Sonic CD Review

More than just a classic action game, Sonic CD is an exemplary port of a retro game to a modern platform.

The Good

  • A lot of fun platforming at a very good price
  • Faithfully converts the pixel look of the original to high-res, widescreen displays
  • Includes a huge variety of old and new unlockable extras
  • Offers a unique take on the classic Sonic formula.

The Bad

  • A few noticeable changes to core gameplay may annoy some
  • Some vocals removed due to licensing reasons
  • Wacky Workbench level isn’t fun.

History has not been kind to the Sega CD add-on, which has largely been regarded as a failure. Still, the console did have several excellent exclusives, among which was an ambitious time-hopping adventure in its most popular franchise. Sonic CD was one of the games that made a Sega CD worth owning. While its cartridge-based brothers saw frequent rereleases, Sonic CD’s reissues on the PC and GameCube (via the Sonic Gems Collection) were clunky and inaccurate, as well as missing features. So it is with great celebration among Sonic series fans that Sega has rereleased Sonic CD on modern platforms as a download game, but what makes it even sweeter is the care and effort that has gone into the conversion.

You'd move quickly too if your legs could morph into a Mobius strip.

You’d move quickly too if your legs could morph into a Mobius strip.

Sonic CD is very much a game in the classic Sonic vein. As Sonic, you run, spin, and jump around colorful, themed areas; you collect rings, smash enemies, and interact with varied environmental gimmicks. Whereas Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 favored more open stages with lots of speed-boosting contraptions, Sonic CD’s stages reflect the more cluttered feel of the original game, with elaborately designed backgrounds and decorations littering the landscape. It’s incredibly difficult to simply speed directly through a level in Sonic CD because various traps, enemies, and deviously placed obstacles can send a careless hedgehog reeling.

This approach to stage design has its advantages because Sonic CD is laden with odd little one-off gimmicks and hidden surprises (see if you can find the hidden goddess statue–it even gives you an achievement!). It also influences the overall stage design in interesting ways: Collision Chaos is filled with more high-speed springs and bumpers than any other Sonic zone, while Metallic Madness is a maze that can loop endlessly if you don’t pay attention to where you go. Some of the stages, however, have experimental elements that prove to be more frustrating than fun. The much-despised Wacky Workbench level features a magnetized floor that sends Sonic soaring up to the stage’s ceiling at the slightest touch, which practically destroys his ability to run for long distances.

In fact, running long distances anywhere in Sonic CD is quite challenging, but there’s a design reason behind it. Sonic CD’s major selling point in its day was its time-travel feature, which greatly increased the size and scope of the game. Each stage has four variations: a past, present, a good future, and a bad future. And each one has different graphics, music, stage elements, and designs. Travelling through time is accomplished by touching a specially marked “Past” or “Future” signpost and then keeping up a consistent high speed for about five seconds to initiate a time warp. This is often easier said than done. Though some stages have areas well suited to time travel, others require careful obstacle dodging and knowledge of level layout to maintain a consistent speed. Figuring out where and how to initiate time warps is part of the game’s challenge.

If Sonic knew what the future held for him he might not be so eager to get there.

If Sonic knew what the future held for him he might not be so eager to get there.

Time travel yields many benefits. Going into the future, for example, means that enemies will be worn down from years of use and less of a threat to Sonic. However, by default, the future is ruined by Dr. Eggman’s pollution and incredibly unappealing from a visual standpoint, with broken and malfunctioning machinery spoiling the landscape. To fix the future, Sonic can instead travel to the past, where Eggman has set up a robotic control machine. The past is often the most difficult of the level variations, but destroying the machine in the past changes the default future into a good future, which is bright and colorful, entirely free of enemies, and often features fewer traps and obstacles. Running through the default future might be the fastest way to finish the game, but taking full advantage of the time-travel system to restore the future is the more satisfying way to play.

The interesting level design and the time-travelling gameplay have long made Sonic CD a fan favorite, but the superb port of the game to the Xbox 360 makes an already excellent game even better. The port has been codeveloped with longtime Sonic fan Christian Whitehead, and it’s a fine showcase for his custom Retro Engine. The game supports full widescreen display on HDTVs, and a variety of filters allow you to choose between smoother, modern-looking 2D visuals or authentic-looking pixel art that looks practically flawless in high resolution. Other varied visual enhancements show up throughout, ranging from the smoother scrolling of the once notoriously choppy special stages to cleaned-up and polished background elements and enemy motions. You can also select between the original Sonic CD spin-dash (which increases Sonic’s speed based on time spent holding the buttons down) and the Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 spin-dash (where rapid button presses increase speed).

Hang on tight, it's gonna be a twisty ride!

Hang on tight, it’s gonna be a twisty ride!

What makes the package even sweeter are the copious extras included. You can freely choose between the Japanese and US soundtracks to the game, though a few of the vocal songs have sadly excised the lyrics due to rights reasons. The original Sega CD edition of Sonic CD offered a host of hidden goodies and unlockable bonuses, such as staff artwork and sound tests. These are all present in the port, along with a major new feature: After completing the game once, the ability to play as Tails is unlocked. Tails’ flight ability adds a wholly new element of exploration to the stages, allowing easier access to difficult-to-reach spaces.

While Sonic CD is an amazing conversion, there are a few minor issues that keep it away from port perfection. Some rare bugs rear their heads here and there, leading to odd camera shifts and occasionally falling through solid objects. Most players will not encounter these issues in a typical playthrough, however. A few areas where Sonic is forced to travel at high speeds for a lengthy period of time have also been altered so that they no longer trigger time travel to prevent players from warping by accident. While it’s nice to not have to worry about inadvertently warping, experienced players may be angered that these places are no longer usable when an easy time warp is desired. Finally, a feature of the Sega CD original that allowed you to restart at the beginning of the current time zone at the expense of one life is completely missing. Because certain areas in some levels become blocked off after proceeding past them (and Sonic CD has next to no instant-death pits to voluntarily kill oneself with), the lack of this feature makes it hard to reach and see certain portions of levels.

Despite a few minor issues, Sonic CD is among the more impressive retro ports seen on modern platforms. Not only is the game faithful to the original, but it’s also just plain better in many ways. And at a mere $4.99, it’s a tremendous value to boot. If you remember Sonic CD fondly, there’s no better way to enjoy one of the most treasured games in the series. And if you missed out on this one entirely before now, this is a superlative way to experience a beloved classic for the very first time.

By Heidi Kemps

Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken Review

Overly basic combat and puzzles keep Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken from taking flight.

The Good

  • Mixes combat and puzzles constantly
  • Darkly humorous
  • Jetpack sections are a nice change of pace.

The Bad

  • Combat and puzzles are too basic
  • Co-op mode strips out the most interesting elements.

The land of Albatropolis is not graced with the sounds of birds chirping happily. Under the penguin regime, life for the feathery folks of this realm is grim. But there is hope. As the heroic one-bird army known as Hardboiled Chicken, you must fight your way deep into the penguin stronghold and eliminate their leaders, overthrowing the oppressive government once and for all. Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken is a mixture of 2D shooting and puzzle-solving with enough variety to hold your attention, but it doesn’t make enough of its scrambled ingredients to do its unusual hero and humorous premise justice.

