1942: Joint Strike (Capcom, PS3/X360/PC): Capcom has been on quite the revival kick lately, with the HD beta of Street Fighter 2 on 360, and upcoming (or recently released) Bionic Commando and Mega Man games, as well. The classic top-down shooter series 194X is back here, and is prettier than ever. Unfortunately, control issues and an insane difficulty level also harry it for any non-master of the genre.As I said, the game is beautiful. Whether you’re on a Standard or Hi-Def TV, this shows off the graphical capability of even a small arcade-style game. Fantastic special effects and cool power-ups help showcase this even more, and there’s virtually no difference on any of the platforms. The control mapping is just plain bizarre. Two buttons for missiles, one for bombs, one for firing… and NO auto-fire. Now, purists may like this, as auto-fire has not been a traditional part of the series. However, the constant mashing just gets tedious, and it seems you should be able to hold down the button, then have your charge shot take the place of one of the missile buttons; alternatively, it could be mapped to one of the 4 other buttons not in use on the controller. Also, back to that difficulty level, if you’re not traditionally great at top-down shooters, you won’t be any good at this one. The game DOES get frustrating, and it gets so frustrating that you’re apt to put down the controller and just stop playing altogether. Huge fans of the series/genre will likely disagree on all points. This does invoke great arcade-based memories, and traditionalists will find a game that harkens back to everything they loved. All other gamers will likely be better off steering clear. With options like Eden on PSN and Braid on XBLA, there are much better inexpensive alternatives for your arcade-style gaming. PixelJunk Eden
On: PS3 via PlayStation NetworkThis is a difficult game to review, mostly because the concept is so hard to explain. Essentially, you have a small sprite called a Grimp. You jump up plants and towers with your Grimp, and swing around from a silk web-like string that connects you to said plants. The object of the game is to collect special glowing items called Spectra, which glow more as you get close to them, leading you in the right direction. To achieve this goal, you destroy small floating “enemies” carrying pollen (appropriately called Pollen Prowlers), sending the pollen into seeds, which when activated grow new plants for you to hop up. Confused yet? Well, it plays a lot better than it describes. In fact, this is the most addictive game I’ve played in years. The controls are simple, but deep. There’s a graceful acuity you have to develop in order to move far in the game, especially beyond the third garden (think of gardens like worlds in Mario games. There are 5 “levels” within each garden, 10 gardens in all). The progressive difficulty level is at almost a perfect rate. There are moments where the wrong move, or even a simple baffling “how’d that happen” button mis-press can send you careening to the bottom of a level, and that is very frustrating. However, it never once brought appeal to just quitting. Every time, it just made me want to play more and master the game further. As new types of Pollen Prowlers and crazy new level designs appear, the game becomes more and more immersive, and completing the goals gives a real sense of achievement. Speaking of achievement, the new PS3 version of Xbox Live’s Achievements, Trophies, are present in this game. There are some that are relatively easy, and a couple that are nigh-impossible, but man, does it feel good when you get them. Achievements and Trophies give such a better actual accomplishment when present, and the ones here make sense and work great to further gameplay. There is a multiplayer aspect, with the slightly oddly chosen 2-3 players on one PS3. The multiplayer can be entertaining, and can show off some really cool team-work acrobatics, but takes a pretty high skill level from all players involved to really work (or be much fun). Overall, a fan of platforming and/or puzzlers will absolutely love this game. Just about everyone else will enjoy at least a play-through, and at ten bucks, it’s worth the several hours it’ll take to get all 50 Spectra. This is a must-buy for PS3 owners, and a great argument that PSN is getting some quality exclusives. The only big argument against this game is it will prevent you from getting work done, and from playing other games on your docket for quite some time. It took a lot of willpower to stop playing for awhile and write this review, that’s for sure. SIREN: Blood Curse (SCEA, PS3): The third game in the Siren series, this one is a re-imagining of the basic plot of the first. The game doesn’t add a ton to the survival horror / zombie genre, but it does the genre well, for the most part. First, I must issue a slight caveat that keeps the game from being great; some episodes of the game are almost unplayable on Standard Definition TVs. The gritty look of the game looks simply incredible on HD, and simply unviewable on SD. The good news for gamers who’ve yet to upgrade their idiot box is due to the unique 12 episode nature, if one or two episodes aren’t doing so hot on your tv, you can just skip to the next. Slight graphics problems aside, this is a solid, fun game. Seven playable characters, a well-divided mission structure, and some very intense heart-racing moments make for a game that makes you genuinely feel you’re fighting for survival, and being horrified in the process. The plot, well, it isn’t the most coherent one ever in a game, even by survival horror standards. However, each mission and episode does tell a decent story on its own, and they are all clearly set in the same general circumstances/place. The gameplay is not focused on fighting or killing the villagers, but instead plays out more like a stealth game most of the time. There are moments of pin-drop silence, when the tiniest rattle of one of the hundreds of objects strewn about the environment will send blood-thirsty villagers running to taste your flesh, which offer the best moments of the game. The Sight-Jack system is familiar to fans of the series, and is refined here. You can get into the eyes of enemies and friendlies alike to scope out new areas and figure out how to reach your goal. This time around, opposed to previous iterations of the series, you can move your own character while Sight-Jacking another, allowing for an interesting tension of its own. A slightly frustrating and surprisingly difficult first episode should not put off newbies to the genre; the game gets progressively better, and again, any episode can be played at any time, with or without the completion of the previous one. The 12 episodes together weigh in at about 9 gigs, making this one looooooong download, and adding install time after that. Gamers in Europe and Japan can blessingly purchase the game in a box, on a disc, and skip the download. In the US, you can import the region-free game from Europe, or just leave your PS3 running overnight. These are not the best options, but they have to do for the time being, as Sony recently re-iterated to MTV that no Blu-ray version is planned for the North American market. Overall, this is definitely a game made with fans of the genre in mind. The solid controls and truly scary atmosphere, along with the episodic structure, make this a great game to tide survival horror fans over while other new IPs and major franchises work on their next entries. The long download (and the fact that it takes up 1/4th of the harddrive of the most popular PS3 model) will likely keep most casual fans away, but if you own a PS3 and want to get scared, this is a good option.