“Mario Tennis Open” tries to add more than the typical Mario tennis action, but doesn’t sustain the rally long enough to make it enjoyable.
Hoping to introduce the franchise to a new set of gamers, Nintendo released their latest tennis title on the handheld 3DS controller. The original “Mario Tennis” was unveiled in 2000 and only for the Nintendo 64 home console. A Game Boy Color handheld version was also released, but offered entirely different gameplay than the original.
Gameplay is straightforward tennis action. Classic characters from the Mario franchise act as your tennis avatar, and each has specific strengths and weaknesses to differentiate play.
Using the 3DS enables multiple variations on controller set up. Players can use the buttons and joystick to move and create shots. The touch screen is also an option to choose the type of shot you want, and the gyro sensors let players guide their shots left and right. There are also three different shot screens to customize the action to fit the player’s style.
Overhand smash shots, lob shots, slices and top spins are easily accessed. Double tapping a button or the touch screen before a shot can enhance the power of your play. Special Chance shots, activated when standing on colored circles and hitting the indicated shot type, can curve wildly and stun your opponent temporarily.
The physics is solid and very similar to the original version. Shots tend to stay in play and rarely go out of bounds. Directing your shots left and right is easy. Drop shots and lob shots take two different taps on the controller, but can be utilized well.
Circles appear on the court to help players get in the right spot for a rally. However, you’ll have to take your chances against stronger opponents to mix up the speed by hitting the ball while outside of the circles.
The basic gameplay offers single player and doubles tournaments with the console controlling your partner. There are four different tournaments to play toward the World Open championship with each tournament offering more challenging opponents.
There is an exhibition mode letting players choose their opponents, difficulty, type of court and how many games to win. This is good to help you practice against a particular type of tournament situation that might be giving you trouble.
There are also special games that use tennis as a way to collect rings, stars and coins. There is even a tennis version of the N64 “Super Mario Brothers” game. Hitting the ball against a wall as the game scrolls by lets Mario “stomp” Goombas, traverse through pipes and get to the flag at the end. Missing the ball means losing a life.
If you are looking for live competition against other people, multiplayer is available through local and online action. Quick or extended matches are set up through a rating system so one player isn’t so overwhelming against the other.
There is no text chat or voice chat so trash talking is non-existent, but it makes it feel like you are just playing another computer opponent. Your rating rises or falls depending on how well or poorly you do in your match.
“Mario Tennis Open” is addictive in the basic gameplay mode. The action is crisp and responsive, and the difficulty of the computer opponents appropriately rises as you progress through the tournaments.
The other modes are less fun and seem just filler to the great main course. The online play was nice for a change of pace, but without any kind of interactivity with your opponent, also lost its luster after a while.
I couldn’t put “Mario Tennis Open” down when I was going through the single player tournaments, but unfortunately, I really didn’t feel like picking it back up again once I was done winning it all.
Many secondary characters from successful franchises get their time in the spotlight – Angel from “Buffy and the Vampire Slayer” spring to mind. The Transformers are reaching back into its “prehistoric” past and bringing the Dinobots – Autobots in dinosaur form – to their next video game.
Grimlock, Slag, Sludge, Snarl and Swoop are returning in the new “Transformers: Fall of Cybertron” game due out later this year. Jerry Jivoin, Hasbro’s marketing director for the Transformers, said it was a very easy decision to bring back the Dinobots for a new generation of fans.
“The Dinobots have always been a very popular part of the Transformers lore,” he said. “They are fan favorites and an important part in the history of the Transformers.”
The group of dinosaur-shaped robots hasn’t been around for many years, only making small appearances in comic books after being prominent in the Transformer cartoon series in the mid 1980s. They were the first mini-team in the Transformers universe, and their shape and rugged attitude made them enjoyable for kids.
Fast forward to today, and one of those kids, Matt Tieger, game director for “Transformers: Fall of Cybertron,” jumped at the opportunity to retell the origins of the Dinobots and use the “cool, dynamic characters” in a new way.
“It was a ‘Eureka’ moment of we have the opportunity to bring in beloved characters and do some really creative story things with,” Tieger said. “The five core dinobots are in the game and we wanted to tell a mature and logical origin story.”
Their original origin, created by an Autobot who found some dinosaur bones and thought they were cool, put the Dinobots in a unique category as being the only creatures in the Transformers universe who were created on Earth, rather than Cybertron. The origin change will also be reflected in future lore in the Transformers universe.
Tieger wouldn’t say how their past would change, but he did say the core elements of each of the Dinobots would remain. They will be visually different from the way they looked in the 1980s.