Now these are what I call some real angry birds.

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Hardboiled is the kind of avian supersoldier you might produce if you spliced chicken DNA with that of Rambo. He may be the only bird who’s up to the task of defeating the penguins, but unfortunately, his stiff movement keeps him from being all that fun to control. The rigid controls rarely interfere with your progress, though, because the combat is so simple. Unlike in most 2D shooters, you don’t actually see the bullets as they fly through the air. If an enemy is in your line of fire when you pull the trigger, he will get hit, the tremendous force of your bullets levitating him off of the ground as his blood splatters on the wall. The surprising juxtaposition of such violent imagery with anthropomorphic birds is grimly humorous at first. But soon the surprise wears off, and the gunplay is worn down by its own simplicity. Just point your gun at a bad guy and hold the button down until you see the burst of feathers that tells you that penguin has seen his last march. You eventually encounter shielded foes who can be hurt only from behind, but having to run or roll past an enemy before you can kill him doesn’t do much to make the shooting more exciting.

It’s a good thing, then, that the shooting doesn’t have to stand on its own. It’s interwoven with environmental puzzles you frequently need to solve in order to proceed. Many of these are simple puzzles that just require you to collect keycards, use elevators, and push boxes to certain spots so that you can reach high ledges. More interesting are those puzzles that require you to use brain bugs. These little critters can be tossed through tiny spaces Hardboiled himself may not be able to fit through, and let you take control of any enemy soldier unfortunate enough to get his head caught in the green gas the bug exudes. As the enemy soldier, you can do things like push buttons that open doors so that Hardboiled can advance, and you can use the element of surprise to your advantage, gunning down groups of penguin soldiers who think you’re their friend before they have a chance to respond. Like the shooting, the puzzles are basic, but the game alternates between these elements so frequently that you rarely have time to get tired of one before you’re back to doing the other.

The third and least frequent element of Rocketbirds is what Hardboiled likes to call “jetpaction.” Occasionally he straps on a jetpack and takes to the skies to destroy penguin zeppelins or other flying machines. As he zooms through the air, this normally flightless bird leaves the stiffness of his ground movement behind, and for a little while, the simple freedom to zip across the screen in any direction is enjoyable in and of itself. Because you can actually attempt to avoid enemy fire in the air, the combat here is a bit more exciting than the shooting you engage in while on your feet. It sometimes requires some fancy flying to shake off homing missiles (or to lead them into a crash course with a bad guy), and this evasive element helps to make these brief interludes a pleasant change from the action that makes up the majority of the game.

In the jetpack sections, you can move around as freely as a bird.

In the jetpack sections, you can move around as freely as a bird.

Rocketbirds doesn’t do much traditional storytelling. A few scenes establish the characters of Putzki, the “fearless leader” of the penguins, and his dual-Uzi-wielding enforcer, Brno. But most cinematics in the game are wordless scenes set to songs by the rock band New World Revolution. There’s not much of a plot here, but these musical scenes effectively use imagery to illuminate Hardboiled’s troubled past and to examine the emotional toll of the war. The characters are visually distinctive; you’ve never seen a gun-toting chicken supersoldier who looks quite like Hardboiled. And the environments are pleasantly varied. You make your way through drab bunkers, sunny city streets, lavish museums, and other locales. Propaganda posters, humorous signs, and other details give these places personality, but in a few spots it’s difficult to distinguish the background from the foreground, and you may leap for a ledge that isn’t actually a ledge.

In addition to the single-player adventure, Rocketbirds includes a two-player local cooperative mode. Here, each player chooses from an assortment of budgies that specialize in various weapons; Chief uses a light machine gun, for instance, while Mutt employs a shotgun. Unlike Hardboiled, who can switch among any of the weapons he collects, these budgies are stuck with their weapon of choice. The environments are the same ones that show up in the single-player game, but the level design is changed to create situations that require you and your partner to work together to advance. Most commonly, this means that one budgie must hop on the other budgie’s shoulders so that the duo can get to otherwise out-of-reach places. The budgies control as stiffly as Hardboiled does, and although the joy of camaraderie makes collaborating to advance pleasant, two of the most interesting aspects of the single-player game are absent. Without brain bug puzzles and jetpack sequences to mix up the rigid movement and simple shooting, the gameplay wears thin more quickly in co-op.

Birds of a feather fight together.

Birds of a feather fight together.

Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken combines simple action and simple puzzles, and the result is a simple game. It changes up its various elements frequently enough to remain an entertaining diversion, but it never becomes more than that. And although the combination of cartoon birds and violent imagery is shocking and funny at first, it’s not enough to sustain the game, even for its roughly five-hour running time. Your $11.99 can get you into much more memorable battles than this one.

By Carolyn Petit

TNT Racers Review

Crazy power-ups, and a variety of exciting tracks make TNT Racers a shallow good time.

The Good

  • Power-ups add goofy chaos to the racing
  • Wide variety of tracks packed with hazards
  • Attractive cartoon visuals
  • Jazzy soundtrack with lots of entertaining chase music.

The Bad

  • Camera issues
  • Very few online players.

Funny cars are the big draw in TNT Racers, an arcade racing game as much about walloping rivals with giant cartoon hammers as it is about crossing the finish line in first place. Developer Keen Games has stocked this $10 effort for the PlayStation Network with plenty of hot rides, power-ups from the Hanna-Barbera school of racing, and 18 zippy courses that boast attractive scenery covered with deadly hazards. All that is missing is a good multiplayer scene, because virtually nobody is playing this fun party racer online at the moment.

Don’t lag too far behind, or you might get knocked out before the race kicks into high gear.

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If you have logged any time behind the wheel of a traditional arcade kart racer, you will come into TNT Racers knowing exactly what to expect. This is a zany game where crashes are common, track physics are stolid, and you take your finger off the gas only to laugh at the pileup you just caused. Nothing is taken the slightest bit seriously. Vehicles are like something out of a cartoon Cannonball Run, with your options ranging from ancient jalopies to Japanese burners to one entry that looks like a cross between a flying saucer and a hovercraft. None of the cars have anything like authentic handling or even seriously varying abilities; all of them grip the track and accelerate almost identically. Forget about any real-life racing concerns, such as drafting or trying not to smash into opponents all that often. You just floor it and try to get from start to finish as quickly as possible, which makes the game a great pick-up-and-play option, especially when you have friends over and a couple of spare controllers available.

Solo modes of play are split into Challenge, Time Trial, and Custom race options. You can also take on these options in multiplayer, both online and off, although as mentioned above, online players seem to be nonexistent at present. Challenge mode is where you find most of the game’s content. It consists of three different series of 12 races in normal, fast, and turbo difficulties. New cars, tracks, and levels are unlocked with almost every victory. Individual races have differing goals that keep things interesting. There are four primary racing modes: Knock Out, Score, Time, and Lap. They have varying victory conditions, such as being the first to make it to the finish line, scoring the most points in a set number of laps or before a timer expires, or simply smashing your rivals up enough times to earn a win. Other variants are also tossed in and have you racing solo against the clock, zipping around trying to avoid explosive mines, and smashing into a specific number of obstacles before a clock ticks down to zero. You can also collect coins in some races, which earn you valuable points that go toward meeting the victory condition.

