Friday, 2 July 2010

MLR - Brain Age

Okay, it has reached summation time.

Every day this month I've devoted ten or so minutes to Dr. Kawashima's Brain Training: How Old Is Your Brain? Proof rests below.

This game is over four years old now, has one sequel and a fair amount of spin off titles but it's a common game to find in bundle deals when buying a Nintendo DS. The age doesn't really show, there's no loading times and a slick menu leads to ease of use.

What you're encouraged to do is three of the nine activities in training mode everyday.

The first two are very similar, 'Calculations x20' and 'Calculations x100'. Simple additions, subtractions, multiplications and, if hard mode is selected, divisions, appear on the top screen for you to answer on the touch screen. 'Voice Calculation' is the last game to be unlocked and is the same as 'Calculations' but instead of writing down the answers you say them out loud. The voice recognition is passable but had trouble recognising my sixes. 'Triangle Maths; asks you to complete puzzles like this

5 7 3
+ +
_ _

5 7 3
+ +
12 10

5 7 3
+ +
12 10

In 'Reading Aloud' the aim is to read passages from classic books. You're encouraged to read the passages out loud but the game won't penalise you if your speed reflects that you read in your head. After a month the excerpts hadn't started to loop yet.
'Low to High' flashes several numbered boxes on screen for a few seconds and asks you to remember the order, as the name says, from lowest to high when they've disappeared getting progressively harder as you get more correct.
Presenting a sentence or phrase 'Syllable Count' gets you clapping out a sentence like back in little school or at the least tapping it out on you leg.
'Head Count' plays out like a little minigame as you attempt to keep track of how many figures are inside a house. More will enter and leave even through the chimney and it gets rather hard to keep up with the flow of figures.
One of the most fun but the penultimate game to unlock is 'Time Lapse'. You're shown two analogue clocks and asked to write down the time difference between the two.

Every day, if you do one activity, you get a stamp (three a day results in a bigger stamp) and by the accumulating of stamps you get rewards of new games and features and a nice visual reminder you've done your days brain training. Stamping down feels oddly reminiscent of filling in a star chart like when I was younger.

The PAL version of the game is named after Dr. Kawashima who serves as your guide in the guise of a floating pixelated head. It's a friendly image though, his banter is pleasant and welcoming as he greets you and asks occasionally if you want to do an extra task he's thought of. He's a great mascot who gives off a very neutral vibe which is what is needed. Some brain puzzle based games I've seen have snooty or uppity guides which is a put off to some people.

The flaws in brain age are few but the two main ones are that there's not enough games and after under a month days the games stops rewarding you. The first could be remedied in Brain Training 2, I'll have to find out another month.
Maybe other demographics won't be as bothered but after about 20 days everything that can be unlocked is unlocked. Even if I didn't care about the feature getting a little reward is a great way to keep people coming back to your game day after day, it just peters out a little quick.

After a month I found this self set challenge fairly easy to stick to and would thoroughly recommend dusting out a copy of this game if you never played it or gave it much of a chance. I felt better doing it so whether or not my brain is healthier, fitter, faster, or more likely, not, that's what counts.

My final brain age, 29, and that's only nearly a decade out of sync.


Monday, 28 June 2010

Small brain age update.

Current calculated brain age - 31. Not much, but it's an increase.
The brain age test games have been mostly the same every time, the tests need to be different I feel. Instead of getting better times, the results seem to suggest I'm letting my guard down due to having done them before.

Complete review coming at the end of the month, along with next months 'Month Long Review'.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Super Paper Mario

Publisher - Nintendo
Developer - Intelligent Systems
Format – Nintendo Wii
Genre – Platformer (with RPG elements)

First thing first, this is the third game in the Paper Mario series but don't look at it as a sequel to Paper Mario 1 or 2, you're likely to be disappointed if you do. See it as a stand alone title with no connections to the previous two.

A bigger bad than the Bowser has come along, the monocled Count Bleck, and it's up to Mario and his gang to collect the maguffins (pure hearts in this game) and save the day, the world and yes, even the princess.

Super Paper Marios twist on the platformer genre is that when playing as Mario you have the the option to flip your view point turning the world from 2-D to 3-D, hidden blocks appear, new passages are visible, enemies weak points glare. Mario isn't the only playable character but he is the only one that can flip. Accompanying you are a band of things called pixls which all have their own skill they lend to you such as giving information on characters, enemies and surroundings, helping you expose hidden curiosities, letting you traverse spikes and there's a fair few more.

