from the INKT Corporation’s monochromatic rule, in what almost certainly will be the cutest allegory you’ll ever see for regime takeover and democratic revolution. Like the first game, it’s charm run amok, with adorable character design, genuinely funny dialogue and a soundtrack that brilliantly bends to your actions in the game.

Primarily, the revolution comes via Blob painting every last square inch of “dB2’s” 11 levels, which also include missions centered around liberating citizens, sabotaging INKT technology and other objectives related to level design and story events.

The levels — which include a cola plant, a prison zoo and the Inktron Collider, to name three examples — are large enough to qualify as open worlds, and as long as time remains on the clock, Blob is free to tackle secondary objectives as well as main story missions in whatever fashion suits him. The clock is meant to keep players constantly moving, and it succeeds in just the right way: The time limits are generous on both difficulty settings, there are umpteen ways to add time, and once the main objectives are complete, the clock disappears and “dB2” lets you complete the rest of the level at your leisure.

All of this was true of “dB1,” too. But the series’ extremely unique underpinnings make the initial familiarity more forgivable than it might otherwise be, and the changes “dB2” does introduce are almost always welcome ones.

Most notable are the new sabotage missions that take Blob underground and play like a sidescrolling game instead of the traditional 3D action you see above ground. The new perspective lets “dB2” design a whole new flavor of challenges that still capitalize on the core concepts, and when these mini-levels bump up their difficulty later on, they occasionally outshine the bigger levels.

“dB2” also offers a limited offline co-op feature that allows a second player (as Blob’s friend Pinky) to shoot paint at environments, enemies and Blob himself using a targeting reticule. It isn’t nearly as involved as controlling Blob himself, but it adds a fun social element to the game, and if you’re playing the PS3 version, it’s an ideal use of the Playstation Move wand, which “dB2” supports throughout all its modes.

Elsewhere, the changes are customary but appreciated. The mission objectives are more diverse than last time, and “dB2” gradually introduces new powerups and gadgets that increase both Blob’s arsenal and the kind of missions he can encounter. It’s unquestionably more of the same basic gameplay, but the little surprises “dB2” reveals (three words: wrecking ball Blob) over its surprisingly lengthy adventure are enough to keep a great concept blessed with great execution going strong.

Provided you aren’t restricted to playing “dB2” on the Wii, the better hardware also helps. “dB2” looks terrific in high definition, and it benefits from a more traditional controller’s ability to control the camera without the kind of fuss that unfortunately comes standard on the Wii.


For: Playstation 3 (via Playstation Network) and Xbox 360 (via Xbox Live Arcade)
From: Double Fine Productions/THQ
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (crude humor, mild cartoon violence, mild suggestive themes, use of tobacco)
Price: $15

This is what happens when a developer with big-budget talent and an independent spirit flourishes on a platform that allows it to flex both characteristics at once: You get a game in which you play as a Russian nesting doll.

(In case the term isn’t ringing a bell, Russian nesting dolls are those little wooden dolls that fit inside each other. You open one, and a smaller one is inside. Open that one, and an even smaller one is inside.)

“Stacking” brings those dolls to life, starring you as a tiny stacking doll named Charlie and tasking you with rescuing your family from an evil baron who has kidnapped and sentenced them to involuntary servitude.

By himself, Charlie is overmatched. But he has the ability to “stack” into any doll who is one degree larger than him and assume control of that character. That character, in turn, can stack into an even larger doll, and the process continues until you achieve control over the game’s largest (and, usually, most influential) dolls.

“Stacking” arranges its story by putting each imperiled family member in a different environment — a cruise ship, a zeppelin, a triple-decker train — and connecting everything with a similarly spacious hub level set inside a train station. Charlie is free to roam the environments as he likes, and you can inhabit any character, major or minor, who is roaming about.

Every character has a special maneuver he or she can perform — some of them crucial to the story (a widow seducing a guard into leaving his post), some useful (a woman with a spyglass can quickly discern which characters qualify as significant), some silly (dancing, playing paddleball, or performing various acts of mischief, which the game rewards through a suite of optional challenges).

The trick to saving Charlie’s family is to use the right dolls in the right ways to solve various cause-and-effect riddles, which generally involve getting around, influencing or assuming control of powerful dolls who won’t let Charlie get by them in his default form.

At its most linear, this isn’t terribly difficult, nor is “Stacking” particularly lengthly (a few hours, maybe) if you rush through the storyline and ignore the optional content.

But “Stacking” makes a terrific decision to give every challenge multiple solutions, and the players who will truly enjoy this game are the ones who come back to figure out every solution to every problem. Every challenge has an easy solution that’s made somewhat obvious by the presence of certain dolls in the vicinity, but the more obscure solutions require some inventiveness and often involve using dolls the game hasn’t labeled as significant. Other optional objectives, including the aforementioned mischief-making and a great challenge that involves reuniting other families by finding and stacking them together, give “Stacking” a lot more activity than initially meets the eye.

