Posts Tagged ‘review’

No More Heroes: Why aren’t you playing this?

I waited overnight so I could be one of the first nerds to get a Nintendo Wii. I didn’t really know what it was about. It just seemed like interesting gameplay.

I invited all the friends over for a Wii party. I wanted to show off my new toy. Nobody else had it (speaking of which, nobody still does). It was shiny. New. Amazing. And, for a time, fun.

Something happened in the last 12+ months, I got bored with it. The novelty wore off. Sure, I played all the required first-party titles: Metroid, Mario, and Zelda. I believe we’re contractually obligated to like anything with Mario in it. Other than that, though, the third-party developers haven’t really knocked my socks off.

Everything just seemed so damned casual. Almost like the hardcore gamer was forgotten and the retirees were given precedent. I don’t mind. It’s nice to see that generation picking up the console, but people my age still bought the system and 20 million variations of Wii Sports just doesn’t cut it.

Luckily designer Suda 51 (Goichi Suda) saw this problem and stepped in and gave us No More Heroes.

You play as Travis Toucdhdown who has recently won a beam katana via internet auction. With such a lightsaber-style weapon in tow, he decides he wants to work up the ranks of assassins until he reaches the top spot.

What would make one want to become an assassin beyond a really kicking weapon? The glory of being the top dog? Maybe. The stress release of taking down gangs and blood thirsty assassins? Possibly. The promise of sex from a young, French vixen? Absolutely.

After Travis takes down the tenth-ranked assassin, the vixen, Sylvia Cristel, steps in and evaluates his performance. If he were to continue on his quest, he made her promise to “do it” with him when he was done.

Enough with the story, the gameplay is really straight-forward slice and dice action. I found it almost refreshing that you were required to hit the A button to swing the blade instead of swinging the Wiimote in the air. My only problem with the controls was during a baseball simulation. The reaction time seemed way off. Or maybe I just don’t know how to hit a baseball.

The action is absolutely amazing. It’s almost feels like you’re in the middle of Kill Bill. The violence is beautiful and over the top. I was almost disappointed when I didn’t have any more gang members to take out and had to move on. Luckily there were just more bad guys right around corner waiting to be sliced, diced and julienned.

All in all, I really liked No More Heroes. I couldn’t put it down. It has an addictive quality that just hasn’t been matched by any other third-party title on the Wii. Hopefully No More Heroes will be guiding light to other developers by showing that it’s alright to make games for the hardcore gamer.

Originally appeared on the 4Play video game blog on azcentral.com on January 29, 2008.

Posted: October 30th, 2009
Categories: Video games
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All praise Dave Matthews and his band

I have never attended a religious revival before.

I’ve heard that people dance uncontrollably in the aisles, some speak incoherently, while others just begin to cry.

Tuesday night’s Dave Matthews Band concert at the Cricket Pavilion featured all of this plus great music.

As soon as I walked into the amphitheater, the band just starting playing “Dreamgirl,” the new single from their most recent album Stand Up. The stage was lit with bright white light, and I found myself caught in the moment thinking, “Yes! I want to repent!”

The slow melodic tune kept the over packed swaying, staring at Dave and the band like they were gods, and just plain mellow. He had us and wouldn’t let go.

After “Dreamgirl” ended, the band gave us a moment to reflect. They then busted out with “Stand Up” and all of Cricket Pavilion was on their feet. The amphitheater shook from all of the dancing, stomping, clapping, and screaming of all the band members names, like the crowd was speaking in tongues.

The Dave Matthews Band is not as much as band as it a machine. The pauses in between each song were short enough for Dave to grab a new guitar and start in with a new tune. He rarely took time out to talk to the crowd except for the occasional thanks.

The show featured a mix of the band’s old and new material. A fan a few seats down told me that he was generally happy with the mix but was worried because Dave was doing some solo projects. Once the band broke into “Crash,” a song I actually knew a gist of the words to, the fan looked at me and said “Time for a beer run.”

With “Crash,” the band didn’t quite have the control they thought they once had on the crowd. Sure there were people singing along, but like the fan from a few seats over, there was a mad dash to either the restroom or the bar for more frosty beverages.

Mixed in between the songs were some great solos by each member of the band. I was told that drummer Carter Beuford was one of the best around, and he didn’t disappoint.

By far, though, the star of the show was the fiddler Boyd Tinsley. He must have sold his soul to the devil because he played like he was possessed. He fiddled so hard and fast the he broke a string or two on his bow. Unfortunately, whoever was running the video monitors didn’t favor Tinsley too much. Every time the screen was on him, it would quickly change to the drummer, and fans were robbed of seeing a master at work.