Red is cocky now but that lead won't last.

Red is cocky now but that lead won’t last.

Power-ups are as big a part of the action in TNT Racers as the actual racing. You can collect more than a dozen different special abilities that let you smash up rivals with an earthquake-causing cartoon mallet, kick in a nitro-style speed burst, shoot candy out of rooftop cannons, lay down carpets of confetti mines, and even slow opponents in the lead by hitting them with a plunger that comes complete with an attached anvil. All are well balanced. None are game killers. And they each have tactical applications that help you when you’re playing catch-up (fire an anvil or the candy cannon) or when you’re trying to pad a lead (drop those confetti mines). AI drivers also know how to use the power-ups, so you always have to keep an eye on your opponents when they have some devastating piece of hardware mounted on their rides. They seem to focus on human drivers ahead of their other AI opposition, so you always have a lot to contend with in solo races.

Races are fast, in terms of both how quickly cars move and how quickly the races can end. The experience is shallow, but it’s quick enough and has enough varied objectives that you rarely get bored. Courses feature a wide variety of terrain, including desert, arctic, and jungle routes. All come with weather effects like blowing sand and treacherous snow, which make it likely that your race will come to a premature end as you fly off the road into frigid waters or careen over the edge of a rickety jungle bridge. Any car caught off the bottom of the screen instantly explodes, which can see you knocked out of some races in the opening seconds if you’re unlucky enough to get tangled up with an opponent right off the starting line. Many race types feature a shadow car mode, however, which instantly resurrects you after death. You can’t win races as a shadow, but you can make life hell for your opponents and collect those valuable coins.

Ghost cars haunt you long after they've been exterminated.

Ghost cars haunt you long after they’ve been exterminated.

For the reasonable price of $10, TNT Racers throws in a lot of frills. Cars and tracks have a great deal of Saturday-morning cartoon charm. Maps are dotted with extra touches, such as fluttering palm trees, blowing desert sand, and colorful parrots. Some of these additions are a bit much, though, and can be a touch distracting. The game itself moves at a good clip, so you can’t take your eyes off your opponents for a second, lest you curse those parrots instead of praising them. The camera isn’t perfectly positioned, either, being a little too close to the action for comfort. It also moves in and out at inopportune times, occasionally twitching just enough to kill you when you’re near the bottom of the screen. Lastly, the light and bouncy musical score is a highlight. The game has been dressed up with extravagant cartoon chase music straight out of an old movie. Granted, these tunes might be better placed in a Jazz Age speakeasy than in an arcade racing game. But you can’t help but appreciate the songs for their great entertainment value.

TNT Racers may come with little in the way of originality, but the charming visuals and music and the varied courses and objectives make for an enjoyable racing game with a personality of its own. The lack of an online multiplayer audience is the primary disappointment, because this is a game that really shines when playing against other human opponents.

By Brett Todd

Renegade Ops Review

Explosive combat and terrific controls make Renegade Ops a great vehicular dual-stick shooter.

The Good

  • Excellent controls make driving around fun
  • Combat is fast paced and exciting
  • Upgrade system offers nice rewards for your progress
  • Great visuals create impressive sense of movement and scale.

The Bad

  • Minor technical issues interfere with online multiplayer
  • Not much variety.

Sometimes, doing what’s right means breaking the rules. Nobody understands this better than the members of Renegade Ops, a four-person squad of drivers who use their heavily armed vehicles to battle the forces of evil when the world’s superpowers fail to do so. In Renegade Ops, you do what needs to be done, meting out explosive justice to the armies of a terrorist named Inferno. Vehicular dual-stick shooters are nothing new, and the multiplayer options are affected by some unfortunate technical issues, but terrific controls and a rewarding leveling system ensure that driving around killing bad guys and blowing stuff to kingdom come has rarely felt better.

It’s almost as if Inferno’s vehicles are designed to explode in spectacular fashion.

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Some men just want to watch the world burn, and as his name suggests, Inferno is one such man. As Renegade Ops begins, Inferno has all but destroyed one of the world’s largest cities, making him a villain you love to hate from the first moment. When the leaders of a global council lean toward negotiating with the madman rather than retaliating against him, the bold General Bryant tears off his insignias, storms out, and vows to put a stop to Inferno by any means necessary. His solution is the Renegade Ops team. The orders he barks over the radio make him a constant presence, and his gruff charisma makes him a welcome one. The tale here is a simple one of heroes fighting against impossible odds to defeat absolute evil, and though you see its few plot twists coming from miles away, the comic book presentation and larger-than-life heroes and villains make it cheesy fun.

Before you can take the fight to Inferno, you must choose which Renegade Ops vehicle you want to drive. Each one has its own special ability: Armand’s vehicle has a shield; Diz’s vanlike ride has an EMP; Roxy’s buggy can call in an air strike; and Gunnar’s 4×4, appropriately enough, has a heavy gun. The vehicles of Renegade Ops are all capable, but they’re not created equal. Roxy’s air strike is the most useful and satisfying of all the powers. Diz’s EMP temporarily disables enemy weapons, making it particularly useful as a support power in multiplayer games. Armand’s shield can be leveled up so that it eventually reflects projectiles back at the enemy and lets you destroy small enemy vehicles by ramming them, but in the early going, its lack of offensive application makes it a less enjoyable option. Gunnar’s heavy gun is devastating, but it’s also tricky to use effectively because you can’t move and fire it at the same time, and sitting still often means signing your own death warrant.

Regardless of which vehicle you choose, speeding along the atmospheric South American trails, misty mountain pathways, and other roads your adventure takes you to is a joy. The sense of momentum in the vehicles as you travel on and off-road feels just right, and it’s a kick to hit the turbo and go skidding around turns as you leave a trail of dust in your wake. Though the camera floats some distance above the action, the visuals enhance the sense of traversing rugged terrain as you see your vehicle bounce believably with every bump in the road, and the removed perspective allows for an impressive sense of scale. At one point, for instance, you drive on a bridge over a river, and Inferno’s ship sailing below is hundreds of times larger than your tiny vehicle.

Those red streaks used to be a few of Inferno's goons. Serves 'em right.

Those red streaks used to be a few of Inferno’s goons. Serves ‘em right.

In addition to their special abilities, the vehicles all come equipped with machine guns, which you fire with the right stick. You can also pick up secondary weapons, including rocket launchers, flamethrowers, and rail guns. This ordnance comes in handy because Inferno has a seemingly endless supply of goons to man his seemingly endless supply of vehicles: buggies, trucks, tanks, helicopters, and more. Battling Inferno’s army is a blast; your vehicle can withstand some damage, but you’re far from invincible, so you need to stay on the move, evading enemy fire and scrambling to snag health pick-ups. As you destroy enemies in rapid succession, you build up a score multiplier, and because your score doubles as earned experience points that periodically level up your vehicle, there’s a real incentive to wipe out as many of Inferno’s henchmen as possible as quickly as possible. Not that you need more incentive; seeing Inferno’s forces explode is its own reward.

