Archive for November, 2012


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Wii U Impressions and Secrets

Friday, November 30th, 2012

wii-U-sagi

Well, it's been almost a full two weeks since the Wii U came out and we've poured tons of time into playing around with many of the Wii U's system features and launch games.  It's been a surprisingly great time overall, so check out our initial impressions and some secrets about the Wii U we discovered along the way after the jump.

System Impressions:

  • Wii U set-up in general is very smooth and quick with instructions appearing on the TV and most of the actions taking place on the GamePad.  The universal remote feature in particular was as easy as selecting "LG" for us and we were good to go.
  • The first update that adds Miiverse among other things takes about an hour to download and install even if your Internet connection is really fast.  This is unfortunate, but not really world-ending.
  • Each game you go to play for the first time will also have an update to download and these usually take an average of about 10 minutes or slightly more to download and install.
  • Miiverse is overall one of the very best things about the Wii U, but is restrictive in a way reminiscent of fascist Germany or the world in George Orwell's 1984.  Big Brother is always watching you on Miiverse, and you'll be surprised with what you can and cannot post.  
  • I got into trouble no less than three times with Miiverse's moderators: twice for putting GameUsagi.com in my profile in different ways and once for my Mii's name MrMiyamoto (which they eventually relented on and let me keep).  When your Mii's name is under review it shows up as a bunch of asterisks (*******) in Miiverse.
  • The screenshot uploading functionality, spoiler marking, and ease of access from the Home menu make Miiverse a truly revolutionary video game community.  I got stuck in Scribblenauts Unlimited a few times and was always able to get answers to my queries on Miiverse in the matter of a couple minutes. 
  • Friend-adding is already far superior to previous Nintendo systems, but still has a little way to go before it's perfect.  To add a friend, you can go into the Friend List app from the Home menu and enter their NNID, but it doesn't inform them in this way that you added them.  People you add only receive friend requests if they're added through Miiverse instead of through the Friend List app.  This disparity is confusing and unnecessary, so I hope it gets patched fairly soon.
  • Even though I've played many different kinds of games on the Wii U, I was surprised that by and large you use either the GamePad screen or the TV, almost never both of them together (even in Nintendo Land).
  • The Wii U Internet browser, aside from no longer supporting flash and some very poor data management decisions that I discuss below, is a definite winner.  Websites (including Game Usagi) all load very quickly, look just as good as they would on a computer, and are easily navigated and used.  Easily beating out the PS3 browser and IE on the Xbox 360, if you're looking for a robust Internet solution for your TV (or on the GamePad) look no further than the Wii U.

Software Impressions:

