Review: XBLIG: Neo Terra

This review originally appeared on XBLARatings.com.
When I saw the first screen shots of this game, and even as I loaded it up, I rolled my eyes and thought it was going to be a gigantic time waster. I am glad I actually spent time with the Neo Terra.

The game play is fairly straight forward – as time ticks up, each planet gains resources. The resources are translated in to ships that you can send out to try and take over other planets. If too many of your ships are out when your planet gets attacked, your planet can get taken over by an enemy.

Now imagine all of that, playing out in real time (turn based strategy is for the weak!), and it only taking a matter of seconds to win or lose a planet. A battle can last less than a minute, or several minutes. And that’s what I love about this game.

Every time you play it’s a new experience, even if the game looks and feels limited. It’s very straight forward, but it is a game of skill, not just who can hammer the X button faster. It’s about knowing if your planets need reinforcements, if the enemy has a planet that is weak and can be easily overtaken. It’s about looking at the entire screen at once and knowing where to send your troops.

Graphically the game has some nice backdrops, but the ship sprites are a little juvenile. The sound suffers a lot from a very repetitive selecting sound being about the only sound you hear, but can be easily blocked out if you have multiple people in your living room battling for galactic supremacy.

If you’re home alone, you may want to put on some music while you take on the five levels of artificial intelligence the game has to offer. From “Very Easy” to “Insane” the game offers a challenge for everyone. You can also take on the computer with different game modes, including a “capture the flag” like mode where the point is to overtake a planet at the centre of the map – all the while your opponent could be taking over your planets, thus having a larger fleet to send towards the “flag planet.”

While there isn’t much else going on in the game, it’s really all you need from Neo Terra. The game’s $1 price tag is a statement to that fact: this game is intended to be fast paced, hectic fun, and nothing more. And it achieves that in a way that is incredibly entertaining.

If the developers were to take this game and build a story line around it, it would be an instant buy for me. Battle it out in a “quick match” much like you have right now, then take a few moments to let a story unfold? A well deserved break from the frantic game play would be an absolutely perfect formula for Neo Terra 2. Here’s hoping!

Review: XBLIG: Felix: Tale of the Night

This review originally appeared on XBLARatings.com.
Beat’em Ups from the 1990’s were one of my favorite genres of games. I couldn’t get enough Final Fight in my life, and when Double Dragon’s Billy and Jimmy came together with the Battletoads, I knew nothing else in my life would come close to that moment.

Felix: Tale of the Night (or “Felix Fox” as the game’s artwork suggests), has grounded itself in the classic beat’em up style. Jump attacks, quick attacks, hard attacks, and even some blocking maneuvers are put to work in a great mixture of 2D and 3D platforming.

The game plays like your traditional left-to-right side scroller, but will have some elements where you run toward or away from the camera. These moments, unfortunately, aren’t often obvious and you’re left staring at wall wondering where to go next.

In the brawler classics, if you stood still for too long, a large arrow would traditionally pop up overhead, advising you to move forward! Felix Fox, meanwhile, left me to guess. No hints or arrows ever appeared. To make matters worse? Some of the level progression involved a skill you didn’t know you had.

Felix can wall jump, this is made evident if you take part in the tutorial. And, unlike many games that feature such a move, Felix: Tale of the Night actually pulls of wall jumps very well. They are crisp and easy to execute. However – Felix can climb trees. Evidently we’re supposed to know that, because shortly in to the first level, you’re left staring at a wall too high to climb, and no other walls to jump off of. A simple sign-post in the background and a “press Y to read” prompt may have even been enough to suffice, but the frustration and embarrassment that quickly sets in as you stare at a wall is undeniable. Add to this random “quick time events” (when will they go away?) and you can see where some of the frustrations begin.

Additionally, we’re evidently supposed to realize that the large stump an enemy held was able to be used as a stepping stone and that we would be climbing in to the third dimention – after clmbing trees and walls, realizing I was supposed to press “up” on my controller took me a moment.

