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FEB/MAR 2011

Little Big Planet 2 FEATURED

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Mobile Gaming Kaos

Dungeons and Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited

FEATURED

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Ministry of War 1


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he new year has come and is already almost a quarter gone. With the passing of the days GameTheoryMag has celebrated it’s first anniversary. As I look back on the past year it hardly seems possible we’ve reached this milestone, but then I browse the issues and I see how much work everyone has put in. To our writers I say, “Thank you from the entire GT team. Without you we would never have been able to get through the first issue, let alone a year’s worth. Collectively you’re a very talented and dedicated team, as well as an awesome group of people to work with� To the publisher I say, “Yes, I know. My lists are made and we’re plowing forth with plans for the rest of this year. We’re on it, boss!� Last, but by no means least, I say to my Associate Editor and spirit twin, “You’re total awesomesauce! What would I do without you?�

As a salute to our own short past, we’ve continued last issue’s look back at some of the games that have influenced our team over the years. Metroid is a long-lasting franchise which has been played by millions around the world. Jessica has taken a look back at its various iterations in her retrospective on the subject. In “Replaying the Classics�, Warren shares his thoughts on Paper Mario and why you might want to take a peek at this game if you’ve never played it before. Whether you’re a Mario fan or not (I’m told those people actually exist...somewhere) you owe it to yourself to spend a little time enjoying this classic. If you’re an aficionado of PvP, we have a run down on Bloodline Champions. This Stunlock Studios game launched right after the new year, is free-to-play, and is a total PvP, arena-based game. Our Indie Spotlight this issue is focused on Lucid, a very unique puzzle game which has stunning visuals and relaxing sounds. Released just prior to the Christmas season it sports a very different slant than others of its genre. Beware though! It can quickly become addictive. We’ve also taken a look at a new mobile app from Firi Games. Phoenix is a modern arcade game with intense action and great graphics. Every playthrough is different and you can read more about it in Eric’s very thorough review. We round out this month’s issue with some reviews for all you XBLA fans, a look at Dungeon’s and Dragons Online, Little Big Planet for the PS3, and some shorts on upcoming games we think will be worth taking a further look at in the near future.

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$0/5&/54 Little Big Planet 2 Super Meat Boy

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Replaying the Classics - Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars Dungeons and Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited

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Michelle Montierth, Editor-in-chief editor@gametheorymag.com

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ilomilo Ministry of War Paper Mario – Replaying the Classics

GameTheory  is  published  bi-­monthly  and  is  available  online   for  FREE  at  www.gametheorymag.com Don’t  miss  another  issue.  Subscribe  today! Copyright  Š  GameTheory  Magazine.  All  rights  reserved.  Reproduction  is  whole  or  in  part  without  permission  is  prohibited.  All  artwork  and   game  assets  shown  in  GameTheory  Magazine    are  trademarks  and/or  registered  trademarks  of  their  respective  owners.

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A World of Keflings

Uncharted Waters Retrospective

4QFDJBMUIBOLTUPPVSMBZPVUBSUJTUYJBPSVJ-J As always we hope you enjoy this latest issue of GameTheoryMag. Let us know if there are games you want us to preview/review, and we’ll see about adding them to our list.

THE WORLD OF (UN)LICENSED GAMES #1: “ROCKMAN STRATEGY�

Bloodline Champions

“METROID� - A 25-year Retrospective Look

Phoenix Gaming Kaos 4

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t’s back, it’s badder, and it’s better than the first. If that’s not a catchy way to begin an article, than let me try again: I even bolded that to really catch your attention. Did it work? Good. Do you feel bad for the panda? Good. Now continue reading to make the panda happy again.

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i*GZPVIBWFOPUQMBZFE-JUUMF #JH1MBOFU TBEQBOEBw Media Molecule truly outdid themselves and crafted a sequel well worth your time. It’s packed full of everything great from the first game, and then twice-baked (like a potato) with all the goodies you did not know you loved. The puzzles are dynamic and challenging, the multiplayer is chaotic and ridiculously fun, and the replay value is outstanding. Even when your cake explodes (and it will) you will still be running, jumping, grabbing, and more for hours! Get excited, because this game is full of awesomesauce! Both Little Big Planet and Little Big Planet 2 are unique in that they allow you to play through the opening. You run, jump, bounce and more through the credits, pictures of designers, and all the craziness games never have in the beginning. It’s an exciting way to welcome the player into the game. First impressions last a lifetime and this is one to take to the bank. If this is your first time visiting, take the scenic route and enjoy the game. The game will walk you through how to customize your sack-thing and other mechanics. If you’re returning from your previous visit, you can import your sack-thing, including various stickers, skins and items found previously. Please continue crafting unhindered! The designers truly wanted a unique gameplay experience and the opening sets the stage for an incredible three-act play that will blow your mind!

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Story mode is the primary mode of play in

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Little Big Planet 2, yet encompasses only a small portion of the ridiculousness that is the Little Big Planet universe. It is within Story mode that you collect items, stickers, skins and more to customize your sackthing, your Pod (your transportation through Craftworld) and to build custom levels to share online with friends or the world. Though the story is not very deep, the outrageous characters and levels will be entertaining enough to keep you pushing forward. In Little Big Planet 2, an evil inter-dimensional monster vacuum, the Negativitron, attacks Craftworld and seeks to destroy everything. It is your charge, with the help of the semi-organized group called the Alliance, to destroy the Negitivitron and save Craftworld. Like I said, the plot is not very deep, but it does produce some incredibly crazy opportunities for fun. You are sure to enjoy the unique additions to the game Media Molecule offers in this sequel, from throwing cakes to riding mechanical bunnies, and that is just the start of it! I do not want to spoil the fun of first impressions, because the game is full of WOW moments. Some readers may want to skip this paragraph. <Spoiler> Once you reach Avalonia, there is a level where you ride a mechanical camel. In this level, you (and your friends) simply shoot everything. It is a fun break from all the jumping you typically do in game. But look closely at how it walks; does it remind you of something? I will not say what I think it references, but it may have to do with a certain space-themed movie franchise. I may be wrong, but it certainly feels like that may have been the inspiration behind the level. Regardless, I love it!

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Little Big Planet 2 offers tons of content for you to play solo over and over, but multiplayer is a huge feature in the game and not to be missed. It is so important in the game that the designers integrated the story mode online via the Playstation Network (PSN). If your console is online while




you play, you will be prompted to join games with other sackthings and explore together. This is completely optional, and you can play alone if you prefer. As you progress there are several puzzles that can only be unlocked by 2, 3 or 4 people. These puzzles are smaller areas of the map levels which host a unique puzzle and offer shiny rewards. If youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re one to try and accomplish 100% on every level, you will need to play with friends in order to find everything available in the game. Additionally, if discovered, keys unlock multiplayer minigames. These games do not relate to the story very much in that they do not advance the story. However, the minigames are ridiculously fun and based on your score, offer more shiny loot for you. Donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t forget, Little Big Planet 2 comes

with Sackboyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Prehistoric Moves. This short, ten-level game features controls for the Playstation Move and requires at least 2 people to play (with up to 4 players maximum). The first player uses the Move controls to activate switches and gates that allow the second player(s) to navigate sackthing through the dinosaur levels. If you have a move, make sure to try it out!

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The title says it all. Do you have what it takes to make the next hit level? The level editor adds another unique piece to this game. As you collect pieces throughout the game, you can build some crazy levels yourself. Beware; there is a learning curve to using the level editor and a ton of tutorials to get you started. This is simply the tip of the ice-

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berg. Once you have the basic controls down, you still have to learn the logic behind making things work. There is certainly a sense of accomplishment for simply finishing a complete level. As well, Little Big Planet 2 allows you to create your own little maps or games for players to play, including functionality to link levels into others (secret bonus cake level anyone). Test them out on your friends or share it with the world! Thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a huge community of players making levels and sharing them online for you to play.

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Concept wise, Little Big Planet 2 is a sequel, but it easily welcomes new and old players alike. Craft away and enjoy! The game speaks for itself. There are some quirky mechanics sometimes, but overall, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s ridicu-

lously fun! The graphics are incredibly well designed and impeccably integrated. You can even make your own stickers using the Eye. The sounds and music match gameplay. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s fun and light-hearted. I barely heard the music over the laughter of 4 of us! With so many options to play (alone or with others) thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a ton of replay in Little Big Planet 2! Grab a friend or play online. Craftworld is waiting for you! Overall I give this game a very strong 94!

