LEGO City Undercover Review

Lego City Undercover is a joyful open-world romp for players of all ages.

The Good

  • Witty writing and characters keep you giggling throughout
  • The lure of Lego studs and collectables is hard to resist
  • Endlessly varied and entertaining missions and puzzles
  • Different disguises make for lots of diversity
  • Great use of the GamePad.

The Bad

  • Inconsistent jumping
  • Unsatisfying combat
  • Exceptionally long load times.

With Lego City Undercover, developer Traveller’s Tales has distilled the concept of “fun” into its purest essence and poured it liberally over a city already overflowing with wit and charm. This open-world adventure is a happy-go-lucky delight with endless ways of making you grin. Imagine a giant playground in which your path to endless secrets is opened by hanging onto flapping chickens and riding a robotic dinosaur down the main thoroughfare. Imagine a carnage-free world in which you can jump into blocky cement trucks and mow down lampposts without fear of repercussion. Lego City is a silly, boisterous place busting at the seams with cute diversions.

There’s always time for a bit of bullriding–even if you’re in the middle of a sensitive mission!

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The entertainment doesn’t end with the jokes, but it certainly starts with them. You play as Chase McCain, a once-great cop called back to duty to find Lego City’s greatest nemesis: Rex Fury. Chase McCain? Rex Fury? These classic cop-show names couldn’t sound more generic, but that’s the point: Lego City Undercover takes great joy in adopting and skewering pop culture tropes of all kinds. In his quest to put Rex back into the prison from which he escaped, Chase buddies up with the mafia, making Goodfellas references along the way. (Sometimes, mobsters really do look like clowns, as it turns out.) When Chase learns kung fu, The Matrix jokes come fast and furious. Turn the right corner, and you might find a block with a question mark hovering in the air, an apparent refugee from a Mario game. And you’ll know exactly what to do with it, too.

Lego City Undercover doesn’t rely on quotes and connections for its kid-safe humor, though they provide plenty of fodder for laughs, both verbal and visual. Witness, for example, how time slows down in true action-film fashion as your charming plastic avatar runs along a wall in a daring display of Lego parkour. Or how a close-up of a cackling madman turns into a canny, self-aware commentary on villain stereotypes. But the funniest moments come when the whimsy arises from the characters and their circumstances. One gut-busting scene reimagines ice cream as both a delicious treat and a torture device; another has you listening in on the secret lives of farm animals. Your scatterbrained cop buddy Frank Honey is also a frequent source of gags, from the hysterical way he pronounces “computer” as “com-pyooper” to his recounting of a horse ride gone terribly awry.

The goofiness permeates everything you do in Lego City Undercover. The game offers many of the possibilities associated with open-city games like Grand Theft Auto, but replaces the usual violence with lighthearted charm. You can leap into any driver’s vehicle and speed off, but you aren’t carjacking–you’re just borrowing the ride for police business. If there’s a passenger in that vehicle, she’ll happily stick with you as you tear through the streets. As you zoom along, Chase merrily cries out that his car insurance rates are going to skyrocket as Lego citizens leap out of the way. You can’t harm these citizens, and no blood is shed, though your vehicle might lose bricks as you bang against railings and walls. It’s such a hoot to watch the plastic pieces fly and your vehicle diminish in size that you might drive even more carelessly just for the fun of it all.

Lego studs are everywhere. Take all you want; no one cares!

Lego studs are everywhere. Take all you want; no one cares!

The police won’t give chase either, unless the mission calls for it, so you’re free to do as you choose. And what you choose depends on the disguise that’s right for the occasion. Lego City Undercover’s core feature is how Chase can immediately swap disguises from civilian, to construction worker, to farmer, and so on. What special actions you can perform depend on what costume you don. Functionally, this is similar to how Traveller’s Tales’ Lego games have always functioned, except that in most of those games, you don’t swap disguises–you swap characters. Do you need to smash through the boulders getting in your way? Switch to your miner’s disguise and smash them with your pickaxe. Need to break into a locked building? Put on your criminal outfit and pry open the door with your crowbar.

Everything you can interact with is marked with an icon that communicates what disguise is required. But you don’t have access to every disguise at once: you earn new ones as you complete story missions. As you hop and zip through the streets, you spot all sorts of markers to activate, ledges to climb, and blocks to collect. As you scoot from mission to mission, it’s hard to resist the lure of these secondary playthings. A plant that needs water grows into a vine that climbs up the wall, which takes you to a rooftop with a TNT dispenser. You then fly from a jump point to another rooftop, where there’s a giant statue that you blow up with that stick of dynamite before gliding to safety by holding onto a furiously flapping chicken.

The city is loaded with these adorable flights of fancy. Their siren call is strong: there are costumes to collect and towers to climb–and besides, completing these tasks is a lot of fun. Any given thing you do may not be all that engaging (mashing a button to break down a door; pressing a button to grapple to a higher level), but these activities are strung into gleeful puzzles. The puzzles are never hard, but feel satisfying because they require so many costume changes. The glee is enhanced by the game’s attitude. How can you not feel cheerful when a puzzle concludes with you firing a pig from a cannon?

Chase might be a city slicker, but that doesn't keep him from dressing like a farmer when necessary.

