Tuesday, July 25, 2006

NCAA '07 strong kickoff to hot video season

If you play PS2 or the old Xbox, you're going to love EA Sports' new NCAA '07 videogame. It will remind of you of last year's Madden '06, only better. Players are rendered better, game play is smoother, and every feature you can imagine is in the game.

But if you play the new more powerful Xbox 360 you may be disappointed.

You get eye-catching graphics, HDTV support and Dolby Digital sound but you're going to be missing some of the features that are included in PS2 and Xbox versions.

I can't figure that one.

There's no ESPN Magazine, no Race For The Heisman.

Shoot, there's not even a spring game, a cool new feature on Xbox 1 and PS2. There are more things missing, but you get the idea. How can your "franchise" product not have all the features. Let us hope that the new Madden is not so afflicted.

There is some good news for 360 people. The game plays better, as you might expect. There are new subtle animations that you really need the more powerful machine to appreciate. You can see arms churning and legs pumping in play. Tackling animation is much, much better.

This is the first year of the ESPN integration with EA games and you'll get dynasty results, conference updates and real-time sports scores and news updates with the ESPN ticker. It really looks like what you see during a real game.

There are a few new things I liked: you can save your highlights anytime to a NCAA photo album and share them online via Xbox Live, and there are new modes like defensive hot routes, smart routes and (thankfully) an improved kicking mode. Now you use the right analog stick to push up and down to create the action, like in Tiger Woods golf.

You can also switch to a computer controlled receiver to make a move on the ball on offense or defense without fear of ruining the play as in past years.

Best of all, you'll see fans come to life at the right times and do team specific chants. You won't believe how much reality this will add to your experience.

On all versions of the game, a momentum meter gives teams an advantage if they can string together big plays, defensive stops or even pull off trick plays. Another needed feature. And it's awful hard to bounce back when things are going against you.

And even with my quips with the 360 version, it's still the best. At the end of the day, when you play the game and see the stadiums come to life and see the graphics, you just get involved with the game itself. Most of the features missing are pre- and post-game.

With them, the 360 version may've been the best football game ever made. Withtout them, the 360 version still gets an A rating, as do the other versions. Let's just hope Madden on 360 is as complete as can be.

Friday, July 07, 2006

NFL Head Coach Whets Appetite For Some Football

If you tend to spend more time in the "general manager" mode of sports games -- trading players, making coaching moves, adjusting the price of hot dogs -- you're going to like EA Sports' new "NFL Head Coach" videogame.

If you're into running plays and banging on your remote control, you'd better wait for Madden or some of the college football games.

This one is short on action and quite long on strategy and your moves have a real impact on your team. You create game-day strategies and how you deal with players in practice will affect their moods and performance.

Honestly, this could be a really cool addition to the upcoming Madden game, which would give it more depth, but as a stand alone game, Head Coach will probably have a limited audience (Rating: 2.5/5).


The Da Vinci Code: Based on the controversial Columbia pictures film, gamers will try to unlock the code on a 2,000-year-old mystery. I haven't seen the movie but this game is said to have levels that are not in the movie, expanding its storyline. At its heart, this is an adventure game and a puzzle game where you must beat a convert society which seeks to keep an ancient secret. Rated T for teen (Rating: 3.0/5).

Field Commander: If you like war games, you're going to love this. The old PS2 can still kick out some pretty stunning visuals and it's nice to see that in a game that also includes some good strategy.

You must use your mind as much as your hand-eye coordination to guide your division to victory over a terrorist organization, and the game is really all about strategy. The enemy AI (artificial intelligence) is high, so you'd better master all 15 army divisions at your disposal (Rating: 3.5/5).

Monster Hunter Freedom: You are a hunter battling some big ugly beasts, something like the old movie, "Van Helsing." The creatures on this PSP effort from Capcom are rendered pretty well, though they won't really scare you. You can play alone or with up to four friends (a feature I discovered while waiting for a haircut and a teenager sidled up to me with the same game). (Rating: 3.0/5).

New Super Mario Bros: You know the deal here. It's Mario for the Nintendo DS system. Nowadays, though, mushrooms make Mario really small or really big depending on which one you pounce on. Touch a blue shell and Mario will turn into a whirlwind shell that wipes out your opponents.

All your favorite bad guys are here, along with a few new baddies for Mario and Luigi to take out en route to saving Princess Peach who has (again) been kidnapped by Bowser and Bowser Jr. All day fun (Rating: 4.5/5).