“It was a real opportunity for us to reinvigorating thinking about dinosaurs, and by extension, make it very relevant to kids,” Tieger said. “The way we designed Grimlock, the way he looks, is very appealing to kids and very nostalgic to gamers who remember G1 (Generation 1).”
Jivoin said the Dinobots are an emotional touch point with Transformers fans. They are prominent at Transformers conventions in the United States (BotCon) and Singapore (Cybertron Con).
“It’s a great way to reintroduce the characters to the masses, because they are such a popular part of the lore. There are a lot of fans out there of the Dinobots.”
Gregg Berger can vouch for that. Berger is the voice of Grimlock for the new video game. He also was the original voice of the Tyrannosaurus Rex-shaped robot for the television series in the mid 1980s.
Berger has been around the world to meet hundreds of thousands of fans who have been loyal to the Dinobot characters and the Transformers franchise. He says he is always amazed and humbled by the people who still flock to Grimlock and his teammates.
“There was a pure rage-driven aggressive side coupled with almost a childlike, simple understanding of that world and (Grimlock’s) place in it,” Berger said. “There is something about dinosaurs, and power, and the Transformers’ lore and story-driven characters. I have very loyal fans and fan base, and I try to be equally loyal to them.”
Berger said Grimlock has a nobility and sense of purpose that crosses generations. He recently met a group of fifth-grade students who said they recently discovered the original cartoon series and told him how much they loved Grimlock.
Tieger said they are trying to tap into those fan feelings with the new origin story and new look. But he wants Grimlock to be Grimlock.
“(Grimlock) is a good guy through and through, so he’s an Autobot,” he said. “But he does not always agree with Optimus Prime. There’s some interesting conflict that happens between the two of them story wise. It’s great to see Optimus from a different perspective.”
While fans pushed hard for the Dinobots inclusion in the Transformers movies, Tieger said they will be very happy to get to play as Grimlock.
“Where the game starts is just going to blow you away and fulfill fantasies you’ve had from 20 years ago.”
Lightbox Interactive and founder Dylan Jobe wanted to take one of their old titles, “Warhawk,” and make it into something more enjoyable and more complete. “Warhawk,” released in 2007, was widely praised for its multiplayer action, but had no single player campaign.
Jobe and his team took the best ideas from “Warhawk,” combined them with a new setting and single-player campaign, then added his “Build and Battle” mechanic to offer a new way to think about shooters.
“Build and Battle” allows players to call down hardware from a dropship circling high above the planet. When I say hardware, I don’t mean a weapons cache full of ammo and guns. I mean large, physical structures and buildings that allow players to defend, attack and punish the enemy.
Walls with turrets on top, garages with access to jetcycles, buggies and tanks, and very tall sniper towers complete with rifles are at the players’ command. These and many more can be called down and placed on the battlefield for maximum damage or protection.
Ground and air vehicles can also be called down and used. Jetbikes and Razorbacks (three-player combat buggies) handle a lot of the ground transportation. Ox Tanks bring the heavy pain with artillery shells and cannon. It can take a lot of punishment, but is slow to move.
If you are looking for more speed and maneuverability, the Hawk is a transformer-like vehicle that switches from armored robot to nimble aircraft quickly. On the ground, a mech stomp wipes out scores of troops, while in the air, the jet has a range of specialized missiles and bombs at its disposal.
Each one of these vehicles can be spawned from a garage summoned with the “Battle and Build” mechanic. As with the other buildings, planning must be utilized to determine prime placement as well as how each garage can be defended.
The “Build and Battle” concept works well and adds a strategic element to each battle. The mechanic works seamlessly within combat and doesn’t slow down or break up the action. Plus, players not only have to think about conserving their personal ammunition, but need to figure out how they want to confront the enemy waves with buildings.
Do you use walls to block routes into your area? Or do you form them along the sides and funnel the enemy into a gauntlet of beam turrets? It is this flexibility of gameplay that makes “Starhawk” enjoyable and interesting.
Plus, if a particularly large group of scabs (the enemy grunts) is headed your way, just drop a building on them. Each structure costs rift energy, a universal source of power harvested from different planets, much like oil on Earth.
Indeed, the single-player campaign has the Wild West feel and motif that could remind gamers of the great Oil Rush in the United States. Rifters want to capture the rift energy for sale, while Outcasts believe the rift energy to be their lifeblood and want to destroy all who would take it. Emmitt Graves, the main character in the campaign, goes into the disputed areas to reclaim the rift from the Outcasts.
The storyline is told through cinematic videos rather than any gameplay and merely acts as rather weak glue between the combat set pieces. Despite trying to inject some connection between Emmitt and the leader of the Outcasts, the characters come across as emotionless and uncaring about anything other than getting the job done.