Chase might be a city slicker, but that doesn’t keep him from dressing like a farmer when necessary.

The Lego series’ platforming has always been floaty, and Undercover is no different. Jumping isn’t quite precise, and camera angles aren’t always best suited to the action required. You might leap onto a rock that seems like a perfectly reasonable platform and slip right off, or not grab a ledge even when it looks like you are well within the required distance. Fortunately, Traveller’s Tales wisely made much of the locomotion contextual. Jog onto a wall-running platform, and you automatically skim along buildings like that well-known Persian prince. Press the proper button as you approach hurdles, and you vault over them or slide underneath.

Lego City Undercover is a joyful open-world romp for players of all ages.

By Kevin VanOrd

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate Review

A lick of HD paint, a more robust online component, and a bunch of new content make Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate the best hunt yet.

The Good

  • Excellent large-scale battles
  • Huge amount of compelling customization
  • Monsters are fantastically realized
  • The online component is vastly improved over Tri
  • Great use of the GamePad.

The Bad

  • Onscreen text can be awkward to read
  • Series fans will already have seen much of the content.

Gathering mushrooms. Mining ore. Fishing. Slaying giant dragons made of rock. Whether or not this sounds familiar depends heavily on your experience with the Monster Hunter series thus far. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is an HD port of 2010′s excellent Monster Hunter Tri, which refines that game’s structure, and adds a bunch of new content and a far more robust online component. Thwacking huge beasts with a greatsword or picking them off from afar with a bow has never been so entertaining, satisfying, and, thankfully, accessible. Throw in a stream of free downloadable content, and Ultimate is indeed the ultimate Monster Hunter experience.

There’s nothing like a BBQ to heal those broken bones.

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A wyvern patrols, wonderfully animated, tossing its head back and forth as it snaps lazily at a nearby herd of grazing aptanoth. You sneak up, weapon sheathed, waiting for the right time to strike. Suddenly, the hulking beast turns. It notices you. Quickly, you draw your blade as the beast charges. You roll, but not quickly enough. A blow catches you, sending you flying to one side as your sidekick, Cha-Cha, screams in alarm. Quick as a flash, you spring to your feet, up and into the fray, taking a swing that connects satisfyingly with the creature’s head. It roars, stamps its feet, and charges again.

These encounters, these epic battles of man vs. mythical beast, are the centerpiece of Monster Hunter. Nearly three years on, and the monsters of this imaginary world are no less intimidating and no less menacing when threatened. Sure, you still start off being sent out against herbivores, or to gather mushrooms and resources, but as soon as you get into the fray proper, things really kick off. The new lick of paint thanks to the HD upgrade pays off too; the game’s not quite up there with current-gen visuals, but it’s crisp and sharp, and the monsters look superb.

One of the most welcome things about this Wii U outing is the improvement in accessibility. You can use the pro controller (or the Wii’s classic controller), but the GamePad really shines here; the screen offers additional buttons and functions, all of which can be customized. If you want the map on the GamePad instead of onscreen, it can be done. Targeting, camera controls, item management, and certain attack controls can all be mapped to the touch-screen interface and moved about to suit you. This interface is never intrusive, or mandatory, but it’s a subtle and welcome use of the hardware.

It’s not long before you begin farming Royal Ludroths or Lagombis to build or improve weapons and armor, and this collect-’em-all aspect of Monster Hunter remains as addictive as it has always been. There’s more on offer than in Tri, with a bunch of new monsters added, as well as loads of new quests, thus leading to new weapons and armor as well. And for a game so focused on grinding and fighting the same creatures over and over again, it does a remarkable job of keeping things fresh. Battles rarely play out the same, whether you’re tackling a variety of different beasts or simply taking on the same one repeatedly. Each beast has its own strengths, weaknesses, and special characteristics, and even if you’ve fought the same monster multiple times, it’s still capable of surprising you by varying its attack patterns and catching you unawares.

Even gentle herbivores get a taste of the hunter's blade.

Even gentle herbivores get a taste of the hunter’s blade.

The vast scope of weapon types and armor provides plenty of content, as well. Mastering one single weapon feels like a game in itself, and the difference between using, say, greatswords or dual blades results in a huge variety in how you approach combat. The larger melee weapons require careful planning; they’re heavy, slower to attack, and require you to keep a close eye on your opponent and look for an opening. Faster weapons let you rush in, chipping away at a beast, but doing less damage. It’s all about finding a weapon type that suits your style of play, and eventually mastering each one so that you have the skills best suited to each monster. And of course, as well as a number of melee weapons, there’s a bunch of different ranged weapons to master as well.

Taking down a giant poisonous leech with a hammer is very different from attacking it with a bowgun. This gives you more patterns to learn, approaches to take, and things to consider. The lengthy animations when you use healing items are still present, but they add an excellent element of tension, and the more-fluid camera and more-versatile controls thanks to the touch screen make the game more manageable than its Wii predecessor.

A lick of HD paint, a more robust online component, and a bunch of new content make Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate the best hunt yet.

By Ashton Raze

Need for Speed: Most Wanted U Review

It’s not quite the smooth, finely tuned speed machine it could have been, but Need for Speed: Most Wanted U is still an exciting racer.

