Monday, May 26, 2008

Gran Turismo 5 Prologue Review (PS3)

When it comes to racing games, the big player on the block has been for some time Gran Turismo. It took racing games to a different level than games before it. Back in the early days, racing games were strictly arcade: very little realism, but packed with a lot of speed. Yes, you had your realistic car models, based on the super-power cars none of us could afford, but there wasn't a game that really made you feel you were driving the exact specifications of the car in question.

The Gran Turismo series changed that. They took a vast array of different cars, from your basic stock Honda Civics to your super-charged Dodge Vipers, and everything in between. Every car handled differently, requiring the driver to adjust to the cars specifications. You could upgrade parts, adjust your settings and make the car yours. Not to mention, the early editions required you to earn a license to race in the bigger events.

Gran Turismo 5: Prologue continues the long-running and super successful series with it's '2nd' game for the PS3. Early when the PS3 was released, you could download the GT: HD Concept game that allowed you to sample one course and 10 cars (that you unlocked over time). It was fun and it was free. Now we're giving yet another sample. This time, more cars and more courses, but not for free.

From the start, you have to realize that while Gran Turismo 5: Prologue is a preview of the game, it does offer you a lot for a small price (varying between 30-40 dollars). You have 6 course with variations to all, making it feel like 12 courses. Thankfully the courses are incredible both in racing ability and look. The London course is authentic to the city and the Suzuki course(s) are precise to their specifications and makes you feel like your racing the real course that famous F1 drivers race on.

There are over 60 cars to choose from. While not as significant as the 200+ cars the full-edition will have and what other games offer, there is still plenty of variety in the car choices that you won't feel like you're racing the same car with a different name. Added to that is that each car not only look beautiful on the outside, the designers at Polyphony have even gone so far as making inside the car authentic. With every car so detailed, it really makes you wonder how much more more could be done to other cars in the full release.

Unlike previous GT games, there is no License learning and no customization of cars. You don't need to train, so that makes jumping in a breeze, but the fact that you really can't customize your car does make things a bit boring online when you're all racing in exactly the same car.

In terms of modes, you have your arcade mode, where you can race any of the courses (alone or with a friend locally) It's fun and a good way to test your cars and the courses before taking on the main mode.
The major mode is your Events mode. Here you must start in C Class and work your way up. Finish a Class and you unlock the next, until you reach S Class. The requirements for the races vary. For some, you simply have to win the race with a car from that class. Other races, might require you to race with a specific car or to win the race starting in last place. While the C and B class races should be a breeze to complete, winning your racing in A then S will take skill. You really have to race smart and you will more than likely be racing the same course a few times before you manage to reach the goal (finishing in the top 3). Also, like previous GT games, even cars have events that you go to through the dealership. Nothing different than previous editions, and is a great way of making more money to get the faster cars.

Online is finally available for the Gran Turismo series. Racers were supposed to have this in GT4, but it was dropped late in production. While it's there, it isn't anything spectacular. You have your choice of races (course) and that's pretty much it. If you have friends to race against, it might be enjoyable, but chances are you probably won't spend all day online. The only real saving grace for online is that the money you get from your online races can be used to buy cars offline, important since you can only race with cars you own both online and off.

Prologue does have some other bonus features. You can save your race replays and considering the absolutely stunning graphics of the cars and the courses, you might want to save a race just to show it off to your friends. Often, you might even just leave a replay running once you've finished a race just to admire your work and the work of the developers. The other add-on is GT:TV. It's exactly that, Gran Turismo 'television' programs that you can watch on your PS3. This is a great thing for racing fans as the videos show off the cars in the real world and their connection to the game (or how the game effected the cars). There are more than 6 videos currently available and more are promised in the future.

Yes, GT5: Prologue is technically a preview build that we, the gamers, are paying 40 dollars for, so be aware that a full title will be out, but not until early 2009. The developers and Sony have promised more content in the future, including at least one more course and a few cars and the addition of car damage, they are trying to give us more for our dollar. The only disapointment I had with the game is the difficulty of the later races. It can be extremely frustrating to have to start a race in 16th place and have to finish in the top 3 when your challenges are all reall powerful cars. This won't be something enjoyed by iregular racing players.

