Review: Get Up and Dance

Monday, January 30, 2012

Dance games eh, can anyone remember a time when they weren’t around? Ok so anyone who can remember a time before the Wii probably can, but now they’re a regular feature across all three main consoles and it’s getting increasingly difficult to ignore them. But with so many now on the market it takes something special to stand out from the crowd and get noticed, and with Get Up and Dance O Games have tried to inject something new into a busy market. It’s a shame it isn’t really enough to wow you.

Leaning firmly towards entertaining a few friends at once Get Up and Dance allows you to boogie along to any of the 30 songs provided either alone or with a few mates. While the options are there to dance alone, it’s the group dance modes that shine the brightest, giving you options to either do one off dances or starting a short career in front of a set of talent judges. It’s easy enough to settle on a lead dancer and assign others as backing dancers, giving a slightly more authentic feel to other “everyone do the same” type games. The odd thing is the choice of songs on offer, where the mixed bag is hoping to please everyone. In reality, in the same way a radio station that’s a mix of Radio 2, XFM and Kerrang would only please the most eclectic of music fans, the selection of songs in Get Up and Dance won’t please everyone all of the time, and you’ll probably only find a couple that you actually genuinely like. It’s not every day you find Pulp, Dusty Springfield and Jessie J on the same menu. As a result it’s probable there’ll be a small argument about song choice, resulting in your little sister sulking when you refuse to dance to Taio Cruz.

Other game modes include an interesting fitness option, which gives you a month-long set of dance exercises with the intention of knocking a few pounds off, but each dance is so lightweight it won’t really do much to anyone except the most doughnut-quaffing fatster, so it’s really an option for someone looking for a longer term game mode to keep them interested. Sadly, with the other game modes being fairly standard fare you’re unlikely to find any real longevity anywhere other than this, and you get the feeling this will find a spot near the back of the game shelf next to the other “party” games that only come out at Christmas, birthdays or any other time where Nan has had an extra sherry and wants to shake her stuff.

This dance is accompanied by the winners of The Gormless Factor 2011

Technically it’s sound enough; the Move integration is tight and responsive, and goes some way to show me just how bad I am at dancing. The idea of playing the music video in the background to make you feel like you’re really dancing in a show doesn’t really work when you end up looking like Mr Bean at a disco, although the younger gamers might find this a nice touch. It also doesn’t help that the little icons telling you what to do come a little later than would be helpful, and falling over is more of a certainty than a worry. It goes well with the Mr Bean look.

So, it’s another dancing game. Another dancing game that does its best to be something new, but all things considered just… isn’t. It works, and isn’t a bad game as such, but when there’s so much else on the market that does the same thing it’s just very hard to give a firm recommendation. If you can pick it up cheap, have a few friends to play with (who each need their own Move controller) and enjoy dancing to every style of music this side of opera, then you might just click with it and have a ball. Otherwise it’s difficult to see where Get Up and Dance fits into a market busier than your average Pussycat Dolls gig.


Rayman Origins bounces to PC March 29

When Ubisoft announced Rayman Origins in 2010, the publisher said a PC version of the 2D platformer was possible. Today, the publisher revealed a Windows version of the game is not only possible, but also nearly ready for release.

Ubisoft announced this afternoon that Rayman Origins will land on the PC on March 29. Of note, the game will be available for $30 at retail stores and as a download through Ubisoft's online shop.

While the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii iterations of Rayman Origins were launched in November, the PC version of the game isn't the only SKU still awaiting release. A PlayStation Vita version of the game is scheduled to launch on February 14, and a 3DS iteration is slated for March 20.

Rayman Origins is a quirky 2D side-scroller developed by Ubisoft and Rayman creator Michel Ancel. For more on the title, check out GameSpot's review of the Xbox 360 version.


Review: Start the Party: Save the World

Adding the word “party” into the title of a game is generally not a good omen. Trying to aim a game at the whole family is a harder task than opening a walnut with nothing but your forehead, so when Supermassive Games came up with Start the Party: Save the World they had a sizable task in making sure it didn’t fall into the oh-so-regular family trap of turning into something totally pointless. Did they manage it? Well… no. Not really.