Eight worlds with four chapters each must be travelled through and a pure heart lies at the end of each, all are nicely themed and even though the art hasn't been updated much it works well enough. My only problem with the worlds is when flipped, which is a focal point of the game and you'll spend plenty of time viewing the game from this perspective, is that the worlds often look rather barren and empty.

A points meter hangs at the top of you screen and stomping goombas and collecting shrooms gets the tally rolling. Every so many points you'll level up and your HP and attack stat will increase in turn. Extra points can be earned by flicking the wiimote as you bounce off enemies but the extra points don't amount to much and you'll soon forget to do this.

The main story will last around 15 hours but there's much to collect if you so choose that that time estimate will be pushed up considerably. Most of the pixls will be acquired through the plot demanding so but there's some non essential ones to be sniffed out. Cards are a neat addition, every type of enemy has a corresponding card that can be purchased or you can try to turn one of the bad guys into a card of themselves, these both serve as collectables and for any type of bad guy you have the card of, double damage will be dealt to them when you attack, giving collecting cards a great incentive. Recipes, two pits of a hundred trials, the sammer guy challenge and some other side quests too. This game is certainly not lacking in that regard.

A big change I wish had been made is the control system, Super Paper Mario uses just the wiimote on it's side, which gets uncomfortable after a while and I see no reason the nunchuck couldn't have been used. The controls would map as well as to just the wiimote and possibly even better seen as a few instances the game requires you to point at the screen.

If you have a wii pick this game up, it's not a game that would convince anyone to buy a wii but it's a definite must have if you do have one. I'd pay up to £25 for this game and wouldn't feel let down.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Update - MLR brain age

Small update here, Week 1 of Brain Training is down and the new brain age result is expectedly higher. According to the pixelated head of Dr. Kawashima my brain's grinding along at the the pace of a 30year old.

There'll be a full review at the end of the month but a couple of quick notes, the brain age test itself comprises of three different test other than the ones you can practice which is better than the single one it gives you to do right when you start. Also I'm finding no trouble in finding time to play it for a few minutes a day.

More reviews coming soon and another weekly update in roughly a week.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Beautiful Katamari

Publisher - Namco Bandai

Developer -Namco, NOW Production

Format – Xbox 360

Playing tennis is dangerous business when you're the King of the Cosmos. Causing black holes with you back swing is a real possibility but thankfully you've a Prince to push your workload on.
Your task - to push around a katamari, a ball like thing that seems to exude a great gravitational field, and recreate all of the planets in the solar system using it. Every planet, except earth, became victim to the Kings careless game so we have a level for each and a few other celestial bodies like the moon.

If you've played katamari before there's nothing new here, a new soundtrack but everything else will feel familiar. Don't let this stop you picking it up, it's still good but seems lacking in comparison to the others in the series. £10 and you won't be a disappointed, it's a new hit of katamari goodness.

For anyone who hasn't, you control the katamari using the two analogue sticks which takes some getting used to but does work well. The only problem is it can start to feel uncomfortable after playing for some time and isn't as good as the playstation controller at this control scheme but it's still the best way they could have done it on the 360 pad.

Each level has a time limit in which you have to get your katamari up to a certain size by and a secondary objective to collect a majority of a certain kind of object, such as food or plants. The size objective is the foremost and if exceeded you'll unlock the next stage. If the size is great enough and you've collected enough of the given type of objects you'll unlock eternal mode for that stage, letting you mosey through the level with no time restrictions. This is useful for collecting cousins and presents which are colourful and unusual new characters who play no different to the Prince, choosing a different is a purely aesthetical choice, and the presents contains trinkets to accessorize them with. They're all nice little add ons which are compelling to collect.

Some stages mix it up by having different objectives like rolling up hot things to make Mars and objects with rings in them to make Saturn.

It doesn't last long but this addition in the katamari damacy series is a nice one if not the best. If you're new to the series pick it up and enjoy it, and if not scour it out anyway just don't expect anything new.

This was a budget title release but pay no more £10/$15 for it. I love this game along with all the other katamari damacy games, it's one of the most cathartic game series out there and is teeming with re-playability but I have one big problem with this one. Downloadable content.

This game has DLC done wrong. Its DLC is of the lock and key variety which means the content is already on the disc that you've paid for but you need to shell out again to gain access to content that's technically already there. The stages are cheap, there are five that cost 80 MS points each, but honestly they aren't great. One or two are fine (Milky Way Constellations and High Calorie Katamari) but overall I'd avoid. If they were new levels added after the game had come out and they didn't play like rushed, poorly thrown together segments then they could be justified.

Even the achievements tell you to download them, you can't collect all the cousins and presents without doing so which is ridiculous and brazen. If they added new cousins fine, as long as the achievements said something like collect all original cousins. It gets to me they expect you to pay for content which is already in my hands and will tell you to do so at every opportunity they can.