  • Nintendo Land makes a good case for "asymmetric multiplayer" wherein the person with the GamePad is given a different role than those using Wii remotes or Pro controllers.  While it doesn't feel amazingly revolutionary, passing around the GamePad so that everyone can have a turn being the special character works quite naturally and is much more fun than inconvenient.
  • A downside to having Miis representing actual people roaming around your Nintendo Land plaza is that they share messages from other players, which all too often regard large wangs, and unlike the sometimes stifling moderation on Miiverse, there is no way to report Nintendo Land messages.
  • The selection of games and the number of levels therein in Nintendo Land is quite impressive when compared to games like Wii Sports and Wii Play
  • Black Ops 2 performs admirably on the Wii U in both single player and multiplayer.  Where the game really shines on the Wii U, aside from the free quality online matchmaking (which is just a little short on players at the moment), is the ability to take the GamePad around in a 20-30(-ish) foot radius so that you don't need to skip out on a few more multiplayer matches if you have to do something like go to the bathroom or go to bed.  The lack of clan management through CoD Elite as well as the Nuketown 2025 map and Double XP promotions are major annoyances, but the game still stands on its own without them.
  • Black Ops 2 is also where the Pro Controller really shines.  After only a day or two of getting used to the controller, I now prefer it for FPS' over the 360 controller (*gasp* I know! It's crazy!).  The Pro controller is really comfortable and quickly becomes second nature for any core players.
  • ZombiU is dastardly difficult.  Difficult to the point that I stopped playing it.  I can understand how some people would like it, but for me it felt really clunky having to keep looking down at the GamePad when I was searching bodies or trying to fast travel.  Time doesn't stop while you're doing these time-consuming things, either.  My first attempt at fast travelling resulted in my first demise as I couldn't figure out the fast travel menu fast enough at first glance.  If this sounds like heaven to you and you're a masochistic gamer, then have at it, but I prefer immersion to forced unnecessary difficulties. 
  • Scribblenauts Unlimited is charming and fun as always.  The content level is indeed quite on the low side for a game that costs $60, especially when the exact same game (without the very limited Nintendo characters) can be had on the PC for $30 or without the confusing and hard-to-use item/character creation feature for the 3DS for $40.
  • The Nintendo characters in Scribblenauts Unlimited are neat, but they can't really be used to solve puzzles and you can't do anything fun with them like dress them up or use them in the item creator, which is an enormous bummer.
  • While quite fun, the Scribblenauts Unlimited multiplayer is difficult to use and too restricted to be amazing.  Players with Wii remotes can take control of virtually any item spawned by the player with the GamePad, but when you're controlling them you have to go through menus to interact with anything and since you can't spawn anything yourself or usually help too much in the main starite missions, it becomes a drag pretty quickly.
  • Assassin's Creed 3 I actually haven't played much yet even though we have it.  It looks great from what I've played, but I'm still not sure yet how indispensable or not the GamePad features will be. 
  • There is a uPlay app available where you can manage your u point things that you earn in AC3/ZombiU and this fortunately works pretty well and is a nice feature overall. 
  • The Youtube Wii U app is unfortunately garbage right now.  The Youtube website runs beautifully in the Wii U Internet browser, though, so this isn't that big of a deal.  But since you can't navigate the app or watch the actual videos on the GamePad it's more or less useless until this gets patched in. 

Secrets:

  • If you press X to switch WaraWara Plaza to the GamePad, you can use ZL and ZR to spin the game icons around freaking all of the Miis out.  Also, if you pan to the top of WaraWara Plaza, you can see some of the icons that float around behind the channel menu floating above the Miis.
  • The Miis in WaraWara Plaza express the emotion chosen alongside the message in Miiverse when they talk.
  • The GamePad accepts many headphones that include microphones as headsets including the headphones that come with iPhones and iPods.  Rocketfish does make official Wii U headsets as well, though.
  • In channel loading screens there is a rounded  border near the top of the TV screen and near the bottom of the GamePad screen making it like they're one big screen.
  • In many menus, the sounds and music coming from the GamePad are different than those coming from the TV giving the music a funky surround sound effect if you have them both on at once.
  • The GamePad can be used as a TV remote without turning the Wii U on, just press the TV button and you can use the controls like normal.
  • The Pro Controller connection is handled by the Wii Remote/Other controller menu on the Wii U even though it can't be used in Wii emulation mode.
  • Don't plan on viewing any porn or other sensitive sites through the Wii U's Internet browser unless you want everybody using the console to know, or don't plan on keeping any bookmarks.  While there is a separate clear cookies option, clearing your history can only be done by completely deleting the browser's save data including settings and bookmarks.  This is particularly unusual because the 3DS (and I believe even the Wii) browser has a regular clear history option just like every other decent browser for the past 10 years.

That's a summary of what we think about the Wii U and some of its launch games overall.  Did we miss touching on something you want to know about?  Ask us in the comments section and we'll do our best to answer all of your burning Wii U inquiries.

The Last Of Us (PS3) Preview

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

When did the end of the world ever look so beautiful? Immerse yourself in a gripping post-apocalyptic world in this PS3 exclusive title from Naughty Dog entitled The Last of Us. Throughout the game you travel to abandoned places reclaimed by the power of nature and survive not only monsters but all the dangers that roam in these cities.

Twenty years after a fungus was set loose to infect and kill people turning them into what are called "The Infected", the military is under control of the government and is keeping everyone quarantined. Resources are scarce, so the survivors must scour the quarantine zones for ammunition to protect themselves from each other.

In The Last of Us you play as Joel, a black market dealer selling weapons and drugs and you work with a smart young girl named Ellie to survive everything the world throws at you including the Scavengers, the Infected, and the Military.