If you like or love racing games, than Prologue is an Incredible game that you need to play and have in your collection. There is enough here that will challenge you and the bonus content is incredible eye candy for car lovers.
If you like racing games, but might not be a fan of the series, than is is a Good game to rent first. Try it out, and see if you'd be actually willing to spend the money on a tech-demo. If you're going to be playing it alone, than this is probably the best course of action since the Online will not melt your heart.
If you're not into racing games, I doubt that this game will convert you. There is a bit of a learning curve and you really need to know your stuff otherwise you will only get frustrated. Also, at it's price-point, even at a saving (or even if you can find it at a discounted price), you will still probably feel like you've over-paid.

Fans of the Gran Turismo series have probably already picked this up and enjoying it. You might feel a bit upset that it's not a full game, but there is still enough to bide you over until then the full release.
Thankfully, Prologue is so good, we already know that when the regular edition comes out, racing fans are going to be extremely thrilled and won't be leaving their homes for a long time. But as I stated, if you're not a fan, you should still try it out, but think before spend the money. Either rent it or borrow from a friend and see what you think. I honestly believe you'll enjoy yourself, but we all need to think about saving before we spurlge, since we need to save up for our own Nissan GT-R that will be parked in front of our homes in the near future.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

God of War: Chains of Olympus (PSP) Review

There are two definite series that will be remembered on the PlayStation 2, the first is Grand Theft Auto 3 Saga and the other is the 2 God of War games. Both Series did a lot to the system, as both were incredible game(s) that worked on many levels. The God of War was a great showing that Sony had a lot of potential in their first party games. In my opinion, excluding Ico, Shadow of the Colossus and two Gran Turismo games, none of the SCEA (and it's European and Japanese) divisions brought us games that we really enjoy and that helped sell the system.

When word came out that a God of War game would be coming out for the PSP, I felt this would be the game that would finally solidify the unit as a strong portable gaming console rather than a great multimedia unit. While it might not be as memorable as it's console brothers, Chains of Olympus is a fun game that everyone with a PSP should own.

Chains of Olympus takes place before the events of the console games and sheds some like onto Kratos, the star of the series. It begins about 10 years before the events from the first game as we control Kratos as he helps the Spartans fight against the Persians in Attica. As he defeats his opposition the sun disapears from the sky and Kratos must go to the temple of Helios to try to bring back the sun. This takes Kratos through various temples and the underworld as he fights his way and hopefully finding a way to stop the nightmares he has had (as we discover in God of War).

The gameplay of Chains of Olympus is very similar to the PS2 versions, but adapted to the PSP unit. The action buttons are done really well and the missing right analog stick that was used for strafing is changed to pressing both the L and R buttons and using the Analog numb. The weapons are extremely similar and anyone who has played the other games will be right at home.

The graphics and sound in the game are also top-notch. The PSP is very capable of playing games with stunning details and that is really the case with this one. There are very little problems with anti-aliasing and the game continues the cinematic experience with some very top-notch clips throughout the game, both CGI and in-game rendering. The game also loads very well with very little wait between stages. The sound is also extremely well done, taking a cue from the console version. At times, you will really think you're playing this game on your PS2 or PS3, and that is exactly what this system needs.

If there is a problem with the game is that even with the tutorials in the beginning of the game, those who haven't played the previous games might have to take some time to get adjusted to the controls, but it once you get the hang of it, you'll have no problems with it afterwards. The biggest problem that most will find is the game's length, which can be looked as both a blessing or a curse. For most experienced gamers, you should be able to beat the game in about 4-6 hours, which is decent for a portable title, but short for those who were expecting a lot more with a game of this prestige. While the game's length works well with the story, you probably will wish there was a bit more. There are some challenges to play after you've completed the game, but I am certain more people would have rather had more to the main-story instead of mini-games.

God of War: Chains of Olympus is a Great PlayStation Portable game that you must own if you play your PSP. This year has been an excellent year for the system with four standout titles already released this year: Patapon, Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core and echochrome along with God of War. If you've been looking for a reason to get the system, this is that reason. Also, Sony will be releasing (in early June) a Red PSP unit with Chains of Olympus and Superbad so if you have not already picked it up, you really have no excuse now. The game's length might be a bit of a throw-off for some, but if you're looking for some enjoyment and something worth every penny spent, then you will not be disapointed with God of War: Chains of Olympus.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

echrochrome (PS3) and echochrome (PSP Import) Review

Back in early 2007 when Sony first showed off echochrome I knew at that moment they had something really special in their possession. I had this game as my most anticipated game of 2007 (even ahead of Halo 3, Rock Band, The Orange Box and Call of Duty 4). The graphics didn't show anything, especially considering the game only has two colors, which are technically shades (Black and White) and the videos of the game didn't go into too much detail about the game. It seemed really simplistic and yet offered the player a challenge. Now in 2008, we have what is probably the best PlayStation Network game and right-now the front-runner for best Downloadable game on the market.