The one guy who seemed not to get in any of the love was woodwinds master Leroi Moore. It felt like he played a total of 30 minutes out of the entire two-and-a-half-hour set. He mainly stayed in the shadows and wasn’t really used unless needed. I wish I could have seen more of his talent with the array of instruments he had set up.

The second half of the show flew buy with the same mix of old and new material. The funniest part of the entire show came during the waiting period just before the encore. The band just finished playing “Ants Marching” and made their exit. While the fans were chanting for the band to come back, people not only starting putting their lighters in the air, but a sea of cell phone backlights also flooded the amphitheater. Blue radiation poured from the palms of about 75 per cent of the people. After about 10 minutes and a horde of dead cell phone batteries, Dave Matthews Band made their re-entry and sent the fans home happy.

Originally appeared in the entertainment and music sections on azcentral.com on August 31, 2005.

Posted: October 26th, 2009
Categories: Concert
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‘Solitary Man’ plays for his friends

I know I’ve said before that the Dave Matthews Band show in August was a religious experience, but that concert, every concert I’ve seen and will see pails in comparison to Neil Diamond’s performance at Glendale Arena on Thursday.

Diamond’s band slowly rose out of the stage. Once they were in position, Diamond appeared at the top of a mini-stair case. He looked like evangelist with his red, rhinestone-studded shirt. He worked and kept the crowd in a frenzy during his two hour set.

After his opening song, he proclaimed to the crowd that usually sings to part of the arena that is loudest. He then walked across the stage and got the packed arena to scream harder and harder. The crowd was putty in the legend’s hands.

In the first few songs, he played some of his classics including “Beautiful Noise,” “Kentucky Woman,” and “Cherry, Cherry.” After that, his backup singers descended into the stage, and Diamond included the crowd in a superb rendition of “Play Me.”

Diamond expressed his pride in his acting debut The Jazz Singer. He then started in on “Love on the Rocks” which ranks as one of his best songs of the night. The highlight, though, came next with “America.” He introed the song with a little personal background and then tore into the song. On the video screens were images of the American flag, bald eagle, and black and white photos and video of people arriving at Ellis Island in New York. If you weren’t proud to be an American after that song, move back to Canada.

Diamond had the crowd in tears with his duet of “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” with backup singer Linda. You could tell that they’ve been singing that song together for quite sometime. I felt like I was at an opera because they both played their roles perfectly. The finished the song with a passionate kiss. Diamond said they’ve been singing that song for years so he finally bought the woman some flowers. “It takes a while to get it through a man’s head.”

One song that was extremely impressed with that more acts should incorporate is a song that serves as an intro for the entire band. Diamond had one called “Wake Up the Band.” The song basically gave each member a chance to do a quick solo act. I thought it was tastefully done and appropriate.

After a series of slow songs and ballads, Diamond had the crowd on their feet with “Sweet Caroline.” He didn’t even have to intro the song, once the first few notes started, the crowd was cheering and hollering. The crowd was singing along with the chorus including the “bam-bam-bam” part. He kept everybody on their feet with a rockin’ rendition of “I’m a Believer.”

The funniest moment of the night came when he was singing an intro to a song he used to play in the coffee houses of Greenwich Village. He had his backup singers out there, but they kept repeating some of the lyrics that didn’t really jive well with Diamond. The funniest one was when he ended a lyric with “I’m a fake.” The singers all looked at each other, nodded their heads, and repeated, “He’s a fake. He’s a fake. He’s a fake.” To which Diamond acted like he was a little perturbed, but it was all in good fun.

My favorite moment of the night came when Diamond played “Red, Red Wine.” The song started out the slower version he is known for, but it eventually turned into the version that UB40 made popular in the 80s. He even gave a shout-out to the English reggae band.

He ended the show like the religious event it felt like with “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show.” Once again, the people were standing with their hands in the air. Somewhere in the arena, I’m there was a fun convulsing and speaking in tongues.

Neil Diamond knows how to work a crowd of 15,000 fans. I got the impression that people sitting in the nosebleeds had the same feeling as the people sitting in the front row: Diamond was including them in the performance. Every concert I go to after this will be judged based on Diamond’s performance. He is the consummate professional and more acts should take a cue from him on how to be more professional, put on a good show, and make the fans feel like their singing to them.

Originally appeared in the entertainment and music sections on azcentral.com on October 9, 2005.