Rather, it is the multiplayer mode where the game really shines. Up to 32 players can battle in four different scenarios and five different environments across two maps. More maps are planned as downloadable content (DLC), which Jobe says will be free to all.
The “Build and Battle” mechanic is utilized to its best in the Capture The Flag and Zones modes. Teammates work together to build walls, turrets and repair arms to defend their areas while others take vehicles out to seek and destroy the opposing side.
Coordination is key and many battles have been won due to the combined efforts of teammates defending or attacking en masse. The more players per side, the more action and organized chaos across the battlefield. It truly is some of the best and most enjoyable gameplay I’ve experienced on the PlayStation 3.
Overall, the combat in “Starhawk” is refreshing, thoughtful and very well done. The beautiful environments are utilized as structures are dropped from the sky in a game mechanic that is unique to the shooter arena. The breadth of weapons, vehicles and buildings make each playthrough different, and the multiplayer highlights the best of all that is available.
While the campaign story is disappointing, “Starhawk” ends up being a game that shines in spite of its weak characters. In some ways, the “Build and Battle” system is the true star of the action, and that’s just fine for gamers who want to think their way through combat as well as shoot their way out.
“Starhawk” is available now worldwide and exclusively for the PlayStation 3. It is rated T for Teens due to blood, language, and violence. This review was done with a provided copy for the PlayStation 3 and multiplayer action done on public servers.
Creating your own religion could result in weird looks, unusual friends and sometimes, visits from law enforcement officials. Creating your own religion in the soon-to-be released expansion for “Civilization V” results in bonuses and benefits on your way to world domination.
The new “Civilization V: Gods and Kings” expansion pack offers players two “new” elements to the very popular and successful real-time strategy game – faith and spies. Both are not new to the franchise, but each has been redone to make it more interesting and rewarding to use them.
Faith is a new resource, like gold or science. Civilizations can accumulate faith by building shrines, temples and mosques. Acquire enough faith and your fledging country can discover its first pantheon. Pantheons reward players with bonuses based on terrain, aggressiveness or other abilities, and players get to select the belief their pantheon will represent.
Get more followers to your cause and eventually you can form a religion, complete with your own unique name and icon (I called mine “The Force”). You will also get additional bonuses to your civilization as a whole, and specific additions to city abilities. Later, you can enhance your religion and gain more benefits.
There are a limited number of religions that can be created and not every country will get to create their own. This puts a premium on developing faith early in the game so you can acquire the bonuses best suited to your playing style.
Faith can also be used to purchase specific units and buildings, such as temples and mosques. Terrain within your civilization can also play an important role in gaining more faith resource. Bonuses can be to overall growth, additional healing, increased attack and defense in certain circumstances.
Religion was introduced in “Civilization IV,” but this expansion to “Civ V” tones down the overall drive for religion while boosting its abilities to offer benefits to the entire civilization. For instance, there was no condition for a religious victory in the preview build of the game. Religion passively crosses borders and spreads to neighboring civilizations, but active missionary work can only occur in friendly cities and city-states.
The developers at Firaxis really tried to make religion something unique for each player and playing style. There are plenty of choices for beliefs and some new leaders offer additional faith benefits.
The preview build of “Civ V” ended in the year 1290 (189 turns) so it will be interesting to find out how religion plays out in the later stages of the game with more technology based units and goals.
The second “new” unit is the Spy, but unlike its predecessor in other versions in the franchise, it isn’t a specific unit to move around on the battlefield.
The “Gods and Kings” expansion pack comes with a steampunk scenario called “Empires of the Smokey Skies” and offered a good opportunity to use the spies. The scenario starts out in the Steam Age and offers new abilities and units, like the Land Leviathan and the Sky Fortress.
The civilization leaders are decked out in top hats, wielding goggles and other trinkets you’d expect in a steampunk adventure. The goals of the scenario are also different from the traditional game. Be the leader in five different categories and you win.
Spies play a big role here and help players keep up with and keep an eye on their rivals. Each spy is recruited and used in a dropdown menu. The unit is given an assignment in a city and allowed to steal technology, find out information or kill enemy spies. They also will slant local voting in your favor to garner a better reputation with independent city-states.
In past iterations, spies in “Civlization” would have to sneak their way to an enemy city, do one mission and hopefully escape with their lives. In “Gods and Kings,” spies stick around in the cities they are assigned for as long as they want (provided they aren’t discovered).
This allows players to concentrate on other aspects of the game while still getting intelligence reports on their neighbors. Spies can be reassigned, but do you take the chance on that information black hole?