echochrome is a game based on perspectives. In the game you control a mannequin and you lead it around a course to check-points, which are what I call Shadows. While your objective is to get to the shadows, you're also racing against the clock to get these shadows. The game doesn't show you the clock, but if you click the select button twice, it will appear. There are five rules in the game: Perspective Traveling, Perspective Landing, Perspective Existence, Perspective Absence and Perspective Jump. You use these five rules to lead your character in these puzzles.

Before continuing, I have both the North American PS3 version which you download via the PlayStation Network and the Imported Japanese PlayStation Portable version which I purchased not too long ago. I decided to review both games at the same time since I've spent a lot of time with each of them and there are differences between the two.

The PlayStation 3 Review

echochrome of the PS3 was released simultaneously with the PSP version on May 1st. Both are downloadable titles and only 9.99 each. The game contains 3 modes. In Freeform, you are given random levels to complete. You can control the difficulty of the levels during the loading screen by simply changing the settings from Easy (1) to Hardest (5). The easiest puzzles should only take you about 1-2 minutes to complete, but the harder ones will probably take you the full amount of time. If there is a level you don't like, fret not, you have the ability to skip a level and play something else.
The second mode is called Atelier. Here you are given the ability to choose whichever level you want to play. In both the PS3 and PSP version you have 56 possible levels, each unique to both systems. The game keeps track of how long it takes you to complete a level and gives you the opportunity to play with friends to see who can get the better time. Also, here you can do a whole group of levels (separated by letters, A,B,C,etc...) and see how long it will take you to complete each difficulty of levels.
The final mode is called Canvas. Here in canvas mode, you have the ability to create your own levels. If you really want to challenge yourself and people you know, this is a great place to spend some time. Sony has done a really incredible job with this by allowing people to submit their levels and if they like what you've create, they will distribute them to other gamers around the world. The Japanese already had this game for more than a month before it was released here so you can already start downloading and playing their levels. Unfortunately, you can only play them in Freeform mode and you can't save them (just yet). Also, they are week-long exclusives, so, you won't get to play with a fan favorite for very long. The PSP version doesn't have downloading, but you can trade with your friends via ad-hoc.

The games graphics although simplistic are very well done. The use of 3-D blocks do their and really look good both on a small screen or on a bigger-widescreen television. The sound is also really great for the tone of the game. It reminds me of the soothing music heard in museums so it might not appeal to all. Probably the option of playing this game with custom soundtracks might have been nice, but does not deter the experience. The controls work well but you will only really use your analog stick (either one), the X button to rush your character (run), Triangle to think (technically pauses the game, without actually stopping the timer). The only other button which you should use is the Square button, which actually helps you out with Perspective Travelling and Existence. Hit the square button and it will 'connect' blocks flush so you can move your character from one spot to another.

The games does have it's minor flaws. For one, while there is more than one way to solve any puzzle, there are sometimes where only one way will get the job done. The other problem with that is there are ways to 'cheat'. You can do something by mistake and get where you need to go, and at the same time, when you think you're doing the right thing, you can't get your character to do what you need it to do. It's can be frustrating at times, but again, it doesn't ruin your experience.

The Imported PlayStation Portable Review

The Japanese version of the game is significantly different than the North American release. For starters, unlike the NA version which only contains 56 levels per system (each unique) the Japanese version has 96 levels (12 Letter groups with 8 stages each). The names of the modes are also different. Freeform is called Infinite, Atelier is called Box while Canvas is still the same. The other huge difference is the inclusion of 2 additional side-modes in both Infinite and Box modes.

In the North American release you can only play Solo mode. Here you control your white character and move it around the level to the shadow check-points. But in the Japanese edition, you have two additional play types. The After Solo, you have Pairs. In Pairs, you have both two White Characters and two Black Characters walking around the levels. What you need to do is to have the two white characters join and the two black characters join to create two new Grey characters. Once you've done that, you need to combine the two Grey characters to complete the level. It really adds a new spin on the levels as you now have to lead more characters on the screen. The easier levels again can be completed in a matter of moments, but as you get into the harder levels, you will have to use various strategies to get them together.
The other additional mode is called Others. In Others, you control one white character and it must reach the shadow-check-points. But this time you have black characters that act as enemies on the course. If you touch them, it's like dying and you must restart at your last check-point. Now you're trying to complete the level and fight off this opposition in order to reach the goal(s). This mode is extremely challenging as you will try to 'lead' the black characters as far away from your main character to complete the puzzles.