The Good

  • Terrific handling makes driving a pleasure
  • Police chases are usually intense and enjoyable
  • Billboards make for satisfying asynchronous competition
  • Online multiplayer races are fast and exciting
  • Beautiful and varied city.

The Bad

  • In slower cars, police chases can be a frustrating ordeal
  • Repetitive police chatter
  • Lacks any sense of narrative motivation
  • Inconsistent, sometimes dull online challenges.

Late last year, Need for Speed: Most Wanted served up a welcome second helping of Burnout Paradise-style open-world wreckin’ and racin’ shenanigans, though it replaced that game’s imaginary automobiles with the real cars that are a constant of the Need for Speed series. Now, the game has come to the Wii U, complete with a U pointlessly stuck to the end of the title. The features designed exclusively for Most Wanted U contribute little to the game, but Most Wanted is still an attractive and frequently exhilarating racer.

The flying of sparks, the sound of metal on metal, and the sense of impact make trading paint with other cars feel great.

The flying of sparks, the sound of metal on metal, and the sense of impact make trading paint with other cars feel great.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted U takes its name and some of its concept from the 2005 game Need for Speed Most Wanted. Both games take place in open-world cities and involve plenty of police chases, but the earlier game contextualized its action with a hilariously over-the-top story about taking down a crew of illegal street racers. In the new Most Wanted, you still have the goal of defeating a number of street racers, but there’s no narrative to back it up. The racers on your list are identified only by their cars–they don’t have names or faces or personalities–and without a personal investment in defeating them, doing so isn’t nearly as satisfying here as it was in the 2005 game. It is merely a structural hoop to jump through; you do it simply because the game tells you that this is what you are supposed to do.

Well, that and the fact that driving, racing, and eluding the police are really enjoyable, for the most part. Despite the stable of real-world cars, the driving isn’t realistic. Cars have a great sense of weight and momentum to them, while still being extremely responsive, and as you’d expect from a racer by developer Criterion, judicious use of the brakes and a bit of practice will have you blissfully drifting through corners at high speed. As in most Criterion racing games, boosting is a big part of racing in Most Wanted. You build up your nitrous bar by doing things like drifting, taking down cops and rivals, and driving in oncoming traffic, and you press a button to spend that nitrous. It’s a tried-and-true arcade racing game mechanic, and Most Wanted’s terrific sense of speed makes it as reliably exciting as ever.

Each vehicle has five events associated with it. Victory in each of a vehicle’s events nets you speed points, which you need to earn a set number of before you can challenge each of the most wanted racers. Winning events also gives you access to modifications for that vehicle, including chassis that make you more resistant to impacts, gears that increase your acceleration or top speed, and tires that reinflate if popped by spike strips.

Make up your own story about playing as someone who hates EA so much, he wants to smash all of their billboards.

Make up your own story about playing as someone who hates EA so much, he wants to smash all of their billboards.

In earlier versions of the game, building up your car collection was a simple, unrewarding matter of driving up to cars parked all over the city of Fairhaven. In this release, with the exception of the cars driven by the most wanted racers, you have access to every car in the game from the start. (This includes the five cars that were released as downloadable content called the Ultimate Speed Pack on other platforms.)

Although they can be accessed from anywhere in Fairhaven almost immediately, cars are still scattered across the city in set locations, called jack spots, in Most Wanted U. The upside of this is that if you get the cops on your tail as you’re roaming about the city, you can pull up on a car’s jack spot and, provided that you’ve got a bit of distance between you and your police pursuers, hop into the other car, reducing your heat level a bit. Your heat level determines just how much effort the police are putting into bringing you down. At the lowest level, you might have a few cop cruisers on your tail. As it increases, the police start setting up roadblocks in your path, and more and better law enforcement vehicles join the fray. Heavy SUVs might try to ram you head-on, and Corvette Interceptors speed along in front of you, deploying spike strips that, if hit, can seriously diminish your car’s handling.

All is not lost, however; repair shops are all over the city, and driving through one instantly fixes up your car and gives you a fresh coat of paint to boot. Like using jack spots, speeding through these repair shops reduces your heat level. Your heat level increases automatically as a pursuit goes on, and taking down police cars with a satisfying shunt into oncoming traffic, a swift T-bone collision, or whatever aggressive, effective option presents itself makes it go up significantly faster. If you get enough distance between you and your pursuers, you enter cooldown, during which your heat level declines. Stay in cooldown long enough, and the police call off the pursuit.

Fairhaven offers plenty of opportunities for you to thumb your nose at gravity.

Fairhaven offers plenty of opportunities for you to thumb your nose at gravity.

You earn speed points during police pursuits, but you get to keep them only if you eventually escape; if you get busted, you earn nothing, so the stakes can get quite high. Escape from the cops, and you feel great; see the speed points you earned over the course of several risky minutes disappear as you get busted, and you may be crestfallen. It’s a good risk-vs.-reward system that leads to some extremely tense moments. Unfortunately, shaking off your pursuers can often feel as much a matter of luck as of skill. Police are tenacious in their pursuit of you–maybe a little too tenacious, because it sometimes seems as if no amount of changing direction, catching big air, going off-road, or anything else is enough to lose the cops. In the game’s faster cars, speed can often be your savior, but in the more everyday models, it often feels like you don’t have a fighting chance.

