Archive for November, 2009


A Boy and His Blob Review


Written By Stephen Heller

Platformers dominated the early days on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), and it’s easy to see why when we look back at the catalogue of classic titles to come out of the era. One that is often overlooked is A Boy and His Blob, created by the mind behind the Pitfall series David Crane. The game provided a relationship between a boy and a bouncing, jiggling blob that needed the boy’s help to save his home planet. The boy was happy to help, but often needed the help of tools that the blob was able to change into. It was this mechanic that made the original stand out as a thinking gamers platformer.

Twenty years on WayForward Technologies bring us a re-imagining of the classic, featuring all new levels and gameplay features, topped off with some fantastic presentation that makes this stand out as a gorgeous game. A Boy and His Blob for the Wii is a smart, fun platforming adventure that very rarely falls short.

Keeping true to the titles roots, the story is weaker than diet cordial. The blob crash-lands on our little planet and meets the boy, they team up and embark on an adventure across our planet and beyond to defeat the emperor who has taken control of Blobolonia. That’s about as detailed as the story gets, and while it works in this situation, it still would have been nice to have it fleshed out a little more.

The presentation of A Boy and his Blob is what really makes the game stand out. Boy and Blob travel through unique worlds which range from the lush green wilderness, which looks stunning under the moonlit sky, the bright and outlandish planet of Blobolonia and the dark, brooding mechanical citadel. Each world feels unmistakably different, each with it’s own feeling which keeps the game interesting and fresh. 2D platforming has never looked so good.

What makes A Boy and his Blob look so darn good is the fact that every facet of the game has been hand drawn and animated to perfection. The characters all feature an amazing amount of detail that draw the player in, enemies splatter in a way that brings a smile to your face, and the backgrounds and scenery are some of the best artwork on the Wii today. The art design takes a minimalistic approach at times, but it works rather well. The real-time lighting brings a warm and fuzzy quality, lighting up the scenery and the boy and his blob too. Running a smooth and consistent frame rate, this is one gorgeous game for the Nintendo Wii.

The adventure is spread our across four worlds featuring ten levels each and they will manage to keep you busy for a number of hours. Completionists on the other hand will find themselves replaying each level to collect all three treasure chests hidden in each level. If you collect all three, bonus levels are unlocked (40 of them) which can be beaten to unlock concept art, videos and more. This is an adventure that is lengthy and has plenty of re-playability for those of you who want to unlock everything.

While the charm of the characters manage to draw you into the game, the immersion is severely hampered by a series of loading times, which manage to destroy the momentum created by the game. There are stage loads that are fine, but the mid-level loading times manage to destroy the illusion that the world is not a seamless stage, but merely a conglomerate of conjoined areas. While this isn’t a deal breaker to the games appeal of functionality, it certainly does make the pacing feel broken and slow.

Many gamers will just write Blob off as another 2D platformer, but upon spending some time with it, you will find yourself relying on brainpower rather than the run and jump formula that is found in most platforming games. You take control of the boy, using the nunchuck to move around, using the A button to perform a jump. The boy’s jumping abilities aren’t that great, so more often than not you will rely on your blob to transform into something to allow you to navigate the hostile world. Using the Z button you open up a wheel with different coloured jelly beans, each with a special power that will cause your jiggly blob friend to transform into useful tools. Some of these include ladders for climbing, trampoline to jump over hazards or up rather high, a hole to make your enemies fall to their doom, and even a spaceship when you need to fly somewhere.

Blob’s control scheme is okay once you get used to it, but more often than not it feels boated and sluggish. What should be a quick and simple task of transforming your blob into the tool you desire is slowed down by a number of steps. First you need to hit the Z button to bring up the jelly bean menu, you then need to use the analogue stick to navigate to the desired jelly bean, which changes every level as each level has it’s own designated powers, then you need to press the B-trigger and use the analogue stick to choose your trajectory to throw the said jelly bean. After all this you sill need to hit the C button to call the blob over to you and make him eat the jelly bean. The AI of the blob can be rather cumbersome, more often than not you’ll find yourself waiting for him to catch up. It’s not a deal breaker, but some alternative control methods would have been nice.

