The first of what Nintendo says are many games featuring Luigi this year, the title for the handheld Nintendo 3DS sends Luigi on a scavenger hunt for the missing pieces of the dark moon. The moon has mystical powers that keep spirit calm and friendly.
However, when King Boo breaks the moon into pieces, it’s time for Luigi to get to work.
The parts of the moon are scattered in five different locations. Each features a unique environment with puzzles and poltergeists galore. There are also 13 gems hidden in each location and plenty of money to be found.
Mario’s younger brother uses the Poltergust, a specialized vacuum cleaner that can make quick work of any troublesome spirits. A light attachment helps stun the ghosts then they can quickly be sucked up. Think of it as the all-in-one proton pack/trapper like in “Ghostbusters.”
A dark light attachment reveals hidden items and the location of Boo, the ghost character often found in Mario games. There are many Boos to capture, one on each level, but they aren’t always obvious so search around to find them.
The dark light can also make items in paintings become real. Keys, coins and a few surprises can be found hanging on the walls of the mansions.
The vacuum also sucks up clothes, dust, mice, spiders and pretty much anything not nailed down. It also has a reverse function to blow out things as weapons against creatures you don’t want to be near.
There are plenty of throwbacks in the game. Indeed, the original “Luigi’s Mansion” was released in 2001 for the GameCube and Nintendo wanted to make a 3D version for the 3DS.
Luigi has an original DS he uses to communicate with Professor E Gadd, his partner and remote guide through the game. I really want to get that ringtone Luigi has for his DS. It is very catchy!
Other characters from the Mario games show up – some to help and some to thwart Luigi. Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of many of Nintendo’s greatest games, let slip that Toad makes an appearance or two. It makes for a very cute reunion.
Luigi remains the more timid of the brothers, but finds the inner courage to get the job done. I thought it was cute how he would hum to himself as he explored dark passages in the different areas. You can’t help but chuckle at his reactions. However, he is dedicated to the task and always faces his fears.
There is nothing really new in gameplay that hasn’t been done before. But that’s okay because “Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon” doesn’t need revamping (except for one thing, which I’ll discuss in a moment).
Having the game on the 3DS meant the action takes place on one screen while the map is on display on the other. That was very helpful and I didn’t have to pause the game and bring up a menu to figure out where I was going next.
If I have a complaint (and I do), it is the lack of checkpoints. When I’ve spent time clearing out a level only to fail at the boss battle and get sent back to the beginning, that doesn’t make it fun for me.
Yes, you can find a golden bone that will attract a ghost dog to revive you when and where you fall, but if you don’t have the bone, it is back to the beginning with you.
It is old school, but it wasn’t fun then either.
Overall, “Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon” is an enjoyable exploration game with fun characters and plenty of challenges to overcome. Luigi is laugh out loud funny at times and really lightens the gloomy mood. I just wish they would have thought about adding checkpoints because that’s really the only thing that made me put the game down.
“Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon” is available now exclusively for the Nintendo 3DS handheld system. It is rated E for Everyone due to crude humor and mild cartoon violence. This review was done with a provided retail copy of the game.
Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City fails to add to the rich franchise history with ordinary squad based gameplay and limited actual zombie threats in the story.
The latest venture into the zombie filled world by Capcom is supposed to fall in 14 years in the past between two other games, Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil: Nemesis. In this one, you play as a member of the Wolfpack squad for the Umbrella Corporation and are tasked with retrieving a virus that turns people into the undead creatures before the U.S. military can get it.
Raccoon City is the location where the zombie phenomena first occurred and has been the setting in many of the Resident Evil games. But working for the bad guys in this title was supposed to be a refreshing change from others in the series.
The action is strongly based off shooter games and feels more like a poorly lit Call of Duty than something expected from the Resident Evil franchise. Each member of the squad is specialized in a different field (stealth, explosives, recon, etc.) and you play as one of four fighting their way through Raccoon City.
Your friends can fill in the roles of the other three squad members or the game will control the others. There are ability and weapon choices at the beginning of each mission, but these are all locked down when the game starts and can be unlocked with experience points.