Leveling up earns you points you can spend to upgrade your vehicle. These upgrades include defensive improvements like health increases and extra lives; secondary weapon enhancements like increased magazine size; and special ability enhancements, like making Diz’s EMP do some damage or reducing the cooldown on Roxy’s air strike. Although you can eventually unlock a total of 18 upgrades for each vehicle, you can only have a few equipped at any one time. As a result, you have to decide before each mission if you want to customize your ride for offensive power, durability, or some combination thereof. And on some of the tougher later missions, your choices can mean the difference between success and failure.

Missions keep the pressure on by giving you primary and secondary objectives to complete, as well as giving you a limited time to finish the primary goals. The levels are vast and you can move around them freely, and speeding across the map to destroy an enemy tank while the clock ticks down is a thrill. But as satisfying as it is to lay waste to Inferno’s forces, the lack of variety during the course of the game’s nine missions becomes a bit of a drag. The situations change–you drive alongside a speeding train on one mission and infiltrate a dangerous enemy compound in another–but the gameplay doesn’t evolve much or hold many surprises. The end of the first level, in which you take control of a helicopter, suggests that Renegade Ops might periodically change things up on you, but unfortunately, it doesn’t deliver on this potential.

For added intensity during the helicopter section, listen to the 'Airwolf' theme while playing.

For added intensity during the helicopter section, listen to the ‘Airwolf’ theme while playing.

Still, the action is terrific, and it’s better when you share it with friends. Two-player split-screen works fine but severely limits your view of the surrounding area. The better option is to hop online and tackle these missions with up to three other players, which is immensely enjoyable, but technical issues sometimes mar the experience. You might have to make several attempts to join a friend’s game, and the action is sometimes interrupted by gameplay hitches and buzzing noises. The gameplay is exciting enough to make putting up with these issues worthwhile, but they are a distraction.

The nine missions take about five hours to complete, but with four characters to level up and a hardcore difficulty level that increases the challenge and the scoring opportunities significantly, there are plenty of reasons to return to these exotic locales. Leaderboards encourage you to strive for high scores, and in a nice touch, if you beat a friend’s score in the middle of a mission, you’re informed of your victory with a message along the bottom of the screen. But it’s the tight controls, the joy of movement, and the satisfaction of seeing stuff blow up real good that make Renegade Ops great. Someone’s got to step up and defeat the forces of Inferno, and you won’t regret being the one to do it.

By Carolyn Petit

Mercury Hg Review

Mercury Hg is cheaper, safer and more fun than playing with real volatile chemicals, though the experience is short lived and simple.

The Good

  • Fun gameplay with tight control
  • Easy to get into
  • Great value pricing.

The Bad

  • Doesn’t last long
  • No wildly different modes
  • A little too simplistic.

There’s something timeless about those old labyrinth toys that tasked you with guiding a metal ball by tilting a maze. It’s a simple concept that has translated well to video games as most famously seen with the Super Monkey Ball series. Taking the same concept and replacing “metal ball” with “blob of mercury,” the Mercury games became favorites among puzzle game fans since the series debuted on the PSP many years ago. Mercury is about more than just hastily tilting a platform to make your blob flow from point A to point B; it forces you to think about the traps in your path and how the physics of your mercury blob can help (or hinder) your progress. This is no different for Mercury Hg, which brings a host of new levels to modern HD consoles, though it has lost some of the challenge and longevity in the transition.

 Dealing with more than one blob at a time is perilous but often required.

Dealing with more than one blob at a time is perilous but often required.

The main goal in any Mercury Hg level is to tilt a mazelike platform with the left analog stick as you guide a blob of mercury (or more than one) to the goal. The catch is that you want to do this quickly and without losing any of the mercury that makes up your blob. The blob isn’t totally cohesive, so if you get too close to an edge, you start to lose mercury as it drips down into an abyss. There are also many ways in which bits of your blob can split off from the whole, such as hitting the corner of a wall or landing from a fall with a lot of momentum. When this happens, you need to be extra careful with how you tilt the platform because it can be easy to send some bits off the stage while trying to guide other bits to the goal. In a pinch, you can hold a button to attract the blobs back together into a cohesive whole rather than try to force them back together with physics, but this ability comes at the cost of speeding up the clock, which you don’t want to do when going for a high score or trying to beat a specific time. The PlayStation 3 version of the game features a Sixaxis control scheme that allows you to tilt the PS3 controller to tilt the level instead of using the analog stick. This feels natural and can be a fun way to play, but it also feels a little touchier and less precise than the default control option, so you may not want to use it for harder levels unless you’re up for a tougher challenge.

The main game is composed of 60 discovery levels. Each of these has a total of four atoms for you to collect by fulfilling certain requirements: completing the level, finishing under the par time, finishing with 100 percent mercury, and collecting all of the pickups. These atoms go toward unlocking the later level groups, though there are far more atoms available than are required to unlock every stage, which makes collecting them less important if you merely want to complete each maze. Each stage has a par time of less than a minute or two, and some can be completed in mere seconds. But there’s an addictive quality to the gameplay that makes you eager to hit “Next Stage” over and over again.

Most of these levels are pretty easy, perhaps to a fault. Many of the hurdles from previous Mercury games are gone, such as enemies and temperature puzzles. There are obstacles, such as magnetrons and anti-magnetrons, which try to pull your blob in or push you away, but most of your peril comes from the environment in the form of hills or holes. You often come across paint shops that change your blob into another color, which you need to do to activate certain switches or pass through certain walls. This gets particularly tricky when you need a secondary color such as yellow, but you don’t have a yellow paint shop. You have to split your mercury into two blobs, paint one blob red and one blob green, and then combine them again to make yellow. It’s a neat puzzle mechanic that should have been utilized more often to create more challenging levels.

By beating levels quickly and nabbing collectables, you can unlock challenge and bonus levels, which are where the difficulty really starts to ramp up. Bonus levels are the same as their discovery counterparts but with a different objective: You can’t finish the level unless you have 100 percent of your mercury intact, and you don’t start with all of it. So you have to carefully collect vials of mercury strewn around the stage while making sure not to lose even a tiny bit of it to one of the many obstacles. Challenge mode forces you to play several levels in quick succession, fulfilling certain requirements that get tougher as you move forward. For example, stage one of a challenge may require you to finish its three levels in under 120 seconds while collecting at least 10 pickups. Stage two may pit you against the same levels, but this time you only have 90 seconds, need 15 pickups, and can’t lose a drop of mercury.

Some level environments are more inventive than others, such as ones where the floor often shifts radically.

Some level environments are more inventive than others, such as ones where the floor often shifts radically.

Mercury Hg has a nice aesthetic, with slick menus designed after the periodic table of elements and in-game graphics that feature clean designs with many vibrant colors. There are also a lot of neat stage effects like tiles that form in front of you as you move. Stage backgrounds react to the music being played as well, throbbing and pulsing with the beat. The included music is good, but you have the added bonus of playing the game with your own custom soundtrack, with the background being affected accordingly. It’s not much, but it’s a lovely touch and helps give life to the environment without getting in the way of the gameplay.

Playing through the discovery levels won’t take you long, especially if you ignore most of the secondary challenges. The entire mode can be completed in a single sitting and never gets dreadfully difficult. You can add longevity to your experience by competing for higher leaderboard scores, which is made more enjoyable by the ability to download ghost data of top players to play against. You could certainly ask for more, such as some of the party modes from earlier Mercury games or more stages with more complex puzzles, but for a mere $5, it’s hard to complain much. It may not fulfill all of its potential, but Mercury Hg is a fun game that will give you a few hours of enjoyment and can easily be picked up by anyone in the mood for a good puzzle game.