GameTheory Score

,ITTLE "IG 0LANET 

94/100

4


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5


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tâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s tough to be a skinless cube of meat these days. One moment is spent snuggling with the luscious Bandage girl and the next is spent on the ground, beat up by the nefarious Dr. Fetus. What is a cube of meat to do but go after said villain? Bandage Girl canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t rescue herself but a cube of living protien can, apparently, jump great distances. Of course Meat Boy must traverse many different areas while avoiding saws, fire, traps, and a whole mess of other items that can end a life.

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Simplicity is Complexity

The game-play in Super Meat Boy is pretty simple - jump and avoid obstacles while moving to the end of the level. That is all. One button and an analog stick does the job. Yet it takes time and patience to master these controls. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a good thing that Meat Boy is so responsive and easy to control, with the ability to change direction in the midst of a jump. Navigating Meat Boy through round after round of sadistic obstacles while collecting the myriad bandages scattered about and receiving a top score for the level takes time.

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GameTheory Score

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70/100

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Each level is crafted to be small and often the levels are only the size of the screen. This means that success or failure is quick and brutal. Dying is something that will happen, and it will happen time and time again. In fact the creators of the game, Team Meat, decided to not include an idea like a set number lives because of this. Some levels take upwards of 20 or 30 lives to finally complete with sadistic design grinding away the little cubes of jumping flesh. The player can view all failures at the end of the level and watch

them drop away until only a lone Meat Boy makes it to Bandage Girl. To add to the difficulties of the game, each level also has a dark version of itself â&#x20AC;&#x201C; a level that is much harder and way more deadly.

Visualizing Success

Super Meat boy is a 2D game with a cartoonish style. The developers do a good job of showing off the world that Meat Boy inhabits. Meat Boy is merely a small red cube with legs, but he makes a terrific red splotch when he makes contact with walls. He makes a realistic red stain on the various blades that chew him up as well. Bandage Girl is a pink cube waiting at the end, while Dr. Fetus is a small unborn child in a tuxedo. The graphics suit the game. Also worth mentioning are the various acknowledgments given to different games throughout the Super Meat Boy world. Many lead characters of various notable independent games can be unlocked and are playable through warp zones. Each warp zone also is created in a style reminiscent of an older bygone gaming era. These include, among others, the 8 bit handheld era and the 16 bit console era. Team Meat has included nods to various other classic games as well, such as the Castlevania-esque opening of the second chapter.

Summarizing Frustration

In the end I liked this game but itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s also a game I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t play for very long periods of time. The reliance on jumping reminds me of another game that also first started out as a web-based Flash game â&#x20AC;&#x201C; N+. Just like that game, I love playing it. However the frustration of getting through the Super Meat Boys levels often has me shutting off the game in a huff. Many gamers feed off of this

kind of hardcore difficulty, but I do not. I commend Team Meat on their product, especially their post launch support by bringing out new levels for free and the eventual introduction of a PC Only level editor, but I suggest only playing if the idea of trying the same level over and over again is appealing. In short Super Meat Boy is a fun game that can be addicting but also has a high frustration factor.

Summary

I like the overall concept. This is an old school focused game full of fast levels and insane challenges. The oddness of the story and main character just add to the uniqueness of the game. The game-play is spot on. Controlling Meat Boy with a controller or a keyboard is fully possible. The developers did a good job tweaking the controls. If a player dies, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s the fault of the player and not the game. All challenges are able to be navigated through. The graphics are pretty good. There isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t always the detail Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d like to see in the main character, but what can I say? Heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a cube of meat! I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t know if I want more detail than that. The audio is topnotch. The music goes with the game, and the voices and other effects that are in the game work well. Something I really love are all the references to the classic games of yore. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s hard to take the game world seriously, but in this case it isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t a bad thing. The immersion factor comes from how long a person is willing to sit and retry levels over and over again. Some people are able to do this without being frustrated, I am not. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a game I do return to every week or two, but itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s not a game I will play for hours on end.




First a little History

REPLAYING THE CLASSICS SUPER MARIO RPG: LEGEND OF THE SEVEN STARS

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System is fondly remembered by many gamers as an RPG powerhouse. This is due, in part, to the efforts of SquareSoft, now Square Enix. With 16-bit classics like Final Fantasy II and III, Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana, the company helped lay the groundwork for the JRPG revolution in the mid-to-late 90s.

BY  WARREN  BENNETT

Even today thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s one classic that many people don't realize Square produced. It was the first foray of Mario into the less action-oriented world of roleplaying games, Super Mario RPG. This game has a few interesting pieces of history attached to it itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s the last game Square produced for a Nintendo system for six years. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s also has the distinctions of being the last time Mario appeared on the 16-bit workhorse that was the SNES.

GameTheory Score

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What Sbout the Game?

Although Super Mario RPG has so much history attached to it, many still wonder if itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s even worth playing in this modern age. With the current backlash against the JRPGs cresting at the moment, many might say no. The game is rife with typical Japanese RPG standards: The action is turned based, thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a lot of item management, party size is limited to three people at a time and the story is nothing, if not odd. However, thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s still a charm that defies the nay sayers. As Mario, the player is first tasked with bringing down the nefarious King Koopa. As the battle rages, Koopa's castle is pierced through with a giant talking sword. The sword throws all inhabitants out into the great unknown. When Mario goes back to take a look at Bowser's castle, the giant sword starts to talk and says that he is part of the nefarious Smithy Gang. They are intent on taking over the world and controlling the Musthroom Kingdom. The sword then mocks Mario and breaks the bridge between the mainland and Bower's castle. Thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s when the adventure really begins as Mario has to travel to many different lands and meet many different characters to find the reason behind the in(BNF5IFPSZ%JHJUBM(BNJOH.BHB[JOFtXXXHBNFUIFPSZNBHDPN

vasion of talking weapons, while assembling the legendary Seven Starts.

Life's a Party

One of the unique features of this game is the cast that Mario meets on his journey. There are the usual Square created odd characters, like Mallow (whoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a fluffy, white froggie) and Geno (a possessed doll). However, a real treat is being able to recruit and play with traditional Super Mario universe stalwarts like Princess Toadstool (who is not named Peach just yet) and Bowser, the King of the Koopas. Each character has different skills and can be used in different roles - Mallow uses weather based attacks, Bowser uses physical, Princess Toadstool tends towards healing powers, and Mario jumps and hammers the bad guys. All this is accomplished in a turn based manner with a bit of action thrown in. While fighting the monsters, the player can hit the attack button at just the right mo-

ment for more power.

Setting Sun

The main reason to play this game is to see the world that Mario and friends inhabit. Although itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s presented in an isometric view, the visuals are bright and cheery. The world of Mario and his cohorts is brought out with a deft attention to detail. There are goombas, pipes, floating boxes, and other denizens of the Mushroom King-

iFWFSZQJFDFTSFWFBMTNPSFGJDUJUJPVT GBDUTBOEIJTUPSZBCPVUUIFBSFBw dom. The architecture within the game world feels like it belongs and every piece reveals more fictitious facts and history about the area. Yet there is a darker edge, something that isn't quite Nintendo. Square adds their own elements to the bright and cheery back drop that Mario usually finds himself dropped into. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s in the way the characters talk, or slight â&#x20AC;&#x153;inâ&#x20AC;? jokes that are around everywhere. Probably itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s also the fact that the

75/100

player can fight a boss from one of the early Final Fantasy gamest. Possibly itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s all the nods to various Nintendo franchises and Square games that are scattered throughout. There is definitely an edge in this game that isn't present in most of Mario's outings.

In the end

Throw out the preconceived notions of what a JRPG is or isn't. This game is more than that - itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a piece of history displayed in colorful pixels. It may not be one of Mario's best known outings but itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s still one of his best. Super Mario RPG has also influenced at least two different gaming series the Paper Mario series on consoles and the Mario and Luigi series for handheld systems. Both still use staples originally introduced in SMRPG, such as Star Power, timed attacks, and action intermingled with traditional role-playing elements. Super Mario RPG can be found for 800 points on the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console.