THE FINAL VERDICT
A Boy and His Blob is a fantastic homage to the titles roots on the NES, featuring 2D platforming at it’s best. A gorgeous game to look at, the only downfalls are in the bloated control system and staggering load times that really break immersion. If you want a platformer that has more than just running and jumping, A Boy and His Blob will keep you entertained for hours.

GAMEPLAY: 7.8/10 – A unique blend of puzzle and platforming. Great characters and fantastic level designs. Unfortunately is let down by a bloated and sluggish control system.

GRAPHICS: 8.5/10 – Hand drawn and animated characters with stunning backdrops and real-time lighting effects. Rarely do 2D platformers looks this good!

AUDIO: 6.5/10 – The soundtrack is atmospheric but often feels bare. The Blob is humorous but the boy calling out to the boy will get on your nerves rather quickly.

VALUE: 7.2/10 – 40 story levels that will keep you busy for quite some time, and with 40 bonus missions, concept art other unlockables on offer this will keep you busy for a while, but the bonus levels are rather short lived.

OVERALL: 7.5/10


Left 4 Dead 2 is out in Australia, but unfortunately to absolutely absurd censorship laws it was refused classification. The version of the game released here is lacking basically all gore, bodies disappear when they hit the ground, and the melee weapons don’t cause any form of dismemberment. If you are like the majority of the Australian Gaming community you are outraged by this and want to get your hands on an uncensored copy of the game. FEAR NOT! Here are two simple ways to do just that!

PC GAMERS
1> Open up your browser and go to the following link http://store.steampowered.com/?cc=uk
2> Purchase the game from the UK STEAM store. Input your credit card details and address, make sure you change your country to Australia in this section.
3> Enjoy your uncensored version of Left 4 Dead 2 🙂

For all you Xbox 360 gamers out there, http://www.playasia.com is your friend. The Asia release is region free, and I think the USA version is also.


2008 saw the release of Left 4 Dead, the hectic team based survival horror from Valve, the development team behind the Half-Life series. It had a way to make you rely on your team members for survival like no other game could. A year later the sequel is here, a quick turn around for any sequel in the gaming world, more-so surprising from a developer that is renowned for their lengthy development schedules.

While many fans cried out in a boycott, stating this was more of an expansion back than a full blown sequel, after a few hours with Left 4 Dead 2 it instantly proves itself worthy as a new addition to the franchise as opposed to a glorified expansion pack. Fixing and tweaking many of the first titles downfalls and adding in new components creates a title that is bursting at the seams with rich, zombie slaying gameplay.

For those of you who haven’t had an experience with the first game, Left 4 Dead 2 places you in the middle of a Zombie apocalypse. You fill the role of one of the four survivors who try to blast your way through hordes of “infected” in an attempt to get to the end of the map. This time round the game is set in the southeast regions of America, and the new cast of characters carry humor, charm and wit in spades. Hearing stories about particular Nascar drivers, and stories about hilarious accidents while hundreds of zombies are honing in on your position gives the characters more of the spotlight that the first title was lacking.

The improvements are so rich in-fact you will find going back to the original game is a pure disappointment. L4D2 features five new interesting campaigns, that have you fighting your way through far more invigorating environments than it’s predecessor. The situations you find yourself in simply give you more to do, which keeps things feeling fresh as opposed to run and gun to the safe house feeling the first game tended to have. All five campaigns can also be played in the Versus game mode right off the bat, no waiting around for Valve to release DLC to unlock that ability this time. As a result the game feels like a full package, where the first game tended to feel a little hollow.

L4D2 is team based gameplay at it’s finest. It is paramount to communicate and work together as a team to achieve success, more-so than any other game you’re likely to play this generation. You will need to rely on your team mates to keep you informed of where they are, when finding health, ammo or weapons, or when there is a world of hurt about to come raining down, and you will have to return the favour. The catch is that no level will play the same thanks to Valve’s AI which they call “The Director”. The Director changes up the location of enemies, weapons and difficulty each and every time you play. It manages to encourage repeat play as you will never know exactly how it will pan out, and manages to provide a challenge every time, regardless of your experience and skill.

Difficulty will play a big part in your experience with L4D2 which offers some of the most challenging gameplay you’re likely to see. Normal is a good entry point as you grasp the concept and learn what weapons work in what situations, while Expert requires the very best in reaction time, communication and overall skills. To make it even harder L4D2 introduces realism mode, removing hints and glows on items such as health and weapons from the HUD. This means your communication with your team member needs to be top notch, otherwise you are going to find yourself high and dry and left for dead.