The gameplay and environments are as realistic as is gets. Bullets can fatally wound enemies, easily making them bleed out and thereby killing them with a single shot. Take extra precaution, though, as automatic health regeneration isn’t featured in the game. You have to find health packs to heal yourself, but getting them may alarm your enemies. Creative use of items like Molotov Cocktails is necessary if you want to survive. When The Last of Us comes out next year, be ready to carefully plan your move in your fight for survival.

[cp_youtube id="ShP5xn9Tz90" points="10" width=660]

David Thompson is a fresh and upcoming technology and entertainment blogger who enjoys the challenges of creativity and attention to detail. His specific areas of interest include film, gaming and the mobile industry.

Halo 4 (Xbox 360)

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Developer: 343 Industries
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Genre: Sci-Fi FPS
Players: 1-2 for campaign, 2-4 for single-console multiplayer, 2-16 online
Console: Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
Hours Played: 6 hours 47 minutes in campaign, 14+ hours in multiplayer
Progress: Completed the campaign doing the first 3 chapters in Heroic and the last few in Normal. Reached SR 19 in online multiplayer.  Played a good deal of local multiplayer including a lot of Grifball.

The reins for the famous Halo series were handed over to 343 Industries from Bungie after their polarizing release of Halo Reach in 2010.  The release of 343's first main series Halo game was met with considerable hesitation from the gaming community, which is understandable considering how this is one of the first AAA game series to completely and permanently switch development studios in modern gaming history.  Some people were worried that 343 might tarnish their beloved series falling short of Bungie's original magic, while others were hopeful that the switch might cure the Halo series of the stagnation it was experiencing in the hands of its creators.  Is Halo 4 a step in the right direction for Microsoft's flagship game series, or does it fall short of the glory of the series' earlier entries? Perhaps we should just lose faith in the series and start a poker binge on partycasino.com, or whatever it is us gamers do in our spare time instead.  Read on to see what we thought of our latest jaunt with The Chief. 

  • Halo 4 picks up right where Halo 3 left off as far as Master Chief is concerned, but there is technically a 4-year time jump.
  • To avoid spoilers, the story is in short that the human race is now fighting back against the universe that's been pushing it around for the past few games and The Chief is helping them out while also dealing with issues with Cortana and some shiny new enemies known as Prometheans and their puppet-master(s).
  • The main campaign follows Master Chief's exploits specifically while the story in the Spartan Ops mode that replaces Firefight follows the stories of the other Spartans serving on an enormous human warship called the UNSC Infinity.

  • Halo 4's gameplay in campaign mode is more or less standard as far as the Halo series is concerned, and the most comparable to Halo Reach as manually employable special abilities like cloaking and jet packs make their return.
  • Sprinting also returns in full glory, but this time instead of taking up the special ability slot, you can do it just by clicking down the left stick like in most other shooters these days.
  • A very limited Covenant faction appears in the game (without Brutes), so all of the Brute weaponry introduced in previous games like the Brute Shot and Spike Grenades are instead replaced by glowing orange Promethean weapons that more or less function quite similarly to both their Covenant and Human counterparts except for the fact that they can make enemies melt into ash.
  • The campaign is quite short, but it takes you from amazing set piece to amazing set piece constantly introducing new enemies, vehicles, weapons, abilities or some combination of them.  So, in spite of the length, Halo 4's campaign stands out as one of the series' strongest.
  • When playing on Heroic or Legendary difficulties, enemies (including Grunts) become significantly more resilient than usual, even when compared to previous games' legendary modes.  You don't have to worry about 343 skimping on the difficulty in higher levels. I ended up having to bump myself back down to Normal for my initial playthrough because I was getting so frustrated.
  • While it's nice that there is the option to play the game at considerable difficulties, the difficulty of even minor firefights against the lowest-level enemies feels more like a ploy to prolong the single player experience in the stead of additional story development or content.
  • There is a large Metroid Prime feel during the jungle-based missions, not only with the Promethean Knights' similarity to Space Pirates, but particularly with the Metroid and Batman Arkham inspired Promethan Vision ability that highlights enemies through objects in red.  I wish they had gone even further with this ambient feel, but that would have cut down on the explosions per second.