Additionally, some parts of the city don’t have many areas that are off the beaten path; you might enter cooldown but find yourself with nowhere to hide from patrolling police who soon spot you and reinitiate the pursuit. The balance between making it very possible for you to be spotted again during cooldown and giving you good options for eluding the police was better handled in 2005′s Most Wanted, which provided you with more spots that cops on the hunt for you might or might not investigate. That earlier game also did a better job with police chatter; here, the police are irritatingly repetitive. Several times during the same pursuit, you might hear cops, awed by your driving prowess, come to the realization that they’re “not dealing with joyriders.”

It’s not quite the smooth, finely tuned speed machine it could have been, but Need for Speed: Most Wanted U is still an exciting racer.

By Carolyn Petit

Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien Review

Runner 2 artfully blends entrancing music and accessible gameplay to create a joyful experience.

The Good

  • Exuberant soundtrack
  • Engrossing connection between action and music
  • Broadly accessible difficulty spectrum
  • Charming world and characters
  • Fiendish challenges available for the intrepid.

The original Bit.Trip Runner was a simply named, retro-styled rhythm platforming game that deftly intertwined music and gameplay. The sequel, Bit.Trip PresentsÂ…Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, is more elaborately named and more visually lush, but its immense appeal is once again fueled by the elegant marriage of music and gameplay. As you leap and slide your way past obstacles as the perpetually sprinting protagonist, your actions trigger beats and chimes that enrich the burgeoning musical track. This creates a connection between you and the game that builds and builds, leading to an experience that is joyful, rewarding, and as challenging as you want it to be.

Neither spring nor robot nor fireball shall deter Commander Video from his appointed rounds.

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If you’ve played Runner 2′s predecessor, Bit.Trip Runner, then you already know all the basics. Your character starts the level running, and doesn’t stop until the end, providing you can avoid every single obstacle that appears in your way. Pits, robots, projectiles, walls, and more force you to jump, slide, block, and kick with judicious timing, lest one false move send you hurtling back to the beginning of the level.

These impediments and evasive maneuvers are introduced at a gentle, yet brisk, pace. By the end of the first of five worlds, you learn everything you could ever do in the first game, and then some. This structure keeps things lively for Runner veterans while remaining accessible for newcomers. If you find things are a bit too easy or too hard for your tastes, the adjustable difficulty level does a great job of helping you find a balance. Whether you’re cruising past obstacles effortlessly, nimbly maneuvering through a tricky run, or trying time and time again to navigate a fiendish gauntlet, surmounting the challenges of Runner 2 is an enjoyable pursuit.

The whimsical environmental design adds to the appeal. Commander Video and his playable compatriots move with jaunty, fluid animations, while doofy robots, disgruntled hills, and even a jubilant Sasquatch watch from the background. There are a few elements that can be visually distracting at times, notably the kickable obstacles and the mid-level checkpoint attendees, but Runner 2 engenders the kind of focus that will likely allow you to navigate levels undeterred by occasional distractions. The Wii U version performs well on both big and small screen, though the controller screen does have the advantage of looking a bit smoother.

CommandGirl Video runs around one of the new score-boosting diamonds.

CommandGirl Video runs around one of the new score-boosting diamonds.

To encourage you to press onward and strive upward, the aforementioned checkpoints help mitigate the punishment for missteps. If you like your stakes high, however, you can always leap over a checkpoint and earn a nice point bonus for working without a net. Branching paths, unlockable treasures, and hidden retro bonus stages augment the generous difficulty spread and increase replay incentive, as do the online leaderboards. In Runner, you could achieve the perfect score on each level, but with the addition of point-garnering dance moves in Runner 2, every spare stretch of track is a chance to push your score a wee bit higher and edge out the competition.

There’s a great sense of satisfaction that comes from acing levels and blasting yourself into the bonus bull’s-eye at the end, but the real magic of Runner 2 lies in the music. Every obstacle you avoid and item you pick up sounds a chime or a beat that fits seamlessly into the musical track. This creates a powerful link between your actions and the music, enmeshing you in the rhythm of the stage and making you feel like part of the composition. It’s an exhilarating feeling, one that not only makes you feel good, but also makes you play better. You may find yourself so in tune with the game that you feel like you’re reacting instinctually with button presses before you consciously realize what you’re doing. This is a rare sensation, one that compels you to start the next level even if you struggled mightily to complete the last one.

Every track gets richer the further you progress into a level thanks to certain power-ups that trigger a musical escalation. This progression sweeps you up in the action, propelling you along with increasing momentum (though, of course, your character’s run speed remains steady). The final such power-up always elevates the melody to ethereal heights, creating a premature release of the tension that’s been building all stage. You still have obstacles to overcome, but you coast past these with supreme confidence, buoyed by the euphoric melodies. You feel like you’ve already succeeded, and when you triumphantly ride this feeling across the finish line, it’s just the glorious cherry on top. It’s an ingenious stroke of mood management, one that makes your experience all the more pleasurable and engrossing.

Unkle Dill cheers on all checkpoint skippers.

Unkle Dill cheers on all checkpoint skippers.