In conclusion buy this game on the cheap if you can but avoid the DLC.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Month Long Review - Dr. Kawashima's Brain Training: How Old Is Your Brain?

Publisher - Nintendo

Developer -Nintendo SDD

Format - Nintendo DS

The basic idea is every month I'll take a game like Brain Training, Cooking guide, French Coach and the likes and spend the whole month playing and reviewing it. For want of a better name I'll call these motivational games and I'd be glad to hear suggestions.

On the first of the month I'll set up the game, talk about it a little and set the parameters of what I'll play. For brain training I'll do the recommended amount of three exercises a day and also a sudoku.

At the end of the every week I'll take the brain age test and post a weekly round up and the last week of the month will be both a round up and a review.

There's two brain training games out and a multitude of similar games that have been out for ages. I'm trying to review these games a bit differently to stop the review being completely redundant, What I'm going to mainly be looking at is how the game fares in the long term, it doesn't seem like it but a month is fair chuck of time.

I hope to report on how easy Brain Training is to stick with and whether or not I feel better or rewarded by the game.

Upon starting a file you'll be prompted to do a quick test to calculate your brain age, if you choose the option that you are in a quiet place and can talk be prepared just in case the game struggles to understand your voice. It seems to be a common problem that the game can't recognise some people saying blue, and I am to be included in that party.

My first result clocks in at 20, and here lies the first problem. I got given the choice between failing completely because the game can't understand me or a task at which I'm pretty quick at. For the first reading it only asks you to do one kind of test, the one's I'll be doing at the end of the week use three tests so hopefully we'll see a different and more reliable result. I can only see my brain age going down hill from here though.

There's only three training modes on option at first. Calculations x20, calculations x100 and reading out loud. After doing one I'm rewarded with a stamp on the calender marking my progress and a new activity.

I'll keep this up and see you at the end of the week for an update.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Shadow Complex

Developer - Chair Entertainment, Epic Games

Publisher - Microsoft Game Studios

Format – Xbox Live Aracde

Shadow Complex is a rare breed, it's a 2.5-D game. Our protagonist Jason is limited to movement of the X and Y axis whilst everyone else can move in all 3-D dimensions.

At first it seems like little originality is going to found as your girlfriend is kidnapped and you venture forth into a mysterious complex to rescue her. Starting out this seems like a hard feat, armed with the power of a physically fit young man and nothing else. It isn't long before you start finding power ups which range from guns to add ons for a super soldier suit you obtain. If you commit to finding absolutely everything the game has tucked away in hidden rooms and hard to reach gaps you'll be rewarded with an armoury that rivals Iron Mans suit.

As you progress and fill the map experience points are gained, level ups reward you with increased character perks like better aiming and defence. It's possible to speed through this game in a few hours but not on your first play through. A big emphasis, as with most side scrolling room games, is put on power ups and various other boosting collectables. Going out of your way to find them is both rewarding in the game and out of it. Your level will rise quicker and the constantly collecting of things is essentially a series of tiny accomplishments.

One thing this game manages to mostly eliminate is the frustration of having to search every nook and cranny of a room. The flash light has a pretty nifty feature in that if the beam hits an object that you need to bomb or manipulate it'll be highlighted in a colour which is coded to your equipment. Things that are highlighted as green need to have grenades used on them for example.

Arguably this does make hunting a bit too easy on some occasions but there was still plenty of times I found myself stumped as how to reach a tucked away treasure.

Complex costs 1200 Microsoft points and in their attempt to confuse everyone with what is essentially another currency it's hard to get an exact price of what the game actually costs. At the time of me writing this it's about £10 and it's fully worth that. After playing through once there will still to be lots left to discover and collect, this kind of game lends itself to speed runs and some of the achievements even challenge such feats.

On the menu there's an option called the 'proving grounds' which sets you up with progressively harder tasks which teach you how to use all your equipment in different ways. As such it functions both as training and a test of skill, it's a great addition that the game doesn't need but feels more complete having.

This is the kind of game that should be supported and it deserves to be. It looks great and the controls are work great, if you were ever a fan of games like Super Metroid or Metroid Fusion you'll sink into this game and enjoy the familiar territory. And if not, try it anyway. For roughly £10/$15 you're getting a nicely polished game that isn't likely to disappoint. I could have paid up to £20 for Shadow Complex and have felt as happy with my purchase.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Pokemon Link/Trozei

Publisher - Nintendo
Developers- Genius Sonority

Another spin off pokemon game rolled into game stores in 2006, Link (or Trozei for non- EU releases) is a charming little puzzler for the DS.