If you are anti-social or just don’t feel like playing online there are Bots included who can go through the five campaigns with you. They also jump in on the action if a player drops out, and while they do make accurate shots and do their best to help out, it’s far more entertaining with with human players. The bots are largely unreliable. There were a few situations where I went down and needed to be revived, the bots came and took out the zombies and then ran away again without helping me up, leaving me there to die. It’s functional, but to play L4D2 as intended you really do need to play with fellow gamers.

If the campaigns aren’t challenging enough for you Versus mode is sure to get the blood pumping. Versus pits four players as “survivors” and another four players control special infected enemies such as Tanks, Boomers etc. With the addition of new Special Infected in Spitters, Jockeys and Chargers, the Versus gameplay is now far more interesting and fleshed out. Spitters have the ability to spit out acid, Jockeys ride the survivors controlling their movements and Chargers are like mini tanks, charging at their enemies and pummeling them. It keeps gameplay varied and with the 4v4 action things can become quite tense and unpredictable.

What makes L4D2 so successful is the tension and overall stress it will cause you. It get’s your heart racing, and you will find your attention fixated on the screen at all times, constantly reassessing the situation and making decisions you hope will pay off. Each campaign features pivotal moments that will stand out in your mind well and truly after you complete them, whether it be frantically filling a car full of gas in Dead Centre, or dealing with the storms and winds in Hard Rain. If you are a fan of the first game, you are going to go ga-ga for L4D2.

It’s not just the new characters, the fantastic and varied environments or gameplay situations that make L4D2 a far better package, it’s the little things that make the game so much more entertaining and varied. A bigger range of guns, the inclusion of explosive and incendiary ammo pickups but most importantly, and the most fun, the inclusion of melee weapons.

That’s right ladies and gents, you can now slice and dice, whack and smack and shred your way through each campaign with a delightful assortment of melee weapons. There are the conventional melee weapons for a horror film setting, there’s the machete and the katana and of course a chainsaw, but then there are some unexpected ones such as a cricket bat (paddle bat for the Yanks) electric guitar or a frying pan. In all there are a number to choose from and you will have a blast regardless of your choice. There is nothing quite like the feeling of facing off a bunch of infected and smashing their heads off with a well timed swing from the old cricket bat, you can’t help but have a smile come across you face, disturbing as that thought may be.

Along with new weapons come new perks as well. Along with your pain-pills and your medipacks you know have access to adrenalin shots which give you that little pick me up when the odds are against you, making you faster and stronger for a short period of time. Add this with the new defibrillator pack to bring slain survivors back from the dead, and you have some great new additions to the gameplay.

Now it’s time to address the heavy censorship applied to the Australian release of the game. Due to the fact that in Australia we don’t have an R18+ rating for video-games, the original cut that rest of the world received was refused classification by the OFLC board. While violence doesn’t make a game, in a game like L4D2 it certainly adds to the authenticity of the situation. The lack of blood, bodies on the floor or dismemberment makes the game really seem lacking. I’d highly advise you to get an uncut version of the game, if you want more info on how to do that, check out my article on this website.

THE FINAL VERDICT:

Despite the quick turn around between releases Left 4 Dead 2 is a far more complete, rich and rewarding gameplay experience, improving in almost every aspect it ventures. This is team based gameplay at it’s finest, and the amount of tension and stress this game can cause you is a true testament to Valve. They have created one thrilling and immersive game here. For those who enjoyed the first game then you will fall in love with the sequel, yet if the first Left 4 Dead didn’t rev your engine, chances are this game will do nothing to change that. Overall, one of the most thrilling games this year.

GAMEPLAY: 9.1/10 – Gameplay has been improved in each and every facet over the original.

GRAPHICS: 8.8/10 – The graphics are fairly decent but it isn’t the greatest looking game on the market. Enemies are detailed and animations are fluent. The daylight environments add a little something that the first game was lacking.

AUDIO: 9.0/10 – The weapons sound full and punchy, the voice acting is top notch, campy but it suits, and differentiating groans from different zombies comes together is a great sound package.

VALUE: 9.2/10 – The AI Director makes each campaign play different each time. Add this to the versus mode and the new scavenger mode and you have a pretty decent bang for buck. Hopes for further campaigns via DLC.