The weapons are typical for a shooter and your character can carry one sidearm and one long barreled weapon. Ammo and other weapons are sprinkled throughout the battleground and very rarely will you be left without bullets.
There are a couple of high powered, single-use weapons (grenade launchers, flamethrower) that can’t be replenished with additional ammo. If you use one of these, make sure you can pick up another weapon as soon as you run out of fuel or grenades.
One of the most frustrating aspects of combat is what I call magnetic cover, where you get plastered to the wall in a cover mode if you even get close. Forget about going from cover to cover. If you want to move along, you’ll have to stand up and then move to the next cover, exposing yourself to enemy fire.
The artificial intelligence is fair, but incredibly difficult to discern at times. Your squadmates will rush into a room with guns blazing when the team could have easily sneaked by. At other times, they will arbitrarily fling themselves to the ground for no apparent reason.
They are good in a fight and are very effective at taking the heat off your character. Be sure to have a medic in your squad to help heal injured party members.
Most of the opponents are not zombies. You’ll spend a lot of time battling the U.S. military in firefights that aren’t necessarily very smart either. Character models for the soldiers and the zombies are reused often. You’ll see the same zombie police officer, zombie large guy and zombie girl in short shorts over and over again.
You will kill a lot of living and non living enemies in this game. The experience points you gain can be used at the beginning of each mission to upgrade weapons or personal abilities. However, even if you don’t use any upgrades at all, you will still be able to succeed. The passive abilities that help you find items and enemies on your mini-map are probably the most useful. None of the weapon upgrades felt like they were necessary.
Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City ultimately comes off as a mundane, average shooter that abandons its heritage in the zombie/horror genre. There aren’t enough zombies, too many open-ended plot lines and way more people actually breathing than should be expected for a game from this franchise.
The ending flies in the face of the franchise’s history and leaves more questions unanswered. It feels half done with no real finale. There is the obvious promise of another sequel in the ending, but it doesn’t really deserve one.
“Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City” is currently available now in North America, Australia and Europe. It will be available in Japan on April 26. It is available for Windows PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It is M for mature due to blood and gore, intense violence, and strong language. This review was done playing the Xbox 360 version.
Kellee Santiago, Ken Levine, Paul Barrett and Mark DeLoura were part of a panel discussion at the opening of a new Smithsonian exhibit, The Art of Video Games. Each has been successful in the gaming business and has great hope for what’s to come.
Barrett, the senior creative director for BioWare-Mythic, people who are going to make games in the future are playing them right now. He describes this time in those people’s gaming lives as their Golden Age.
“What’s interesting about my Golden Age is it is where I learned my prejudices about what games I liked and I don’t like,” Barrett said. “That period defined my understanding of games so that when I had the chance to make games, those are the kinds of game I wanted to make.”
For the gamers of today, he said, “The current Golden Age is pretty bloody good.”
Others on the panel said they were also driven to create games that reflected or expressed something they wanted to share with others. For Levine, the creative director of the BioShock franchise, it is about creating worlds and telling stories that mean something in those worlds.
He related a story about the creation of BioShock where players can save or sacrifice young girls, known as Little Sisters, to gain power. In the beginning of the creative process, the little girls started out as sea slugs.
“In order for the story to be meaningful, we had to create empathy between the player and the thing they were making a decision about,” Levine said. “That took a while for that to come about. The actual choice became simple – what do you want to do with this little girl?”
Santiago and DeLoura hope future game designers go beyond what games are about today and challenge themselves and the industry about what gaming could be.
DeLoura, the vice president of technology at THQ, wants the constraints of today’s design to seem archaic to those who are just getting started and hopes for more diversity.
“The games that break down (the conventional) mentality is what does it for me,” he said. “For us pioneers up here, one of the things I would like to challenge us to do is to reach out into communities you don’t expect games to come from and really pull those out and get them shared with the broader community.”
Santiago, co-founder and president of thatgamecompany, echoed that sentiment of opening up new ideas for games of the future. She is also a partner in IndieFund, which helps independent game developers reach and maintain financial independence.
“My biggest hope is that the people who will be making games, what those people look like, completely changes,” she said. “We’re going to see new types of stories and new types of experiences. With greater technology and distribution channels, it has flipped a switch for people and they say, ‘Oh, I could do that too!’”