It also gives players an excuse to spend more time in the absolutely delightful world Double Fine has designed. “Stacking’s” dolls really look like living nesting dolls, from the expressions on their faces to the polished wooden sheen they give off to the wobbly, stop-motion-esque animation of their every movement. The rest of the world, which feels like a collection of early 20th century miniatures come alive, provides a beautiful complement. Even the cutscenes play along by mimicking a
silent film reel — piano soundtrack, written dialogue frames, film artifacts and all. The storytelling runs a bit heavy in “Stacking’s” early going, but its presentation is so novel that the excess is easily forgiven.


For: iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad (universal app)
From: Mika Mobile
iTunes Store rating: 9+ (infrequent/mild cartoon or fantasy violence)
Price: $3

As games that blend genres and take advantage of platform strengths go, it rarely gets better than this. On paper, “Battleheart” reads like a role-playing game: You assemble a party of characters with different strengths, upgrade those strengths by accruing experience and gold in battle, and use that gold to buy, sell and upgrade weapons, armor and other items with special attributes. But where most RPGs lean heavily on story, “Battleheart” all but skips it. Instead, the battles — which the game distributes across selectable levels almost like an arcade game — are the end as well as the means. That’s fine, too, because where most RPGs use a battle system that’s turn-based and menu-driven, “Battleheart” opts instead for a frantic, hands-on system that plays like a real-time strategy game on caffeine. Players control up to four characters at once, and commanding them is as simple as drawing a path for them, pointing them at specific enemies to attack, and occasionally tapping an icon to activate a spell. The simple controls — which nicely complement the game’s clean, ultra-cartoony look — prove a perfect fit once “Battleheart’s” introductory levels quickly give way to some seriously chaotic skirmishes. Things get crowded to a fault sometimes, especially on the smaller iPhone screen, but it’s an acceptable side effect of “Battleheart’s” refusal to compromise its thirst for chaos.

Games 2/15/11: Killzone 3, Body and Brain Connection, Hard Corps: Uprising

Killzone 3
For: Playstation 3
From: Guerrilla Games/Sony
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)

“Killzone 3” cannot possibly surprise people like its 2009 predecessor did, so there’s no honest way to write about it that achieves the level of awe those lavishly complimentary “Killzone 2” reviews achieved.

But that isn’t to imply “KZ3” underwhelms at all. It tops “KZ2” in almost every respect, and while the story continues to fall short of its potential, the game’s handling of moment-to-moment action — seeking cover without changing perspective, a noticeable weight and impact to every action taken, a vicious depiction of warfare — still sets it apart from any other first-person shooter.

Additionally, while “KZ3’s” story doesn’t explore themes a truckload of other war games haven’t already mined, it provides the necessary means to visit more environments and give players access to more toys than “KZ2” did. As happened in the last game, you’ll get to witness and eventually harness some devastating, not-of-this-world weaponry designed by the opposing Helghan army. The battlegrounds are more diverse — planetary ruins here, a fascinatingly detailed Helghan laboratory there, a wildly colorful planet with predatory plant life in between. And in a nod to “Call of Duty’s” zest for variety, the game mixes up the objectives, complementing standard shootouts with a terrific stealth mission, some sniper duty and tours aboard gunships, ice saws and a vehicle that’s best left unspoiled.

But it bears repeating that a me-too storyline and me-too mission objectives don’t make “KZ3” a me-too shooter. The cover mechanic — a real mechanic for seeking cover, not a plain duck button — adds a tactical layer most first-person shooters lack. The minute dip in speed caused by the aforementioned weightiness provides a perfect complement: It’s subtle enough to never impede movement, but noticeable enough to engender deliberate actions instead of impulsive reactions.

The speed dip doesn’t come at the expense of intensity, either. To the contrary, “KZ3’s” shootouts are spectacularly lively — a combination of great level design, continuous foreground and background activity, and artificially intelligent enemies democratically and relentlessly flanking and descending on your allies as well as you.

The only other notable downer about the campaign? It supports two-player co-op, but only locally.

“KZ2” inventively broke convention from other multiplayer shooters with a shuffle-style mode that changed the match type — deathmatch, assassination, territory and so on — on the fly without ever pausing the action. Because no other shooter has successfully cribbed the formula, it remains fresh in “KZ3” (24 players, down from 32), which also includes a standard team deathmatch mode and a new Operations mode that further emphases the value of teamwork in these skirmishes.

The prioritization of teamwork is no trivial point. The core reward for multiplayer success remains in the form of individual perk and gear unlocks for each class, but you’ll garner more experience points from completing objectives than by simply killing enemies. The eight maps are intelligently designed to force teams to fight in hot zones while also completing objectives in hostile corners, and teams that diversity their classes and work together will rule these battlefields.

Though the controller suffices per usual, “KZ3” marks the first instance of a big-ticket game flashing full Playstation Move compatibility out of the box. The big news here is that there is no big news: The Move controller is as precise as advertised, and with a Navigation or regular controller in the other hand, no part of “KZ3’s” integral gameplay is sacrificed in exchange for playing this way. The tech was mostly validated already, but this seals it.


Body and Brain Connection
For: Xbox 360 (Kinect required)
From: Namco Bandai
ESRB Rating: Everyone (comic mischief)

When Nintendo scored a surprise hit with “Brain Age,” the torrent of imitation products was surprisingly furious and unsurprisingly mundane.