  • Unfortunately the multiplayer aspects of Halo 4 for are a little bleaker.
  • Regular Slayer, now called Infinity Slayer, maintains most of the mechanics from its previous incarnations with the notable exception that there are a lot fewer weapons to pick up around the maps.  This being almost the entire point of playing Slayer, I found this change extremely disappointing and the extra ways to obtain special weapons that they've added only serve to mess with the balance more instead of less.
  • One of the things that counteract the lack of general weapons lying about are Ordnance Drops that act similarly to care packages in recent Call of Duty games (but arrive a good bit faster once called) that allow you to choose from three random weapons (like a sniper, gravity hammer, or a new tommy-gun weapon to name a few) or temporary upgrades (like unlimited sprinting, increased weapon damage, or an overshield). 
  • Ordnance Drops are earned more or less through kills or other point-getting activities like capturing flags or holding the ball in Oddball.  Instead of making special weapons more rare, all this serves to do is put them into the hands of any players that are already beating the pants off of everyone and I'd rather let everybody have a fair chance at grabbing an energy sword or spartan laser than giving them by the bucketfull to the leaders. 
  • The other thing that tries to counteract the general lack of weapons laying about is that any weapons that are laying about have their locations permanently highlighted on the screen so that every player knows that they are available and where to get them.  Again, this often serves to hinder more than it helps, because inevitably there are a lot of plasma grenade or other lesser items scattered about the map that no one wants to bother to pick up and it starts to significantly clutter the screen with arrows and icons pointing them out whenever you glance in their general direction.
  • I'm not sure why 343 decided to mess with the primary weapon spawning mechanic of Halo to this degree and I'm hoping that they eventually patch in a mode called "Classic Slayer" or something similar where there are just more weapons around to pick up and you don't have to worry about the leaders receiving constant ordnance drops or having your screen filled with things telling you that you can pick up another pistol nearby.
  • The amount of players that can play any given multiplayer mode is unfortunately quite random.  Only up to two local players can play the Campaign or Spartan Ops modes, and up to four local players can play any of the other modes in the War Games category (Slayer, King of the Hill, etc.).  For online War Games matchmaking, you can even take up to four players per console online.
  • One of the best matchmaking modes is called Flood and works more or less in the same way as Juggernaut mode from Modern Warfare 3.  Two players start off as flood with a weapon equivalent to an energy sword, extra movement speed, and a choice of a couple helpful special abilities and try to infect the rest of the players (who are armed with shotguns), converting them into flood when they're killed.  The mode is score-based, though, so the players that perform the best overall win instead of just the flood/spartan teams.  (This was the best when we were playing only against MLG players, because it allowed us to be on their team for a while instead of being killed instantly by them all the time.)
  • Grifball is now an official mode from the get-go, but still can't be played in ranked online matches, only in custom matches.  There is also only one Grifball court thus far; it would be neat to see additional ones introduced in the future.
  • I only played the first Spartan Ops mission, and I played it alone, but it seems like a really nice replacement for the Firefight mode in previous Halo games, if only you could play it with more than two people locally.  It's story-driven, so you get to see a lot of pretty cutscenes in between fighting waves of enemies on decently large original maps.  You can also earn experience that goes toward your SR level by playing this mode, which is nice.

  • Perhaps the first Halo since Halo 2 that I can call genuinely graphically impressive
  • Art direction has been changed slightly from the last couple of Halos, and the change is welcome.  Not entirely as refreshing as it was in Halo 3: ODST, but again heading in the right direction
  • I know they worked really hard on the particle effects for the Promethean weapons, but I've seen people explode in many similarly pretty ways in many games, so it didn't move me as much as 343 probably wishes it did.
  • The one bad thing about the game's graphics is how much better they are in the pre-rendered cutscenes than in the game-proper.  Since they have the same kind of art direction, I was immediately disappointed with the in-game graphics having watched the lengthy pre-rendered opening cinematic, but soon enough grew to appreciate the in-game graphics more as the game progressed.  I believe most of the in-game cinematics use the in-game engine, but the beginning and ending ones kind of clash with the game, even though they look quite nice.
  • The in-game mouth movements for characters are much more believable than the ones in the pre-rendered cutscenes, though, all too often dropping the characters right to the bottom of the uncanny valley, which shouldn't really occur in this day and age.