Levine added that with additional venues for gaming like App stores and Kickstarter, future game designers don’t have to be driven for funding to produce games anymore. He said that without that financial pressure, creativity goes up.
“Games were my companion as a kid,” Levine said. “It didn’t shut my world down. It opened my world up.”
Barrett said there is a whole new wave of people who want to make games that are fearless, expect success and have wide ranging views. He said those future designers have one goal in mind.
“They don’t want to make games that are art. They want to make games that are awesome.”
The future for gaming looks bright.
Bringing video games into an art museum would be considered an ambitious undertaking in years past, but visitors to a new Smithsonian opening of “The Art of Video Games” say it isn’t surprising at all.
The new exhibition hopes to explore 40 years of video games as art through interactive games people can actually play, pieces of gaming memorabilia and dynamic visual displays that highlight the artistic work done by developers. It is the first such exhibit to appear in a major museum and visitors of all ages on opening day were able to come away with feelings of nostalgia.
Groups of family members – parents and children, grandparents and grandkids – marveled at the exhibit and each took away something different.
“I thought it was pretty neat to watch the evolution of games,” said Kim, a mother from Columbus, Ohio. “I grew up playing Frogger on the Atari, but got away from games until my son started playing.”
“I thought it was amazing,” said Jimmy, a 21-year-old from southern Maryland. “I thought it showed the great history and beauty of video games. People will be able to come to the Smithsonian and still learn about video games and see the beauty in them.”
Jimmy’s mother, Barbara, wasn’t surprised to see video games being represented in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. While she said she doesn’t play, she has five kids who all played and see the different images reminded her of times when her children were young.
“We got our first Nintendo when (Jimmy) was 6 months old as a family gift,” she said. “The old stuff has an artistic feel to it when you look at where games are now. It brings back a lot of memories for me about when my kids were growing up.”
Some people thought recognizing video games as art was overdue. Brian, a 19-year-old from Pittsburgh who has designed some personal video games, thought “The Art of Video Games” exhibit is a good first step for the Smithsonian, but there needed to be more.
“I’m surprised it has taken 30 years for video games to be recognized,” he said. “This is a good first step and has a feeling of nostalgia. I would have like to have seen more about the pioneers of video gaming.”
His father, John, agreed and said he was a little disappointed the exhibit had such a narrow focus.
“Where are the tributes to the artists? What about the guys who have done the work?” John said. “I would have like to have seen more about the work behind the scenes.”
“The Art of Video Games” exhibition runs at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, until September 30. It then goes on a ten-city tour across the country.
Guest curator Chris Melissinos hopes visitors around the U.S. come out to see what video games are and what they have become.
“My hope is that people will leave the exhibition with an understanding that video games are so much more than what they first thought,” Melissinos said. “They may even be art.”
Just in time for E3, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and DC Entertainment announced that Catwoman will be a fully playable character in “Batman: Arkham City.”
A new trailer highlights some of the moves and abilities the feline femme fatale will be able to pull off. The Catwoman PC will have her own storyline in the main game and the adventures are woven in to the main story.
She will also be playable in the challenge maps.
The trailer also shows off a hideous Joker (it is quick, so pay attention) and Two-Face in all his split personality glory.
The follow up to the highly successful “Batman: Arkham Asylum,” “Batman: Arkham City” will be available on the Xbox 360, PC, and PlayStation 3 later in 2011.
When is the sound of a shotgun blast not just a shotgun blast? When it is paired with 14 other sounds, including a roaring lion and an object being sucked through a tube.
Sound and sound effects in video games are now just as integral a part of the overall game experience as a good soundtrack is for a motion picture. Technology changes and expectations from a more demanding consumer have raised the sophistication of how sounds are made and delivered in a game.
Whether it is a weapon blast, a fantasy creature screaming, or simple handslaps on a railing, the sound directors are searching everyone for the right mix of sound that aurally connects the player to the experience. Simply recording a gun or a footstep won’t work for an effect that could be heard dozens of times throughout a game.