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have to admit this up front: I beta tested Dungeons and Dragons Online before it originally shipped in 2006. I took my time, created a few characters, and made my way through the ravaged streets of Stormreach. I also didn't come away impressed. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s kind of odd to think back on that since Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m still unsure why I didn't like the game. Maybe it was the beta blues, maybe it was the more realistic graphics than other group oriented games at the time. It could be that the game wasn't an open world like many MMOs. However I think it mainly had to do with the fact I was still in the midst of a raging World of Warcraft addiction. I wanted games to be more like WoW and DDO did not fill that bill. Instead of an open world with a few instances and turn based combat, DDO had a rather high level of instances and had (and still has) a more action oriented approach. Time moves on and I started to see just how repetitive and bland World of Warcraft could be, especially after friends and guild-mates left the game for various reasons. I soon became burnt out with Blizzard's money train and searched for other online games to play. I returned to another game I had also hated while beta testing, Lord of the Rings Online, the sister to DDO and also developed by Turbine. I had fun in an open world with a great community. However I still resisted DDO even after it went free to play - that is until late in 2010.

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I guess time changes people or maybe it just changes expectations. While DDO is no World of Warcraft, it isn't trying to be. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s an experience that is relatively unique among massively multiplayer games â&#x20AC;&#x201C; an action RPG with tightly scripted instanced quests created for a small party. Each set of quests is centered around a hub area. The hubs generally are small towns or areas within or near the great city of Stormreach, with quests scattered throughout. Find quests by looking for the people with chalices over their head. Each quest is added to the quest log with the appropriate area becoming interactive and available. Enter this area and the quest begins.

i*IBEGVOJOBOPQFOXPSMEXJUIBHSFBUDPNNVOJUZw A Dungeon Master guides the player through each quest â&#x20AC;&#x201C; a incorporeal voice that points out obstacles, gives subtle hints on what to do, and acts as a color narrator for the mission. Although not many games have been able to really nail the tone and style of a face-to-face pen and paper RPG, the addition of the â&#x20AC;&#x153;Dungeon Masterâ&#x20AC;? does a great job at coming close. Each quest also has a variety of difficulty levels from Solo to Epic. The higher the difficulty, the easier it is to die when alone. Creating a party in order to play on the highest difficulty is a must. The monster and enemy AI doesn't seem to change with each difficulty,

8


but the amount of time and effort to beat them goes up. It seems to be an addition of hit points more then AI movement. Since DDO Extended is a free to play game, the developers obviously need a way to make the game financially feasible. They do this much like Lord of the Rings Online, by providing a variety of vanity items mixed with character classes and quest packs. When creating a character, some of the races and classes are locked away. Pay a bit of money and they will be unlocked. Quests work much the same way - theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re behind a wall until the player coughs up some cash to get in to them. Thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s still a good amount of content without those quests - it does exist. A player can also pay 10 dollars a month and have everything open, which includes a monthly 500 Turbine point stipend. That allows you to buy some of the vanity items in the store without having to put any more cash on the table. The community has been fun and helpful, although there does seem to be a level of immaturity that isn't fun to deal with. However those are easily ignored or, as I sometimes try to do, educated. I've had good responses with just talking to people and treating them with a little respect â&#x20AC;&#x201C; it doesn't work all the time but some people are trolls just for fun. Other than that I've helped people in quests and have been helped, asked noobish questions in the chat box and have been answered without condescension, and generally had a good time chatting while questing or hanging out in the hub areas. After all, what is an MMO but a glorified chat room with quests? If a player is looking for something different, something that isn't in the same mold as WoW, Dungeons and Dragons Online is it. Combine good graphics with action oriented game-play, a wide variety of races and classes, and a continuously updated game world, and you have yourself a winner.

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Summary

Online Dungeons and Dragons based on the 3.5 rule-set? Sign me up! It may not be like playing around your friendâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s table in the basement, but it is a good representation of what Dungeons and Dragons is. Since itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;is free to play, the only cost to try it out is the time it takes to download. The fact that DDO is more action oriented than other MMOs is a plus. Although there are still dice rolls, being able to fire a bow when a button is pressed is a plus. Although it isn't totally an action game, I love the fact that the game isn't the typical WoW clone.

i5IFBVEJPJTHSFBUJOUIJTHBNF GSPNUIF BNCJFOUTPVOETJOUIFDJUJFTUPUIF%VOHFPO .BTUFSJOUIFRVFTUTw I have to admit that I love the way the cities and armor are presented in DDO. However, I think that many items within the game world could look better. Although I have the graphic settings set to high, I still find much to be desired. I would say this is an artifact of the age of the game, but I've seen other games from 2006 that have the edge. Don't let this mean I don't like the look, I really do. I just would like to see everything touched up for modern computers. The audio is great in this game, from the ambient sounds in the cities to the Dungeon Master in the quests. I also like the music, the sounds of the weapons, and the voices/grunts/ moans of the enemies. The audio in DDO is top notch. The immersion factor in this game is pretty high. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s easy to forget about the real world while questing in the dank underground of Stormreach or the wild open areas. The addition of the Dungeon Master helps this and is a technique that helps a person delve that much deeper in to the world. Overall Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d rate this game at 85/100.

GameTheory Score

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85/100 9


BY VIENNA HOLLISTER

Blood Pressure Rising? Here are 7 Games to Put You Over the Edge !

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12


W

hen it comes to the realm of licensed and unlicensed gaming, it would be hard to argue against the fact that Asia lies at the center of the community, particularly China. Ever since the release of the Famicom in the mid-1980s, Chinese electronic companies have striven to produce localized versions of various major franchises, in some cases simply porting over content from major titles (like â&#x20AC;&#x153;The Legend of Zeldaâ&#x20AC;?), while in other cases theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve worked to produce their own entries into established franchises. In some cases, these custom-made games are licensed, receiving official nods from the companies containing the copyrights for

the series, but in other cases these groups essentially release what is little more than a fan-game, in some cases very well-made and in other cases quite terrible. One of my favorite licensed products originating, in this case, from Taiwan, is â&#x20AC;&#x153;Rockman Strategyâ&#x20AC;?. This PC game was released by a Taiwanese software company called Dream Come True in 2001 and received a limited re-release in 2002. The game was relatively unknown outside of Asia until about five years after its release, when certain collectors began to obtain copies of the game and started writing articles about

it. One of the best articles was written by Gauntlet, who runs the Mechanical Maniacs website. The game seems to have received an official license from Capcom, but beyond that, it seems doubtful to me that Capcom had much to do with its development, other than, possibly, overseeing the proper use of its intellectual property. This said, the developers of the game took a route different from any other used in the long-running franchise producing a true strategy game, which plays like a light version of, say, â&#x20AC;&#x153;Shining Force.â&#x20AC;?

THE  WORLD  OF  (UN)LICENSED  GAMES  #1:  â&#x20AC;&#x153;ROCKMAN  STRATEGYâ&#x20AC;? #:*%33)#! "2/7.

â&#x20AC;&#x153;Rockman Strategyâ&#x20AC;? is set in the ambiguous year of 20XX (ca. 2016), sometime after the events of â&#x20AC;&#x153;Mega Man & Bass.â&#x20AC;? With the threat of Dr. Wily eliminated by the cooperative efforts of Mega Man and his rival Bass, the world seems peaceful yet again. However, one day, plants all around the world begin to die, and even the efforts of renowned scientist Dr. Light cannot get to the bottom of the mysterious virus. Then, a strange group of robots come from outer-space, calling themselves the Constellation Droids. Seemingly, a quick alliance forms between their leaders (Apollo and Luna) and Dr. Wily, and the group sets out to wreak havoc on the world. Obviously, Mega Man and friends are called in to stop them. After the tutorial area is cleared, the player is presented with a stage select, although this time it is much larger than any seen in any previous Mega Man game. All twelve

Constellation Droids are present, along with Fire Man (the boss of the tutorial stage), Apollo, and Luna, and, later on, Dr. Wily. Only a handful of these stages, including Dr. Lightâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Lab (where supplies and upgrades can be purchased), are available from the start. Beyond the use of Mega Man, Auto, Eddie, Rush, Proto Man, and a new character named Fan as â&#x20AC;&#x153;units,â&#x20AC;? the game plays fairly similarly to any other strategy game, other than the fact that upon the defeat of one of the bosses, Mega Man obtains a weapon that he can use against other foes. These weapons range from attacks like the â&#x20AC;&#x153;Heat Waveâ&#x20AC;? (used by Aries) to â&#x20AC;&#x153;Sand Stormâ&#x20AC;? (used by Taurus). Accompanying each of the Droids are several mechaniloids (basic robots) designed by Dr. Wily, as well as at least two Robot Masters.