  • The soundtrack for the game ranges from nice and unobtrusively mood setting to full-out sweeping Star Wars-like scoring.  I definitely preferred it when it was less noticeable, though, because I felt that the booming 90-piece orchestra in certain parts made it feel more like a detached movie than the rest of the game.
  • Sound effects are pretty standard throughout, but the voices of the Covenant enemies have changed a bit, most noticeably with the Grunts.  It's neither here nor there, really, but the sound effects are fine overall.

  • Main-line Halo games are usually good for Usagi Factor, and Halo 4 is no exception.
  • The many ranked multiplayer modes are where the heart of the experience ends up, even considering the game's decent campaign.  Once you're done starting the fight back up again, there are plenty of ways for you to have fun shooting at other Halo players across the world.
  • An expanded Forge mode, now so daunting that I didn't even look into it too much, will bring immense amounts of fun to the creative types looking to build their own maps and game modes.
  • Spartan Ops co-op mission-based story mode (promising more than 50 segments when its done) is an Usagi Factor goldmine encouraging you to keep playing as new parts are added every week to expand the story.
  • Achievements for completing the game at Heroic and Legendary levels will keep achievement enthusiasts like myself coming back for more punishment as we vie to have those extra few numbers added to our gamerscore.
  • There are also achievements for doing certain cool things in most levels, like there have been in previous Halo games, so that gives the player even more of a reason to go back and replay the admittedly few campaign levels.

Even though we only had other games journalists and MLG players to play against before the game officially launched, Halo 4 emerged from our play-testing as a surprisingly competent entry in the Halo series. The campaign, while nearly criminally short, is taut, engaging, and as challenging as you'd like it to be depending upon your difficulty settings.  The ranked multiplayer takes a few sharp left turns from convention, as is worse for them, but maintains much of the Halo charm that has been so carefully crafted and polished over the years.  There are many, many game modes allowing you to play around in virtually any way you want: creating levels, competing against the top Halo gamers in the world, working together through multiple campaigns, or just killing/maiming/destroying Grif.  343 Industries stepped up to the Halo plate and while they didn't hit an absolute home run with their first entry, they definitely took a base or two and it's a very encouraging sign for the series' future.

 Rated 8.8

 

A review copy of this game was provided to us by its publisher.

WordTag (iOS)

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Genre: Social Word Game
Players: 2 online
Progress: Reached level 13

Social games and word games on iOS are a dime a dozen. Social word games? Maybe a dime per a dozen and a half. Juxta Labs' WordTag is one of the more recent entries into the social word game fray and promises to be like the popular app Draw Something except with words instead of pictures.  Does it do enough to differentiate itself from the crowd or does it fall by the wayside as so many other apps often do? Read on to see what we think about WordTag.

I was pretty interested when I first read about WordTag because I fancy myself to be pretty good with words.  Better at least than I am with my constantly embarrassingly bad drawing in games like Draw Something.  So, I took it for a test drive over the last week or so and had quite a good time.

The basic idea of WordTag is that you are given a choice of three words of certain coin value and you try to describe them without using a certain set of words that would help you the most.  For example, you could try to get your partner to guess the word hot-tub without using the words relax, warm, water, steam, bath or soak (or words that incorporate them like "bathe").  And end up with something like "a large indoor or outdoor basin filled with more than tepid liquid that people sit in for recreational purposes".  In this sense, it's very much like Draw Something, but it engages a different type of creativity that I am more attuned to, so I'd have to say I generally had a better time than with its spiritual predecessor.

Draw Something, a media darling not more than a couple of months ago, has largely petered out (much to Zynga's chagrin) as new and better things have come along and one of the apps stepping up to fill its space in our social phone lives is WordTag.  It's hard to say exactly what it was that made Draw Something become so tiresome after a few weeks, but Juxta Labs has at least taken some measures to attempt to prevent the same thing happening to WordTag.

For your $1.99 you get a handful of each item that helps you both guess and give clues to words such as one that will reveal all of the vowels or the first/last letter in the word you are guessing or one that can unlock one of the restricted words to either assist in your guessing or make writing your description a lot easier.  What I didn't appreciate, though, was the ever-present microtransactions that bare their ugly faces far too often in premium games these days.  Since you only start off with a few of these items, you burn through them quickly and are soon more or less required to purchase additional in-game currency (aside from the pittance you make from correctly guessing words) to obtain more of these items if you happen to require any extra assistance while playing.