My final complaint is due to a lack of checkpoints. The game is not overly difficult, and your health bar seems to last for quite a while, but if you make it to the boss of that first level and die? Well, you have a solid ten minute journy ahead of you – with no stim-packs, health vials, or pinecones to replenish your health along the way.

Still, despite all of that, the game is down right fun. Mashing a few buttons and flipping a bear over your head, ala Ryu’s “kick” throw in Street Fighter, is a blast. Catching a baddie in a fury of punches and finishing him off with a spin kick is just as satisfying as it was in any classic street brawling game, and the classic side scrolling action at a faster more modern pace is a rush.

I don’t see a reason for the setting or the characters, I think the game would be just as fun if human beings were duking it out on the mean streets of some “megalopolis.” The game’s score would suffer more from this 1990’s cutesy animal throw back, but I genuinely see past it and enjoy the different types of enemies and beating them up as they come my way.

Worth noting: 1) skip as much dialogue as fast as possible. Not that it’s poorly written, to the contrary: you may quietly chuckle to yourself just playing the tutorial. But the sound effects selected for printing dialogue on the screen was an unforgivable detractor.
2) There are some odd graphical “hitches” that seem to slow down the game for a fraction of a second when you’re running too fast. It takes away from the otherwise liquid-like gameplay.

Games I had no idea were on Xbox Live


Perhaps I have, indeed, been living under rocks, or working my “real world” job too much, or too worried about my backlog of games, but just for a fun weekend update, I thought I would write up a list of several games (mostly recent) that I had NO IDEA were on Xbox Live Arcade.

I’m not necessarily saying I like this games, just that I had no idea that existed for us Xbox Live users! In some cases, I know so little about them, I’ll be checking out demos in the near future, and I encourage you to do the same, if a title is new to you! It’s worth noting that none of the games listed below are Xbox Live Indie Games, even if they sound like it – so you should expect to be rewarded with gamerscore if you play these!

MLB Stickball
Sonic & Knuckles
Domino Master
Ms. Pac-Man
Aqua
Ben 10 The Rise of the Hex
Gin Rummy
Minesweeper Flags
Puzzle Arcade
Phantasy Star II
Super Contra
Rainbow Islands Towering Adventure

Microsoft wants in Handhelds, but how?

How do you merge an Apple iPad with Microsoft’s Project Natal? That must be what is going through the minds of Microsoft execs right now. More on that idea in a moment.

As many other media outlets have reported on potential shakeups happening within Microsoft, and ZDNet specifically reporting that J. Allard was leaving due to the cancellation of the Microsoft Courier, an iPad like device.

It seems likely, to me, that problems must have arisen from the Courier not being as user friendly as the Apple iPad, or as Microsoft would like. As the Zune trails behind the iPod, and even Windows Mobile cowers in a corner behind relative newcomer Google’s Android, Microsoft must be looking for a good IN to the handheld device market. But with the lackluster sales of the PSP in this country, wanting to do a handheld video game console to compete head-to-head with the Nintendo DS doesn’t seem like a smart choice, either.

The success, to me, of the iPad comes from the success of the iPhone and iPod Touch. The iPad commercials airing, which state “you already know how to use it” are true enough. The simple interface design makes using these handheld and tablet devices a breeze. With Microsoft set to fully reveal the details of Project Natal at E3 in less than a month, the discussion at Microsoft must be fast and furious. A phone simply isn’t powerful enough for gaming – not like they would like to do, not to make it run something as complex as an Xbox Live Arcade game. Having access to my LiveID on my phone will be a fun feature, touted in Windows Mobile Phone 7 Series, but the level of integration has not been explained.

So the question must be posed: if iPad, iPod Touch, and iPhone can share an interface, and Android phones are starting to sweep the mobile phone market with a unified design, how can Microsoft make an impact? How do you make an easy to use, consistent interface across multiple devices, when you’re about to try and make a hands free interface add on for the Xbox 360? Do you force firmware updates to the Zune and Windows phones that give it an NXE like interface? Do you ditch the NXE and make the 360 look like a ZuneHD? There are a lot of questions to be answered. Unfortunately, I’m just a blogger who asks those, and an excited techno-geek who can’t wait to see the answers.