Thursday, May 29, 2008

New soccer game lets you get dirty

UEFA Euro 2008
Electronic Arts for Xbox 360
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars

It’s been awhile since I played a sports simulation. So it was nice to pop in a decent soccer game from EA Sports called “UEFA Euro 2008.”
You pick from over 50 Euro soccer teams and try to lead your team to the championship. Easy. As usual, graphics are good and EA’s soccer engine is second to none. This is as good as it gets, game play wise, for soccer sims, down to being able to see your team manager react – good or bad – on the sidelines based on your play.
The game even mimics the winter weather in Europe. Frequent driving rains cause muddy fields and realistic play on it (meaning you slip and slide a lot and your uniform becomes unrecognizably brown).
A new mode, “Captain Your Country” allows you to work your way up through eight levels to become your team’s captain. I couldn’t hang in long enough to make it all the way, but the journey is fun – and it’s a great way to improve your skills.
A cool new online feature called “Battle of the Nations” allows you to rep your team online and earn points. Your points are tracked via your username online and you can view yourself against other gamers on the leaderboard ta
Empire Games for Nintendo DS
Rating: 1.0 out of 4 stars

Once upon a time, Myst was one of the bigger names in the videogame business.
This new DS version doesn’t do its predecessors justice. Part of the problem is the graphics. Myst takes you on a journey to new worlds and without much instruction. You just explore. It’s hard to become “part” of your gaming world if the world looks so pixilated and small. I spent too much time hitting the zoom button and not enough enjoying the game.
You basically play by tapping the stylus on the screen – to move, to interact with objects, to solve puzzles. Only you have to tap hard sometimes to make the game react. It gets frustrating, especially with the tiny graphics. This was a gem on a PC or old-school consoles. On DS, it’s a “leave-it-at-the-store-and-pick-something-else.”
News n Notes
-- Two new Guitar Hero titles are on the way. “Guitar Hero: Aerosmith” follows the band’s journey from their first gig to superstardom. Players can play the band’s greatest hits or other artists.
Guitar Hero: On Tour, for the Nintendo DS uses a new “Guitar Grip” control that fits into the DS along with a pick-stylus.
-- Gameloft has an agreement with the NBA to make official basketball games for mobile phones. First up is NBA Smash!, a 2-on-2 street game. In the fall, a 5-on-5 game will launch.
Reach Langston? 704-358-5133 or

Monday, May 19, 2008

Ditch the club membership, get Wii Fit

Wii Fit
Nintendo, for the Wii, $89.99
Rating: * * * *

As I write this, my 8-year-old son, Trey, is trying one of the best video-game innovations I've seen in years: the Wii Balance Board. It's up there with the Wii-mote, the first PlayStation and “Rock Band's” drum sets.

“Wii Fit” – due in stores this week – comes with the board, a simple white apparatus that looks like an oversized bathroom scale. When you use it for the first time, it asks for basic information, like height and weight and birth date. When Trey stepped onto it, it measured his weight and gave him a body mass index based on those numbers.

(Trey's BMI is optimal, but mine's not, so the game developed a program for me to bring it down. Judging from how Trey and I were huffing and puffing, I think it might work.)

But back to our setup. The Wii measures Trey's balance. It's good, but he tends to rest on his heels a bit. The game gives him some drills using onscreen icons based on how his weight shifts to help improve his balance.

Next, you choose a male or female trainer. Then you can choose yoga, strength training, balance or aerobic exercise training. Each opens a wealth of games and exercises to get you moving and having fun.

Trey jumps forward to a balance game using soccer balls. You try to head the balls coming at you by shifting your body left and right while keeping your feet down and avoiding getting hit by the shoes coming at you. It's a fun and ingenious way to improve balance.

“Dude,” Trey says, “this is really hard.” (So much for the theory that all video games turn kids into couch potatoes.) Then he tries again.

Later, he chooses push-ups in the “strength training” zone. You put your hands on the board, your feet on the ground and mirror the trainer's movements. . She does a push-up. In the same motion, she rotates onto one hand – crossing one foot over the other – and stretches one arm to the sky. The machine tracks whether Trey does it correctly by checking his pressure on the board. It beeps when he gets it wrong. He adjusts quickly. Trey scores 91 points and is having fun.

There are tons of exercises that kids and adults will enjoy. Difficulty levels can be adjusted, and you'll be surprised at how much of a workout you can get from playing a video game.

A few weeks back, I said “Grand Theft Auto IV,” taken for what it was – a game and not social commentary – was the best of the year. “Wii Fit” is going to be right up there with it.