When playing Infinite mode, you might have to play these levels. You can't really decide which mode to play here, but thankfully with the skip feature, you can simply move to another level if you do not like what you are playing. In Box mode, you have the option of selecting which mode you want, but if you decide to play the timed Group (letter) stages, you will have a random selection here.

I have not played the North American PlayStation Portable mode so I do not know if this mode is exclusive to the PSP or not. It does seem clear that the North American PS3 version does lack this feature, but it's not to say that Sony might offer this addition sometime down the road, but at a small additional cost to the gamers.

echochrome is a Fantastic game that should be played by all. While playing this game on the PS3, I managed to get my sister hooked on it and even my friends who were watching her play couldn't stop staring at the screen. While the easy levels are a breeze to play, the larger and harder levels will absolutely challenge you, almost to the point of frustration. The game does require quick acting and careful thinking, so those who are looking for a game to waste time, may be put off. At only 9.99 (plus taxes), this is an extremely affordable game. If you purchase both the PSP and PS3, you're spending less than 20 dollars and getting a lot of value at it, and a very fair price for the genre in question. Also, because of the ability to download and share levels in the PS3 version, it gives it even more value. It is a bit of a disappointment that the North American version does lack the extra modes of the Japanese version, you just have to look at the cost and realize that you're still paying for a lot of value. I strongly suggest if you own a PS3 to pick up this title thanks to the downloading option. It's a small download, but a game that you will want to play again and again and to show off to your friends.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

CrossworDS (Nintendo DS) Review

Everyone at one point or another has spent time playing the Crosswords that are available in our local newspaper. The Sunday New York Times is world-famous for its Crossword Puzzle and in fact released a game not to long ago on the DS that allowed people to play those famous crosswords where ever they wanted without having to carry around the large paper.

Nintendo quickly followed suit and recently released CrossworDS (or Crossword DS) through their Touch Generations series of games. Like Brain Age and Picross DS before, CrossworDS is a budget title that is geared towards the typical non-gamer. While that may be the case, it's not a game that won't appeal to those who enjoy a little distraction here or there.

CrossworDS offers three modes, the first one is Crossword Puzzles. You have unlocked from the start Easy and Medium crosswords (with the third one being unlocked following the completion of the other two). Within each difficulty mode you have 200+ crossword puzzles to solve per difficulty. Each page has a variety of sizes in the puzzles that are offered. Your first row are simple 4x4 puzzles that can be completed in a matter of moments (1-3 minutes) but then you have 11x11 (and larger) puzzles that take you quite some time. The difficulty of the puzzles also vary as the smaller ones are significantly easier than the larger ones. The game does offer you the chance to use hints (at a cost), but for the most part, the early puzzles will rarely require you to use them. If you play smart, you can eventually solve the word by just answering the questions around it. The game also has a scoring system, but you will almost always finish with an 'A' rating as long as you do not use any hints. It doesn't penalize you for writing the wrong letter, so the fact that there is a rating system seems pointless.
The puzzles are nice, but there is a lot of repetition and you will have the same answer for multiple puzzles, even with them masking that by changing the question being asked. In order to unlock the special puzzles, you have to play through all the other ones on each page, so someone looking to be challenged will have to endure some of the more mundane ones geared for youngsters. The special puzzles that you get with the completion of each page are subject specific and the best puzzles in the game.
There are also some problems with the DS' writing recognition. I had problems my 'G' and 'I' which were not being recognized by the unit. When I would write 'G' it would give me an 'O' while with my 'I's, I would get either an 'L' or 'J'. It's a bit of a pain, but that could be a problem for only left-handed people.

The second mode that is offered is Word-search. Again, very straight forward. You have your smaller, easier ones that have 14 words to find on a pretty small area. These puzzles should only take you a few minutes to complete. The large, harder ones require you to find twice as many words and on a much larger field. Larger puzzles will take you much more time to complete and while are also fun, there is a lot of necessary scrolling to find the required words. The rules here are the same as any other word search you've played, with you finding the required words which can be spelt horizontally, vertically, diagonally and backwards. I enjoyed the word-search since there were plenty of variety in the subjects of the puzzles (sports, cities, countries, clothing, Greek mythology).