Chris Sweetman, sound director for Splash Damage, said a normal sound, for example, a shotgun, doesn’t sound particularly exciting; it is just a short concussive blast. But in a video game, that shotgun could be close or far away and the sound needs to reflect that.
“You’re taking a multitude of different source elements. And some of them are not necessarily being literal,” Sweetman said. “In the case of the shotgun in ‘Brink,’ there are a lot of non-literal elements in there. There is stuff like kick drums, explosions, air pressure, loads of different elements. And what that does is give you texture.”
Gene Semel, senior manager of the sound department at Sony Computer Entertainment America, said sounds can be triggered from so many different sources in a game and it is important to provide audio depth.
“It’s not as simple as seeing a dog bark, have a dog bark anymore,” Semel said. “Sound playback in our titles has to have dynamics and variability, so that the consumer or the players can experience the soundscape in different ways.”
Both said the development in sound in video games has been driven partially by technology advancements, but also partly by gamers who want more realism from their experience. As games got better visually, the sound experience needed to keep up.
Sweetman said sound creation in games is not much different from when he started creating sound in the film industry many years ago with his father. However, he points to repetition as the biggest difference from film sounds versus game sounds.
“In a movie, you might have one sequence where Aragorn slices a Ringwraith with a sword and you have a particularly stylized sound. But because you only hear it once or twice in a film, it works,” Sweetman said. “But you can’t do that in a video game because you’ll be slicing ten Ringwraiths in a space of 30 seconds. Repetition is a big issue in video games.”
Semel, who has worked on numerous blockbuster franchises, including “God of War” and “Uncharted”, said technology advancements in the game consoles have increased expectations from the gamer. He points to the PlayStation 3 improvements including 7.1 surround sound, more memory and better data compression.
“We are also able to use filters and audio effects and run time to our advantage much more now than we have been able to in the past,” he said. “This allows us to use reverbs for each area of the game space so that all the sounds playing back in that space have the ambient reflection that you would expect in the real world. This creates a very dynamic environment that the player gets immersed into.”
Developing sounds to mimic those expected in the real world requires sampling many different sounds, then figuring out how to put them together to make them become “hyper real,” as Sweetman described it. Putting that all together and then figuring how it plays out in the game starts very early in the development stages.
“This is a blue sky kind of thing,” Sweetman said. “We could take some concept art from the game. Okay, what would this character sound like? What would its weapon sound like? What would its footprints sound like? Then block it out and work out from mixing together all these wonderful elements and figuring out how we can put this in a video game.”
As work intensive making real sounds is, creating sounds for things that never happen naturally is even more difficult. Fantasy games, like “God of War” or “Dead Space,” require sounds that must be imagined first, but also have some grounding in the real world.
“Humans want to connect to audio with what they see on screen in a subjective way. We need to reach a humanistic response from the consumer in terms of fantasy,” Semel said. “These sounds are generally gathered from Mother Nature first and then manipulated to achieve the fantasy we are aiming for.”
Sweetman and Semel agree that fantasy sounds are the hardest for their teams to develop. Both men said it is tricky to make the sound believable without making it sound like something that already exists.
“That’s why I have nothing but admiration for David Farmer who did all the creature design sounds for ‘Lord of the Rings’,” Sweetman explained. “He effectively came up with these incredibly unique creature signature sounds and I don’t really know how he did it.”
Regardless of the type of aural effect they are aiming for, sound designers want their work to flow seamlessly and in concert with the visual impact of the game. How much gets noticed by the player depends on the effect the game designers want.
Semel said if they have done their job right, the player does not notice the sound, but is immersed in the overall experience. However, Sweetman disagrees when it comes to first-person shooter games because the weapon is the lead actor.
“(The weapon) needs to have an important voice. To me, in that case, it is one of the most important parts of the sonic landscape. It is your interaction with the world.”
Indeed, interacting or grounding the game character in the world with sound is vital in some types of games, according to Sweetman. While working on the “Burnout” franchise at Criterion Games, he said one of the most important noises in the game was tire noise.
“Tire noise is your connection, your car’s connection to the virtual world. Otherwise, it is just a virtual car traveling over an undulating landscape. But you put tire noise in and it gets grounded.”