Posted: October 19th, 2009
Categories: Concert
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Halo 3: Head like a hole


I finally feel like I should give my two cents of the beast that is Halo 3.

I’ve already had a conversation about it which I’m going to let stand as my initial impression.

If you haven’t read or don’t want to read it, I stated that I’ve nevre played any Halo game before and basically called the game average at best. I know I don’t know the backstory, but that isn’t my fault. Bungie and Microsoft should have told me what was going on either with a trailer leading up to the action or some sort of Star Wars-style scroll. Anything! I felt like Ross Perot’s running mate: “Who am I? Why am I here?”

The game starts off with Master Chief falling to Earth and lands conveniently near other human troops. Why was he falling? We may never know.

He comes to and immediately attacks a Predator-looking dude who is voiced by Keith David. Apparently the Chief never saw They Live and didn’t know David could handle a prolonged fight.

After a higher ranking officer diffuses the situation, you are dropped into the heat of battle with orders to kill everyone that doesn’t look like except for the Keith David dude. He doesn’t get a little miffed when you fire upon him.

I got through the first six stages of the campaign mode following this same sort of theme. Master Chief SMASH! Master Chief KILL! Which isn’t a bad thing, I guess, but is the Chief a mindless killing machine, or does he have feelings? Does he have feelings? What’s with the unhealthy relationship he seems to have with a digitized chick that looks like Yori from Tron.

I actually did a little research to find out about this Master Chief guy. When I say a “little research,” I mean I wanted to find out if he had a name which happens to be John-117. I guess John-316 was taken up by a crazy guy in a multi-colored afro.

With that said, everyone seems to call him “Master Chief” when that is just his rank. What if other Master Chieftains were in the general vicinity? Would they start to get annoyed because John-3..er…117 is getting all the attention?

What about if the Chief is at the bar having a drink with his fellow soldiers? Are they still that formal? Or do they call him John or Johnny?

Now that I’m done with my Master Chief tangent, let’s get back to the gameplay. The beauty, as I’ve been repeatedly informed, is in the multiplayer portion of it. This is where the Xbox Live service outshines everyone else. I booted up the ol’ Xbox Saturday morning to find a couple friends playing their guts out. Setting up a game is easy enough. Set it up. Invite your friends. Blow their butts away.

The pain, I found, was finding a game. I got kicked out of a game and tried to find one. I went through the Halo 3 matchmaker system. No luck. I tried to join a game in progress by one of my friends just to get kicked out again. This problem seemed persistent in the party so somebody just started a new game and invited everyone back. Easy enough.

The multiplayer deathmatch, or “Slayer,” as Halo likes to call it, is really start forward and easy to get the hang of: run, shoot, frag. Personally, I enjoy a little strategy in my death…slayer matches. Translation: I’m a camper. Actuality: There’s no good places to camp. When I did find a sniper rifle and found a good place to camp, I was usually fragged within seconds. I haven’t played multiplayer in a very long while.

There is a feature that lets make film clips of the match. I couldn’t figure out how to do this because of two things: 1) I was in the heat of battle and didn’t want to figure out the system on the fly; and 2) I didn’t read the instruction book.

Halo 3 mixed with the Xbox Live online service serves a great way to get you and your friends together for a little legal massacre. I did make a mistake in the middle of playing this game: I went out and picked up Bioshock which, in my opinion, has a better campaign because that’s all it has.

I foresee Halo 3 collecting some major dust in the next couple of weeks. I’m currently playing Bioshock but plan on picking up Orange Box. Any self-respecting first-person shooter fan will pick that up.

Originally appeared on the 4Play video game blog on azcentral.com on October 10, 2007.

Posted: October 18th, 2009
Categories: Video games
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Review: Spiderman 3

Can a game be so bad that you can’t actually put it down?

That’s where I stand with Spiderman 3 for the Playstation 3. For the last couple of weeks, I have enthralled in the exploits of Peter Parker and his friends. Like I said before, by no means is this game any good.

Where do I begin? The graphics during gameplay are tolerable, but the cut-scenes are just downright spooky. Big bulgy arms and legs. Lifeless eyes. Unsynced audio. Its just a complete train wreck.

The camera angles are atrocious. Most of the time you’re looking at the web-slinger from the front while getting your butt handed to you from somebody off-screen. Its nearly impossible to swing the camera around. A centering or targeting system would have been great.

The controls are nothing special. It’s a button masher. There’s some ability to control the action by slowing it down and pulling some moves that would make Neo say “Whoa,” but the evildoers seem to always get a hit in somehow.