Runner 2 ensnares your emotions with an artful cocktail of music and gameplay, sweeping you along in its rhythm and lighting up a smile on your face. It’s a wonderful sensation to lose yourself in this game, whether you are facing down the formidable challenges of The Mounting Sadds or simply going for a breezy run in The Emerald Brine. Runner 2 doesn’t just offer you an entertaining experience; it throws its arm around you companionably, ushers you into its whimsical world, and makes you feel like part of something special.

By Chris Watters

Dishonored Proves Gambling on Original IP Can Still Pay Off

Dishonored

Listen to what many industry executives have to say, and you’d be led to believe original intellectual property doesn’t sell well late in a console cycle. The time to introduce a new IP supposedly comes when new consoles are launched; once those systems have been around for years, that’s when the focus shifts to existing properties. This is something that has never made a lot of sense to many people, and the performance of Dishonored isn’t about to do anything to convince those people that executives have it right.

Despite being an original IP — just the sort of game that supposedly shouldn’t be excelling at this point in time — Dishonored is doing very well. After receiving a strong critical reception prior to its release in early October, the game has gone on to sell better than publisher Bethesda anticipated.

“I can tell you that Dishonored is far exceeding our sales expectations, which is especially cool considering it’s new IP facing a host of well-established franchises this quarter,” Bethesda PR boss Pete Hines told Destructoid. “We did terrific numbers again this past weekend, both in stores and on Steam, where Dishonored was listed as the #1 selling title over the holiday weekend. And Dishonored has really sold well overseas.

“So, we’re very pleased and appreciate all the fans that have supported Dishonored and Arkane,” he continued, before adding, “We clearly have a new franchise.”

This is encouraging news. As wonderful as seeing refinements of the franchises we already know and love can be, it’s the completely original titles that are often the most exciting to see.

But considering what we’ve been led to believe, this doesn’t make much sense. This month marked seven years since the Xbox 360 was released, and six years since the PlayStation 3 and Wii debuted. With it only being available on 360, PS3, and PC, the launch of the Wii U (coming just over a month after Dishonored’s launch) can’t be used as the reason for why Dishonored has done well. If anything, it signals either the end or fast-approaching end of this generation of consoles, so surely Dishonored had no business performing the way it did.

That’s the sort of logic we’ve heard from more than one high-profile executive in the past — individuals who have bemoaned the length of the current console generation. “We need new consoles and at the end of the cycle generally the market goes down because there are less new IPs, new properties, so that damaged the industry a little bit,” Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot told Polygon recently. He noted he hoped the next round of consoles will arrive more quickly, before going on to say, “Transitions are the best times, are the best ways, to make all of our creators take more risks and do different things. When a console is out for a long time … you don’t take as much risks on totally new IPs because even if they are good, they don’t sell as well.”

Things are different when new consoles are available, according to Guillemot: “Everybody who is taking risks and innovating is welcome because there are lots of hardcore gamers and those guys want new things, where the mass market will be more interested in having the same experience and doesn’t want to take as much risks because it’s not aware as much of what is going to change its experience. So, the beginning of the machines is always a good time for innovation.”

Electronic Arts Frank Gibeau shares this overall viewpoint. “The time to launch an IP is at the front-end of the hardware cycle, and if you look historically the majority of new IPs are introduced within the first 24 months of each cycle of hardware platforms,” he said in a Games Industry interview published in September. “Right now, we’re working on 3 to 5 new IPs for the next gen, and in this cycle we’ve been directing our innovation into existing franchises.”

Gibeau doesn’t outright deny the interest in new IPs, but he claims “the market doesn’t reward new IP this late in the cycle; they end up doing okay, but not really breaking through.”

Dishonored

This flies in the face of what many people would presume even without having Dishonored to point to. Early on in the life of a new console cycle, developers are faced with figuring out the new hardware and acquainting themselves with next-generation game development. By the time we’re years into a console cycle, things are more settled down and developers are more comfortable and able to make efficient use of the hardware — a game like Halo 4 demonstrates how gorgeous visuals can still be squeezed out of increasingly dated hardware, and the same is true about performance in general. More is being done with the 360 and PS3 now than five years ago, when developers were still getting used to things.

In theory, with developers being more familiar and comfortable with engines through years of use, it should be easier to expend more resources on other aspects of development — namely those involved with the creation of original IP. Dishonored turned out to be a very well-designed game. Arkane developing it for hardware it knows — and with the use of the well-established Unreal Engine — likely resulted in a better game than if it had been making it for a new system it’s less accustomed to.

There is some degree of comfort in exploiting the same IP over and over again, as sales for many of these franchises are higher than ever. But it simply doesn’t make sense that gamers suddenly lose their willingness to purchase original games as a console cycle wears on. The fan bases of series like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed have expanded as time goes on, partially due to the fact that console install bases have also grown. Compared with the growth of these series, it could be that these publishers are being unreasonable with their expectations. Just because the install base is larger late in a console cycle doesn’t mean a new game is going to be purchased by the same percentage of console owners as in the wake of a console launch.