It is the small noises like tire noise that, when missing, become most noticeable. But add them in and it gives flavor to any scene.
“We spent two days at Shepardson Studios just outside London just to do footsteps (for ‘Brink’). On top of that, we have all the mantling sounds, all the hand claps as you are jumping over stuff, as you’re mantling over metal containers and sliding along different surfaces,” Sweetman explained. “Every weapon has its own unique sound when it is effectively being used, when it’s being fired, when it is being holstered, when it is being walked with or when it is being run with.”
In gaming, the right sound effect can make or break the experience. Semel and Sweetman know as games become more sophisticated and more realistic, the expectations on the sound design team gets larger.
Neither would say if game designers or gamers are more critical in their demands, but both agree that the consumer is the ultimate judge on if they have done their sound jobs well.
Sweetman said, “The player needs to have this empowerment, a sense of size, a sense of scale and a sense of power. We need to be able to give it to them.”
586; 2,850; 789,349; 5,400.
Those are all world records numbers. But they aren’t weights, distances or speeds. They are world records for gaming.
“Guinness World Records 2011 Gamer’s Edition” highlights the numbers, players and games that people played the longest, scored the highest or collected the most. It is the fourth edition dedicated to gamers and gaming produced by the group who has been tracking world records since 1955.
This year, the book highlights the idea that all ages are gaming. Ryota Wada, a 9-year old from Tokyo, Japan, set the record for being the youngest person to reach a perfect score on the expert level of “Dance Dance Revolution.”
On the other end of the age spectrum, John Bates, an 85-year old from Onalaska, Wisconsin, scored 2,850 perfect games in Wii Sports Bowling. Bates got his Wii in 2008 and kept logs of his bowling efforts.
“I didn’t get my first perfect game until 2009 and I did that left-handed (Bates is normally right-handed).”
He does have a special technique he uses, which others have tried to emulate with little success.
“I use both hands on the remote, move the cursor to the outside of the lane, then aim for the 1,3 pocket,” Bates explained. “I watch my breathing and throw the ball for a perfect strike.”
While his method was very successful for 34,200 strikes in 2,850 perfect games, he also bowled just over 1,000 non-perfect games. Bates said he figured he averaged about 6 strikes per game during those 1,000 plus games.
Sometimes, records fall from sheer determination to prove someone else wrong. Not wanting to be outdone by her male counterparts, Annie Leung from San Francisco, California, decided to rock out harder on “Guitar Hero 3” than anyone else.
While she wasn’t able to break the overall record (985,206 by Danny Johnson in 2009), she was able to set a new record for highest score by a female gamer when she amassed 789,349 points while jamming to “Through the Fire and Flames” on the expert setting.
“I chose ‘Through the Fire and Flames’ because it is one of the most difficult and lengthy songs of the ‘Guitar Hero’ games,” Leung said. “Not only would it be difficult for others to beat but it would also showcase my skills.”
Leung honed her skills for three years, playing in tournaments and practicing for hours. She said when she decided to attempt the record, she hadn’t played that song in more than 2 years.
“I remember spending 7 to 9 hours the first week getting back into the game and also having very sore wrists and fingers,” she said. “After that, I practiced less, about 3-4 hours couple times a week. It took me about two months to set my current record.”
“This record is like the icing on my cake of accomplishments. It solidifies my skills and status as the best female Guitar Hero player in the world.”
Not all records take skill with a controller to achieve gaming immortality. It just takes the will to have it all.
Mitsugu Kikai, a 25-year old from Tokyo, Japan, was born the same year that the first “Super Mario Bros.” game was introduced to the world. Whether it was fate or karma, Kikai began collecting Super Mario memorabilia when he was a boy and has amassed 5,400 individual items from the Mario world.
“The first thing my parents bought me was a Mario bowl for rice, but as I was very little then, I don’t remember about it,” Kikai said. “I never tried to become a number one collector, but as I loved Mario since I was little, the collection gradually grew. I believe you can find more Mario items than anywhere else in the world.”
“I live in two bed room apartment in Tokyo and I dedicate one room entirely for the collection and use the other room for living. I also have many items left in my parents’ house.”