OVERALL: 9.2/10


2008 saw the release of No More Heroes for the Nintendo Wii, a bold game from the Suda51 team. While other developers were releasing party games and shovelware, Suda51 brought us a game that had a bit of everything, retro appeal, pop culture references, and more importantly a game that was made for teenagers and adults.

Unfortunate for many hardcore gamers out there who steer clear of the Wii’s kiddie appeal you all missed out on what really was a unique title that truly needs to be played to understand and appreciate it.

Rumours have been circulating for a while now that Suda51 wanted to bring the next installment of the series to HD consoles such as the Xbox 360 and the PS3, but those rumours have some substance now with the announcement of No More Heroes: Heroes Paradise, a prettier version of the Wii original launching for the PS3 and Xbox 360.

Texture quality has been ramped up, more pixels crammed in and advanced lighting techniques will make this play like a dream on the more powerful consoles. Launch date has been stated as 25th of Feb 2010 in Japan, but still waiting for a North American and European release date to be confirmed.

The question is will they censor it like they did for the Wii version in Australia. While American and Japanese audience members had sprays of blood across the screen due to Australia’s harsh censorship laws we only saw black squares as enemies were killed. While this was in no way detrimental to the overall experience of the gameplay, the fact the OFLC is so in inconsistent when it comes to these matters, I wouldn’t be surprised if the gore is re-instated on the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions.


Bioshock is my favourite game of this generation, so I was already pretty damn excited for the second installment, but after seeing the great swag that comes with the Collectors Edition I’m jumping up and down like a school girl.

As announced on The Cult of Rapture the Collectors Edition will cost approximately $99.99USD for the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions, and $89.99USD for the PC. That’s a fair bit of coin, but you also get a fair bit of swag including…

* BioShock 2
* Vinyl 180g LP featuring the orchestral score from the original BioShock
* CD containing the BioShock 2 orchestral score
* A 164 page 8-inch x 11-inch hardbound artbook chock full of developer commentary
* Three posters featuring vintage ads from Rapture (rolled)

Of course you’ll need a record player to hear that Vinyl glory, but regardless it would make a fitting decoration for any bedroom or den. The collectors edition will ship the same day as the normal version of the game, which is set for a Feb 9th 2010 release. 2K Games have said that this is a single production type deal, so get your pre-orders in early.

Unsure if this will ship to Australia.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii Review
Written By Stephen Heller

In 1985 a game launched on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), a game that would create a legacy and change gaming forever. It was simple, yet challenging and most of all, fun. You controlled the character Mario through a series of levels plagued with mushrooms, flying turtles and some hectic platforming. Since that game Mario has been in a number of adventures, most recent have been in the 3D realm. What New Super Mario Bros. Wii does is amazing, it takes the formula of that very first Mario adventure, brings in ideas from all of his subsequent quests, and adds in enough new to make this formula not only reek of nostalgia, but feel fresh at the same time. The question is, will this game reach out to a new generation of Mario gamers, or does it only appeal to those veterans who are drawn in by the nostalgia factor? Let’s find out…

New Super Mario Bros (NSMB) is a return to a 2D platform as we run and jump our ways from the start of a level to the flag, taking out a multitude of familiar foes out along the way with a few new surprises to keep the player on their toes. It’s the simplicity of the goal, get from point A to point B that makes this game instantly accessible to any player, it’s objective is so simple that Grandma could sit down and have an idea of how to complete the objective. Accessible doesn’t mean easy, NSMB does it’s best to keep you challenged, right to the end of its 8 worlds.

Due to the games difficulty, and more notably, to keep a level playing field for those new to the series, Nintendo have hatched a new idea called the “Super Guide”. If you have died eight times on a level, next time you load it up a Green “!” box will appear. Hit this box and you will be able to watch Luigi strut his stuff through the level, effectively showing you how to complete the part you keep dying on. It’s a great feature for those who are new to the series, but veterans will most likely steer clear from it all together. It’s not forced upon the player, which means it’s your own choice to use it.