Or perhaps publishers are mistaking the lack of competition early on in a cycle as a higher level of interest from gamers. Less competition no doubt makes it easier for, say, ZombiU (which we can safely consider an original IP, as 1986′s Zombi is unrelated, not to mention long-forgotten) to be noticed by being launched alongside the Wii U, but that doesn’t have anything to do with gamers’ desire to play something new and original. An unknown game released today does have the potential to get lost in the shuffle when there are so many sequels to well-known series coming out, but it then falls on the publisher to support it with a strong marketing campaign and recognize when the opportune time to release it would be: falling within the release window of a Call of Duty likely isn’t the smartest path. Publishers inability to do this doesn’t speak to disinterest on the part of fans in original games, as demonstrated by the success of Dragon’s Dogma, L.A. Noire, The Last Story, Dead Island, Skylanders (which has very little to do with Spyro), and now Dishonored. At what point do these games stop being the exception and instead serve as an indication of what can happen with an original IP regardless of when in the console cycle its release falls?

Just as importantly, the game needs to be good, and if it can tap into an underserved market, all the better. Dishonored received strong reviews for good reason, and its sales success could be attributed in part to its genre: There aren’t a ton of action games with a strong stealth component, particularly ones with open-ended gameplay and a fairly original setting that also happen to be good. There will, of course, still be good, original games that don’t enjoy the type of commercial success they deserve (Mirror’s Edge and Psychonauts come to mind), and it’s possible a game can come too late (like after new consoles have launched), but with successors to the PS3 and 360 still unannounced, let alone unreleased, we are not yet to that point.

Dishonored is not the last original IP we’ll be seeing this generation, which looks to have upwards of a year left before we begin to see new hardware from Microsoft or Sony. There is certainly a distinct lack of original IP overall, with publishers like EA, Activision, and Microsoft having very little in the way of non-sequels to shows for itself. Sony, to its credit, has both The Last of Us and Beyond: Two Souls in the works for PS3, and it’s helped to bring games like Journey, Papo & Yo, and Dyad to market this year. It’s fantastic news that Dishonored did well, and we can only hope publishers like Bethesda and Sony who are willing to invest in original IP at this point in time continue to reap the rewards of doing so. Only then will we hopefully see publishers realize original IP should not so frequently be reserved for the next generation.

By Chris Pereira

Dragon Quest X on Wii May Feature Wii U Compatibility

Dragon Quest X

Update: The blog responsible for the transcript has clarified that when Wada spoke of exploring Wii U, he wasn’t specifically referring to anything related to Dragon Quest X. And he most certainly wasn’t referring to Dragon Quest X becoming a Wii U game, as some have assumed.

Original Story: With the Wii U coming out sometime next year and Wii sales declining, it seems like a curious decision to have a high profile game like Dragon Quest X coming to Wii. (To be fair, at the time it was announced back in 2008, it made sense.) A release date still hasn’t been set, but Square Enix said in March it’s working on the “last parts of the game” and that more information will likely be shared “by the end of this year.” Wii games are playable on Wii U, so anyone who picks up the new system will be able to play DQX. For those who do, Square Enix may end up having something special in store.

During a shareholder meeting, Square Enix CEO Yoichi Wada addressed a question about releasing DQX on Wii at this point in the system’s life cycle. According to an Andriasang translation of the transcript, Wada said Square is in the process of “technical investigations” for what sounds like the addition of Wii U-specific content or features. It might also be that support for the Wii U controller is added so that players don’t have to use the Wii remote to play on Wii U, but Wada wasn’t specific enough to know for sure.

It’s currently unknown if a Wii game could include something like that. Certain DS games featured exclusive, DSi-enhanced content while still allowing for the game to be playable on older DS models.

We don’t know much about DQX at this point. Creator Yuji Horii has stated that its platform isn’t indicative of what will happen with future titles. He explained, “I feel that some users will want to play Dragon Quest on the big screen, which is why we are working toward releasing it on Wii. Of course, in the future we might develop on handhelds again, so it’s really a case-by-case basis. It all depends on what the customer wants at that time.”

By Chris Pereira

Aonuma Expects Future Zelda Games to Use Skyward Sword-Style Motion Controls

Zelda Skyward Sword

However you may feel about their implementation in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, you should get used to the idea of playing your Zelda games with motion controls of some sort. Eiji Aonuma doesn’t see them going anywhere.

It’s hardly a guarantee — plans can always change — but when asked about using Skyward Sword-style motion controls again in the future, Aonuma told the Official Nintendo Magazine U.K., “I honestly think we cannot go back to button controls now, so I think that these controls will be used in future Zelda titles, too.”

Aonuma has worked in a prominent role on the Zelda series for more than a decade; his credits include serving as a director on Majora’s Mask and producer on Skyward Sword. He has largely taken over control of the series from its creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, and has expressed interest in further evolving it.

“I started working on the series not at the beginning but part-way through its history,” he recently told Game Informer. “I think because of that, early on I was more looking objectively at the series and how we could change small, individual elements within it, rather than looking at how the series should evolve.

“As time has passed — particularly in the last few years — I’ve started to think a lot more about how I can take the series and really make it my own Zelda and evolve it further. As Mr. Miyamoto has allowed me to take the reins on the Zelda series, ultimately that’s what I need to do. Perhaps some people will think it’s a little bit late for me to start thinking about that, but as time goes by, that’s becoming more of a theme in how I’m approaching the series.”