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While this does sound like a fun game

(and it is), it should be noted that without cheating, the game is impossible to beat. This is because the difficulty level of the bosses increases as you progress through the game, to where, near the end, no matter how powerful your characters are, you cannot defeat the boss within a single turn and, when their turn comes up, they will recover all of their health. Thus, the only way to complete the game is to use a cheat program, such as Cheat-O-Matic, to make yourself over-powered. Another problem that the game has is that, at times, some of the save files will become randomly corrupted. This is particularly annoying if, as in my case, you are near the end of the game and the file never loads, forcing you to delete it and start anew. It is very possible that this is due to the fact that the game was designed for the Chinese version of Windows 98/2000/ME/NT/XP, not

the North American versions of those operating systems, and certainly not Windows Vista or Windows 7. Yet, those things aside, the game is rather enjoyable, and a good change from the usual platforming action of the classic series. For those interested in obtaining it, finding the game will be your most difficult task. On occasion, the game shows up on eBay, though it often fetches prices in excess of $100 USD. However, if you are willing to broaden your horizons and look into foreign auction sites like TaoBao (via TaoBaoNow!) or Rakuten International, you might be able to obtain the game for less than $5 USD, plus shipping. All said and done, my final score for the game is a solid â&#x20AC;&#x153;B.â&#x20AC;?




S

equel to the popular and much loved A Kingdom for Keflings, A World of Keflings continues the fun in this new resource gathering/city builder on XBLA from NinjaBee. A World of Keflings is also part of the Games for the Holidays pack on XBLA along with ilomilo and Raskulls. You travel through the Kefling world as your XBOX Live avatar and help these funny little people build buildings, gather resources, and complete quests along the way towards the ultimate construction of a castle for the Kefling King. Gameplay is pretty straight forward and builds on the experience from its predecessor. You assist the Keflings in building structures by placing parts you obtain from various buildings and put them together via blueprints you acquire during the course of the game and quest completion. Resources are gathered from around the land maps and encompass rather normal materials such as wood, stone, crystals and even sand. These are brought to various buildings ranging from your basic Workshop to specialty buildings that will make or refine high end parts that are needed for the even bigger buildings.

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GameTheory Score

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76/100

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You can also put the Kefling citizens of these lands to work as you build new houses to increase the population. Keflings are available in the workforce to be set towards gathering resources or transporting refined material for new part construction. You will also gather a few assistant Keflings through quest completion that will help you build new buildings, carrying parts to you or if you are building more than one of the same building, they can auto complete the construction on their own.

The storyline is amusing as you go along with a lot of humour wrapped up in the dialogue. The art style is much the same as the original, although each of the three areas you visit has their own look and feel from the environment to the clothing and architecture of the Keflings and their respective communities in these lands. The music is simple and the sound isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t anything that might stand out but it does compliment the atmosphere. There are also side quests that will provide some power ups for your avatar, allowing you to carry more material or walk faster. Throughout the game you can, of course, unlock achievements and even some avatar awards, such as a mini dragon that will visit your avatar out of the game or a nifty Keflings helmet or t-shirt for your XBOX Live Avatar. In conclusion I really enjoyed A World of Keflings; it was a relaxing game in a genre Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve always enjoyed. The game played smoothly and while it came to an end too soon, I certainly recommend it to any resource gathering/build sim fan who wants a nice casual play experience. Social gamers will find that it can be a great social experience as thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s also online multi play that you can enjoy with up to three other people working together. If youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re looking for a great XBLA title, then A World of Keflings should fill your need at 800 Microsoft points. Additionally if you have the other two titles in the Games for the Holidays you get the option to build two special buildings from ilomilo and Raskulls. Graphics 75/100 Sound 70/100 Immersion 80/100 Concept 80/100 Gameplay 75/100 OVERALL 76/100

14


video

#:%"7*%4-"6&/8)*5&

L

ucid is an indie game that caught my eye several months back when I had a chance to check out the demo and experience a taste of the this lovely casual game. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a new spin on a classic genre with its â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;match-at-least-3-colourblocksâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; gameplay. However it sets itself apart with the way you go about clearing the blocks. Weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re used to the usual move this block or that block to line up a row of 3 or more. There are plenty of games that do exactly that. Lucid, on the other hand, goes a different route and lets you draw your way to success. Marking one block you need to draw a clear line that can turn and go in different directions providing you make one continuous unbroken line. So long as all the colour blocks can be selected you can clear them and you could even

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draw a box around an entire section of the screen clearing almost an entire colour section. It can make for some really high score combinations as you clear blocks or set up an even bigger clearing by removing smaller sets to get yourself in a better position to make a big combination. Bigger combos will yield skill multipliers, and to progress through the levels there is a panel on the left that will show a particular colour that needs to be cleared. Clearing that colour will bring you closer to completing the level of course and the higher a score you make while doing it will speed up moving through a particular level with 55 levels in total in the full game. Coupled with all of this is a nice atmospheric game environment of shifting colour backgrounds that donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t dis-

tract from the gameplay but adds a nice relaxing experience. The music complements this casual mood well and I found myself just taking a break from playing in order to enjoy the world this game creates within itself. Lucid has been in production for several years, mainly under the drive and determination of the designer himself. Lucid is an excellent casual game and a great example of the kinds of work being done on the independent scene these days. Just recently Lucid has been picked up and offered on Big Fish Games which hopefully will allow the designer to create another great title. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m looking forward to seeing what comes from this team in the future. You can check out Lucid at their site here: http:// www.lucidpuzzle.com/.

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UNCHARTED WATERS RETROSPECTIVE BY WARREN BENNETT

T

he golden age of exploration has enamored countless generations of people. The tales of finding new places, stories of daring pirates and lusty wenches, as well as the many myths and legends have kept this era alive in the imaginations of people everywhere. It isn't just westerners that flock to this point in history â&#x20AC;&#x201C; the Japanese seem to like it as well. At least the Japanese people at KOEI do. This company, now part of Tecmo Koei, is mainly known for a series of action games with a historical flavor. However the company was once widely known for releasing hardcore simulation and strategy games in the 80s and 90s. These included such classics as Nobunaga's Ambition, Genghis Khan,

P.T.O. (Pacific Theater of Operations) and Romance of the Three Kingdoms. One other series they created is an RPG like simulation called Uncharted Waters. The Uncharted Waters series, known as Dai-kĹ?kai jidai in Japan, was first introduced in 1991. Since that day there have been five main series games and several remakes and side games. Of the five main games released, only three have been released in English: Uncharted Waters, Uncharted Waters: New Horizons, and Uncharted Waters Online. Uncharted Waters and Uncharted Waters: New Horizons were released for the NES and SNES respectively, while Uncharted Waters Online has only been released for the PC in the West.

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Although the series has been going for 20 years, the core game-play has always remained the same. In Uncharted Waters: New Horizons, for example, a player can choose an avatar from one of six people. Each person hails from a different country and has access to a different career and storyline. This provides a healthy amount of choice for an open ended console game from the early 90s. That spirit is kept alive in the newest incarnation as well. In Uncharted Waters Online the player can pick and create a character that hails from six different nations. Each nation has their own spin on the various naval careers that are available. However picking a different nationality has both good and bad points. Each nation has their own series

of quests and cities, so depending on which country a player chooses, it can put a great distance between people that might want to travel together. A player based in England may have a bit of a hard time meeting up with a player based in Spain. Uncharted Waters: New Horizons also has a great strategy and simulation hidden behind the cute JRPG graphics. No matter what character a person selects, making money helps fuel the adventure. A player has to figure out the ups and downs of trading to fully enjoy the game. The simulation wasn't just attached as an after thought, it is a main part of the game-play. Buy low and sell high! This advice can help in making money for new ships, better crews and supplies, espe-

17


cially when a player has his own fleet of ships. The concepts haven't changed much in the online version. The trading component is still very much alive and is expanded for a multi-player audience. Money is still needed and to make this valuable resource a player can trade. Sailing the ships to different ports while buying low and selling high is a great way to bring in the cash to build up the ship, the crew, keep supplies stocked and eventually create a fleet. However, this isn't the only way to bring in the funds. Battling other ships while exploring has always been a big part of the series. In New Horizons this is accomplished from a top down view. A player can walk in towns and sail the high seas, looking for new

ports in distant lands. Conflict takes place between ships, instigating a turn based shipto-ship battle as well as super deformed crews attacking one another. Winning a battle nets both booty and loot, filling the coffers with gold and precious items. In UWO, exploration and battling are key components as well. The player can battle others on land and at sea. The battles are between both computer controlled enemies and human controlled ships. Exploration involves not just finding other cities in the ocean but also finding many places and items on land as well. The battles at sea are much more simulation focused than previous incarnations, involving cannons and ship-to-ship tactics. It isn't a turn based affair, everything takes place in real time. Although UWO can

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be a leisurely experience, the sea battles are an exciting break to the typical trade route.. Since the entire game takes place during the Age of Exploration, a player cannot come away from a long session without learning something about history and geography. Not everything is exactly accurate, since some historical luminaries are alive at the same time as others when they werenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t in real life, but it still gives a good historical overview of the era. Also surprisingly accurate is the geography. In UWO, for example, a person can use a world map to guide himself around the region. The scale is much smaller but the cities that are represented tend to be in the same place as a person would find them in real life. A game of Uncharted Waters, a person could safely argue, could be used as

a tool for instruction and education. This is true of even the older versions like New Horizons with all its super deformed Japanese anime goodness. The Uncharted Waters series is unique in the history of gaming. It is a long running simulation and strategy game that has very obvious historical roots. The core concepts of the game have not changed from sequel to sequel, even if the technology and gameplay behind each has evolved. Although the historical accuracy of each is not 100 percent correct, the games can help many become interested in the golden age of sailing. With Uncharted Waters Online, a person can live in that era, even if it is a modified version with Japanese leanings and MMO trappings.