I'm not sure why someone would pick this game up themselves if they didn't have some interest in pokemon but knowledge of the pokemon universe isn't required to enjoy the game. I imagine it helps though.

There's a little bit of set up story, nothing wildly different from a generic 'you are the good guy, go stop the bad' explanation but I'm not really here for an engaging story. If it's a good enough puzzler it'll stand just fine without one. And it does.

Symbols representing pokemon drop down from the top of the top screen and form rows and columns that can be slid around on the bottom screen (this is a stylus only game). Your objective is to get four symbols in a horizontal or vertical row, they'll then disappear and start a link chance. This is your opportunity to clear the screen of symbols and boost your points up significantly. You have a couple of seconds to arrange a set of symbols, but only three in a row are needed this time. If you manage that then you only need to link pairs, if you can't after a moment the link chance state will wear off and you'll have to link four symbols again to get it back.

There's training levels to ease you in, and additional ones crop up throughout the game to introduce you to little tricks you might not have discovered yet.

Adventure is a little short, but is peppered with some boss fights. Various extra conditions and obstacles are thrown your way by pun named evil doers. The most common are speeding up the rate at which icons are dropped, turning the symbols into silhouettes (which can be pretty infuriating, many of the times the pokemon outlines are pretty similar to each other) which will go away if you manage to make a link and the last is them throwing a non-linkable object in. The only way to get rid of these is to connect them to a link with a ditto. Ditto acts as the wild card in this game and can link with everything.

The other two single player features are endless mode and forever mode. The names kinda sum them up, the game goes on till the screen completely fills up causing a game over. Clearing so many symbols puts you up a level and the pokemon change every level. In forever mode there are more columns but you have to link five pokemon to start up link chance.

After completing the story mode there are still plenty of aims left to complete. Every level has rare symbols that are difficult to link due to them either disappearing quickly or not wanting to show up much at all and if you exceed the point highscore for the stage you'll get a coin which buys you time in a special stage full of uncommon pokemon.

All these are mini goals stack towards finishing the big one, completing the pokedex. This is a pokemon game, it'd be a strange thing if it didn't encourage us to catch, or in this case link, them all.
Link came out before Diamond and Pearl were released so the pokedex caps out at 386, which is still plenty enough.

Multiplayer in the game is pretty fun, two carts aren't needed but lets you play the better options. You can send demo versions to other DS which is a feature I really do like.

What's the chance you'll stick it out though and finish everything? Honestly it's not high, after story mode is over it's not long till you're likely to start losing interest, but like Meteos and Tetris it's a game you'll pick up and play again in bouts and bursts.
This is a great game to pick up if you've got a bit of travel time coming up. Obsessively playing for a short amount of time when you get it then forgetting about it until you re-find it months later is likely to be the relationship most people would have with this game.

All in all this is a great little puzzler but it won't last you long till you put it away. This game wouldn't be half as interesting without the pokemon element which is treated as an integral part of game play and not as a gimmick. I paid £7 for this game and wasn't disappointed. It's worth at least £15/$20 but it's old DS game (been out for four years) and I imagine it can be found cheaply if you snoop around.

Sunday, 23 May 2010


Publisher - Sega
Developer - Platinum Games
Platform - 360/PS3

The Devil May Cry series is well known for its lack of substance in exchange for large splashes of style, but this is a formula that fails to enthral me. My first foray into the Cry franchise was pretty late on at, well as late as I could be, with Devil May Cry 4 (PS3/360 [mine being the 360 version]), and the £7.99 I paid for it would have been better put towards almost anything. I'll take it as a sign from the great above that after finishing just about half the game the disc shuddered to a moody halt with my console demanding the disc to be cleaned like the back of a white van.

Devil May Cry looked pretty, but not pretty enough or well enough to hold my attention for a game that I could complete by pressing the same combat button over and over and jump whenever the terrain required me to.

So why even play Bayonetta never mind write about it after stating how I feel about games that trade weight for flash. Because, as simply as I can put it Bayonetta is the Devil May Cry franchise done right. Extremely right.

Bayonetta at first appears to be nothing more than than flashy façade wearing button masher it presents itself as but it opens out to be so much more.

At first your basic weapons inspire little faith and the game would be much poorer if you didn't unlock more after you start to progress through a few chapters. Every weapon has a different style to the others, and most operate differently depending on how you equip it. You wear two at a time and can quickly swap between two combinations of weapons which you set up on the pause screen. Most of the weapons are radically differently from the guns you start with, after collecting them all it feels like you have an entire fighting games character select screen condensed into your inventory at your beck and call. Your arsenal will eventually include a possessed whip, a katana, rocket launching tonfas and some magic ice skates that let you glide around like a not so PG friendly ice Mario. They vary up and change your fighting style enough that I was compelled to start a re-run straight away to collect what ones I'd missed.