But the latest me-too product gets an arguable pass. For starters, it stars and features the consultation of Dr. Ryuta Kawashima, who also starred in and consulted on development of the Nintendo games that started this whole phenomenon.

More importantly, it goes places even “Age” couldn’t go by utilizing the Kinect and replacing styli and buttons with arms and legs.

Structurally and conceptually, “Connection” borrows liberally from “Age.” It features 20 exercises across five categories (math, reflex, logic, memory, physical), and each exercise has its own scoring table, progress chart and series of unlockable difficulty levels.

Similarly, while you can play exercises whenever and at whatever pace you please, the real meat of “Connection” is the daily test, which chooses three exercises for you, grades you on your aptitude in those tests, and distills your performance into an age. The lower your mental and physical age, the better.

“Connection” allows you to take this test only once per day, but that’s the point: You visit daily, take the test, chart your progress, perhaps do some additional exercises for fun or practice, and you’re done in 15 minutes or so. You likely won’t experience any cathartic awakening in terms of brainpower, nor will the light physical demands turn you into an adonis. But it certainly can’t hurt, and “Connection,” like “Age,” has a way of growing on you if you enjoy the exercises and the sense of accomplishment that comes from excelling at them and whittling that age down.

“Connection’s” exercises are simple, but they’re also challenging fun, and despite the presence of categories, every exercise features some mixture of mental and physical taxation. One test has you simultaneously controlling two separate Namco characters with both hands to help them evade “Pac-Man” ghosts. Another tasks you with forming highways with your arms and safely guiding vehicles to their color-coded destination. A low-concept test simply has you popping numbered balloons from the lowest number to the highest, which is pretty easy until negative numbers show up to mess with your perception.

For the most part — at least while playing alone — the Kinect controls work as they should, though you’ll inevitably pop the wrong balloon or touch the wrong button by accident simply because your hand falls in the way. The menu navigation is pretty unwieldy, but it’s tamable with practice, and better for these problems to surface outside the game than during it.

Less sterling is “Connection’s” multiplayer component, which allows up to four players to compete locally for the best score in each exercise. As with most Kinect games at present, “Connection” sometimes loses track of who’s who when a new player jumps in for a turn, and it struggles further during exercises that allow two players to play at once. Things work more than they don’t, and there’s fun to be had this way if you take it for the slightly chaotic experience it has the potential to be.

But it’s harder to accept problems with local multiplayer when “Connection,” like too many Kinect games, completely omits online multiplayer over Xbox Live. You can’t even compare exercise scores online. It’s blasphemy for a non-Kinect Xbox 360 game to release multiplayer that’s local only, and Kinect games should aspire to meet the same standard.


Hard Corps: Uprising
Reviewed for: Xbox 360 (via Xbox Live Arcade)
Coming soon for: Playstation 3 (via Playstation Network)
From: Arc System Works/Konami
ESRB Rating: Teen (mild language, use of tobacco, violence)
Price: $15

You may live to see the end of “Hard Corps: Uprising’s” eighth and final level, but it may take you a lot longer than you expect. And for a game that, appearances aside, is a direct heir to the “Contra” throne, there’s no higher compliment. “Uprising” comes courtesy of a developer that’s primarily known for its lavishly-animated 2D fighting games, and its influence results in a visual direction — meticulously animated, anime-style characters set in front of hand-painted backdrops — that’s a jarring but wildly enjoyable step in a new direction for “Contra.” In terms of gameplay, though, “Uprising” is classic “Contra.” Enemies attack in droves, each stage has multiple boss encounters, and seemingly impossible firefights become merely punishingly difficult once you decipher each enemy’s attack pattern. At its most basic, “Uprising” is unforgiving, and beating the game’s arcade mode — three lives, five continues — will be impossible for many. Fortunately, the Rising mode plays exactly the same but allows players to trade in points they score for some seriously useful unlockables — extra lives, extra health, better default weapons and more — that, once purchased, remain unlocked. Keep playing and scoring, and eventually you might unlock enough assists to see level eight. Or maybe just level two. (If all else fails, there’s two-player local/online co-op.) It isn’t easy, but it’s ridiculously fun, and if the satisfaction of conquering a hard-fought level isn’t enough, seeing what bizarre setting and enemies waits on deck most certainly is.

Games 2/1/11: Dead Space Extraction, Breach, Fluidity

Dead Space Extraction
For: Playstation 3 (via Playstation Network)
From: Visceral Games/Eurocom/Electronic Arts
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)
Price: $15 standalone, free with purchase of Playstation 3 version of “Dead Space 2”

Few games deserve a second chance as much as “Dead Space Extraction,” which sold miserably on the Wii despite continuing one of the generation’s best new fictions and outclassing just about every on-rails shooter that ever came before it.

Though it also works (and with surprisingly decent results) with a regular Playstation 3 controller, “Extraction’s” chemistry with the Wii’s remote makes it a perfect fit for the Playstation Move controller as well, and its flawless (and, on some levels, enhanced) migration immediately positions it as perhaps the best Move-enabled game out there until “Killzone 3” arrives later this month.