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I

tâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s all about skulls, racing through platform levels, completing challenges and thwarting the plans of the Pirats who crashed on the Raskulls planet and are seeking to steal the Shiny Stone, an incredibly powerful object they want as their own. This is what makes up the experience that is Raskulls, an action platform game from Halfbrick and published by Microsoft Studios on XBLA. Raskulls is also part of the Games for the Holidays pack on XBLA, along with ilomilo and A World of Keflings. Right from the get-go you get introduced to Dragon who is sent by the King to stop Captain Turncoat from obtaining the first Shiny Stone in the Tournament level. Thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a pile of modes to play in within Raskulls and as you go through the chapters youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll find a mess of challenges to engage in, bonus levels that you gain access to and achievements to unlock. The basis of the gameplay is the platforming through the various levels, which mainly consists of blasting your

way through blocks, jumping over gaps, swimming through water or otherwise beating the clock to get to the end of the level. Sometimes youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re racing against other skulls to beat them to the finish line, other times youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re trying to make it through a level without running out of Frenzy (which is the speed boost you can gain as you grab frenzy bottles or bubbles throughout a level). With a heap of different types of levels it keeps the action moving as you progress through the chapters. You can run, shoot, jump and use special power ups that can help you on your way through the levels. Nothing is overly complicated, though you will find some of the levels, especially the bonus levels that get revealed in the course of play, to be challenging. This is all, of course, what makes up the â&#x20AC;&#x153;Mega Questâ&#x20AC;? (story quest) of the game, but the action doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t stop there. Completing the bonus levels will unlock more Skulls that are available for you to pick and choose from in the Grand Prix and Quick Race modes.

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These modes are essentially platforming races and they can be played either solo, or with up to 4 players locally and online multiplay via Xbox live. The art style in Raskulls is of the cute cartoony kind that, while colourful, doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t offend the eyes too much and makes the experience more enjoyable as it might remind you of some of the titles from gaming past when there was less emphasis on expansive graphical worlds and more time spent building on good old fashioned fun and entertainment. The music is likewise a throwback to gaming generations of the past. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s all lively and very much the stuff of an arcade game. All in all it makes for a cute and fun experience with the fun arcade style of platform gameplay, bright animation and art style, and upbeat music. Raskulls is a great example of the kind of fun arcade titles that can be found on XBLA and I would recommend it as something fun to just play around with,

or a good party games for kids and adults alike. Though some of the humour in the story might not be appropriate for kids under 10, simply playing the local multi play Grand Prix or Quick Race can get the family gaming together and laughing together. Raskulls is available on the XBLA Marketplace for 800 Microsoft Points, with recently released DLC also now available. Also as part of the Games for the Holidays pack you get cross love from ilomilo and World of Keflings, with multi play character options of either a Safkas from ilomilo or a Kefling from World of Keflings. Graphics 80/100 Sound 75/100 Immersion 70/100 Concept 80/100 Gameplay 80/100 OVERALL 77/100

GameTheory Score

3BTLVMMT

77/100 19


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20


#:%"7*%4-"6&/8)*5&

i

lomilo from SouthEnd Interactive and Microsoft Studios is a cute, and at times, challenging puzzle game and part of the Games for the Holidays trio on XBLA. From the very beginning of the game I am struck by the unique and obviously cute art style which is a stand out amongst many of the games found in XBLA. I have to admit I fell in love with the look and feel they gave the world while I travelled through the various puzzles. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve always enjoyed puzzle solving dating back to the good old days of puzzles found in RPGs and while that is the essential gameplay of ilomilo it isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t a burden to play through but actually a fantastic way to get the brain flowing when you need a break from work or just a distraction from the run of the mill games that have swamped the market. The basic premise is simple, Ilo and Milo are â&#x20AC;&#x153;Safkasâ&#x20AC;? who are best friends and spend their days together meeting

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up and enjoying one anothers company. Whenever they go to meet up they have to make their way through various puzzles, collecting memory fragments, rescuing other Safkas, and collecting bonus items such as photographs and music records. The fragments fill up a gage found on the top left corner of the screen, which once filled will unlock a new letter that is part of the back-story of the game. As you progress the story fills out as you collect these fragments, and while you donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t have to collect them, it paints an interesting picture. Though this doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t impact the gameplay it is a nice diversion and can motivate some players to continue on collecting fragments to unlock more and more of these memories. The core gameplay involves moving around the puzzles levels as Ilo and Milo. You can switch between the two characters with a simple button press to navigate the level and eventually bring the two of

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them together. There are a variety of special cubes that can be found around each level, and theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re used to overcome these beautifully done levels. You can pick up and carry one on your back as you move around these 3D worlds, placing the cubes in another location to open paths for the alternate character to travel on. Reminiscent of Mario Galaxy you can be walking along the paths around the level or switching to a different side to give you the whole walking on the side or upside down view that makes the world even more interesting to pass through as you look for fragments, Safkas, and so on. The blocks themselves come in several flavours such as one that extends out 3 spaces, or will transport you upwards to reach otherwise inaccessible areas of the level. My favourite however is the one that you pass through to flip yourself over to reach the underside of the walkways. There are also other creatures that can disrupt your progress, or of course the very amusing and helpful Sebastian who pops out of his house, riding on a beetle. Within the various chapters there are also bonus levels to complete, and as with many XBLA titles, achievements to unlock along with two avatar rewards consisting of a cute t-shirt for your avatar and mini Ilo and Milo who will run around your avatar. Combined with local multiplayer that allows you and a friend to work together to solve the puzzles and unite Ilo and Milo thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s plenty of fun to be had. I have to say Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m impressed and definitely loved the art style, and the nice music and sound included make for great presentation. I recommend this title for those who love puzzle games or just looking for something different. Ilomilo goes for 800 Microsoft points. Sound 85/100 Immersion 85/100 Concept 100/100 Gameplay 90/100 OVERALL 89/100

GameTheory Score

JMPNJMP (BNF5IFPSZ%JHJUBM(BNJOH.BHB[JOFtXXXHBNFUIFPSZNBHDPN

89/100 22


W

hen most people think of browser games, they tend to think of simple flash games that are ephemeral bursts of fun, but without the depth and content we connote console games with. Snail Games' Ministry of War changes this perception of the shallow browser game, with a game brimming with content and longevity. It is a birth child of a strategic war and civilization sim, combined with an MMORPG, and sweetened with the pace and revenue scheme of Farmville (which is not as bad as it sounds). It provides countless hours of gameplay, an amazing community of players, and free gameplay with optional fairly priced micro-transactions that speed the game up.