Some of the other extra things that Juxta Labs incorporated into the game include badges you can earn (but apparently not show off to people you don't know) for selecting words from certain sets and increased coin payouts when you get on significant sized runs of correct guesses.  The things that prevent these elements from truly making WordTag a AAA iOS game, though, basically come down to poor execution: there's a "SV Bloggers" badge for getting people to guess the last names of famous bloggers, none of whom I've ever even remotely heard of, many of the badges require you to correctly use 20+ specific words that can only be unlocked for play by using another quickly spent item and are therefore impossible to get through regular play, I couldn't tell if others (even Facebook friends) could see your profile with the badges you've earned, and by default if you use Facebook to sign into WordTag it spams your feed with every word you describe and guess without telling you openly or giving you the option to disable it.

While I do have a good number of complaints with how it operates in its current version, the app overall is fairly slick and works well in most circumstances.  I had a lot of fun "using my words" to describe things in a roundabout way.  If you have $2 kicking around, you could certainly do worse than WordTag, and if you have a lot of Facebook friends that are good with words, there's a decent degree of entertainment to be had describing, guessing and earning coins.

  • A lot like Draw Something, but with a restricted word set instead of drawing
  • Has many additional bells and whistles including achievable badges and items to assist in play
  • Good presentation and generally functional app overall
  • Has fairly prevalent microtransactions even though it costs $1.99
  • Many of the badges are near impossible to earn and can't really be shown off

 

Rated 7.0

A review copy of this game was provided to us by its publisher.

Virtue’s Last Reward Typo

Monday, November 5th, 2012

It's nothing huge, but we found an in-game typo in Virtue's Last Reward today.  Since it's a really story-driven game, it's just a little funny that such a thing got through several layers of quality control.  It will be interesting to see if Aksys thinks this is a serious enough thing to release a patch for, or if it magically becomes fixed in later printings of the game.

(See an image of the typo after the jump if you can handle minor spoilers)

Remember: there was only one chocie!

Pokémon Black/White Version 2 (Nintendo DS)

Saturday, November 3rd, 2012

Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo & The Pokémon Company
Genre: Handheld RPG
Players: 1 (2 online)
Console: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)
Hours Played: Approximately lots
Progress: Beat the Elite Four, putted around a bit afterwards.

Hello Carl. I, too, am Carl. And this is my son: Carl Jr. We are all Carls. Neat. Yes, neat. With that said, I am here to talk to you about my experience playing the copy of Pokémon White 2 which Nintendo was kind enough to send our way a week early.  Over the course of my playthrough, I found what we all should expect to find: this game is a Pokémon game.  No groundbreaking surprises or changes to be found. It is certainly an improvement over the original White, but... it's Pokémon. I'll go over whatever might deserve a mention, and I'll try to keep in mind a hypothetical human who has never played Pokémon and has some hypothetical reason to finally consider doing so.

I should also warn that many of the points I make will apply to both Pokémon White (& Black) Version 2 and Pokémon White (& Black) and even sometimes to every Pokémon game since the very beginning. It is not only because is it a bit difficult to extract Pokémon White Version 2 and look at it by its absolute self, but many of the problems with Pokémon White Version 2 are based in the fact that it is a part of a never-ending, never-changing series of games.

This is for the newbies. Same old Pokémon deal, with a marginally different story, which no one really cares about.

  • You are a kid.
  • A Professor of Pokémology contacts you and says "Take one of these three Pokémon as a partner, run away from home and horde a bunch more Pokémon."
  • You fight your Pokémon against not only other trainers' Pokémon, but also Pokémon found in the wild. In this way you can make your Pokémon stronger.
  • Only the wild Pokémon you battle can be added to your collection (for the most part).
  • There are 8 facilities called Pokémon Gyms where certified Gym Leaders offer battles in order to be defeated and give you a Badge.
  • After you collect all 8 Badges, you can challenge the Elite Four and Pokémon Champion in order to become the new Pokémon Champion.
  • A criminal organization called (in this case) Team Plasma is up to no good and as you traverse the region, you will stop them many times.
  • You also have a friend whom you team up with or battle against frequently.
  • This is how it has been in every Pokémon game ever.