When the Move was announced, a lot of people were concerned that the market would be flooded with shallow games, mimicking the Wii’s huge library of titles with no objective other than to flap your hands about the place for a few minutes at a time. Save the World takes a few steps to make its mini games a little more skillful, but there’s still nowhere near enough here to warrant rushing out and handing over your hard earned cash. It doesn’t really fare too well from the start, where you’re greeted with a main menu that gives you the choice of Options, and Solo or Group Play. There’s no difficulty settings or extra bonus items to aim for, but if the games are great fun then we could look over that happily enough.

But jumping into the games doesn’t really help much due to just how mixed the results are. With the general theme of Dr Terrible (steady with the imagination…) and his cronies doing everything to get in the way of the World and its day to day running, the mini games generally follow the theme of saving people from nasty situations. There’s no specific order to play them in, and each game is given a voiceover by a cheesy American guy to explain what’s going on and how you can help, so you don’t need to memorise how each game works. From here you’ll be drawing clouds, controlling a helicopter, repairing robots and several other tasks using your trusty Move controller. And while some of the mini-games are really well made, others are just a bit random and frustrating.

A couple of games have you using the Move as a drawing tool, by doing such things as drawing clouds to bounce falling cavemen into caves, or drawing huge laser circles around aliens to blow them up. These games work very well indeed, with the accuracy of the Move helping to make it a quite skillful set of games. Another favourite of mine was the ambulance game, whereby you balance an injured person on a big hand sticking out of an ambulance as it goes up and down hills and over speed bumps. You’ll need to collect first aid kits as you go, and doing so means you sometimes need to throw your casualty around and catch it carefully. It’s good fun at first, but it’s not hard to get the hang of it and once the challenge is gone, it loses its appeal.

This is a problem with many of the games. A few are fun for a while, but the challenge just doesn’t last. Others are just plain repetitive – having to clean, repair and extinguish robots on a production line is interesting until you’ve played it a couple of times, then you won’t go back to it. A second player can make things a bit more enjoyable; using the Sixaxis controller you can generally control something else within the game to make life trickier for the main player, which makes flicking fish into a boat slightly harder when player 2 is moving the boat around the place. But this isn’t all of the multiplayer action you can expect.

So, it’s a party game. Many of the games aren’t great on your own, but surely with a few friends it all picks up? Sadly that’s not really the case. There are a couple of game modes to play with your fellow gamers – Group Play and Quick Fire. They’re both pretty similar; Group Play just lets you play a few games, hand the Move over to someone else and see who gets the highest score. Quick Fire is basically the same, but you only get a short time on each game before it quickly moves on to the next which, for parties, is probably the best bet to stop your viewers waiting for too long. It’s the same set of 20 games you’ve got available in single player, and there isn’t really much of a party element other than taking it in turns.

So Start the Party: Save the World falls into that trap that so many have fallen into before. It’s not really a party game, although it is a game that kids might find entertaining for a couple of weekends. Considering you can pick it up for a touch over £10 it might not be a terrible bet for the kids, but it’s disappointing that Supermassive didn’t do more here, especially considering it’s the second game in the series. Yes a handful of mini-games are entertaining, but it’s not enough to recommend.


Review: Premier Manager 2012 (After 1.01 Update)

Football loving PC gamers don’t realise how lucky they are. For the past 20 years they’ve had access to a series of consistently brilliant management games, allowing them to experience the challenges, joys and frustrations of managing a top-level football club. But what about console gamers? Sure there have been attempts in the past, and pretty good ones, but there’s also been a lot of yawnsome toss. So up steps Premier Manager 2012, aiming for the top corner.

But early reviews were fairly negative, pointing out that the time each game took ruined the flow of the game. Well, we held fire on our review, gave it some extras hours and waited for the inevitable update. And sure enough, version 1.01 has arrived with a key change that might just rescue Premier Manager from an embarrassing early cup exit at the hands of Burton Albion.

Your first sessions with the game don’t give you much hope. The menus themselves are similar in design to the PS3′s XMB and finding the options you need can be tricky while you learn your way around. It’s also sometimes difficult to work out how to do various things; even advancing to the next day took 5 minutes to figure out after the first time I ventured away from the home screen. The controls are oddly mapped as well, with the circle button advancing the game and R1 bringing up the main menu – when we’re used to circle taking you back, it’s weird having to use it to advance the game.