It also gives PS3 owners a chance to experience a slice of “Dead Space” lore that easily earns its place in the franchise canon. In contrast to the two mainline “Space” games, “Extraction” almost always surrounds you with a crew and even drops you into multiple characters’ shoes when the story — which begins before and runs somewhat parallel to the events of the first “Space” while answering a bunch of questions raised by that game — dictates.

“Extraction” also departs from franchise norms by presenting everything through a spectacularly energetic first-person presentation.

That, along with the decision to go on-rails, was a byproduct of “Extraction’s” understanding of the Wii remote’s control limitations. But it ceases to feel like a concession once it becomes clear how little it loses and how much it adds. The Necromorphs from “Space” return, and nothing about the encounters — from their attack intelligence to the spot-damage approach needed to neutralize them — feels dumbed down or scripted just because the camerawork is out of your hands.

The series’ inventive weaponry also returns, alternate fire modes and all, and some of the guns (the disc ripper in particular) are more fun to use in “Extraction” because of the added immersion the motion controls provide. Kinetic and stasis powers lay freely at your disposal, and opportunities to use them are rarely more contrived here than they are in the other “Space” games. The only real puzzle contrivance is an occasional hacking mini-game, but even that’s exhilarating when the mechanisms grow more complex and you have to hack them and fight off encroaching Necromorphs at the exact same time.

About the only place “Extraction” feels compromised is in the upgrades department. Instead of allowing you to upgrade your character and weaponry according to your combat preferences, the game assigns upgrades automatically based on mission scores and the items you pick up (if you’re quick enough) with your kinetic beam while the action rages on. The reflex test is terrific fun in its own right, and it’s a very satisfying trade-off given the style of the game, but the lost flexibility merits mentioning all the same.

“Extraction’s” main campaign is lengthy enough to easily justify the $15 price tag, and it tops that off with local co-op support and a challenge mode that strips the story missions down to points-based arcade levels. The PS3 version receives enhancements via trophy support and graphics that look nice in HD, though it lacks any kind of online functionality.

The best way to get the game is as a free bonus with initial printings of “Dead Space 2” for PS3, but schemers beware: You can’t play that version of “Extraction” without the “DS2” disc, so attempts to get “Extraction” for keeps without buying it or buying “DS2” will be thwarted.


Reviewed for: Xbox 360 (via Xbox Live Arcade)
Also available for: Windows PC
From: Atomic Games
ESRB Rating: Teen (blood, mild language, violence)
Price: $15

“Breach” had no choice but to be pretty special — or at least different — if it was going to successfully command $15 from the same military shooter crowd that’s already invested in “Call of Duty,” “Battlefield,” “Medal of Honor” and the rest of a rapidly crowding sub-genre.

Unfortunately, “special” is just about the last word that describes this one, because while “Breach” strives to hang with its big-budget competition, it doesn’t do anything to meaningfully set itself apart from it.

The lack of originality is apparent almost instantly. “Breach” is a multiplayer-only first-person modern warfare shooter, but the lack of a single-player storyline doesn’t excuse the game’s complete disinterest in divulging anything about why these two armies are fighting or who they even are. Those details aren’t paramount, but they also aren’t meaningless, and it’s weird to engage in a war that’s completely free of context.

Unfortunately, the visual presentation, while perfectly technically competent for a $15 downloadable game, offers few clues for those who wish to guess. “Breach’s” character models lack any significant distinction, almost to the point where soldiers from one army are interchangeable with their enemies. The five maps are similarly plain: There’s a silo that’s probably important, and the game’s best map takes place amid snow-capped mountains, but mostly, you might as well be fighting anywhere in the world.

It’s unfortunate, because while “Breach” has some fundamental hangups as well, it functions competently enough that, if it took players to a fresh war or corner of the world, it’d be easy enough to recommend.

The essentials are, imperfections aside, there. “Breach” offers four playable classes — rifleman, gunner, small-arms support and sniper — with a fifth, reconnaissance, that unlocks with experience. Each class has its own lengthly roster of weapons, add-ons and perks for players to unlock after accumulating experience points, so there’s no shortage of replay value if unlocking everything is of interest to you.

Spotty online performance leads to some issues with enemy players skipping around maps or magically popping into view, but only very infrequently, and the action mostly functions as expected. The guns feel powerful, the control satisfactorily tight. The ability to take cover (switching the perspective from first- to third-person) also is handy, though the run-and-gun leanings of enemy players will inevitably limit its utility.

“Breach’s” map design is hit-and-miss — some maps feel too corridor-laden and too often turn players into easy targets for snipers — but the game’s penchant for destructible environments offers some nice options for rearranging the furniture. Of all the ways to put down an enemy, none beats blowing a hole into the ground on which they’re standing and watching them tumble into oblivion.

In terms of modes, “Breach” again suffices. Matches support up to 16 players, and the mode offerings — territory, team deathmatch, single-life deathmatch, retrieval and a convoy mode that tasks one team with protecting the convoy while the other attacks it — run the gamut.