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GENESIS Ministry of War starts you off with a small village that you grow into a powerful bastion of technology and military might. You have control over four levels of your city. On the smallest scale you have the palace and inner court where you have easy access to micromanage almost every aspect of your city, from recruiting troops to managing missionaries. Next you have your city where you can construct buildings and design your city's layout. Going farther out there is a regional view where you can exploit the natural resources nearby and send out troops to attack enemies that surround your village. On the completely macro scale you have the world view where interactions with other players primarily occur as you expand your influence through missionaries, trade, and even declare war or alliances and enter the heat of battle. There are five ages you play through as your village grows as new buildings, content, troops, and many other feature become available.

cruitable at the tavern. Heroes can be assigned troops and equipment and dispatched to various locations to battle other players and monsters. Each hero you recruit is unique with fully customizable stats that can be raised every time they gain a level through battle. Missionaries spread your influence to the area surrounding your city, directly competing with players who are stationed nearby. Missionaries not only can spread your power, but decrease other's power over the land through specialized stats that can be customized to fit your needs. Lastly there are merchants who are sent off to far markets to trade, sell, and buy rare items. Their effectiveness depends on their stats that the player has control over as they level up. These three units contribute greatly to the success of your city among the four levels of control. WORLD WAR Ministry of War allows you to choose from four ancient civilizations: Chinese, Persian, Egyptian, and Roman. Each civilization has their own look and special units. Your city is placed on a huge world map with countless other players. The main point of the game is to unify with your fellow civilization and conquer territories held by the opposition. You can create and join alliances to fight under a common name. You can join other players in raiding dungeons and come to their defense if they are being attacked. Battle plays out on a plain with two opposing heroes and their armies. You can manually click on each unit and give instructions or you can watch as the battle unfolds automatically. You can even skip battles and review the aftermath. Even though there is focus on civilization homogeny there is still tension among allies when it comes to controlling local collection points and territory in general.

There are three primary types of units, all re(BNF5IFPSZ%JHJUBM(BNJOH.BHB[JOFtXXXHBNFUIFPSZNBHDPN




TIME IS A RESOURCE Everything in Ministry of War takes real time to complete; from constructing buildings, and researching upgrades, to sending merchants, heroes, and missionaries out to the field to complete a task. At first the game starts at a good pace. Buildings are built in seconds, but soon as your city grows and as your buildings level up they require more time to mature to the next stage. Thankfully there are so many features that you are very often busy while you wait. You take the time to train your heroes and customize them, trade with villages, and expand your influence in the region, or convene with your alliance to plan your next assault on your enemies. At this point there is so much going on that you rarely are just sitting around waiting. However as the game progresses even farther, minutes turn into hours, motivating the player to play in spurts and come back each day to upgrade and reap the benefits of the endeavors undertaken the day before. Often I found myself surfing my usual web haunts while having Ministry of War open in a separate tab, checking every few minutes to trade or send my heroes to the next battle. Never fear, because you can easily speed the process up by buying, with actual money, powerups that vastly speed your progress up. These items are fairly priced and are worth it if you are in the game for the long haul. However I never felt compelled to buy an item, even though the option to is readily available. Also, these items do not really give an unfair advantage with their purchase, as they

only speed the game up. It should be noted that you can also acquire these items by watching advertisements by Snail Games' sponsors on a voluntary basis. Overall the system works. You have a free game that does not pressure you too much to buy items, and if you do want items but donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t want to pay you can always just watch a few ads. The graphics, albeit basic, are very attractive. It's all point and click with plenty of menus which are easy to navigate and very well organized. Snail Games has single handily proven that just because it is on the web, doesn't mean that a game has to be short or shallow. Concept: 90 a free browser game with a ton of content to keep you occupied for a long time Gameplay: 85 Many levels of play, all satisfying Graphics: 95 Very attractive imagery that does not take up much bandwidth as you would think Sound: 90 Charming music (make sure you activate it from the options menu) Immersion: 50 The game can be very addicting and satisfying at times and yet there is a very big disconnect when waiting for an endeavor to be completed.

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GameTheory Score

.JOJTUSZPG8BS

82/100 24


O

nce upon a time SquareSoft and Nintendo had a very close relationship. Releasing games on Nintendo systems proved very lucrative for Square but the RPG powerhouse found living in the house the Big N built a bit too stifling and left for greener pastures. Unfortunately this left Nintendo with a vacuum, an RPG shaped hole. They asked Intelligent Systems, a company known in Japan for strategy and RPG games, to create a successor to the classic Super Mario RPG: Search for the Seven Stars. Intelligent Systems did and came up with Paper Mario â&#x20AC;&#x201C; an RPG that both defied conventions as well as stayed true to the roots of the previous game.

BY  WARREN  BENNETT

Visually  â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Thinâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;  -­  Graphically  Unique Paper Mario is aptly named. Shying away from the pre-rendered look of the previous Mario RPG, this game instead uses 2D hand drawn sprites that resemble paper. Each character is thin and the paper motif is used throughout the game. The characters flip to the opposite side when they change directions. When Mario falls, he does so like a piece of paper would, floating down to the ground. At rest points, Mario slips under the covers without the covers moving. All the characters are paper but they exist in a 3D world. Often the buildings are 3D but also keep the paper theme of the game. When the player enters a building, they will frequently deconstruct and fall out of frame like a paper house.

2D  Role-­playing The battle system in Paper Mario is interesting because it has turn based combat on a two dimensional plane. The creatures and monsters that the player interacts with are all visible, something that wasn't common when the game was first released. Attacking the enemies first means that the player can inflict damage before the fight begins and gives an advantage. The battle takes place on what looks like a stage, with a background resembling the area where the battle started. The player can choose to fight with a weapon, jump, use an item or flee. Health is represented by Heart Points but the

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player also collects Star Points to gain levels (100 SP equals 1 level,) Badge Points to upgrade the variety of badges found in the game, and Flower Points to power up special moves that use the partners the player finds throughout the game.

Partnering  Up Mario is the main character that the player uses to interact with the world. Unlike the previous Mario RPG, the player can only bring one partner along at a time. These partners have different abilities and various special attacks. They are all drawn from Mario Brothers lore, consisting of friendly versions of many different Mario Brothers enemies. For instance, the first partner that the player comes across is a thick headed goomba named Goombario. As the player goes through the game, different partners will show up including a flying koopa, a ghost, a bob-omb, and other cute and friendly creatures. The player also takes control of Princess Peach in short side missions, ones that involve baking a cake for her captors and other Stockholm syndrome like actions.

Story  time  Summary The whole game is infused with a fairy tale like quality that is a joy to play. Although the plot is pretty typical, with Bowser kidnapping the Princess again and Mario required to save her, it is the quest that matters and not the destination. The player comes across many charming and unique characters and situations. There are seven stars Spirits to save, many creatures and characters to talk to, badges a-plenty to find, and many battles to fight and win. It is a pleasant reprieve from the blood soaked fields of so many games released in the last few years. Although Paper Mario may be cheesy to some people, if a person has the heart of a child, that person will find much to love in this pastel soaked RPG.

GameTheory Score

1BQFS.BSJP

92/100 25


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t is a conflict that has been going on since time began - Good versus Evil, Ying Versus Yang, Light versus Dark, Fire versus Ice. In the struggle within this game the two sides are set - Warm and Cold. They vie for control over arenas and artifacts, working both as a team and against each other. The various bloodlines struggle to see who is best, to see which bloodline is superior. Only the best can be considered the champions of these far flung battles. Bloodline Champions, in a nutshell, is a

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third person, top down view, Player versus Player competitive online game. There is no content other then PVP. All of the enemies in the game are either AI controlled bots or other human players. The competitive online nature mirrors other team based action games, such as Team Fortress 2 and CounterStrike, except that here everything is viewed from an over head perspective.

A Collection of Abilities The â&#x20AC;&#x153;Bloodlineâ&#x20AC;? referred to in the title are different character types. A player can

choose between four different Bloodline archetypes - Melee, Ranged, Healer, and Tank. Within these archetypes there are different bloodlines that a person can choose from. Each archetype has four bloodlines, each one focusing on a different combat style. In this way, a good team can pick and select the exact combination for a successful team. Each Bloodline has their own style and look as well as an alternate style that can be picked. There are also alternate outfits and weapons that can be bought on the market for each Bloodline.




When fighting one another, the player has a selection of skills. The movement is based around the WASD keys and the skill shortcuts are mapped to the buttons directly around the movement keys as well as to the two mouse buttons. This makes each ability easier for people with small hands, like myself, to activate in the heat of combat. However, for those that don't like this method, all the keys are re-mappable.

Totally Combat Based Bloodline Champions is all about combat inside small arenas. Inside these small play-fields the team size can vary from 2 people fighting each other to teams of 5 people duking it out. There are three modes of play available - Arena, Capture the Artifact, and Conquest. Arena is team based death match. Two teams enter and whoever kills the other team first, wins. Capture the Artifact is just what the name implies. Both teams start with an artifact, and the goal is to capture both of them and bring them back to home base. Conquest mode forces each team to battle for a series of capture points around the map. The players have infinite lives but each time a player dies the delay between each respawn grows. The game can be played online or in single player mode. Each match can be adjusted to fit the hostâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s preferences, from how many people can be in the game, to making the match private or public, to the different maps that will be played on. There are both ranked and non ranked matches. Each gives a reward but the ranked matches give that much more.