By Britton Peele

Red Faction: Battlegrounds Review

Battlegrounds is a forgettable entry in the Red Faction franchise that neither builds upon previous games nor forges an interesting path of its own.

The Good

  • Time trial challenges are fun.

The Bad

  • Short single-player campaign can be beaten in less than an hour
  • Shooting portions are incredibly repetitive
  • Not enough depth or variety to make competitive play worthwhile.

Red Faction: Battlegrounds is in an enviable position. As a downloadable spin-off to a well-established franchise, it has the freedom to take a unique slant on the dominant themes of its forebears, without the financial pressures and public expectations that saddle retail products. And developer THQ Digital Warrington certainly doesn’t shy away from this task. Instead of offering a stripped-down version of the explosive destruction the series is known for, Battlegrounds goes in a completely different direction–it’s a dual-stick shooter mixed with vehicular combat. Unfortunately, this drastic detour neither caters to longtime fans of the Red Faction franchise nor welcomes newcomers with a creative gameplay hook. The action varies between mundane repetition and anarchistic chaos, and there isn’t enough single-player content or multiplayer diversity to keep you invested. Battlegrounds had the potential to take Red Faction in an interesting new direction or at least offer an enticing tease for the soon-to-be-released sequel, Armageddon, but it fails to take advantage of either angle.

Lots of death, not much fun.

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Battlegrounds does offer a tenuous link to the retail Red Faction games, though the connection is little more than an aesthetic similarity. You once again take control of the freedom fighters known as Red Faction and square off against your imperialistic foes, the Earth Defense Force. There isn’t context explaining why you have to compete in capture-the-flag and deathmatch duels against your oppressors, only the cliche remarks of a berating commanding officer speaking down to his lowly subordinate. You play as the lower-ranked soldier and slowly unlock more vehicles and better equipment as you make your way through the 16 single-player training missions. You gain access to new weapons for the competitive mode, so at least there’s a reason to take part in these extended tutorials. Also, the vehicles each have unique strengths and weaknesses that affect not only their firepower, but how they control as well. The sluggish tank is a sharp contrast to the nimble walker, and figuring out how to succeed with each takes a bit of time.

There are four mission types in the single-player portion of Battlegrounds. Each objective takes place in a compact arena that echoes the desolate, alien feeling you would expect from Mars. The red ground beneath your tires is a constant reminder that you’re not on your home planet, and the primordial foliage sweeping across some stages further cements this image. However, there isn’t much time to examine the flora when you’re taking part in the high-energy activities. Speed Trial is the most exciting of the included mission types, and it’s also the only one in which maneuverability, and not firepower, takes priority. Racing around hostile worlds is exhilarating because the tight controls make cornering a breeze, and the varied terrain is composed of enough ramps and bends to keep you engaged. The small courses hide few secrets, but that doesn’t lessen the fun of striving to beat your best time.

There is ice on Mars!

There is ice on Mars!

Unfortunately, there are only three Speed Trial missions, and the rest of your single-player experience isn’t nearly as interesting. Survival and Annihilate events pit you against waves of enemy attackers. The shooting controls are as seamless as racing around a corner, letting you vanquish your foes just by pointing the right stick at what you want to kill. You don’t have to worry about elevation or distance either because your gun automatically adjusts to ensure your shot hits true. In the early going, it can be fun to rain down fire on your hapless foes and bathe in their fiery remains, but that pleasure quickly dissipates when you realize just how repetitive the experience is. There’s little strategy in how you destroy your attackers, so you need only drift around the arena opening fire when enemies materialize. Survival mode is particularly tiresome. Your goal is simply to live as long as possible, but the lack of depth means you have to rely on luck as much as skill to complete your task. Waiting for the appearance of a crucial health power-up to save you from imminent death is a large part of the strategy, which makes this a dull and aggravating mode.

Shooting Range combines the racing and shooting action that make up the bulk of the game. You cruise around the same arenas as before, only this time, you have to destroy purple land mines that materialize in out-of-reach places. Taking tight turns is as fun here as it is in Speed Trials, though because your vehicle can be damaged by the blast of an exploding mine, you have to use more caution to get around. Striving for high scores is still mildly entertaining, though it lacks the frantic energy that the pure racing mode offers. This sad medley of modes is all you’ll find in the perfunctory single-player campaign. You can breeze through all of these missions in less than an hour. Though you can always strive for higher completion scores to earn bonuses such as a speed increase for your tank or a better leaderboard time, this is a skimpy package nonetheless.

Once you’ve tested your mettle in the single-player offerings, it’s time to challenge intelligent foes in competitive play. You can take part in four-player matches either online or offline, and you have a new set of objectives to try your hand at. Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and King of the Hill (along with team variants) are the available modes, though they sadly offer even less entertainment than the forgettable solo endeavors. Deathmatch is too chaotic for its own good. Explosions fill the screen, and it’s difficult to tell where you are and who’s whittling your health down. Death is frequent and unavoidable, and you never quite know whom to attack or how to stay alive for more than a few agonizing seconds.

Those foreboding trees are not very welcoming.

Those foreboding trees are not very welcoming.

The other two modes are more focused than Deathmatch, though no more fun. In Capture the Flag, you need to bring a flag to your opponent’s base. It’s a simple enough concept made aggravating by the flag bearer’s tendency to drop the flag at inopportune moments. When your health goes down to a random level, you inexplicably drop your treasure, and this happens with such frequency that it can make matches stretch on until long after the excitement has worn off. In King of the Hill, you have to stake out a specific portion of the map while your friends try to unseat you. But the hill doesn’t move, which means everyone just converges on one spot, shooting their guns and creating death, without much strategy. Your vehicles aren’t agile enough to make these battles interesting, so you just mindlessly lob bullets into the center and hope you come out on top.

Battlegrounds had a chance to provide a unque twist to the classic Red Faction action, but this tired dual-stick shooter fails to create an engaging experience. The flimsy connection to the mainline games is hardly enough to lure longtime fans into the fold, and the dull action has little chance of engendering goodwill for anyone who previously ignored this franchise. Shooting enemies and competing in races are fun for a little while, but there’s not nearly enough content to justify the $10 price tag. Battlegrounds is a disappointing spin-off that does nothing to build on the Red Faction name.

By Tom Mc Shea

Acceleration of Suguri X Edition Review

A delicious mix of arena fighting and bullet-hell chaos wins out over weak presentation in this action battler.

The Good

  • Intense arena battles are short and addictive
  • Strong blend of shooting and fighting genres
  • Lots of replay value.

The Bad

  • The story mode is weak
  • Lack of controls explanation necessitates guesswork.

Incomprehensible plot setups and outrageous situations are nothing new in the vast and peculiar world of Japanese gaming culture. So a game starring a gaggle of pint-sized android schoolgirls that duke it out in a vitriolic war over who gets to eat the last pudding on earth seems pretty tame on the weirdness scale when compared to some of Japan’s edgier offerings. A quirky gem hailing from Japan’s thriving indie-game development scene, Acceleration of Suguri X Edition packs an oddball mix of bullet-hell blasting and competitive arena fighting that doesn’t take itself seriously at all. That’s mostly a good thing because the frenetic brawling action found in this small package is well paired with the game’s outlandish vibe.