When the net code cooperates, getting into a game — either quickly or by browsing the available match types — works effortlessly as well. Unfortunately, while demo downloaders flood the servers, connection errors are frequent. The connection issues should soon pass if the game’s pre-release performance is any indication, though, and even at the height of the problem, attempts to get into a game eventually
paid off.


For: Wii (via Wii Shop Channel)
From: Curve Studios/Nintendo
ESRB Rating: Everyone (comic mischief)
Price: $12

Attractive lower price aside, it’s unfortunate that Nintendo took the most unique Wii game it’s published in nearly a year and effectively hid it where most Wii owners are bound never to find it. “Fluidity’s” concept is simple: You star as a small body of water tasked with purging a magical book of an ink-fueled infection. The control scheme — tilt the Wii remote to tilt the levels (which resemble pages from a book) and dictate the flow of water — is similarly straightforward. But “Fluidity’s” handling of that water is at once predictable and delightfully frantic: Like a real body of water, it’s fragile, dynamic and extremely prone to splitting into smaller bodies and droplets that, if left too small for too long, will evaporate. As you might guess, losing all the water means losing a life. But keeping the water together is more than a survival tactic, thanks to the game’s wonderful level and puzzle design. “Fluidity” doesn’t resemble a Super Mario or Kirby game in any visual respect, but it displays the same level of invention, relentlessly creating new obstacles, gadgets and scenarios to put that straightforward premise, control scheme and physics to continuous brilliant use. Though things get a little excessively difficult toward the end, the game mostly toes a perfect line in terms of difficulty: The main challenges are tricky but fair, while a ton of optional challenges are perfectly skippable but both mentally and physically gratifying to complete at your own pace.

Games 12/7/10: Disney Epic Mickey, The Shoot, Marvel Pinball

Disney Epic Mickey
For: Wii
From: Junction Point Studios/Disney Interactive
ESRB Rating: Everyone (cartoon violence)

The gift of your patience is requested in “Disney Epic Mickey,” which asks you to accept some baffling game design decisions in order to experience what might be the most ingenious merger ever between a studio’s icon and its dormant vault.

“Mickey” begins with a slightly mischievous but very clumsy Mickey Mouse accidentally bringing untold destruction to a world, known as the Wasteland, where forgotten Disney cartoon characters reside in retirement. The Wasteland was something of a utopia in spite of its dispiriting premise, but Mickey’s screwup has reduced it to a grey, monster-drenched mess that finally earns its name.

“Mickey” mostly plays like your typical 3D platformer, with players (as Mickey) running and jumping through non-linear levels to complete various objectives, sometimes a few at a time. The hook here is that, while running and jumping, players also must hold the Wii remote like a pointer and shoot paint and/or paint thinner at enemies and other objects in the environment.

As a tool for restoring and destroying the Wasteland, the paint/thinner idea works great. “Mickey’s” levels are intricate and full of secrets, and Mickey can use paint and thinner to alter those levels on the fly and access areas that would otherwise be inaccessible. Most of the rewards are trivial, but the intuition and dexterity needed to find them makes for a fun elective challenge.

The paint/thinner trick also lets “Mickey” take the story down two different paths without basing Mickey’s morality (or lack thereof) around boring good/evil answers. Mickey can complete objectives by using paint to turn enemies (even boss enemies) friendly, rescue allies and restore the environment, and he can use thinner to destroy everybody, ravage the environment and coerce a way to safety. “Mickey’s” opening levels make the means to each end plainly obvious, but the lines between hero and scoundrel increasingly blur as the levels and tasks develop complications.

It’s too bad this isn’t all there is to “Mickey,” which has more than enough core game content to avoid depending on needless filler. But it leans on filler anyway, interrupting stretches of action with story-mandated fetch quests that, beyond the opportunity to meet additional discarded toons, offer nothing in the way of stimulation. The quests never challenge, not even intellectually, and when they ask players to backtrack between areas, they’re as time-consuming as they are dull.

“Mickey’s” other big issue — a camera that regularly needs babysitting — is a bit more predictable given the demands placed on the Wii remote, and its inability to keep up will almost inevitably sabotage your progress in harder levels with heavy combat demands. It’s annoying, but it isn’t a deal-killer, and the quicker you master the auto-center button, the less harmful it is.

The aggravations are worth it because, as stories go, this is the best one Disney’s iconic characters have told in ages. “Mickey” transforms Mickey Mouse back into the morally unpredictable rat he used to be before Disney neutered him, and the respect the game pays to Walt Disney’s past creations — Oswald the Rabbit, Horace Horsecollar, Big Bad Pete and so many more — is surprisingly moving. “Mickey’s” core levels are a similarly stirring mess of discarded theme park rides and toys, and the game connects these levels with short 2D levels that send Mickey running and jumping through scenes from old Disney filmstrips.

The level of care in every drop of this celebration makes “Mickey’s” missteps even more puzzling than they would be in a more careless game. But if those missteps are the price one must pay to witness one of the most imaginative stories told in a game this year, so be it.


The Shoot
For: Playstation 3 (requires Playstation Move)
From: Cohort Studios/Sony Computer Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Teen (animated blood, fantasy violence, mild language)

Against all odds, the light gun shooter has survived 25 years of gaming advancements that probably should have rendered it obsolete. And thanks to the advent of the Playstation Move, it finally, against even greater odds, gets a chance to ever-so-slightly evolve.