Where NSMB truly shines is the intergration of multiplayer which has the potential to cause friendships to end, family quarrels and bring out your inner jerk in the best kind of way. Each player controls a character as you make your way through the main game, either helping each other out, or competing for overall supremacy. There are sections where co-operation is paramount, utilizing features such as the grab and lift mechanic, effectively lifting a fellow player onto your shoulders, and the ability to throw them towards that hard to reach power-up, or a lava pit to teach them a lesson, whichever may apply to the situation. There is no better feeling than having a friend betray you, only for you to get a lucky wall jump to save yourself and you get a chance to exact revenge. This is some of the best fun you’ll have on your Wii, period.

The four characters on offer are Mario, Luigi or Toad (blue or yellow) which is a little disappointing. All four characters have the same abilities, yet it can be confusing if both toads grab an invincibility star as they flash the same multicolored pattern. Overall the dynamic works well. If one player dies they re-appear in a floating bubble and will re-join the game when another player tags them in. If all four players manage to die at the same time, sorry lads but you’ll need to restart the level. It’s a great way to bring tensions up, especially in those ultra-hard stages and you all have hardly any lives left.

For those of you who are veterans to the 1985 classic you should feel right at home when it comes to the control scheme of NSMB. Holding the Wii remote sideways and using the 1, 2 and D-Pad for the majority of the gameplay mechanics, with a few waggle motions to make it fill the Wii game obligations. A small shake of the remote will have your character pull of a spin-jump, which is handy when equipped with a Flower power-up as it will shoot out in opposite directions, potentially protecting you from incoming foes. The other motion control is a simple tilt action, used to swing platforms and tilt cannons used within the game. They integrate into the gameplay well and don’t cause any issues.

I’m sure many gamers reading this could attest that level design in each Mario adventure has been paramount to the series success. NSMB is no exception, featuring eight worlds bursting with creativity. Each level is carefully plotted, and later levels will have you studying the environment to work out a safe passage to the end goal. It can be a split second gap that will save your life, and while you may go red in the face and clench that controller just a little too tight until you get it, the feeling of completion is a reward unto itself.

For those completionists out there NSMB features plenty of side challenges to keep you busy. Red Coins and Star coins need to be collected, Kidnapped Toads need to be saved and carried safely to the goal in some levels, and a bunch of cannons can be unlocked to shoot you to new worlds. You will be playing each level over and over again to collect everything, which is exactly what you are looking for in a Mario title.

With the addition of the already hectic four player multiplayer comes new game modes. Foot Race breathes destruction as you race across open levels, free from the time constraints of the normal game. Coin Battles pit players against each other on one screen with a series of enemies. The player with the most coins at the end wins.

This is where Nintendo should have capitalised on the potential for rivalries, whether it be the implementation of leaderboards online, or even just a ladder that stays on the home console. Once the game has ended and you want to tell your friends about your epic win, there is no proof on the console. Such a simple concept could increase the longevity of these gameplay modes, yet it is yet another opportunity missed by the developers.

Going back to the games roots, the graphics are a fantastic blend of 3D Characters, retro sprites, scrolling backgrounds creating a feeling of Super Mario World that was released on the SNES with some 3D character modeling. It very rarely departs from this presentation model, and it’s a good thing it doesn’t as the 2D playing field really makes this game feel fresh.

The soundtrack for NSMB is a perfect mix of old school and re-vamped tunes, bringing in waves of nostalgia as you hum along to familiar tunes from your childhood. The sound effects are back, with power-ups and such chiming through the Wii remote speaker which is a nice touch.

The Final Verdict

Is New Super Mario Bros. Wii the greatest Mario title to date? That’s a decision you need to make for yourself, but the fact that it’s debatable is a true testament to just how good this new addition is. Bringing in the best of series, going back to the original form as a 2D platformer, and throwing in four player mayhem brings Mario and his adventures to a whole new level. The most important ingredient is fun, and no matter who you are, you will undoubtedly have a bunch of fun with this title. Nintendo have just proven again that they are the masters of creating a game to suit a large age group.

GAMEPLAY: 9.5/10: Not much could be improved, but at times tighter controls would make things easier.

GRAPHICS: 9.8/10: The game looks gorgeous and is a perfect fit for the game.

AUDIO: 9.5/10: A perfect mix of re-vamped tunes with new twists and great sound effects

VALUE: 9.0/10: Completionists will be busy for a long time, but would have been nice to have some online
 features or some sort of scoreboard for competitive play.



OVERALL: 9.7/10