Game Reviews & News
(Codemasters for PS3, Xbox 360, PC)
Grid immersed you in a frantic, entertaining experience. You could be the driver. But you also held sway over a full racing team. And the online multiplayer options were varied and fun.
Judging from a preview disk I was given, Grid 2 – which hits stores on May 28 — is even bigger and better.
The locations span the globe. Race through Asia from Dubai to Hong Kong to Japan. It’s almost like a free (well, $60 for the game) vacation to exotic locales.
See the Arch of Triumph and the Eiffel Tower of Paris, and maybe some fireworks, too, to celebrate your race. The race course on the California coast has beautiful vistas of the ocean below. But don’t dawdle checking out the views; it’s a constantly dangerous, twisting and turning road.
To sweeten the pie, the gamemakers added vehicles from more than four decades.
You’ll drive everything from the usual (like the Ford Focus) to the Pagani Huarya, an Italian-engineered wonder, a million-dollar car with gull-wing doors and a name that means “god of the winds.” Talk about fast and furious. This 231 mph speed demon is just that.
Each car is made to handle like the real thing through technology called True Feel. Think you really know a course well? The gamemakers mix things up with another kind of technology called LiveRoutes. LiveRoutes changes the race course in real time so you’re never quite sure what’s around the next bend. And in Time Attack mode, you’ll do whatever you need to do to make the finish line before the rest.
The cars race close, almost bumper to bumper at times. Early on, as you get used to the mechanics of driving through hairpin turns, you might want to use the Flashback feature. If you’ve plowed into a mountain, this feature lets you go back in time to the moments before the crash. Once you’ve mastered driving, you probably won’t need Flashback very much.
In various real-life car races, there are winners in different categories. So who’s the best? No one knows. What if, asked the gamemakers, you could have a kind of world series of racing, a mix to see who has the stuff to battle it out to the ultimate finish line?
With the World Series of Racing, Grid 2 is full of the fantasy of united competition. And it’s quite realistic. From circuit racing to sprints to point-to-point racing, there’s a diversity here, so you won’t get bored. As you win races, you’ll get new cars.
Then there are the game’s stripped-down competitions, just two cars racing through forests or city streets. You’ll find that each club you encounter has its own personality. Some race too close. Some like to bump you. Some just want to speed ahead and stay in first place throughout the race. It’s up to you to stop them.
To create a sense of community online, competitions are held every week – with as many as 11 other racers. When you win, you’ll get more followers because your rival’s fans will go to you. And if you’re feeling particularly good about a race, you can upload your latest race video for followers to see.
Even the achievements and trophies can be ingenious. If you amass more fans than Taylor Swift has Twitter followers (over 23 million when the game had its deadline), you get the “I’ma Let You Finish” Award.
When you’re away from the game, you can look up your progress, challenges and competition with a mobile app. (This is probably for the more obsessive type of gamers.)
You never can tell about the finished product from a preview disk. Yet one thing is clear: There is bold imagination in Grid 2, and that’s always a good sign. Hopefully, the gameplay will turn out to be even better than what I’ve seen.
The last time Luigi starred in a Nintendo game was back in 2001’s Luigi’s Mansion, which was made for the ancient GameCube. Mario’s cool twin brother really deserves more starring roles. The GameCube offering was good, but the recently released Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is even better.
|LUIGI’S MANSION: DARK MOON
(Nintendo for 3DS)
Replay Value: 9.5
Overall Score: 8.9
Pros: Wonderful game design. Super-nice graphics. Varied online multiplayer rocks.
Cons: Insanely hard at times. You can’t save when you want. Story needs more depth.
LUIGI: BRAVE HERO
Why root for Luigi? He’s the underdog, and face it: Mario is a little overexposed. But the reason I liked Luigi in Dark Moon is that although he gets mocked by his mentor and he’s scared to enter each haunted mansion, he does it.
Luigi fights through his fears and eventually becomes the hero — even though he doesn’t know he’ll be a hero. That’s courage everyone can aspire to in real life.