With that said, what makes the game so addictive?

Simply put: the ability to swing around Manhattan. I followed the silly little missions until the symbiote took control of ‘ol Pete. Seriously, couldn’t they just have used the scene from the movie? I almost felt sorry for the symbiote watching the video game cut-scene.

I now spend my days fighting crime and sometimes the occasional mission. There’s a venerable rouge’s gallery of bad guys. I’ve taken down Scorpion who first freed Rhino. I watched Dr. Connors turn into the Lizard who I eventually fought and took down only to return as the prey for Kraven. And taken straight from the movie, I flushed Sandman down the pipes.

Some of the missions are damn near impossible to finish. In mission 4 in my fight with the Order of the Dragon’s Tail (honest to god, that’s the name; I thought it was a PBS kid’s show), I have to take four samurai at the same time. Those samurai don’t go down easy and by that time, I’m completely out of energy.

I still can’t put the game down. I go back for more. Sure, the game is bad, but like the symbiote, it has taken me over.

Maybe I should’ve heeded the words of the fellas over at Penny Arcade.

Originally appeared on the 4Play video game blog on azcentral.com on May 24, 2007.

Posted: October 18th, 2009
Categories: Video games
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Duel at the two o’clock bell – A review of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

The company tells you that you need to take three vacation days by December 24 or risk losing them.

Most people would take this time to take a nice Christmas vacation. Leave the desert. Check out some snow. Experience one of those “White Chritmas’” we’ve heard so much about.

Meh. You can have your snow. Lock me up my apartment with Zelda calling my name.

Going into my mini-vacation in the hole, I had clocked in over a little over 30 hours playing The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. I was bound and determined to beat this game by the end of the six days (Wed-Mon).

At roughly 1:30 am on Saturday night/Sunday morning, it was Mission: Accomplished.

As I was dropping Ganondorf (like you didn’t who it was going to be) like a bad habit, I started thinking about how my Zelda experiences have seem to come full circle. nearly 20 years ago, I popped in the gold-colored cartridge beauty that was the original Legend of Zelda. My brother and I challenging each other by trying to get further than other. My mother and sister watching us play while nothing could distract from the mission.

I’d like to think I’ve grown up… a little.

During a fight with one of the bosses last night, my mother calls me up with a computer problem. I didn’t have time for this. I was in the heat of battle.

“Just restart the *expletive’n* thing.”

“Tried that but it says…” I admit. I missed the error.

“Force quit. Do something. I’m *expletive’n* busy here. I’ll look at it tomorrow.”

“Playing your game?”

“Yeah.”

“I’ll leave you alo…”

I already hung up.

The game brought back frustrations I’ve buried deep within my subconscious.

The odd angles irked the hell out of me. How could I fight something if there was a wall in my way?

Multiple types of enemies when usually just one requires my undivided attention. Those big armored dudes with the huge swords. How do you expect me to defeat three of them when they always have me backed into a corner?

And what’s with that creepy Midna character? Never really offered any solid advice beyond smart aleck comments and “duh, no crap” stuff.

With that said, Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto doesn’t disappoint with this fabulous Wii launch title. the graphics are rock solid. the control doesn’t take full advantage of the Wiimote and nunchuk has to offer, but once again, its a launch title. hopefully they’ll take better advantage of the features in the sequel.

The story is better than most stuff coming out of Hollywood. I got the impression that Miyamoto and Nintendo wanted their players to grow up. Unlike the cutesy, cell-shaded Wind Waker on the Gamecube, Twilight Princess doesn’t pull any punches. There’s a point in the game where you think Link will have to chose which side he fights for, and you see past heroes who have been sucked in by the evil. You see a darker side of the Zelda series.

Fear not, though, the tedious tasks are still in there. Collecting bugs for a bigger money bag? Give me a break. here’s a tip: collect one bug, take it in and get your 600 jewel wallet. You can waste your money on that magical armor, but I never really used it.

Despite all my criticisms, Twilight Princess is probably one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had in the past five years. The story is solid. The characters are engaging. The missions and levels are difficult but not so much that you can easily work your way around them.

After over 55 hours of play, I beat the game. I will admit that a few unsavory words were used. That’s my personal sign the game has sucked me in.

If you own a Wii and not this game, go out at get today. right now. Stop thinking about it. it is also available on the Gamecube.

(the headline comes from the reverend horton heat’s “lucky 7″)

Originally appeared on the 4Play video game blog on azcentral.com on December 24, 2006.

Posted: October 18th, 2009
Categories: Video games
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