The majority of interesting information will be found here. Almost every other category is virtually unchanged from previous games.

  • New to the Pokémon series with Black 2 and White 2 is a pocket in your backpack called Free Space. This is obviously a minor gameplay element, but goodness me do I like it a lot. And here's a tip: your first instinct is to put all the items you often use, like Potions, your Town Map and your Bicycle in this pocket. But I have found it far better to put everything you hate in this pocket. That leaves the rest of the pockets full of only the items you actually care about and they're all correctly split up into categories like TMs and Medicine and Key Items. 
  • Perhaps the best addition to BW2 is the set of simple but numerous Achievements, which Game Freak has called Medals. Everybody loves Achievements and it's cool to see Pokémon joining the club. The Medals occasionally come into play in the game, for example you might find a guy who will only give you a good item if you've earned enough Medals. I think there are also some direct rewards for earning specific Medals, like having caught 'em all.
  • Game Freak seems to have taken a step in the right direction with these two games in that ever since the second wave of Pokémon games, there have been more and more (and more...) Pokémon species for the player to capture and use. The more the merrier, as the more Pokémon there are that exist, the more unique everyone's team of 6 will feel to them and to their friends and opponents. But Game Freak in every game for years has drastically restricted the number of Pokémon that are available to the player on their way through the story. First it was 149/151, but that makes sense. Then it was about 232/251: not bad. Then about 200/386... What..? Then 150/493, what are you doing? In Black and White "1", they restricted access to every Pokémon which was not brand new until the player completed the story. This allowed for the capture of 152 Pokémon out of the entire cast of 646. Disgusting. But Black and White 2 was much better. You can capture approximately 300 of the 649 Pokémon on your way through the cities and Gyms to the Elite Four. Not only is that the biggest number yet, but also the best ratio for a while. I was pleased, though they really should bring that beginning rate up to something more like 90%, instead of less than 50%.
  • A new form of side-battling for rewards, but not for Experience is the Pokémon World Tournament, or PWT. There are a few tournaments available from the start, but Game Freak plans to provide downloads over WiFi of more and more tournaments as the months go on. In these tournaments, which are replayable indefinitely I believe, you get a chance to battle against old familiar trainers, like Gym leaders from previous regions, in varying types of battles, often Singles or Doubles. From what I understand they will also provide tournaments wherein the trainers you face are replicas of some real life tournament victors. So if you go and win an event tournament, Game Freak may actually immortalize you as a download for everyone in the world to be able to battle, albeit controlled by AI. That's cool as hell.
  • One other new form of no-Experience battling takes place in Pokéwood Studios. As the name suggests, you can take part in the filming of movies for the Pokémon world to enjoy. There are a small variety of scenarios for you to play out, and I haven't played them all, but generally you play a heroic Pokémon trainer and you engage in cinematic battle with some kind of Pokémon villain. You are supposed to follow a "script" that says how the battle is supposed to progress, such as "win the battle in 2 turns" or "hold out without winning nor losing for 5 turns". Perhaps there are even scenarios where your goal is to lose. Once filming is completed, you can head over to the cinema and watch how the film turned out with all the post-production effects. There are actually a nice number of these to do, and I'm looking forward to doing the rest of them. They seem to be pretty mindless and easy, but the sheer goofiness of some of the things you fight against, it's reminiscent of the way the protagonists battle Team Rocket in the anime. I am fond of this new feature. It is a grand step up from the Pokémon Contests and Pokémon Musicals Game Freak has tried to make interesting in the last few sets of games they've rolled out.
  • When you buy drinks from a vending machine, you can just mash A forever to keep buying them. You don't need to arrow down to the drink for every single purchase. It's still a slow process, but that's kind of the point, since they are MUCH better prices for healing your Pokémon than real potions. I am very thankful for this improvement. 10/10
  • There is a new location called Join Avenue where you are inexplicably asked to manage all the shops that will open there. You can ask passers by if they'd like to open a shop, and what kind of shop they would open. If it's not a crappy idea, you can give them the go ahead and you can purchase goods or services from them every day. You can also recommend shops to the passers by you don't want to have open a shop which will build on the popularity of your avenue... Which will surely profit you in some way. It's a nice feature for being able to maximize your intake of your favourite kind of item. I'm not sure if you can fire anybody, though... So it's possible once you fill up your avenue you can no longer affect which shops are available, which would likely be annoying.
  • The Pokédex has a new function which shows the Pokémon you've seen or caught in any particular area, which is terrific for those attempting to catch 'em all. I haven't played with that mentality since... ever, but on my way through White 2 I've been trying to catch everything on every route and it's pretty awesome. Thank you fancy new Pokédex.