At the beginning of this artful 3DS game, Luigi meets the wild-eyed, bespectacled Professor E. Gadd. He says that you need to find all the pieces of the Dark Moon to stop the ghosts from taking over with their mischievous haunting.
The nutty professor gives Luigi a vacuum cleaner-like device called the Poltergust 5000. This fun and upgradeable weapon sucks up almost everything in its path, including ghosts big and small.
Using the Poltergust takes some getting used to. To get a ghost, you have to aim the Poltergust at them. This isn’t that intuitive because it involved tilting the 3DS in the direction of the thing you want to eliminate.
Then you switch on a bright light to blind your enemy. You grab them and pull them toward you with the circle pad. They’ll fight like crazy, but they’ll lose steam eventually. Then capture them by pressing the A button. It takes an hour or two to get used to all this, but then you’re a pro.
As, you use the Poltergust 5000, you’ll also admire the game’s creepy graphics. Dark Moon is one great Halloween-like jaunt in 3D. Red spiders come out of vases. Bats fly into rooms through window cracks. Red-eyed mice creep along the floor. And they’ll all take a bite of your health — if you don’t suck them up first.
EVERYTHING IS GAME
While Dark Moon is one of the better 3DS games, this is not an easy game, especially if you want to find everything in a level. Really, the only way to do this is to examine everything every inch of the way. You’ll lift rugs, suck up ancient wallpaper, even gaze into mirrors to find the reflection of a gem tucked secretly in a corner of a windowsill.
The weird thing is, it doesn’t get old. The puzzles are pretty compelling: How exactly do you get inside that aquarium early on to get the goodies? Believe me, it takes some serious thinking.
The variety of ghosts is good, although some repeat as more powerful ghosts — the Greenie becomes the Strong Greenie, for instance. Watch out for the Polterpup. The nasty little dog will steal your stuff, like the valuable gold bone you found.
Sometimes you have to defeat a team of three strong ghosts to move forward. It’s hard because they spew goo that diminishes your health. Treacherous Mansion, the last level, is the most difficult. The paranormal readings there, E. Gadd tells Luigi, are going bonkers.
In certain areas of the mansions, you have to use the 3DS to balance yourself on beams. There’s too much of this. These balancing portions were the only times that I found the game to be less than fun.
But the most maddening part of this ghost-wrangling game is the lack of automatic saves during a level. Mid-level saves don’t happen automatically. And you can’t force the game to save, either. Yes, the dog bone you may have found will revive you if you die. If you haven’t found it and the ghosts get you, you have to start the level all over again. That’s a waste of time.
MULTIPLAYER AND RUSH MODES
Dark Moon also sports a challenging online multiplayer component, a feature you don’t often see in kids’ games. Check out the ScareScraper multiplayer portion after you complete mission A-4 in the game.
You can certainly take on ScareScraper alone. But it’s more fulfilling and less frustrating with some help from your pals. Up to four can ascend floor by floor in an effort to get to the top and beat the big boss called The Brain. At a whopping 300 health points, he has more health than most ghosts.
And there are other ways to play, too. Rush Mode, for instance, asks you to move through each floor before time elapses. You’ll get bonus items and upgrades, too, like Dark-Light Goggles, which let you see things that are invisible to Luigi’s naked eye.
It’s nicely made games like Dark Moon that make you happy you own a 3DS. Here’s hoping we’ll see more of Luigi as the star of the show now that his ghostly game is a real hit.
It’s like James Bond with Legos! Lego City Undercover is the first new Nintendo series in a long time. And since it’s an open-world game, you can go where you want in a city inspired by San Francisco (and later Miami and Manhattan).
|LEGO CITY UNDERCOVER
(Nintendo for Wii U)
Rated E10+ for Everyone 10 and Older
Replay Value: 9.5
Overall Score: 9.0
Pros: Open world for kids; scanner mode feels real; sometimes really funny.
Cons: Terribly long load times; needs better writing; sometimes really unfunny.
Lego City as toys started in 2005, but the series really began with Lego Land back when your dad was a kid. And the reason it’s been around so long is that it is really imaginative (like 2012’s The Mine set of toys).