But once you’ve taken the time to work out how everything works, it’s easy enough to zip through the menus, setting your team up and hunting for players to improve your squad. The transfers themselves are easy enough to carry out, although the searching options and transfer process is extremely streamlined, giving you only the basic options. Match tactics are a similar story, with a few options easy to change (formations, attacking bias, passing style) but impossible to fine tune, but this in itself isn’t a huge issue. Console gamers generally aren’t after the same experience as PC fans, and if you’re used to playing games in bursts of an hour or so then this slimmer structure will suit you perfectly.

Something that makes life harder is the background music. It’s bad. Really bad. Not in the same way as being forced into a 24 hour Robbie Williams-athon, just in a very repetitive, boring “please stop” way (actually that is the same thing…). If the option was there to listen to your own background music from the XMB then it would make Premier Manager a very relaxing experience, combining laid back and casual management with some music time, but there isn’t. You can turn the music off totally (phew) but it’s not the ideal solution, especially considering there must be plenty of system resources available while the game is running. The rest of the game’s sounds are functional bongs, swooshes and more bongs that do a job but will hardly pick up awards, so it’s probably worth just turning the sound off completely and putting the radio on.

But what of the matches themselves? Well, they’re slow. Even with the match speed set to “Fast” you’ll be watching each one for good couple of minutes, and the engine used to watch each game isn’t exactly flushed with detail. The pitch view is too small to be helpful, and the commentary is just a list of shots, bookings and goals. Hardly enough to judge how the match is going. They’re a bit of a waste of time really, and apart from making the odd substitution you might as well use the saving grace that 1.01 offers: the “Result Only” option.

After updating, you can now head into the menu and turn on an option that allows you to skip the match completely and just see the result. You still get to see stats of the game and player ratings, so you can see if your new signing is performing or if the new formation worked out well. You just don’t need to sit and watch a game play out that you can’t, in any way, speed up sufficiently or have much control over.

It’s a game changer. Instead of sitting down and playing a few matches you can now rattle through half a season easily in one sitting. The limitation of the game are still there; they haven’t changed the music, added more depth or found any official licenses hiding down the back of the sofa, but the flow of the game has increased considerably, even if it detaches you a little from the action.

But then there’s the issue of the price. If Premier Manager 2012 had a bargain price tag it would be easy to recommend to people after a bit of light-hearted, accessible managing, but it’s £13.99 which, by PSN standards, is a chunky request. And is there really enough here to spend that much money on? I’m not sure. It’s not a bad game by any means, but if you’ve got access to a reasonable PC then there shouldn’t be any competition on which way to look. It’s one of those games where someone asks you if it’s any good, and you just shrug and say “yeah it’s alright, not bad, not great…”. Worth looking into if you really fancy some management on your PS3 (especially with the new update) but it’s a lot of cash if you’re just a bit intrigued.

So Premier Manager 2012 got past the tricky 1st round tie, but ended up losing on penalties to Walsall. Maybe next year, eh?


Gran Turismo Review

A collective holy sh*t has probably dropped from every last one of you guys reading this. Or maybe not. Yes, you're looking at a Gran Turismo review that has scored, for the first time ever, nowhere near the practically perfect grades we've graced this franchise with since day one. Okay, maybe some of you have read some of the other reviews out there and are aware that something has gone really wrong. Well, first off, allow me to preface the remainder of this review by stating that Gran Turismo for the PSP has, allegedly, been in development for five years. I say allegedly, because I'm certain that the development cycle for the game had been temporarily sidelined numerous times in between all of the work Polyphony had to do for the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3. Gran Turismo's development was most certainly not a continuous effort of five years...and unfortunately, it shows.

Now, after re-reading this review, it definitely comes off harsh, but with good reason. Gran Turismo PSP is a flawed game. But, on the other hand, I still had a lot of fun with it, as at its core, GT PSP is still very enjoyable, accessible, and fun game. I put in tons and tons of hours into the game just making money and collecting cars, which is one of the purposes of GT PSP. Many of these cars are transferable, allowing you to sync GT PSP to GT5 and transfer cars you've bought or won into your PS3 game. Again, GT PSP is a very fun game. But a "fully specced Gran Turismo", Kazunori Yamauchi said, this is not.