Graphical Touches Although Bloodline Champions isn't the best looking game, it does have a certain charm. Each one of the Bloodlines looks distinct with the vari-

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ous spells and abilities making a good show in combat. The artistry behind the game is apparent even if the textures aren't the most modern. This allows the game to be played on a wide variety of computer systems. The design decisions that created the look are obvious, crafting a game that will be playable by the widest margin of people possible.

Free To Play The game is free to download and free to play. There are four Bloodlines that can be used per week, with other Bloodlines rotating in and out as time passes. A player can purchase these Bloodlines or more Bloodlines in the games store. There are packages that have extra benefits, such as the Champions and Titan modes. These can be purchased for a flat fee and include some or all the Bloodlines, costumes for each one, and other goodies such as an amount of Funcom points to use in the store. I am lucky enough to have access to the Titan package. It opens up almost everything, outside of a few costumes and other small things in the store. Having access to 20 Bloodlines is an altaholics dream. I must say, though, I like having an ale cart model for games like these. It doesn't force a person to buy anything but gives options for when a person does want to buy something. And if you like the game enough? The whole shebang can be purchased at one time. It all comes down to the Player Versus Player Combat The enjoyment of this game comes down to how much each individual player enjoys Player Versus Player combat. Even the single player mode doesn't have any more content other than arena based team battles. If that is game play that

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you enjoy, this is a good game for you. The battles are fast and brutal, taking a bit of mental ability and team work to win. The variety of Bloodlines adds a bit of strategy to the combat while making it an interesting puzzle to create just the right team. Content-wise there is nothing beyond that. The game is whole-heartedly built around the idea of PVP battles. I have this urge to go out in to the world and kill more things with my characters, but I can't. I know that the balance is created just for a PVP experience, and that sending these characters out into monster infested corridors would alter the game significantly. I (BNF5IFPSZ%JHJUBM(BNJOH.BHB[JOFtXXXHBNFUIFPSZNBHDPN

can dream though can't I? I would love to take my gunner in a co-op group and mow down some dark infidels...

Summary In the end I am keeping this game on my hard-drive. Sometimes I want a totally PVP experience, to get in there and mix it up. What this game does, it does well. However it isn't something that'll keep my interest for ever and I will soon be headed back into the dank dungeons of my favorite RPG. This is totally a player versus player game. The concept is simple: one group of

people beat the snot out of another group, or beat them up and take their stuff while protecting control points. However it is executed well and does a good job with the overhead view. The game-play takes the tried and true Action RPG ideas and makes it possible for the player can beat up other players. It works, although I had to get used to the control scheme. The game doesn't look bad, but it also won't burn up the fastest graphics card. However the decisions behind this are obvious - making a game that plays well on a variety of computers, both online and off. The audio fits the game nicely. From the

music during the main screen to the maniacal laughter that some characters say when killing an enemy. It all works. This game isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t immersive in the sense that most gamers understand the term, but a player does need to concentrate and become one with his character to win. There is immersion, even if a player doesn't need to read any of the lore to play the game. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s just not long lasting or thought provoking.

GameTheory Score

#MPPEMJOF$IBNQJPOT

75/100 28


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I

n the year 20X5 of the history of the cosmosâ&#x20AC;Śalright, it was actually in 1986. Back in August of 1986, Nintendo R&D1, under the guidance of the late Gunpei Yokoi, released a simple spaceage platforming-adventure game that would later become one of Nintendoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s staples. That game was â&#x20AC;&#x153;Metroid.â&#x20AC;? Originally produced for the Famicom Disk System in Japan, which offered slightly-enhanced graphics and higher-quality music, the title was released elsewhere on the Nintendo Entertainment System to rave reviews. Unlike most games at the time, â&#x20AC;&#x153;Metroidâ&#x20AC;? took a cue from â&#x20AC;&#x153;The Legend of Zeldaâ&#x20AC;? (released earlier that year) and gave players an open-ended environment they could explore, collecting optional power-ups and upgrades, and a wide-variety of enemies to encounter. Sure, the game lacked any really detailed story at the time (most of what existed storywise had to be found in the manual), but the game set the stage for one of Nintendoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s longest-

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running franchises. The Metroid games are set in the distant future - far enough into the future, in fact, that the Gregorian Calendar is no longer used, and instead, dates are given in terms of the â&#x20AC;&#x153;Cosmic Calendar.â&#x20AC;? Best estimates place the series in around the 46th century A.D., a time when humans are part of the Galactic Federation (since 2000 C.C., or 2003 in the retconned calendar) and people can travel incredible distances in space in a matter of minutes. Since around the time of the founding of the Federation, member worlds have been plagued by constant Space Pirate raids, a matter which called for the creation of the Galactic Police and, later on, a call-to-arms of independent bounty hunters, like Samus Aran. When Samus was young, she lived with her parents on K2L, a small Federation outpost. However, the outpost was destroyed during a pirate raid and her parents were killed, and as a result

she was found and taken care of by the Chozo, a race of powerful bird-like beings. It was thanks to the Chozoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s advanced technology that she received her biometric suit, and, at the age of 20, she agreed to accept a mission provided to her by the Galactic Federation to see to the destruction of the Space Pirate base on the planet Zebes, the Chozoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s homeworld. After the release of â&#x20AC;&#x153;Metroidâ&#x20AC;? on the FDS and NES, a sequel called â&#x20AC;&#x153;Metroid II: Return of Samusâ&#x20AC;? was released on the Game Boy (and oddly never was ported to any other system other than by fans). A few years later one of the most popular entries, â&#x20AC;&#x153;Super Metroid,â&#x20AC;? was released. The seriesâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; jump to 3D was somewhat debated by the late1990s, but it seemed that Nintendo was determined to make it happen. The success of games like â&#x20AC;&#x153;Super Mario 64â&#x20AC;? and â&#x20AC;&#x153;The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Timeâ&#x20AC;? only made it more likely. However, plans for a Nintendo

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64 entry, and later a Nintendo 64 DiskDrive entry, were later scrapped in favor of producing a new entry on Nintendoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s upcoming platform GameCube. In many ways the â&#x20AC;&#x153;Metroid Primeâ&#x20AC;? games showed how the jump from 2D to 3D could be done right - a matter which took Konami several attempts to get right in the case of the Castlevania games (youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve got to admit that as fun as â&#x20AC;&#x153;Castlevania 64â&#x20AC;? was, it suffered from absolutely terrible controls!). Much like the Zelda series, over the years the Metroid series has grown and evolved to the point where the chronology has grown very complicated. Many of the later games, in fact, take place before or between some of the earlier games. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Metroid: Other Mâ&#x20AC;?, for example, takes place just a few months after the SNES entry into the series. Of course, Nintendo has offered very little in the way of a direct chronology (most likely on purpose), but the fans over at the â&#x20AC;&#x153;Metroid Databaseâ&#x20AC;? have come up with the most likely order of games: 1. Metroid/Metroid: Zero Mission (NES/GBA) 2. Metroid Prime (GC) 3. Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt (DS) 4. Metroid Prime Hunters (DS) 5. Metroid Prime 2 (GC) 6. Metroid Prime 3 (Wii) 7. Metroid II: Return of Samus (GB) 8. Super Metroid (SNES) 9. Metroid: Other M (Wii) 10. Metroid Fusion (GBA) Now, 25 years after the release of the

original game, the question becomes how the series stacks up over the years. The most recent game - 2010â&#x20AC;&#x2122;s â&#x20AC;&#x153;Metroid: Other Mâ&#x20AC;? - has met with rather lack-luster reviews, averaging somewhere in the 79% range. Reasons for this varied, of course, but many cited the portrayal of Samus (mainly her weaker, feminine character that didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t jive well with how she was portrayed over the years) and weak play controls among these. However, the quality of Other M shouldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t be used to judge the standing of the series today. As a whole, Nintendo has worked hard to keep the series fresh and to push it in new directions, and, as such, the series exists as one of this writerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s favorite series of all time. After all, the very fact that the later Castlevania games are referred to as â&#x20AC;&#x153;Metroidvaniaâ&#x20AC;? because of their design style, I think, says a lot! But, for the sake of this retrospective look, hereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a brief breakdown of where I think the games stand: METROID (1986, FDS/NES): This is the game that started it all. This platforming action/adventure title really redefined the era and made people reconsider what games should strive to be. It stands up nicely even today, 25 years later, and thus deserves an â&#x20AC;&#x153;A.â&#x20AC;? METROID II: RETURN OF SAMUS (1991, Game Boy): Sadly, the second game released in the series has never received a remake. The game is a bit more linear than the first, yet it establishes a lot more background information than the first. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d say it deserves a â&#x20AC;&#x153;B+.â&#x20AC;?