This game gives you so many locations (17!), so many missions and so many different kinds of vehicles, it’s well worth the price of admission. Plus, cool cop Chase McCain can stop any kind of vehicle — cars, trucks, buses, garbage trucks — and drive it to the next mission.
There are some new twists to the Lego game formula, including a Super Build mode, in which you construct everything from cars to giant ferries. You make the first Super Build after losing your vehicle. Press the A button and — bam — a huge helicopter delivers your new police car.
Also, when you, say, leap between skyscrapers, it’s an awesome feeling. The game goes into slow motion as you fly through the air with the greatest of ease. You really will feel like you can fly.
Because the game takes place in an open world, there’s a lot to explore. Via the ferry I made with Super Build, I traveled to a prison on Albatross Island, the game’s version of Alcatraz. There’s a sandy beach below the jail, and instead of completing my mission right away, I walked around on the beach. I checked out the vista while listening to the seagulls and put together three sandcastles along the way.
It’s this close attention to detail that makes Lego City Undercover a surprisingly fulfilling experience. And the city seems really vast. From the quiet roads in the woods to the serious downtown traffic, you’ll marvel at the immense nature of a giant LEGO city.
BADDIES, VEHICLES AND COSTUMES
Throughout the course of the game, you’ll take out baddies, one by one. Depending on the angle you take, you can take them down in different ways. That’s great because you’re not seeing the same animation over and over again. If they don’t hit you first, you can get multiple points for each baddie you hit after the first one.
Also, it’s impressive that the various vehicles you ride in have different feels. It’s harder to speed up in a big truck than it is in, say, a Smart car.
As you move through the missions, you’ll get various costumes that help you move into new areas. For instance, when you’re trying to get into Rex’s lair in the prison, you’ll put on your prisoner costume to pry open vents and to crack safes.
GAMEPAD, HUMOR AND REPLAY VALUE
The GamePad becomes a scanner to find things like bricks you need for a Super Build. Aim the GamePad at the TV, and in yellow, you’ll see possible bricks on the touch screen. You have to press the A button to see if it’s really a brick. This scanner mode is a ton of fun.
The characters can be really humorous, even the minor ones. Early on, you might recognize a certain cop from the movies. When you think about it, it’s a funny, blocky version of Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood!
There are lots of funny breaks throughout. Look in the backgrounds of the movie scenes to see what’s going on, like a squirrel fishing or a prisoner being lifted high in the air with balloons. You’ll take time to dance to the music on a jukebox and, believe me, Chase has some serious moves.
And, boy, the replay value is high. There are nearly 300 characters and outfits and more than 100 vehicles to unlock. And the surprises! At one point, when you cast your line in the water, you come up with a Mario fish.
SOME GLITCHES, BUT STILL A MUST-HAVE
But there are a couple of annoying things you have to deal with when you boot up the game.
First, there are a lot of long load times. These usually appear when the game starts, and Nintendo loads a non-playable story scene. I mention it because these bumps in the game flow are really long. They take you out of what otherwise is a delightful game.
And these scenes aren’t always that funny, either (although sometimes they are). They should have spent more time on making the dialog simple and tight.
When you go back to gameplay, you naturally want to move Chase McCain, the James Bond-like hero who ultimately tracks down the evil Rex Fury, the big boss of the game. But now and then, there’s a second or two of lag time before you can move at all. Are you frozen because the Wii U isn’t powerful enough to handle a big game, or is it due to the game design?
And yet, you deal with it. Overall, you’ll have so much fun — and downright glee — with the various locales, puzzles, characters and costumes, you can pretty much forgive the glitches. Undercover really is the first must-have Nintendo game of the year.
Sly Cooper is a raccoon who’s also thief. But he’s not a bad guy — er — animal. He steals only from other thieves. In Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, which is the fourth chapter in the Sly saga, the wily mammal travels through time with a few smart pals to unravel a great mystery.
|SLY COOPER: THIEVES IN TIME
(Sony for PS3, Vita)
Rated E10+ for Everyone 10 and Older
Replay Value: 9.0
Overall Score: 7.9
Pros: Cool, beautiful graphics; lots of things to find; buy the PS3, get the Vita version free.