The first major disappointment came when I realized the tiny little size of the game file Sony had forwarded me. 937MB? Gran Turismo 2 was a PlayStation 1 game and it boasted two separate discs, essentially making it a game worth 1.2GB. Okay, so I held out hope. So the game boots up, and immediately I run to the dealership to look through the list of amazing cars, only to realize I can only choose between Bugatti, Bentley, Chevy, and Polyphony. "Oh," I said, "Sony must've sent me a demo file accidentally. Oh, those crazy guys, I'll just contact them agai...what? This is normal?" You see, as the days cycle in-game, the dealerships you can browse through change, as do the cars you can buy.

Allow me to explain in a bit more detail. When you boot up the game, you'll have four dealers to access and 100,000 credits to spend on a car, which is a gracious sum. Once you buy a car, you can participate in a few events. As the days roll on in the game, a new set of four dealerships will be made available to you. But, just because you can access a Nissan dealer, doesn't mean you can have the ability to buy any of their cars. No, no. If you don't see a GT-R or a 300ZX TT, you have to wait until the next time Nissan becomes one of the four dealers you can shop at and see if the assortment of cars features the ones you want. Yes, it's that complicated, confusing, and stupid.

Some of you may say, "but Arnold, why didn't you mention this in your GT PSP hands-on preview? Why is this such a shock to you?" Because when I played Gran Turismo PSP a few months ago at a New York City event, I recall being able to sort through a complete listing of every car in the game, through every single make; none of this four dealers only bullcrap. So to see this absolute lunacy on my PSP, in a game I had so long waited for made me livid, quite frankly, as I'm sure you can tell by the tone of this diatribe.

But things get worse, as GT PSP commits the ultimate sin, in my eyes. No customization. Sure, you can enter the game's Quick Tune menu and adjust suspension components such as camber, toe, ride-height, spring rate, and damper, but that leaves the other half of the gearhead spectrum (the straight line guys) alone in the dark. Yes, you can add some horsepower to your car, but you can only do it for drift trial mode. And you're not actually adding any components, you're just increasing a little slider that adds up to 20% more power to the car you're in.

Honestly, I could sit here and ramble about how utterly stupid this is. GT has always been about taking a car and making it faster, in some cases, absurdly fast. I've spent dozens and dozens of hours in GT4 just taking random cars that I like in real life, buy every little component for them to see just how much of a difference it makes around a specific track and in the 1/4 mile. GT PSP has taken all of that away from me, and has left me with an open-ended single-player mode that allows me to choose a car, track, set the number of laps (1-120) and race on it against three others. Yes, the total number of cars per track is not eight or even six, it's four, including you. And once you win a race, you earn prize money, and then you have the ability of racing that same track three more times. You see, the first time you race, you race it on an easy difficulty rank called D. Once you win, you can race against C-rank racers, then B, and then A.

The game boasts a total of 800 cars, but only 200-250 of those are actually unique models. And there are 35 tracks, with a total of 70 different layouts and variations. Unfortunately, there are some key tracks missing, most importantly, both Special Stage Route 5 and 11, series staples. I've also noticed that no aesthetic changes have been made to real life tracks such as New York City, to reflect their modern day changes. For example, the New York City track in GT4 depicted an area of Manhattan known as Columbus Circle (the roundabout portion), back when GT4 was developed and released, the area was under a lot of construction, so understandably the in-game track reflects that with cranes and such all around the area. But, five years later, Columbus Circle is brimming with beauty as the Time Warner building has been long finished...but unfortunately, the in-game track shows none of that detail, and instead looks precisely as it did in GT4. This tells me someone was forced to take away Polyphony's attention to detail and, in turn, forced to maybe...rush the game in time for the PSP Go launch?