Giant missiles are just one tool in your arsenal.

Giant missiles are just one tool in your arsenal.

One-on-one arena battles filled with sprays of explosive bullet fire, insane special attacks, and volleys of giant missiles are the pulsing heart of Acceleration of Suguri X Edition. These enticing matches deliver quick and frantic blasts of rollicking good excitement in a handful of solo and multiplayer modes. Combat takes place within a vast circular arena set against a meager medley of unobtrusive backdrops. As the clock ticks down, you and your opponent zip around the screen, unleashing a flurry of rapid attacks until only one character is left standing. Most projectile attacks automatically rocket toward your foe, and melee swings generally push you in her direction too, but that doesn’t guarantee a direct hit. A quick dodge maneuver lets you and your opponent move around the battlefield speedily to evade incoming fire, yet dodging too frequently overheats your character and leaves her prone.

Though it’s essentially a competitive 2D fighting game, Acceleration of Suguri X Edition plays like a shoot-’em-up, and the addictive qualities of this refreshing combination quickly set in once you get a feel for the controls. It’s a shame this requires a bit of frustrating trial and error due to the total lack of any help menu or explanation of how to play. The game just throws you into the fray and expects you to figure out everything on the fly. Button mashing only gets you so far, and it can take some time to get the feel for the types of attacks that different button combinations unleash. The vast majority of moves are pulled off by either a prolonged hold or quick tap of the square, triangle, or circle buttons. What’s irritating is that it’s not readily apparent that holding L1 while hitting these other buttons lets you fire off a modified version of each attack. Once you overcome that obstacle, battles become a lot more strategic and enjoyable.

Within the confines of each stage’s circular boundaries, the twitchy gameplay yields some truly chaotic and dazzling fights to the death. The camera automatically zooms in and out of the action based on how close the combatants get to each other. With both characters spewing laser blasts, orbs of glowing death, explosive projectiles, and other hypnotic volleys back and forth across the screen, it makes for some dizzying rounds of airborne combat. In addition to a few cool-looking variations on several core long-range and melee attack moves, each character has her own set of hyperattacks. These range from giant focused laser beams and satellite orbs that hone in on their targets to chain whips and blocks of bullet-reflecting ice. Every successful blow landed on foes has the dual purpose of whittling down their health bar and charging your special meter, which lets you dish out a crippling barrage each time it’s filled.

Hyperattacks offer blasts of stylish punishment.

Hyperattacks offer blasts of stylish punishment.

Diving into straightforward local multiplayer matches in Versus mode against another human opponent is where you’ll squeeze the most fun out of Acceleration of Suguri X Edition, but there are a few options for loners. The standard Arcade mode lets you initially pick from one of seven battle-hardened young female combatants and plow through a string of a half-dozen matches per character. Completing these bouts with different characters unlocks new stages, additional fighters to play as, and snippets of background story to read through if you feel so inclined. Then, there’s a practice arena for experimenting with moves against the computer and a sparse Story mode with two short campaigns that are heavy on wacky text and bombastic character dialogue. The text-heavy character interactions during story portions are packed with nonsense dialogue that shifts between humorous and annoying. The crisp character graphics from the Arcade mode are dropped for the story sections in favor of slapdash hand-drawn artwork, featuring color-pencil shading that looks more amateurish than charming.

Even with limited content and a few presentation issues, the intense battles and tight gameplay in Acceleration of Suguri X Edition offer a high replay value. If you spend a little time getting to know this shooter-brawler hybrid, you’ll want to dig deeper to check out each character’s moves, test her unique combat abilities against other adversaries, and grab a pal to pummel over and over again. When you factor in the budget price of this addictive download, a dusting of sugar sweetens most of the sour notes.

By Nathan Meunier

Deadliest Warrior: Legends Review

Deadliest Warrior: Legends may make you laugh for a little while, but its sloppy fighting is dead on arrival.

The Good

  • Bloody, creative finishing moves
  • Zombie mode is amusing.

The Bad

  • Battles are an incoherent mess
  • Visuals marred by clipping, awful lip-syncing, disappearing gear
  • Significant load times before each match.

If, through some fluke of space and time, Genghis Khan and William Wallace had clashed on the battlefield, who would have won? Deadliest Warrior: Legends doesn’t provide a definitive answer to this question, but it does suggest that the battle would have been bloody and possibly absurd. Khan might have broken Wallace’s leg and chopped off his arm before twisting his neck with his bare hands. Or perhaps the two warriors would have slashed at each other for a few seconds before Wallace’s sword miraculously passed right through Khan’s body, instantly making Khan go as limp as a rag doll. Legends is a brutal and goofy game that’s good for some guffaws. But the short and silly battles and technical problems of this fighter give it about as much longevity as Attila the Hun has after you’ve cut off a few of his limbs.

Not many people know that Alexander the Great possessed a magic spear that could pass right through solid objects.

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Legends lets you choose one of nine historic leaders to take into one-on-one battles with other such personages. Those nine characters are broken down into three categories. Guerrillas like Sun Tzu and Shaka Zulu lack armor but move quickly; champions like Hannibal and Alexander the Great are heavily armored and relatively slow; and berserkers like Hernan Cortes and William Wallace are powerful offensive fighters. Battles occur in three-dimensional space, and you’re free to run in any direction. With the three attack buttons, you can perform strikes that target your foe’s head, body, or legs. Strikes to the limbs can leave your opponent crippled, making him hobble on his feet or preventing him from wielding heavy, two-handed weapons. And a blow to the head is likely to kill your opponent instantly.

Each warrior can wield quick short-range weapons, slower medium-range weapons, and ranged weapons. There are no health meters in this fighting game; characters collapse when they’ve suffered a blow the game deems fatal, or when they bleed out from a severed limb. Matches often end within just a few seconds of starting, perhaps with an arrow through a warrior’s eye or a sword strike to the head that sends a helmet flying off at a trajectory that makes no sense. You can also attempt to grab your opponent. If you succeed, both combatants must then hit the low, medium, or high attack button, and unless the defender makes the same input as the attacker, he suffers a broken leg, a broken arm, or death, depending on the area the attacker targeted. The finishing moves that play out when a warrior successfully performs a high attack in a grapple (or a medium or low attack to an already disabled area) are sometimes shockingly brutal. Vlad the Impaler’s finisher, for instance, demonstrates how he earned his grisly nickname.

Because a single blow can bring the match to an end, there’s none of the tension here that can evolve over the course of a battle in a traditional fighting game as combatants feel each other out and whittle each other down. A different kind of tension could have emerged from battles in which any hit could prove fatal, but Legends is too sloppy to generate much excitement. The game’s instructional screens have information about different types of damage–slashing, piercing, and crushing–and the varying effectiveness of armor against these types of attacks. But the actual gameplay doesn’t support the depth that this suggests. It’s hard to see how such details could matter much when, during battles, weapons regularly clip right through people and combatants sometimes collapse dead from attacks that didn’t even appear to make contact. There’s often no clear rhyme or reason to why one fighter falls while his opponent is left standing, and this makes it nigh impossible to become invested in the action. Visual problems, including swords and shields that disappear from warriors’ hands when they try to grab their opponents, and some severe screen tearing, make the experience even more off-putting.