If you enjoy the thrill of rummaging around for extras, and the cheap adrenaline rush of acquiring collectables then no disappointment will be found playing Bayonetta, at least in the field of collecting. There's collectables for health boosting, magic gauge extending, music records (which unlock weapons) and crows whose purpose are pretty much just to be collected for the sake of it.
Bayonettas story is paper thin so much so that you could cut ourself on it if you examine it too closely. You will want to play on though and will be pulled through the game compelled, not to find out what happens, but how. Bar a few select segments of the game, to which I'd like to take an aside to award the achievement of video game sections that make me want to rub powdered glass into my eyes ground from the bottles of the painkillers I needed to finish them, Bayonettas campaign runs smoothly. The bad sections are the driving and piloting sections, they get repetitive very quickly and just drag.

The art and design is beautiful and I just wanted to see more. If I could get the developers to do anything I'd ask that they don't make me fight the same stock angels again, you've shown me what you can do game, give me more not just a taster. Music wise, it's fine. Not enough variety really, you'll hear a rendition of 'Fly Me To The Moon' so many times that even if you don't like it initially your brain will make you, trust me it's just easier that way.

Bayonetta is a repetitive game. It's its nature to be so, but it works as hard as laboratory mouse gnawing through wires connecting electrodes to it's brain to keep your attention from wandering off. And the the most parts it does a fantastic job.

Price verdict - £25/$35

I own the 360 version of this game. There's some loading time which can be reduced by installing the game to your hard drive, and ,thanks to a commenter for pointing this out, you can now do this with the PS3 too which drastically reduces the loading times. This game needs good flow, stuttering into pause screens and out of them does not suit it at all. So if you can go with the version with less loading time.

Edited the Ps3/360 loading times segment thanks to information from a comment.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Time Hollow

Publisher - Konami

Developer – Tenky

Format - Nintendo DS

I've been trying to track down this game for a while, I enjoy point and click games on the DS (think Hotel Dusk and the Ace Attorney games), but they all tend to suffer from a similar problem. They struggle to justify their retail price. Time hollow takes between five and six hours to finish; most of which are full of gripping story but the point and click genres nemesis rears it head aplenty. Wandering about because you missed a tiny detail is frequent and slows things down to the pace of a three legged spider limping about it's web.

Playing as Ethan Kairos (this is one of the subtler names in the whole game, every character is named with a time based pun in mind, even the pet cat) you inherit the hollow pen which allows you to open up portals back in time if certain circumstances are fulfilled. The overarching story concerns returning reality back to how the main character remembers it before obtaining the pen. Soon discovering the dangers of changing the past Ethan is over-run changing this and that to avoid that pesky thing called consequence.

The game is pretty much completely linear. Occasionally you can complete one objective before another but that's it. Calling this a game could very well be where my problem lies. This isn't a game. This is a story, an interactive story. So lets judge it as one.

The length suits it. Ethan's reality is constantly changing and at some points it can get somewhat overwhelming to keep track of it all and towards the end thinking about the amount of parallel worlds that must have been spawned as a result of changing time starts to make your brain feel like a chocolate rabbit that's lounging next to an open fire.

This is where I don't quite know what to think. It's short which suits it, but I want more for my money. This game never deserved a full retail price of £30/$40. It has good points but as many ones that drag it down.

The character design is great but the music is terrible. After listening to the same few loops of sounds over and over again I felt like I'd rather be listening to whales getting harpooned, it'd be less repetitive for one. After say the first chapter turn the volume off and just listen to your own music, Time Hollows doesn't change, hell yours might even set a better mood.

The games interface is fine, I'd have liked for it to have been tweaked and somethings smoothed out but it works without hassle.

I paid £14/$20 for this game and I struggle to say it was worth it. The puzzles are minimal, this isn't Hotel Dusk where you are guiding the protagonist around actively and feel like you're a necessary cog in the process of solving the mysteries going on. In time Hollow you feel like a spectator following Ethan around, a passive observer at best.

If you see this game for say £8/$12 or under, pick it up. It's enthralling while it lasts.

Price Verdict - £8/£12

Ways it could have been pushed up – Lengthening this game by adding to the story would only bore the people playing it. But maybe if they had adapted a choose your own adventure gimmick (multiple endings) where upon once most of the endings are unlocked you activate the true ending could have added to both the length of the game and it's re-playability.