Even before that becomes apparent, “The Shoot” makes a pretty likable first impression. The game is set on a movie studio lot, and each four-pack of scenes takes place in a different genre — western, alien invasion, mob shootout, horror story, deep sea plunge — of movie. Players (either alone or with a friend via local multiplayer) are the star of the film, and a director barks instruction and expresses satisfaction or scorn depending on how the scene is playing out.

The clever premise pays off by letting “The Shoot” throw out a more diverse variety of environments than most rail shooters get, and it also gives the game a degree of levity that, outside of unintentional humor from bad storytelling, rarely shows up in this genre anymore. The graphics are nice and colorful, and while some will scratch their head at the game’s decision to present enemies in prop form — enemy mobsters, for instance, are wooden cutouts rather than actual people — it’s a surprisingly good look in motion.

The appetite for props also lets “The Shoot” better show off how destructible everything is. Levels are full of optional bonus targets that award points, alter the environment and even open pathways to “deleted scenes” that award additional bonus points. But even completely inconsequential backdrop pieces break apart nicely when you miss your target and hit them instead, making the game a lively experience even when played incorrectly.

Clever gimmick notwithstanding, “The Shoot’s” core concepts and objectives remain as pure as those of any other arcade shooter. The primary goal is, as always, to score as many points as possible, minimize mistakes, and hit targets in succession without fail to boost the score multiplier and achieve gold-medal (career mode) and five-star (score attack mode) scores. Blowing through “The Shoot’s” five films won’t take more than a few hours, but nabbing every medal, star and hidden bonus is a legitimately fun challenge that, for the right crowd, gives this game plenty of legs.

Where “The Shoot” moves the needle a little is through an assist from the Move’s ability to do more than just mimic a light gun. Made of wood or not, the enemies regularly fight back, and the game gives players a chance to dodge the projectiles they fire. Sections with more dangerous enemies occasionally call for players to duck behind cover, duels against special enemies play out like quickdraw shootouts, and a special power-up that temporarily slows down the action only activates when players perform a spin move or wave the Move wand overhead like a lasso.

During the most frantic stretches of the game, when all these parts are in play, “The Shoot” becomes a surprisingly active game. Better still, though, it remains a responsive game. Mastering the timing of the dodge takes practice, but the game does a good job of reading dodges once you figure it out, and it’s similarly proficient with ducking, spinning and dueling. (The lasso motion is hit-or-miss, so be prepared to spin instead of trying to take the easier way out.)


Marvel Pinball
Reviewed for: Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Arcade (requires free Pinball FX 2 download)
Also available for: Playstation 3 via Playstation Network (sta
ndalone game)
From: Zen Studios
ESRB Rating: Everyone (mild fantasy violence)
Price: $10 for all four tables (both platforms) or $2.50 per table (Xbox 360 only)

Zen Studios set the table for something special in October when it rolled out “Pinball FX 2” as a free and endlessly extensible Xbox 360 pinball platform instead of a standalone game, and the first batch of add-on tables provides some serious validation for all that excitement. “Marvel Pinball” features four tables, with Spider-Man, Iron Man, Wolverine and Blade each spearheading a machine. The inclusion of Blade in that foursome may raise eyebrows, but “Pinball” seems to have picked its heroes with pinball design instead of popularity in mind, and one playthrough of the Blade table — which features, among several other surprises, a day/night cycle with different opportunities in both phases — overwhelmingly justifies his inclusion here. The pinball version of Stark Industries, meanwhile, becomes a maze of ramps, side rail decoys and upgrades with which to turn a dancing Tony Stark into Iron Man, while the Spider-Man table’s idea of multi-ball comes in the form of bombs lobbed by the Green Goblin. Both the Spider-Man and Wolverine tables feature a satisfying roster of iconic villains, and skilled players who rack up bonuses can watch Wolverine fight on the table while the pinball action continues. The PS3 version of “Pinball” rounds up the tables as a perfectly enjoyable standalone game, but for those with a choice, the tables’ integration into “PFX2’s” overriding achievements, leaderboards and score structure make the Xbox 360 versions the better value for now.

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.


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

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.


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

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.


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.

Games 9/21: Playstation Move, Sports Champions, Eyepet, Start the Party!, Kung Fu Rider, Racquet Sports, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 (PS Move), Planet Minigolf (PS Move)

Playstation Move
For: Playstation 3
From: Sony
Price: $50 for standalone Move wand; $40 for standalone Eye camera; $100 for bundle that includes one Move wand, one Eye camera and “Sports Champions” game

Most will assume the Playstation Move is the product of Sony scrambling to create a motion controller that out-Wiis the Wii. And most would be at least partially wrong, because in addition to doing buttonless control first with the Playstation 2’s EyeToy camera in 2003, Sony was giving closed-door demonstrations of rudimentary Move technology before the EyeToy was even commercially available.