  • There are many ways to battle other people in Pokémon. Infrared doesn't count because it's stupid. Battles via local wireless, battles over the internet using Friend Codes, and random match-up. In random match-up, all Pokémon levels are capped at 50.
  • Depending on what type of battle is chosen, you might be bringing a team of 6 Pokémon and then choose only some of them to battle.
  • The types of battles are Singles (3v3 where each side uses one Pokémon at a time), Doubles (4v4 where each side has two Pokémon on the field at once), Triples (6v6 where each side has three Pokémon on the field at once) and Rotation (6v6 where each side sends out three Pokémon at once, but chooses each turn which one of the three is active). It is possible to have, for example, a 6v6 Singles battle, but not in every medium; when it is possible, you often have to forfeit other important options in order to select that one. It is not possible, though, to have a 6v6 Singles battle where the Pokémon are automatically adjusted to Lv100, so that certainly needs work. Not sure why Game Freak doesn't just do it good.
  • Another multiplayer element is the ability to trade Pokémon. Again this can be done by local wireless (strictly superior to infrared) or Friend Code. You can also trade over the Global Trade System (tactfully not called the World Trade Centre), where you can put up one of your Pokémon for trade in exchange for someone else's particular species, gender and level of Pokémon. There is another GTS function called "GTS Negotiation", but I don't really understand it.
  • Using local wireless, it is also possible to use a place called the Entralink to enter into another player's world and complete some "Entralink Missions". They seem like they're more interesting than what the player could do with the Entralink in the original Black and White, but I sadly was not allowed to keep the game long enough to try them out.

  • Pokémon remains a top-down scroller with two dimensional sprites and a switch to a battle screen every once in a while where the Pokémon sprites are at long last constantly animated!
  • With the fifth generation of Pokémon games, the developers tried to use the DS's hardware to render environments with 3D models, but I don't even understand why they bothered. It does not impress a single person on the planet, and it's almost a simple admission that they are very far indeed behind in graphics compared to even the other handheld gaming consoles, the PSP/Vita. It seems that if Game Freak is interested in making advances in the graphical department, they should make a brief switch over to the Wii U, reconstruct the very concept of a Pokémon game, make it pretty and 3D and more exploration-based, and then try to carry that fresh concept back across to the 3DS.

  • The sound effects in Pokémon games are what they need to be. At least for the current format in which the game is presented. Simple, clean sounds to go with what's on the screen. No problem whatsoever.
  • The music in Pokémon games is always catchy. Even if you don't like a song when you first hear it, after you've played alongside it for a while, you'll be singing along in your head—or out loud like I do.
  • There are a number of tunes that have been recreated for every game since the original, such as the Pokémon Centre theme, the Evolution theme, the Gym theme, etc. In this game, though, each Gym has it's own little version of the Gym theme, and the one I found myself most in love with was the one in Elesa's Electric-type Gym. The game insists on building it up until you win a couple battles, but when it actually busts out the classic tune... I thought it was pretty wicked.

  • Well, how do I discuss the Usagi Factor of a Pokémon game...? The way the series hasn't changed in twelve and a half years and continues to roll out new games all the time and is one of the most popular video game series ever suggests this game has an extreme Usagi Factor. However, since it's just one of many Pokémon games that has gone by, it will easily become lost among the whole mess of them. Will the title Pokémon White 2 go down in history to be remembered beyond the ending of the human race? No. But it certainly is a solid brick in one of the biggest walls Nintendo has ever built, and that counts for something.

 

Rated 7.0

A review copy of this game was provided to us by its publisher.

Lovely Surprise From Microsoft

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

Fed-Ex brought us a lovely surprise from Microsoft this morning.  We'll use our five-day head start to get you some early spoiler-free impressions on both the single-player campaign and on the game's various multiplayer modes, so watch this space for our opinions on 343's first crack at a full-out Halo game.

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