I'm not quite done, yet, though. You see, beyond the standard races are also the Driving Challenges, which are nothing more than License Tests in disguise, and are not a requisite here. Although, taking 15 minutes and completing a few set of challenges will unlock the custom soundtrack feature, and they are strangely addictive, as well. Moreover, they're good for accumulating a ton of money in a relatively short time-span. And if you really dig the challenges, upon completing them, the game will reward you with a whole new bonus set.

Lastly, the multiplayer here is...well, disappointing. There is no online to speak of. None. Not even a meager two player battle. You're limited to four-player Ad-hoc, which is great and all, but finding someone, let alone three others, with a PSP and a copy of the game directly next to you is very unlikely. And I highly doubt you'll be making an event on Facebook inviting any would-be competitors to a multiplayer session at your house. Beyond a few new tracks and Professional physics loosely based on GT5's, Polyphony added little-to-nothing to make this GT feel fresher and revised.

Visually, the game looks really great. It's running at 60 frames per second and boasts some really nice car models for a handheld title. It's not quite Gran Turismo 4 caliber stuff, but if the framerate was brought down to 30, it probably could've been. Regardless, beyond the slick car models and super framerate, do lie some visual issues. Seams break up and textures and polygons all over the screen frequently, and it's more noticeable in some stages than others. These seams are white lines that run across various parts of the stages, flickering about. Also, there is no light emitting from the brake-lights of cars, as it's just a red and flat texture that gets drawn on when you hit the Moreover, the rims are two-dimensional and paper-flat when in a race, which I thought ended with GT4, but I guess PD couldn't get even that going on the PSP. Again, all in all, this is a very good looking game, but it does fall short in a lot of places I didn't expect it to, and it kind of takes a lot away from the overall look and feel. Shame.

The audio is acceptable, and you can hear that Polyphony put in a decent amount of work into the sound, especially when the PSP is running through an external speaker of some sort. The standard soundtrack is pretty good stuff, but the ability of a custom soundtrack is what I love most. Sound effects such as tires screeching and crashes are pulled right out of GT4, which is good and bad. It's good since they weren't that bad sounding to begin with. But it's bad because, well, not being bad doesn't mean they couldn't be improved on or made to sound a bit newer or fresher. Also, I noticed that a lot of the cars don't quite sound like their actual counterparts, as their engine and exhaust notes don't roar like they should - I mean honestly, a Ferrari Enzo sounds like a wind-up car in the game. The American V8s sound burbly and nice, but a lot of cars with defining characteristics in their engine/exhaust notes are missing said characteristics.

As you can see, I'm one of the few critics who isn't annoyed with this game for its lack of an expansive Career mode. Quite frankly, to me, the career is there with the open-ended single-player races. What bothers me is the lack of the fundamentals, the very basic and general things that have made Gran Turismo such a superb game. Yes, the physics are great, yes there's a ton of cars and tracks, and yes, despite all of these drawbacks the game is still quite a bit of fun. But this is a game that could've been perfect, it could've been the epitome of handheld to console ports, but instead it continues the age-old pessimism of handheld iterations of console blockbusters being nothing more than stripped down quick-flings. If there was one brand, one developer, one game franchise to end that stereotype, it should've been PlayStation, it should've been Polyphony, and it should've been Gran Turismo.


SoulCalibur: Broken Destiny Review

Up until now, Tekken has been the only massive 3D fighter to arrive on the PSP. Years ago when Tekken: Dark Resurrection arrived on the PSP, I praised it for being a superb game that brought the very same console experience into the portable world, complete with a story mode, endings, and all. So with SoulCalibur: Broken Destiny on the way, I expected to see that same kind of treatment. And while Broken Destiny delivers in many areas, it fails in one critical aspect...

...That aspect is a proper story mode that comes complete with individual endings. A mission-based mode called The Gauntlet serves as this game's core experience and quite frankly it's pretty terrible. Essentially the game pits you against numerous rivals, but instead of full fledged fights, you have to carry out specific tasks/requirements that are displayed on the screen in order to progress. Now, each one of these "missions" lasts, on average, about five seconds, with a select few going as much as 20. These "missions" will often require you to dodge an attack, block an attack, block then counter an attack, or dodge then counter an attack. Needless to say, these mission requirements are pretty repetitive and tire quick. Sure there's a mildly amusing story behind The Gauntlet, but it's not nearly amusing enough to play the mode for.