In his book The Art of War, Sun Tzu emphasized the importance of upside-down jump kicks.

In his book The Art of War, Sun Tzu emphasized the importance of upside-down jump kicks.

So a realistic fighting game this is not. Your best bet for getting any enjoyment out of Legends is to approach it not as a simulation, but as the video game equivalent of a schlocky martial arts movie, complete with lousy fight choreography; cheap, bloody special effects; and hilariously bad dubbing. Before each battle, the warriors speak a few words or emit a fierce battle cry, and both the mouth movements and the timing of those movements are so mismatched to the sounds you hear that you may wonder if the game isn’t intentionally evoking the stereotypical image of poorly synced dubbing from low-budget kung-fu flicks. It’s funny at first, but, like nearly everything else about the game, it looks cheap and hastily slapped together, and the initial amusement wears off quickly.

Whether or not the poor lip-syncing is intended as a joke, Legends certainly has a sense of humor, and it shines most brightly when you turn on what the game calls Zombie mode in multiplayer combat. With this option in effect, fighters don’t go down until every last limb has been hacked. A pair of legs, no longer attached to its upper body, might continue to speedily run around the arena, forcing the opposing player to give chase. These battles are a great source of physical comedy, reminiscent of the famous encounter with the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But the underlying gameplay remains too chaotic and shallow to stay compelling once you’ve had your fill of laughter at this mode’s sheer absurdity.

Legends has an Arcade mode in which you choose a warrior and progress through nine battles, and because fights can be so brief, you may spend nearly as much time on the between-match loading screens as you spend playing. You can also fight one-off battles against CPU opponents, or practice against dummy opponents. After you’ve completed the Arcade mode with each character, you unlock Challenge mode, where you can fight to survive against waves of opponents, engage in battles in which every hit severs a limb, or try to hack down a number of hanging pig carcasses before a timer runs out. The most interesting mode is the one with the least fighting in it. Generals mode is a simple war game inspired by Risk. You start out with a single territory and a home castle, and on a map, you assign armies to territories you control and direct them to other territories. When you target a neutral or enemy territory, a percentage indicates the likelihood of your victory, and as you claim more territories and entire zones, the number of bonus armies you receive each turn increases. The object is to conquer the enemy leader’s castle, and when you attack it, you enter a one-on-one duel with that leader, which you must win to be victorious. Each general has attributes that affect his armies’ chances in battle, such as bonuses to attack in mountain territories or bonuses to defense in the desert. But there’s little actual nuance or strategy to this minigame. Brute force rules the day; build up a larger army, and an enemy’s bonuses aren’t likely to do him much good as you steamroll his forces.

Legends lets you determine once and for all who is the undeadliest warrior.

Legends lets you determine once and for all who is the undeadliest warrior.

Legends supports ranked and unranked online multiplayer, but scant few are taking advantage of this functionality. Even if you do find opponents, the opportunity to compete with other players (which you can also do locally) can’t redeem Legends’ basic, ugly combat. Last year’s Deadliest Warrior: The Game was too unrefined to be entirely successful, but there was something promising about its attempts to simulate realistic, bloody combat. This sequel not only fails to build on that promise; it stabs a knife right through its heart.

By Carolyn Petit

Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Review

This faithful port of Third Strike comes with all of the pluses and minuses of the arcade version, including tight, fun gameplay coupled with a steep learning curve.

The Good

  • Tight, exciting gameplay
  • Diverse range of fighters
  • Good training options.

The Bad

  • Difficult mechanics to master
  • No new character balancing
  • No way to choose region in online play.

Street Fighter III has long been a favorite of the hardcore crowd, but it’s a game that never managed to match the wild mainstream popularity of its predecessor. Deeply technical and complex, SFIII was, for the most part, underappreciated when it was first released in the late ’90s, but it nonetheless found a place as a favorite amongst tournament-level players. Street Fighter III: Third Strike was the last arcade update of the game, and it now makes its way onto current-gen consoles. This Online Edition is a practically flawless port of the arcade game, bringing with it all the nuance, complexity, and sheer fun of the original, as well as its various character balance issues.

Ryu and Makoto go toe to toe.

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It’s easy to see why Street Fighter III never reached the stratospheric heights of Street Fighter II. Street Fighter III ditched the majority of the characters that players had grown to love, replacing them with an eclectic group of newcomers who, for the most part, looked and played little like the Street Fighter II and Alpha series alumni. The game also required you to have a high level of technical proficiency to master it and introduced some mechanics and concepts that were new to the genre at the time. EX moves–supercharged versions of normal supers–were first introduced here, but SFIII’s biggest gameplay innovation was the parry system, a high risk/reward mechanic that let you negate attacks by pressing forward (or down for low attacks) the instant a hit landed. The parry system completely changed the way Street Fighter played, forcing you to significantly lift your skills to stay competitive in a world where any attack could be parried for no penalty.

Because of its intricacies, the game may not immediately appeal to those used to the accessibility of newer fighting games. Street Fighter III has a steep learning curve and certainly isn’t as accessible as Mortal Kombat, Marvel vs. Capcom 3, or even Street Fighter IV. Third Strike Online is a game that demands dedication, but the payoff is a tight, exciting experience that rewards skill, timing, and strategy.

Those used to Street Fighter II or IV will find III’s cast tough to come to terms with initially, but spend enough time with them and it becomes clear that the roster is the most diverse in the entire Street Fighter series. Ryu, Ken, and Chun-Li are the only representatives of the original World Warriors, while III introduced characters like Makoto, Dudley, Ibuki, and the Hong Kong twins Yan and Yung. The other brawlers who make up the full roster of 21 characters range from the familiar (French fighter Remy, capoeira fighter Elena, and Ken trainee Sean) to the downright strange (the one-armed Oro, the flexible Necro, and the batty Twelve), giving the game an impressive level of fighting-style diversity.

Hugo and Alex have made few appearances outside of Street Fighter III.

Hugo and Alex have made few appearances outside of Street Fighter III.

If you played Street Fighter III: Third Strike in arcades, then you’ll be immediately comfortable with Online, because it captures the feel of the arcade version well. Characters, timing, and inputs all feel right, so those with proficiencies on a real-world cabinet will find their skills transferring easily. But accurately emulating the arcade experience also has its downsides, specifically with character balance. As in the arcade version, some characters in Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online are overpowered compared to their counterparts, with no new balancing implemented in this latest version of the game. Chun Li, Yun, and Ken have long been known to be the beasts of Third Strike, and it’s the same situation here. Tournament-level players have had more than a decade to get used to this, but newcomers may get frustrated once they start to encounter the beasts in online play.