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SUPER METROID (1994, SNES): The SNES entry into the series is often viewed as one of, if not, the best games. The system used in the game has been emulated by other series, such as Castlevania (most notably with â&#x20AC;&#x153;Symphony of the Nightâ&#x20AC;?) and the Mega Man Zero and ZX games. While a remake would be great, even today this game is most certainly â&#x20AC;&#x153;A+â&#x20AC;? worthy.

something to be desired, sadly. As such, it falls closer to the â&#x20AC;&#x153;Bâ&#x20AC;? range.

METROID PRIME (2002, GC): The first real 3D entry into the series redefined it entirely, offering a truly immersive experience. With incredible graphics (even by todayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s standards), solid gameplay, and a great soundtrack, it easily deserves an â&#x20AC;&#x153;A.â&#x20AC;?

METROID: OTHER M (2010, Wii): Handled by Team Ninja, the latest game is modeled somewhat after the newer Ninja Gaiden games, in an attempt to return the series to its more platform-oriented roots. While the story of the series is greatly expanded upon throughout the game, giving us greater insight into Samus as a person, it is often the story aspects of the game which limit it, earning it around a â&#x20AC;&#x153;B-â&#x20AC;? at best.

METROID PRIME 3: CORRUPTION (2007, Wii): The third game in the â&#x20AC;&#x153;Primeâ&#x20AC;? series really expands on the visitable universe, and adds many unique gameplay options, in many ways building closely off of the system used in â&#x20AC;&#x153;The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.â&#x20AC;? Standing as one of the best entries, next to â&#x20AC;&#x153;Super Metroid,â&#x20AC;? it easily earns an â&#x20AC;&#x153;A.â&#x20AC;?

METROID PRIME 2: ECHOES (2004, GC): The second entry into the â&#x20AC;&#x153;Primeâ&#x20AC;? sub-series offers a unique twoworld system reminiscent of the Dark World from â&#x20AC;&#x153;The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past,â&#x20AC;? while providing a lot of mythos regarding the Chozo race, earning it an â&#x20AC;&#x153;A.â&#x20AC;? METROID: ZERO MISSION (2004, GBA): The remake of the original NES title changed a few canon dates (such as shifting the founding of the Galactic Federation from 2000 to 2003 C.C.), but works to make the game closer to its SNES counterpart. While not fully true to the original, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s still very fun to play, earning it a â&#x20AC;&#x153;B+.â&#x20AC;? METROID PRIME HUNTERS (2006, DS): The DS entry into the series offers very good graphics by Nintendo DS standards, but the play control leaves

GameTheory Score .&530*%

/100 


PHOENIX #:&3*$1"/,0,&

P

hoenix should be the scrolling shooter that has it all. The graphics are slick, the music is good, and the progressive difficulty system makes perfect sense. The problem is that somewhere along the way the developers forgot the most important element of a game â&#x20AC;&#x201C; fun. Then you start looking at the other components of the game and realize theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re not as great as you thought they were either. I still like the fluctuating difficulty scale, though. The developers donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t even pretend that the player cares about a backstory, and instead thrusts them into the heat of action. Thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s not always a good thing, but in this case a story would do nothing to improve the overall presence of the game, so thanks for not wasting my time. As for the gameâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s action, it has so far been comprised of, at most, two or three ships at a time, and a whole lot of bullets. There are no levels per se, and the only way you know youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve reached a â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;bossâ&#x20AC;? is the fact that the ship actually has a life meter above it. The thing about not having levels is that you never really feel like youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re making

any progress, so in the end the whole â&#x20AC;&#x153;missionâ&#x20AC;?, if there even is one, seems pointless. The one thing I do really like about the game is the difficulty system. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s based on a five star ranking, and you can set a minimum number of stars at the beginning of each game. As you defeat bad guys youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll eventually earn more stars. When you get hit enough times youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll lose a star. You can never go below the number of stars you started with, so when that happens the game is over. Furthermore, unlike a lot of games where they say just say the difficulty adjusts as you play, you can tell the game gets more challenging when you have more stars. Of course, what this really translates to is that there are more bullets flying around on the screen. The only control option is dragging your finger around the screen, which would probably be my preferred option anyway. They should at least offer a tilt control option, however. There are multiple weapon types, but they are more or less upgrades to the

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same weapon chain, rather than giving you multiple weapons with individual upgrade levels like most scrolling shooters do. The only other offensive power up is the Alpha Strike, which would be much handier if you could collect it and then save it for when you want to use it. Visually the game is a mixed bag. The tunnel youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re flying through is rather drab, color-wise, and overall just uninteresting to look at. Now that may seem like no big deal, but part of what I really enjoy in some of my favorite shooters is looking at all the details in the background. The ships do have some decent design elements happening, but the color scheme reminds me of cheap plastic toys youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d find in the bargain isle of a WalMart store. I will say that the weapon effects are rather sharp, but supplementary effects like that should be a bonus, not the highlight of the graphics. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m beginning to think thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s some global scrolling shooter sound bank on the Internet somewhere, because for the most part

the sounds in Phoenix are just like any other shooter youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve played. The one thing that is a bit different is that getting shot in the cockpit sounds more like a light bulb popping than an actual shot from a weapon. The music is good, but doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t really fit the game. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a little too subdued, evocative more of the â&#x20AC;&#x153;calm before the stormâ&#x20AC;? sequence of an action movie than an epic space battle. In the end Phoenix suffers mostly from its own mediocrity. I think they were too focused on the dynamic difficulty aspect of the game and kind of forgot to tweak all the other factors that make a scrolling shooter good. I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t know about you, but Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d rather play an interesting shooter that basically maintains the same difficulty throughout (or is graduated at pre-determined intervals) than a constantly adjusting game that isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t very entertaining otherwise.

GameTheory Score

1IPFOJY

78/100 


Gaming Kaos 4 BY BRAD MCCOURT

8

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Aesthetically creepy. Dead Running throws you in the middle of a foggy forest, as you are running away from an unseen force, dodging trees as you go. Featured are two modes: distance, and points. Distance challenges you to run as far as possible whereas in points mode you are collecting colored orbs to increase your score. Bottom Line: An amazingly haunting game with genuinely spooky graphics and sounds.

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A classic game retold. At first this game seems to be a mere clone of the classic brick breaker game as you bounce balls from your ship directed at bricks, destroying them. Then you start receiving upgrades and this game becomes a blast. Magnet power allows you to hold onto balls for example, while another power multiply the amount of balls and the chaos. Bottom Line: A welcomed twist to a still fun classic game.

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War cabinet. Uniwar is a simple but satisfying strategic war game, that you can play online or against the computer AI. Each team has their own base where they can build/recruit units and must deploy these units strategically to defeat the opposing player over a hexagonal map filled with a variety of terrain. Bottom Line: Fans of Hudsonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Military Madness would feel right at home with this addicting game of strategy.




Gaming Kaos 4 BY BRAD MCCOURT

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Full tactical Japanese RPG. Demons have overrun the earth as the human resistance takes shape with you as their leader. Originally released for the PSP, Spectral Souls is a huge game with charming cinematics, a plethora of recruits to choose from, and hundreds of hours of potential gameplay. The game is played much like other tactical RPGs such as Tactics Ogre; with a grid layout as each character on your team takes their turn in battle. Bottom Line: Pricey for a mobile game, but still cheaper and just as good as the PSP original.

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.JMMJPOBJSF 2010

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Satisfying trivia game based on the tv show. As with the TV show â&#x20AC;&#x153;Who wants to be a Millionaire,â&#x20AC;? you play as a contestant who must answer ever harder questions for an increasing amount of money. Thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a good variety of questions and all of the help lines are available (from the newer seasons of the show). Bottom Line: Good test of what obscure and general knowledge you actually know.

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Forgiving vertical shooter. Youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re a starship fighting against endless alien hordes. You use the touch screen to control your ship as you collect powerups and shoot down enemy targets. You are given a generous amount of health to survive the encounter, which is needed as the the screen becomes filled with projectiles. Bottom Line: A fast paced, action packed shooter.




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Gametheory 2011 Jan-Feb