Now, as far the gameplay transition from console to handheld goes, SoulCalibur: Broken Destiny does everything just right. Just like how Tekken: Dark Resurrection found its way flawlessly onto the PSP, you can expect that same level of quality from Broken Destiny's battles, complete with its superb fluidity. In total, over 30 fighters are found in the game, one of which is Kratos, in addition to an all new fighter Dampierre. Kratos is one of the heavier pushes for Broken Destiny, as he is actually the most prominent figure on the game's box art.

Of course, naturally, Kratos was my first pick to fight with, and it felt absolutely fantastic to kick some ass with him. He retains all of his signature attacks from the game, and they're particularly awesome to pull-off, too. Also, thanks to Sony, Namco-Bandai had the proper help when integrating Kratos into the SC universe. In fact, from what I was told by a Namco rep, the Kratos model in the game is actually the same one found in God of War: Chains of Olympus, which is very cool.

Character customization has been largely carried over from SoulCalibur IV, which means you'll be able to put your creativity to good use in the game, so feel free to create an all new fighter, or edit an existing one to your liking. But another complaint to address here is that Broken Destiny doesn't offer nearly as many unlockables as SCIV did, beyond extra items for the character customization. And while I understand this is a UMD game, it's not like Broken Destiny comes loaded with CG endings and cut-scenes for every character. And it's not like unlockables take up that much space anyways.

I will say this much, for the general Quickplay matches, SoulCalibur: Broken Destiny is fantastic. The fighting mechanics are still some of the most polished out there, and it really does make for a terrific fighter. But if you're looking for rich gameplay modes that you can play over and over to unlock cinematics and such, this isn't your game. Modes include Quickplay, Trials, The Gauntlet and Multiplayer, which is limited to two-player Ad-hoc, so no online gameplay here like you'd get with the console games.

Now, in my hands-on preview of the game last month, I had to rant about a certain aesthetic choice that Namco has veered towards, and I will regurgitate what it was I said...You see, it seems like ever since the apparent demise of the Dead or Alive franchise, Namco-Bandai have felt the need to fill in an overly-exaggerated-bouncing-breasts void that this industry most certainly did not need in the first place. I'm no morale God. Hell, I love me a curvy woman...I just prefer that woman to be real. I just feel extremely embarrassed to be playing a videogame where nearly half of the polygonal count on nearly half of the characters is in their chests. It continues to perpetuate a stereotype that this industry needs to get rid of; a stereotype that calls gamers lonely, geeky, virgin losers. Forgive my bluntness, but that's just simply the perception a majority of people still have of us.

With that rant out of the way, at least when you're playing on the PSP, you don't have to feel so embarrassed, because chances are nobody's going to notice the ridiculous details put into the female fighters, thanks to the screen size, unless they're standing and watching right over your shoulders. So you can enjoy the game for what it is, a great fighter. Yes, even though I just went on a quasi-diatribe, there's still no denying that SoulCalibur games are terrific playing fighters that have kept many coming back for years. And beyond the questionable aesthetic choices, Broken Destiny is actually a damn fine looking PSP game, boasting great character detail, beautiful backgrounds, fluid animations, a great framerate and other sharp visual touches.

If you've been playing SoulCalibur games for a while, you know precisely what to expect from the sound. The audio consists of the following SC franchise necessities: the battle announcer, fighters with voice actors who boast quickly before the fight, and a soundtrack that closely resembles the tunes of past SC games. Broken Destiny does all of this with ease, as you'd expect, and also gives you the ability to use Japanese voices. There's nothing really monumental to the sound of the game, as I've pretty much covered all there is to it.

In all honesty, if you're looking for a fighter and don't have a copy of Tekken: Dark Resurrection for PSP, I'd just go and buy that instead of Broken Destiny, especially since Tekken can be had for cheap. SoulCalibur: Broken Destiny isn't a bad game, it just feels extremely barebones in many areas, despite boasting one of the all time best mechanics for a 3D fighter. Once this hits the $20 mark, I'd spring for it - otherwise, leave this one alone for now, there are other fighters out there for the PSP.

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