Cons: Long load times; writing should be funnier; design can feel uneven.
Back to help are Bentley, a bespectacled box turtle in a wheelchair, and Murray, a brawny pink hippo. Bentley’s chair moves as fast as a racecar and has rocket power. Murray is just a strong guy who can pick up barrels and throw them across the room.
If you’ve never played a Sly Cooper game before, you’ll want to do the tutorial level, which gives a lot of background on Sly and his family of thieving mammals — maybe too much background. There should be less of it, and it should be funnier.
You’re told that the rare Thievius Raccoonus book is disappearing page by page. It’s up to you and the gang to travel through the centuries to find out why and stop it.
FUN THINGS TO DO
When you get to the gaming, it can be a lot of fun. Sly uses his hook to grab onto, say, poles and climb high above the area he’s in to check out things from a bird’s-eye view. He can use a paraglider to move from area to area, too. The spying Sly has binoculars to help find highlighted areas you need to explore during missions.
Once you move closer via telephone wires or ropes, jump down to the ground and sneak up on enemies. Usually in their back pocket you’ll steal, say, pieces of armor you need to complete missions. And Sly can pickpocket pretty much every enemy to get coins and valuable items that buy upgrades stored in his hideout.
Tip: Pickpocket enemies a lot so you can get money to build up your arsenal of extras.
FUN PLACES TO GO
The first place you travel is to feudal Japan in the 1600s to free one of Sly’s long-lost ancestors. There’s a real beauty to the town you’re in: babbling brooks, rushing waterfalls, flower petals, scurrying rats, blue-gray mountains, bright lanterns and red banners. All of these set the mood well.
Along the way, you get a samurai suit, which allows you to pass enemies — giant piglike guards — unnoticed. It also prevents you from being burned by giant fire-spewing dragon heads. But you can’t jump in this heavy armor, so you’ll have to change back to Sly to leap across crevasses.
You collect many disguises in the various time periods you visit. It’s a treat to go to the Ice Age and ancient Arabia as you solve the mystery. Plus, the costumes you find help you far beyond the current level. You’ll be able to go back to areas you’ve played and get into places you couldn’t reach before to collect treasures, trophies and clue bottles. If you collect all the trophies, you’ll open a secret ending that shows Sly has traveled to — well, I won’t spoil it for you.
SOME NOT-SO-FUN DRAWBACKS
The way your abilities are first presented could be clearer. The tutorial level has you stealing a Japanese rarity from a Paris museum. But there’s a problem with figuring out the controls if you haven’t played before.
Part of this confusion has to do with Bentley telling you what to do through a scratchy sounding communication device. Sometimes it’s hard to understand what he’s saying. Of course, you can look into the Menu to find out what button does what. But that task requires you to pause and takes you away from the game.
Sadly, there’s no manual to help you. I’m really sorry to see manuals go the way of the dinosaur because I’ve often kept them open while playing a game.
BACK TO THE FUN
Then there’s cross-play. Buying the PS3 version of the game lets you play a version on the PS Vita as well. (You have to have a PlayStation Network account to download it, though.) There’s nothing like playing on the go, but because there are a lot of little things to find, Thieves in Time plays better on a big-screen TV.
Sly is based on James Bond, and like the Bond films, there are some cool pop-culture references in the game. You’ll find various Star Wars references and one to Raiders of the Lost Ark. You’ll also find homages to other Sony games, like Ratchet & Clank. In fact, if you unlock 50 masks, you’ll get a special Ratchet item to use. And there’s even a nod to John Steinbeck’s classic book “Of Mice and Men.”
This is a good and often (but not always) worthy addition to the Sly canon, especially because of the cross-play bonus. If you like Sly, you can get all three previous games on one disk. I checked and found The Sly Collection (remastered in HD) for as little as $16 online.