The last mode are Anagrams. Depending on the size you pick, you are given some letters (4,5 or 6) and you must create words using only those letters. I didn't enjoy this mode too much considering that when I was doing this game, I was spelling words that I am pretty certain were not real words. Of the three modes, chances are you'll spend very little time playing this one. It's a interesting distraction, but there are games available online for free (eg. Text Twist), so this does feel like a late addition to this title.

In the end, I think this is a Decent game and Good considering what it has to offer. The reason I find it decent was the fact that playing the so many smaller puzzles just to get a chance of playing the better and more challenging ones was a bit of a disappointment. It's good since it does give you a lot of variety for only 20 dollars. There is plenty to unlock, but unless you are willing to spend the time to finish all the other puzzles to get to them, you might not want to spend the time answering the same words over and over again.
For most people, it's probably just better to play the Crossword in your local newspaper, but if you need something to play here and there, then you're getting your money's worth with CrossworDS.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Welcome to the world of Tasty Games

This is Tasty Games, the place where I (Marko Djordjevic) will discuss all things games. While I have in the past and present written on other game-sites (IGN and Gamespot), I felt like creating a single blog page where I can write things a bit off-the-cuff. I still have every intention on writing posts on those sites, I will use this blog to focus on my game reviews and developing my writing skills.

For my game reviews, I am going to use a different rating score than most sites. For the most part, gamers have become accustomed to reviews getting either a number or letter score. I feel that a number doesn't properly reflect a game's rating. Anyone can write a number, 18, but what does that actually mean? In schooling, a number is fine since you have an exactly marking table that works. If you're correct, you get 1, if you're wrong you get 0. Add that up and you get a fair score. Since games aren't that black and white (right or wrong), I wanted to be descriptive in order to give others a better understanding of how I feel about a particular game.

My review 'score' will not use a number or a letter grade but rather a word (or words) to describe what I think. Here are a few examples of the types of words that will conclude my reviews.

Perfection - This is a game that is perfect in every sense of the word. It does not necessarily mean that the game has no flaw, but as a gamer, from start to finish you will enjoy every aspect the game has to offer.

Great - Games that are great are those that you also enjoy from start to finish but you really wished that there was something more to the game to make it perfect. Most games are great, but we all know that there is an aspect within the game that either could have been more fleshed out or removed. If a game is great, you know you're getting your dollars worth.

Good - A good game is one that you enjoy but is frustrating at times. It's not a gem that you will talk to your friends about, but it's one that you will probably return to after completing it the first time. Sports titles are usually good games, and fit into this category.

Decent - There are games that are sometimes stuck in the middle. They are not exactly a bad game, but there are enough problems, that you may not actually want to finish it once you've started. We've all played games like this. It has promise, but the moment we've started playing, we realize the mistakes of the game are clearly visible and ruining your gaming experience. Decent games are playable, but should be played with a cautious view.

Bad/Awful- If a game is bad, you know it from the start. It might be playable, but it's not enjoyable. An awful game is one that the moment you start, you feel your stomach turn inside. You can put your finger on exactly what is wrong and you wish it would stop. An awful game is one that you will not be playing much longer after you start. Bad you might play to completion only because you want to see more of the damage, but you know that every minute you spend with the game, you could have spent it doing something so much more productive.

While these are some of the words that will describe my feeling on a game, the list is not exclusive. Thankfully we have a large vocabulary at our disposal and are much more helpful at understanding how a person feels about a game. When a friend asks you what you think of a game you're playing, you never answer 'It's an 8 out of 10', but 'It's a really fun game that has so many options and the graphics are incredible'. I want my reviews to follow the latter. I want to be your friend and tell you exactly how I thought of a particular game. 'This is a good game that is a bit repetitive but at only 20 dollars you're still getting your money's worth.'

My reviews will not be exclusive to one particular console. I own all three major consoles and both portable systems, so I will try my best to mix up the reviews and write about all the units. I hope to have my first review up on the site in the next couple of days. At this moment, there are quite a few games I am playing, but it seems that CrossworDS will be my first review considering I have been playing it the most over the past few days. I already have in general a good feel for the game and I think just a bit more playing will allow me to write a fair review to the game.

That is all...for now.