In a number of ways Skyward Sword showed Aonuma is willing to try new things for the series — having a close relationship between Link and Zelda at the start, for example. When it comes to motion controls, though, it’s unclear how things could work on Wii U, which is less than a year away from launch. The tablet controller wouldn’t make sense for the style of control seen in Skyward Sword, but Wii U will support Wii remotes, so it’s not as if they couldn’t still be used.

However things work on Wii U, if Aonuma is set on using motion controls for console Zelda titles, the only place we may see new, non-motion-controlled Zelda games is 3DS. We know a 3D remake of Majora’s Mask is possible, but the company would like to avoid releasing back-to-back remakes and, as such, is working on an original Zelda title for 3DS.

At this point we don’t know when it’s coming, nor do we know much of anything about the inevitable Wii U Zelda game besides the fact that it might be very pretty. And although a Zelda title being out in time for the Wii U’s launch isn’t going to happen, Aonuma has said he wants to “take less time for the next project” so, if nothing else, it may not be another five-year wait until the next Zelda console title comes along.

By Chris Pereira

Dragon Quest X Beta Details Emerge

Dragon Quest X beta reward

Dragon Quest X is going in a much different direction than most of its predecessors. While DQIX did incorporate multiplayer elements, DQX is going even further in the direction of being an MMO. The Wii (and Wii U) game is without a release date as of yet, but a beta is planned to iron out any kinks before Square Enix unleashes the game (complete with subscription fees) in Japan.

A Japanese website filled with information on the beta has just been launched. Gamers can begin applying for access beginning sometime in mid-November, although you must live in Japan and have a free Square Enix Members account to be considered. You’ll also need a Wii that can connect to the Internet and be willing to actively participate by submitting bug reports and things of that nature.

Those who are accepted will be sent a beta test kit for free containing a beta disc, USB memory stick (expected to be at least 16GB in size), and a manual.

Applicants will be chosen based upon the information they submit as opposed to a first-come, first-served basis. More testers will be added as the beta goes on, and all of those who participate will get the Dracky cap seen in the screenshot above as a thank-you.

All five of the game’s tribes can be chosen from when creating a character. Much of its story will not be accessible in the beta, although some of the prologue and a number of bosses will be included.

An official launch date for the beta itself has not yet been announced. Barring any leaks (and realistically, those are almost certain to happen), don’t expect to hear any first-hand accounts from beta testers — they will not be allowed to discuss the game.

Just after DQX’s announcement in early September, an official website mentioned a “usage fee” for the game which turned out to be the subscription mentioned above. At least as of right now, this is only true of the game in Japan. Its presence is not a guarantee other regions will be subjected to the same monthly fee; Monster Hunter Tri carried a subscription in Japan that gamers in North America and Europe didn’t have to pay.

That may again prove to be the case. In Japan, it may not be a significant detriment in Japan — series’ co-creator Kouichi Nakamura seems pretty upbeat about the direction the series is taking and we know Dragon Quest is serious business over there.

Source: Andriasang

By Chris Pereira

Nintendo Adopts Retail Game Downloads for 3DS and Wii U

3DS eShop

After hinting that the capability was already in place to do so, Nintendo has announced plans to begin selling digital versions of retail games for 3DS starting with New Super Mario Bros. 2 this August. To date, the only games available through the system’s eShop are smaller experiences specifically designed for release through it; larger titles like Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 are only found on game cards at retail.

The news was made official as part of a financial results briefing conducted by Nintendo president Satoru Iwata. With the company officially posting its first annual loss in the three decades it’s been in the videogame business, Iwata was fixated on outlining how things would be turned around in the year ahead. Aside from no longer selling the 3DS at a loss (which is expected to be the case by the end of September), delivering new software, and releasing the Wii U, a digital push is beginning — one that won’t rely only on selling games to those who regularly visit the eShop on their own.

In addition to selling games at retail as it always has, Nintendo will begin offering downloadable versions of its games at retail. Consumers will be able to purchase a 16-digit code than can be redeemed on the eShop for a digital version of the game. Nintendo was seeking a way not to cut retail out of the equation; back in January Iwata said, “There must be a solution other than positioning digital distribution as an enemy to wholesalers and retailers.” During this week’s briefing, he talked about needing to expand the digital business beyond those who are visiting the eShop. Although the connection rate of the 3DS is higher than that of the DSi and consumers are returning to the eShop more regularly, Nintendo thinks it can leverage retail as a way of introducing new consumers to the concept of digital software.

It’s unclear if every Nintendo-published game will be made available in this fashion. Iwata was not specific on the subject, but Joystiq was told by Nintendo that the “majority” of first-party games will be. That also goes for the Wii U, which Iwata announced will have have downloadable versions of its games available at their respective launches.

New Super Mario Bros. 2

Iwata specifically identified New Super Mario Bros. 2 and the new Brain Age, tentatively called Onitore, as two 3DS titles that are guaranteed to have digital versions. He also spoke about other games which 3DS owners may want to play on a daily basis, like Nintendogs and Animal Crossing, as a sort that would make sense to have easy access to right on the system without having to carry around game cards. This is one area where traditional game handhelds are lacking compared to phones and tablets — whereas every game you own on an iPhone or iPad is with the device wherever it goes, 3DS owners have to lug around their game cards. Vita solves this by having all of its games available digitally, although that is an imperfect solution as these games, sold through the PlayStation Store, rarely if ever go on sale. That means even people like myself with a desire to own digital versions of games still tend to purchase physical ones.