To the game’s credit, Third Strike Online features a decent number of offline training options to get new players up to speed on its intricacies. Apart from the stock-standard free sparring mode where you can set your AI opponent’s basic moves, there’s a specific mode just for parry. In this extremely helpful mode, you can “record” the moves of an AI character, before switching back to your own fighter to see if you can parry the attacks. Third Strike Online also features a trial mode, which is essentially a way for you to become comfortable with some of the more complicated combos. Each character gets only five trials, however, which means you’re only scratching the surface of the offensive manoeuvres available. The trials also aren’t that user-friendly. You’re given a list of moves to perform, but there’s no way to figure out the correct timing of the inputs since there’s no option to view what the combos should look like when executed. The parry trials are the most interesting of the lot, culminating in the near impossible task of emulating the famous EVO Moment #37, one of the most amazing events in pro-gaming history.

This faithful port of Third Strike comes with all of the pluses and minuses of the arcade version, including tight, fun gameplay coupled with a steep learning curve.

The Good

  • Tight, exciting gameplay
  • Diverse range of fighters
  • Good training options.

The Bad

  • Difficult mechanics to master
  • No new character balancing
  • No way to choose region in online play.

When it comes to offline play, the game doesn’t feature much aside from single-player and two-player matches, but it does try to liven up the single-player component by adding in challenges. These challenges can be as simple as throwing a set number of fireballs, performing a midair parry, or engaging in dozens of other activities in the course of playing. Performing challenges earns you points that you can use to unlock art, character designs, and more.

This is what happens when you miss a parry.

This is what happens when you miss a parry.

Much noise has been made about the online aspect of Third Strike, with the game using GGPO, the community-made netcode that tries to minimise the effect of latency in matches. It does this by running two copies of the game, with your input registering on your own copy without having to wait for your opponent’s. If there’s a discrepancy, the system rolls back and figures out which input arrived first and then adjusts the match accordingly. This is all supposed to happen so quickly that you don’t notice, and for the most part, the online experience in Third Strike is smooth and runs well–games with low to medium ping run with a minimum of fuss. But bad connections can still result in jerky, laggy games, and it’s tough to get a smooth experience with anything that shows a red connection. You have the option to turn up the GGPO delay, and while it makes things a little more bearable on slow connections, it’s still not a smooth experience.

Bad games from bad connections isn’t a new phenomenon in gaming, but unfortunately in Third Strike Online’s case, there’s no way to select matches via region or location, which means even gamers in high player population centres may be forced to sit through a high ping match occasionally if they’re in an open lobby. Trying to get into a ranked match also proves to be problematic. While finding opponents in the game’s player or tournament matches is easy, ranked matches are much tougher to find, with the game often hanging on trying to find opponents for several minutes.

When Street Fighter III was first released, it was one of the prettiest fighters around. But since Third Strike Online isn’t an HD update of the original, the graphics, while smooth and featuring large, colourful characters, aren’t on par with the graphics in more modern fighters. But what Third Strike Online lacks in looks it more than makes up for in adaptability, with the game letting you tweak an impressive number of gameplay options. You can switch off throws, supers, EX moves, parries, and jumps, and even change the timing required for the input of some moves.

You may get a shock from how quickly the difficulty ramps up in Third Strike.

You may get a shock from how quickly the difficulty ramps up in Third Strike.

For a game that’s over a decade old, Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online holds up well against its modern-day counterparts, which is a testament to its outstanding fighting mechanics and tight controls. It may have a steep learning curve, but the training additions to this version make it easier than ever to get into, and while online play isn’t always smooth, it still delivers a mainly lag-free experience. If you’ve ever wondered what all the Street Fighter III fuss was about, then there has never been a better time to find out.

By Randolph Ramsay

UEFA Euro 2012 Review

It’s a lightweight package, but UEFA Euro 2012′s great presentation captures the grand atmosphere of the tournament.

The Good

  • New tournament-focused commentary is excellent
  • Captures the Euro 2012 atmosphere thanks to sharp presentation
  • Still plays a great game of football.

The Bad

  • Expedition mode is dull and unrewarding
  • Adds little to the core FIFA experience.

UK REVIEW–UEFA Euro 2012 marks the first time EA has released a FIFA tournament tie-in as downloadable content. Finally, there’s no need to get gouged on another full-priced boxed product just so you can see England actually win something for once. It’s just as well, too, since Euro 2012′s content is rather thin on the ground. The usual array of licensed stadiums, kits, and new commentary certainly capture the atmosphere of the tournament, but there’s little else to do outside of chasing silverware or playing the mind-numbingly dull Expedition mode.

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The centrepiece of Euro 2012 is, of course, the tournament itself. You pick one of the officially licensed teams, get drawn into a group, and then jump straight into a game. All the setup options in FIFA 12 are present, so you can manage your lineup, formation, and tactics with ease before each match. An assortment of nicely detailed new stadiums decked out in UEFA purple along with excellent new commentary from FIFA stalwarts Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend also lend an atmospheric touch to the action.

The feel of that action remains identical, so there are no new tweaks to get to grips with. The great strategic play of the tactical defending system, the smooth animation from the physics-powered Player Impact Engine, and the subtleties of precision dribbling from FIFA 12 keep each match fast-paced and full of drama–it’s a satisfying and fun game to play. It’s disappointing, then, that after making your way through to the finals and taking your chosen team to glory that the trophy celebrations are somewhat anticlimactic. Sure, there are fireworks and a bit of trophy kissing, but it’s all rather brief. You can’t help but feel that after all your hard work, you and your team deserve a little bit more before being thrown back to the main menu.

Aside from the main tournament, Euro 2012 features a brand-new mode called Expedition: a cross between football, Risk, and a card collecting game, if each of those things suddenly became incredibly boring and unrewarding. You start off by picking a star player from a country of your choice, with the rest of your squad made up of random reserve players. That squad then sets off on a journey across Europe, hoping to beat numerous home nations along the way. But you can’t just challenge anybody you like. To challenge teams, you must build roads, which are awarded only after beating your first team.

No question where this shot is going.

No question where this shot is going.

Also awarded to you is a player from the opposing team, whom you can use to replace one of your own players or reject entirely. Beat that team again, and you’re awarded a player ranked slightly higher. Beat them yet again, and you’re awarded a star player. It’s a repetitive way to build up your squad–and it’s also the only way, given that your players don’t improve over time. Your final reward for beating a team is a piece of mosaic. Beat all 53 nations three times each and, joy of joys, you have a completed picture. It’s hardly the best incentive for playing through so many matches, and it doesn’t take long before your brain has turned to mush due to the banality of it all.

More compelling are the online modes, which come in the form of challenges and an online tournament. Challenges work just as they do in FIFA 12, where different match types and rivalries are fed through to a central hub for you to play through, albeit with a Euro twist. The hub is sparsely populated at the moment, but expect a lot more content to filter through once the tournament gets started in the real world. There’s also standard online play, which lets you take the Euro tournament online or play friendly exhibition matches. They add little to the standard online modes of FIFA 12, but they are enjoyable nonetheless.

Yeah, never gonna happen.

Yeah, never gonna happen.

And really, that’s all the Euro 2012 DLC is: a fun, well-presented FIFA skin that adds little to the core experience. If this were a full-priced retail release, there’d be hell to pay for EA, but as it stands, this isn’t a bad way to spend your cash (1800 Microsoft Points on Xbox Live or £15.99 on PlayStation Network), particularly if you’re eager to take your team to glory in Europe. Just, for the love of God, don’t try to do so in Expedition mode.

By Mark Walton

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