Those demonstrations, which showed off the low-tech EyeToy’s ability to track light and crudely interpret three-dimensional motion, form the basis of what makes the Move so much more than a mere me-too Wii remote. The hardware is more powerful and camera (now called the Playstation Eye) is now HD, but it’s those original ideas that allow the Move to trounce the Wii in multiple respects.

The most obvious improvement is the capacity to track precise movements on a 1:1 scale — something the Wii couldn’t remotely do until Nintendo released the Wii MotionPlus attachment last year. The disc golf game in “Sports Champions,” for instance, allows players to grip the Move wand as they would a frisbee, and the slightest tilt or turn on the wand is replicated on screen. Players can cheat on the Wii by flicking the remote to fake a fast throw, but the Move is savvy enough to differentiate a flick from a complete motion. If you want to succeed in “Champions'” gladiator duel game, you need to swing that wand like a sword. Flicking it will simply make you look inept.

The Move also demonstrates an impressive ability to understand 3D space. The Eye camera can tell when players are moving forward and backward based on its view of the wand. In “Champions'” table tennis game, for instance, players can move toward the camera to return soft shots and back up to return hard shots. The game is able to read player position with skillful accuracy, and players are similarly in tune with their position because their onscreen racket moves in lockstep with every arm and foot motion. With a little conditioning, the act of playing the game becomes so instinctive that the virtual barriers essentially fade away.

But perhaps the Move’s coolest trick is its continuation of what the EyeToy started in 2003.

Because we’re pointing Move wands at an HD video camera instead of a sensor bar, the Move can put players inside the game while also tracking their movements. The camera can discern the Move wand’s light from everything else in the frame, and it’s able to transform the wand’s onscreen likeness into whatever object it pleases. In the party game collection “Start the Party!,” for instance, the wand might turn into a mallet for a whack-a-mole game. Players see themselves on the screen bopping virtual moles with a 3D virtual mallet that appears to be in their hand, and because the camera tracks the wand so perfectly, the whole exercise is immersive enough to drop jaws.

In terms of tech — and in stark contrast to the Wii, which cleverly masked its shortcomings more than overcame them — the Move fulfills every single promise Sony made about its possibilities behind closed doors more than seven years ago. Provided developers back it up over time with a worthy software library, this is the perfect antidote for those who were seduced by the Wii’s promises but ultimately left feeling cheated by the final product.


Sports Champions
From: Zindagi Games/Sony Computer Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (violence)

“Sports Champions” is hardly an imaginative way to kick off the Move’s lineup — it’s Sony’s “Wii Sports,” after all — but as demonstrations of the tech go, it’s a leaps-and-bounds upgrade over Nintendo’s counterpart. “Champions” includes six sports, and while the selections — bocce, volleyball, archery, table tennis, disc golf and gladiator duels — seem almost random for a sextet, all six are pretty deliberately designed to show just how up to snuff the system is. Throwing a frisbee disc is as natural as the real-life motion, and the game’s scrupulous accounting of angle, speed and arc makes it as feasible to hook or slice a disc as it is to toss one straight and steady. Lobbing a bocce ball feels similarly intuitive, and the table tennis game — in addition to showing off the Move’s ability to track 3D space by letting players move backward and forward for soft and hard shots, respectively — makes it second nature to aim shots and apply topspin and backspin. While all six sports work with a single motion controller, some of the games definitely benefit from having two: Gladiator duels maps a real-time shield to the second controller, while archery uses the two controllers to simulate the stress of holding a taut bow to a startling degree. That makes fully enjoying “Champions” more expensive than originally implied, especially for multiplayer purposes, but it’s a nice demonstration of just how versatile the system is. “Champions” is practically free for those who purchase the $100 Move bundle with it packed in, but it also earns its standalone asking with lengthy career mode that features three cups per sport, showers players with unlockable rewards, and dishes out some serious competition on the higher difficulty tiers.


From: London Studio/Sony Computer Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Everyone

If there’s a game in the Move launch library that could sell systems on sight alone, this is the one. “Eyepet” puts players in charge of caring for a virtual pet — imagine a Pixar-esque cross between a monkey and Gizmo from “Gremlins” — and as with most virtual pet games, players can feed and wash their pet as well as play with him. The difference here is that because the Move puts players inside the games via the Eye camera, the pet can run across players’ actual floors or tables through the magic of augmented reality. And while the Move controller plays a major role in “Eyepet” — the camera transforms its onscreen likeness into everything from a showerhead to a food dispenser to a crayon to a baseball mitt, bowling set and numerous other toys — players also can coddle and play with their pet simply by sticking their hands in the scene. “Eyepet” is the best demonstration so far of the Eye camera’s fidelity, and the first time you draw a car on a piece of paper, hold it up to the camera and watch the game scan the drawing and turn it into a controllable RC car that looks exactly like your drawing, it’s like entering a brave new world. Lots of little tricks like that comprise the package: Rather than guilt players into booting it up daily simply to maintain their pets, “Eyepet” instead gives players a long list of challenges that introduce new toys and tricks and, upon completion, unlock outfits (yes, you can dress them up and even dye their fur) and open up the toys for free play (and high score chasing) purposes. Sony plans to extend the game’s content via downloads from the Playstation Network, though the ratio between free and paid add-ons isn’t yet known.