“Guinness World Records 2011 Gamer’s Edition” also includes more than just numbers and stories. They have the top 10 games of 2010, the top 50 characters of all time and lists of old game titles with scores ready to be undone by someone with a Sega Genesis or Intellivision console waiting to be played.
And the records keep on falling.
In January, 2011, a brand new game established a whopping seven records recognized by the Guinness World Records representatives, including the record for most user-generated video game levels played in a marathon (586 levels).
Three dedicated players and a cast of many sitting in the fourth chair spent 51 hours (also a record) playing the new release, “LittleBigPlanet 2”. During their marathon session, the team also established records for longest marathon playing a platform video game (51 hours), most video game genres played in one video game in 24 hours (38 genres), and most user-generated video game levels played in 24 hours (272 levels).
David Dino was one of the hardcore 3 that stuck it out for nearly the entire 51 hours.
“We (Dino, Sean Crowley and Lauren Guiliano) were able to earn 10 minute breaks for each hour played,” Dino said. “But I think we only used cumulatively about an hour, 20 minutes for time we played.”
He said the mental aspects of setting the record were toughest. After a while, the physical abilities started to fade as well.
“Our reflexes got slower. It got harder to play easier levels,” he said. “We started looking for fun, party stuff to play.”
After all the playing was done, Guinness also recognized the game itself for two records; most gaming genres in one game and most player-created levels in one game.
But will those recently achieved records stand the test of time? Indeed, will they even make it into the Guinness World Record Gamer’s Edition book for next year?
That all depends on how dedicated a gamer you are. Good luck.
“Civilization V” (Firaxis Games/2K Games) is a turn-based, strategy computer game where players attempt to conquer the world by means of force, politics or cultural influences. It is the latest in a long line of games and expansion packs in the series that began in 1991.
CNN was provided a preview copy of the game that still had some bugs in the works. While we tested it, changes were made to correct some issues that cropped up. This version also did not offer any multiplayer action or modding, where players can make changes or create scenarios.
After loading a breathtakingly rendered 2 minute cinematic to introduce the game and getting through the start menu, the game hits you with its first major change – hexes. Instead of the familiar square grid, the maps and movement are done along a hex grid, offering greater flexibility of movement and a more realistically looking map.
Combat units are very familiar with only changes made to units unique to each culture. During battles, only one combat unit is allowed per hex – no more stacking of forces to overrun an opponent.
This definitely changes the strategy on how conflicts are carried out and won. Ranged units, like archers and catapults, can fire from a distance so combat becomes a softening up process with arrows before sending in the ground troops with the killing blow.
Battles are also more protracted. Units have hit points, a way to measure how much life is left, and not all hit points are immediately eliminated in one battle. This allows wounded units the ability to withdraw and fight another day.
Resources are in abundance and you’ll need all you can find. Items like iron and horses will help arm your military while gems, marble and incense please your population and inspire them to work more efficiently.
City expansion in the game is more measured now and takes more time to do properly. Expand too fast and the people become unhappy. Not fast enough and your supply of food and gold will be quickly sucked up. Also, expansion takes place more realistically as resources hexes are quickly swallowed by a city’s border before empty grassland hexes.
Gold, in particular, is vitally important to just about every aspect of the game. You can purchase land to expand your empire, buy military units for a sudden offensive rush, or obtain new buildings without spending the time to build them. It can also be used to sway other leaders and city-states – independent civilizations that do not expand, but can be conquered or parlayed with.
More options about your civilization’s cultural effects allow for greater flexibility and more bonuses as the player continues to increase his influence. New, more powerful bonuses are also available for those who strive to win with a cultural victory.
There are still some game play issues that need to be addressed, but the team at Firaxis has some time. They are still working on the tech tree and dealing with some movement glitches that keep the game balance on an even keel.
Striving to build of a thriving populous while dealing with up to 12 other civilization and 24 city-states that can appear on a single map will hook players into “Civ V” to find the best way to take over the world. The early changes shown mean many gamers will be up late at night to play “one more turn.”
“Civilization V” is due out in North America on September 21 for PCs only. It will be available in Europe three days later.
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