Nintendo believes it has found a way to resolve the pricing problem. While it’s suggested that the physical and digital versions be sold for the same price, thereby allowing consumers to choose which version they would prefer, retailers will be free to discount the downloadable game codes just as they do the physical games. In theory that means you won’t be charged extra simply because you want to have your game collection loaded right on the system, aside the cost of SD cards needed to store the games, of course.

This all sounds like great news. It’s very much a welcome option, and the sort of thing that will encourage 3DS owners to bring the system with them wherever they go. And the possibility for downloadable games to go on sale alongside their physical counterparts is one way the digital setup of the 3DS can trump the Vita.

One of the drawbacks is similar to purchasing digital games on other platforms — you won’t be able to share them with others. Iwata specifically stated downloaded games will only be playable on the hardware it was purchased on. For some that may be a deal-breaker, and it continues to highlight the need for Nintendo to develop an account system similar to Xbox Live and PlayStation Network.

Nintendo digital business expansion slide

But at least it will be an option to download games when they’re first released. Sony has embraced the practice to some extent on PlayStation 3 and entirely on Vita; Microsoft, on the other hand, remains stubborn on the subject. Speaking with MCV, Xbox Live UK product manager Pav Bhardwaj recently indicated retail games will continue to be made available through the Games on Demand service only once several months have passed since their release at retail.

“It comes down to choice,” he said. “The customer has the choice of going to retail on day one if they really want to buy a particular title, or to wait a couple of months and buy it full price from the Xbox Live Marketplace.”

He’s right that it is a choice, but it’s hardly an optimal one. It’s a choice in the same way, “Would you like to eat pizza or a pile of garbage?” is a choice. A real choice would be allowing consumers to decide whether they want to buy a retail or digital version of a game at launch — having to wait months hardly makes the digital route an attractive option. Bhardwaj claimed the current model is successful, and there are people willing to pay full price for a downloadable game six months after it’s released at retail, leading him to ask, “So why change something you don’t need to?”

Nintendo, on the other hand, talked about providing consumers with a choice, and based on these early details, its plans appear to do a good job of that. Offering codes at retail gives even those without a credit card (or those hesitant to use one online) the opportunity to buy digital games. Assuming the prices are competitive with retail games and there isn’t much of a concern about being able to redownload games if the need should arise, I could see myself buying many of my 3DS games this way. Wii U downloads will be a more complicated matter with the system not being equipped with a hard drive; downloading games that fill up a DVD onto an SD card may not be particularly ideal. But, once again, more options are certainly better than none.

By Chris Pereira

Iwata on Ditching 3D, Supporting Social Networks, and Wii U Price Cut Concerns

Iwata 3DS

3D might be the most distinct feature of the 3DS, but it’s not the only thing that sets it apart. It is, however, something that could be entirely ignored in future game releases — even those from Nintendo.

An English translation of Nintendo’s recent financial results Q&A has gone live, giving us more insight into the company’s decision to drop the price of the 3DS so early in its life cycle, among other things. CEO Satoru Iwata addressed a number of questions about the system’s 3D capabilities, prompting him to outline the difficulties of conveying 3D through traditional advertising. He also admitted that 3D isn’t a necessary feature for every 3DS game.

“I think there could be a Nintendo 3DS software title which does not use the 3D feature at all, and I believe Nintendo will develop such software,” he said. “Instead, other features of the Nintendo 3DS should be focused on. It might be a communication feature, or other functions (such as the gyro sensor or the motion sensor). The important thing is that each respective software title has its own characteristics, and appeals to the consumers in a way that fits the software. So I am not worried in a way like, ‘The value of the Nintendo 3DS will decrease when the novelty of 3D wears off.’”

That said, he believes both of Nintendo’s big 3DS releases later this year, Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7, feature a strong 3D component.

“But I do not think consumers would be satisfied if every software title we release in the next year only focuses 3D,” he continued. “So, I believe we have to implement new proposals focused on another appealing feature of the Nintendo 3DS, which is the communication feature.”

It’s an honest answer, and it’s also probably the right one. I know I like to play with 3D turned on, but there’s no shortage of people who prefer to turn it off altogether, and there’s no reason why games shouldn’t be developed where 3D goes unused.

Another admission from Iwata was that Nintendo needs to reconsider how it closes its platforms off to anything other than other Nintendo systems. He presented one possibility of something that could be done along these lines: “[I]f our platforms are connected to other open platforms in some way and, when you are out, your smartphone gives you information from your friend like, ‘Let’s play with this game tonight,’ or ‘I broke your record on this game,’ you will be motivated to start a new game.”

Uncharted 2 tweets

It’s not the most compelling example; many Twitter users can recall how annoying it was to see tweets getting sent out about someone’s progress in Uncharted 2. Regardless, while Nintendo isn’t about to release its games for your phone, it wouldn’t mind taking advantage of them for use in its games.

“We are currently drastically changing our way of thinking regarding networks, which might have looked very closed before. We would like to respond to the changing times in this way, and our basic policy is to keep the value of our software assets and to do business in a manner where these assets are not easily depleted.”

Continued on page two

By Chris Pereira

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