Start the Party!
From: Supermassive Games/Sony Computer Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Everyone (comic mischief, mild cartoon violence, animated blood)

Every experimental controller needs an obligatory minigame collection, and for the Move, “Start the Party!” is it. But “Party” exceeds its obligations both with its excellent play formats and its comprehensive demonstration of how cool the Move’s augmented
reality capabilities are. Most of “Party’s” games revolve around that trick: Players, filmed by the Eye camera, appear in the middle of the game’s action, but the Move wand is replaced by a virtual object over which players have complete 3D control. A whack-a-mole game turns it into a mallet, a painting challenge turns it into a paintbrush, and a game involving swatting balls into basketball hoops turns it into a racket. The Move controller’s outstanding responsiveness means the virtual objects move in players’ hands exactly as they would if they were real objects, and the disconnect between player and motion that dampens most mini game collections isn’t at all present here. “Party’s” game count is a bit low at 20, but they’re all pretty well-realized, and they’re packaged inside an excellent game show-style presentation for multiple players (four players, one controller needed) and a terrific “WarioWare”-style survival mode that continually switches up the game for those playing solo. Unfortunately, online play — a feature that works brilliantly in Sony’s “Buzz!” party games — is nowhere to be found in “Party.”


Kung Fu Rider
From: Japan Studio/Sony Computer Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (mild suggestive themes, mild violence)

Solid though the Move tech is, “Kung Fu Rider” proves that it isn’t ideal for every game. In almost every way, “Rider” is a splendid callback to the unhinged games that made Sega’s Dreamcast so special. The premise — players star as an office worker who rides an office chair down obstacle-laden streets to elude the mob — is absurd, and the objective — reach the goal quickly and without falling off the chair too many times — is arcade-perfect. “Rider” is fast enough to feel like a racing game in spite of its vehicle choice, and the ability to jump, grind rails and perform martial arts moves on pursuing mobsters while on the chair is just wild. The colorful, goofball presentation is the cherry on the sundae. But “Rider” errs badly by requiring the Move instead of simply supporting it. The speed and challenge of the game leave little room for error, which would be fine if the game demanded foolproof button presses. But “Rider’s” gesture controls too easily confuse one motion with another during the heat of a chase — get ready to jump when you want to accelerate, and vice versa —and small misunderstandings lead to big frustration when they undermine an otherwise excellent run. Games like this are bound to support both control schemes in the future, but “Rider” would do itself a major favor — and instantly transform into an awesome game — if it rights a wrong and patches in controller support retroactively.


Racquet Sports
From: Asobo Studio/Ubisoft
ESRB Rating: Everyone (mild suggestive themes)

If you’re leery of the prospect of developers porting their Wii games over to Move without optimizing them for the hardware, then “Racquet Sports,” which originally appeared on the Wii this past March, won’t make you feel any better. As the name implies, “Sports” includes five sports — tennis, badminton, table tennis, beach tennis and squash — that center around the use of a racket. Each sport features a reward-laden single-player career mode as well as local tournament and party play multiplayer (four players) and head-to-head online play (two players). The game looks terrific, each sport boasts a nice variety of diverse locales, and the character design is considerably more attractive than the bland cast found in “Sports Champions.” But “Sports” squanders all that good stuff with a control scheme that barely takes advantage of the Move’s capabilities. Instead of the 1:1 racket controls found in “Champions'” superior table tennis game, “Sports” uses gesture controls that are evocative of the four-year-old “Wii Sports.” As such, there’s no way to doctor a wand swing to aim a shot a specific way, and the cheap tricks that worked in “Wii Sports” — namely, flicking the wand instead of swinging it to easily hit any ball in the near vicinity — also work here.


Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11
For: Playstation 3 (requires online access to get Move patch)
From: EA Sports
ESRB Rating: Everyone (comic mischief)

Planet Minigolf
For: Playstation 3 via Playstation Network
From: Zen Studios
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (comic mischief, mild suggestive themes)

If you own “Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11” or the downloadable “Planet Minigolf,” then congratulations: — through the power of downloadable online patches, you now also own a Playstation Move game.

“Woods” patches Move support into all of its modes, further expanding what already was a pretty excellent suite of control options. If you’ve played “Woods” on the Wii, you already know how well this can work, and the considerable fidelity advantage the Move enjoys over the Wii remote makes the process of swinging a virtual club so much more natural than it’s ever been in a video game. EA Sports could have waited until next year to sell this as a new feature, so bravo to them for doing it right, doing it right now and giving it away to customers who already purchased the game three months ago.

While “Woods'” Move support is the bigger deal, the most transformative patch so far goes to “Minigolf.” The $10 game looks terrific, boasts some wild course designs and has a stacked feature set (16 courses, online/local multiplayer, course editor, team multiplayer), but the excessively touchy control schemes were a killer. The Move controls change everything: The game maps certain functions to the Move wand in a way that takes adjustment, but in terms of swinging the club, “Minigolf” feels supremely precise, transforming a fatally flawed miniature golf game into the best of its kind.

More games, including “Heavy Rain” and “Resident Evil 5 Gold Edition,” are introducing free Move support shortly.