The scenario was short, but offered the best chance to see the spies in action. I only recruited one spy in normal game play in turn 187 and that happened spontaneously. Will there be something in the later stages that helps me recruit more agents or train them better?
“Civilization V: Gods and Kings” will offer more units, building, Wonders of the World, and new civilizations to try out. Revamping the religious and spy elements will make the game even more thoughtful (if that’s possible) and challenging for new and experienced players.
“One more turn” just got a whole lot harder to avoid.
Every year, big name video games titles extend their franchise footprint across the gaming landscape with more explosions, deeper storylines or outrageous gameplay. Recently, some smaller developers are having an important influence about what games are about, and are getting some help from a “big brother.”
Giant Sparrow is a small group of developers who got behind the vision of Ian Dallas, a graduate from the University of Southern California in their game design program. Dallas had an idea to put players in a totally white landscape and challenge them to explore their surroundings using paintball to reveal the environment.
He and some of his friends began building the backbone for what will become “The Unfinished Swan,” an upcoming game that is based off the “Alice in Wonderland” motif, but features a swan that has escaped from an unfinished painting. Dallas wanted to open the minds of gamers and get them thinking about what they’re doing as opposed to following an “excruciatingly detailed tutorial.”
“This game is about what all of your buttons do,” he said. “I wanted to create an experience of a total white space where you don’t know anything and you’re gradually discovering it on your own in a way that’s very player directed.”
He posted a trailer online and his game mechanic was featured at an Indie gaming event in 2008 called Sense of Wonder, a gathering of new ideas and new talent for the gaming industry. What he didn’t know was he was also showing what he could do to talent recruiters at Sony Santa Monica studios.
Dallas said he remembers getting a call from Sony and an offer to meet for coffee rather than talking about developing his mechanic into a game. However, by January 2009, Dallas was fleshing out the rest of the story idea to fully develop his vision with help from Sony.
Shannon Studstill, senior director of product development for Sony Santa Monica, said the studio has an incubation program for young developers who show great potential in their ability to build a game, but also understand how the industry works. She said they keep an eye on shows and gatherings for new ideas and fresh talent, then talk with those people to find out what their thought process is like and what they want to achieve.
“From that, we start talking about the commercial viability of the product, which isn’t always the case,” she said. “You see what more is going on in that person’s head, what is the strength of the idea and how important is it to that person to see that idea realized.”
She said Sony Santa Monica gives these fledging teams a base from which to launch their idea and shoulders the burden of some of the more mundane, but necessary, management of game design. This way, the team can focus on developing their idea and not worry about who got snacks for the day.
Studstill points to the success of thatgamecompany, a development team that produced critically applauded titles like “Journey” and “Flower” while working with Sony Santa Monica, as how well the program supports young designers and lets them grow.
“We’ve gotten fan mail from people that have said (“Journey”) has changed their lives,” she said. “These people are sitting in front of their TVs crying or feeling extremely emotional in that moment. We take a lot of pride in that.”
Studstill said young developers should be willing to show passion about their product as much as the talent they possess. Keeping an open mind about the industry is also key.
“You’ve got to be willing to learn to work with us,” she said. “We pretty much are world-renowned in what we do. We’ve got a ton of specialist and will give you the opportunity to interface with those people, but you’ve got to be willing and have a mindset that you aren’t the only one who knows the right way of doing games.”
She said Dallas impressed her and the talent finders with the strength of his idea and the conviction he had toward his game mechanic. Studstill said she thinks his game will be a success if they can get just one person to say “Unfinished Swan” has affected them.
“We really believed in where he wanted to take his creative idea,” Studstill said. “The opportunity to get in on that and nurture it was pretty obvious early on.”
Dallas understands that his game is not typical and is more along the lines of “video games of art” genre, like “Journey,” but wants to carve out his own niche.
“We’re looking to try to appeal to two different types of gamers,” Dallas said. “We’re looking for the people who have played a ton of games and are a little bit jaded and are looking for something that feels kind of different. We’re also hoping to appeal to people who don’t play a lot of games at all… and hoping to provide a different kind of experience.”
The game is expected to be released later this year on the PlayStation Network.
The most anticipated game for 2012 just became the most anticipated game for 2013.
Irrational Games and Take Two announced “BioShock Infinite” will now be released on February 23, 2013 instead of October 2012. Creative director Ken Levine made the announcement on the Irrational website:
A MESSAGE FROM KEN LEVINE
When we announced the release date of “BioShock Infinite” in March, we felt pretty good about the timing.
Since then, we’ve come to realize that some specific tweaks and improvements will make “Infinite” into something even more extraordinary. Therefore, to give our talented team the time they need, we’ve decided to move the game’s release to February 26, 2013. We wanted to let our loyal (and very patient!) fans know this as soon as possible.
I won’t kid you: “BioShock Infinite” is a very big game, and we’re doing things that no one has ever done in a first-person shooter. We had a similar experience with the original “BioShock,” which was delayed several months as our original ship date drew near. Why? Because the Big Daddies weren’t the Big Daddies you’ve since come to know and love. Because Andrew Ryan’s golf club didn’t have exactly the right swing. Because Rapture needed one more coat of grimy Art Deco.
The same principle now applies to “BioShock Infinite.”
What does this mean for you? It means a bit more waiting, but more importantly, it means an even better “BioShock Infinite.” The great can be made greater, and we owe it to both ourselves and to you, our fans, to take this opportunity. Irrational Games is one of those rare developers lucky enough to ask the people who sign the checks: “Hey, can we have a few more of those checks?”
We are also going to hold off on showing “BioShock Infinite” at the big events of the summer, like E3 and Gamescom. That way, the next time you see our game, it will be essentially the product we intend to put in the box. Preparing for these events takes time away from development, time we’re going to use instead to get the best version of Infinite into your hands in February.
Fans have been waiting for the next creation in the “BioShock” universe since “BioShock 2” was released in 2010. The new title will take players out of the underwater adventures as in the previous titles and put them in Columbia, a city in the sky, during a very tumultuous time of anarchy, strife and technological advancements.
In a December 2012 interview, Levine described how excited he was to work on this new setting.
“In all these stories, you have these incredible themes. One of great optimism and excitement for the future and one of this ominous feeling at the same time,” Levine said. “This yin and this yang that was present in all of this research really made me excited to work on this game.”
It is his attention to detail that helps him create his successful games and win over players. It now appears that he wants to refine the details on his latest creation as well.
“Disney Animal Kingdom Explorers” is a hidden objects game on Facebook that challenges players to locate different items in natural settings around the world. By discovering animals, plants and safari objects, players get points so they can purchase their own wildlife preserve and begin the process of saving animals and habitats.
Throughout the game, information bubbles tell tidbits and details about the different creatures and what makes them important in the world’s global ecosystem. Playdom, the developer of the game, worked with scientists from the Disney Animal Kingdom theme park to make sure the animals were represented as accurately as possible.
“All of our scenes, we worked really closely with Disney Animal Kingdom experts throughout every aspect of our development,” senior game designer Michael Koskak said. “All of the animal facts, all of the animal appearances, where they appear in each scene, we worked very closely to make sure that everything is accurate and factual.”
By learning about the animals in game, players who place creatures next to each other that cohabitate well together get extra points. Koskak said more locations, quests and animals will be coming in future months so gamers can continue enjoy the adventures.
Players will travel the world – from the Australian Outback to the African savannah to theArctic. Developers also included scenes from the Disney Animal Kingdom theme park as the backdrop for some of the adventures as well as scenes from the new Disney movie, “Chimpanzee.”
While the game encourages learning about the virtual ecologies, there is a real-life component to helping the planet. Disney has pledged to donate 20 cents of every install and completed tutorial (up to $250,000) to the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI). The donations support efforts to protect chimpanzee habitats, care for orphaned chimpanzees in theRepublicofCongo, and create educational programs.
Senior Producer Patrick Hsieh said the timing was right to bring the organization and the ecologically based game together.
“We just happened to come out around Earth Day. For us to work with Jane Goodall and a really respected organization, we just wanted to do something that was appealing to the people that wanted to have something to do with animals,” he said. “With our audience, we thought it would have a big draw to (JGI) as well.”
The donation campaign was originally scheduled to end on April 26, but the success has been overwhelming and Disney has decided to extend the donation time until May 3.
The iconic “Tree of Life” that sits in the center of the theme park acts as the hub for the Facebook adventures. And if you are a Disney fan, you know there are other hidden objects in the park that will be showing up in the game very soon.
“Hidden Mickeys (locations where the iconic Mickey Mouse head and ears are blended into the background) are absolutely on their way in the next couple of weeks,” Koskak said. “Really soon. We are definitely going to get hidden Mickey’s in our game.”
The game is free to play on Facebook only right now, but Hsieh said they are looking at bringing it to other platforms. There are microtransactions in the game that allow players to buy coins in the game with real-world money.
“Disney Animal Kingdom Explorers” is available now at https://www.facebook.com/disneyanimalkingdom. If you want more information about the real-life work being done by the Jane Goodall Institute, go here: http://www.janegoodall.org.