The Wii Balance Board will bring new players to gaming. Tons of them. There will be a class at a YMCA somewhere in America (probably at the Siskey Y in Charlotte) where 20 spandex-clad women will stand in front of a TV and get their Wii workout on. I guarantee it.

We Ski
Namco Bandai, for the Wii, $29.99
Rating: * * *1/2

This is one of the first games (along with “Wii Fit”) to use the new Wii Balance Board.

The game is pure fun. You create a character and basically go skiing. Using the Wii-mote and nunchuk is cool, but it's much more fun to get on the board and assume a skiing position. You hold the Wii-mote in front of you like ski poles and swivel your hips as you go downhill.

I actually got good and sweaty playing this on the board, and found myself laughing out loud. This is about as close to real skiing as you're going to get without packing up the car and heading to the mountains.

The only bummer here: Though up to four people can play with standard Wii-motes, only one person can play when the board is connected.

But this game should be a huge hit nonetheless.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Wireless mice and flexible webcams make life easier

When Microsoft sent me news of its latest webcam, the Lifecam VX-5000, the timing couldn't have been more perfect. I had been trying to video-chat with my dad in Las Vegas, and was saying I wish someone made a versatile webcam that can bend to fit on the top of either a laptop or a desktop (since I'm always switching back and forth).

Microsoft's new $49 unit promises to do just that, via a flexible attachment. It adds what the company calls "world-class VGA optics" with solid 640x480 video resolution.

Users can share and swap photos from their PCs during a video call with the press of a button, and hear the reaction of family and friends as they look at the shots.

Another cool feature is the ability to add video effects to your live calls and to assign your video call buddies to a button on your computer. So if you want to chat, just hit one button.

The unit comes with MSN Photo Swap, the program that lets you share digial pictures in mid-video conservation.

Wireless Mouse Rocks

Recently I've been testing a new wireless mouse from the Bill Gates Company called the "Wireless Notebook Mouse Optical 3000."

I'll spare you all the techno mumbo-jumbo. The thing works really well. I've been using some rather old wired mice that came with my equipment, and another I got from the office. The difference in speed is amazing.

At first, I almost felt the new mouse was too sensitive. But I quickly got used to how smoothly the ultra-responsive new mouse glides -- on almost any surface. I don't find myself having to move the mouse up and down and side to side to make sure it's still working.

Not having wires for the first time was cool, too. It gave me a lot of work freedom and my hand never got tired because I could change the position so easily. For $29.95, I think this is money well spent.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Videogame cooking? No cleaning up ...

I bet the one thing you’ve been dying to do this week is bake a
digital cake, right?

Majesco Entertainment is banking you will. It announced “Cake Mania: In the Mix!” for the Nintendo Wii will be released in
time for Christmas.

And it’s a sequel.

Of course, any game about baking is about time management. There’s even a co-op mode where lead character Jill Evans can get a little help making her double chocolate chip supreme.

The PC version of this game has been downloaded more than
80 million times and sold 315,000 units on the Nintendo DS, so
somebody likes digital cooking (I guess if you burn something you
don’t smell it - and there’s no clean-up!).

In case you’re curious, you’ll use the Wii-mote to lead Jill
through nine bakeries.

You learn all parts of the baking biz, from catering to advertis

And, yes, you will “cook.”

Iron Man game rusts

`Iron Man'
I'm dying to see the "Iron Man" movie, but my wife insists I wait for her. And she's busy with work this week.

So as I waited to see Tony Stark on the big screen, I stuck in the new Sega video game that's based on the ultra-successful film.

I was let down, to be honest.

You take two levels to build and experiment with your armor and then you mainly fly around and blow things up.

The playing "world" is big, and you can interact with a lot of people and weapons, but I wanted more time against some famous Iron Man foes like Titanium Man -- and less time just zapping tanks with my repulsor rays.

It's cool that some of the stars from the movie (including Robert Downey Jr.) did voice work on the game, but the whole experience needed more bite to be good. And it didn't have it.

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time
Nintendo, for Nintendo DS, $34.99
Rating: 2/4

I'm tired of Poke-mania. I'll admit it.

And the new game's plot -- waking up on a beach with no memory to discover you've been turned into, oh no, a Pokemon -- didn't really freshen things up for me.

Your mission: to find out what changed you into a virtual Poke. After answering some questions and choosing a) a Pokemon character to fit your personality and b) a Pokemon partner, you join an exploration guild and aid other Pokemon in trouble.

If you lose a battle, you can ask other players for help, which -- unlike in past games -- doesn't cost you money or items (unless they cannot rescue you). But for me, Mr. Tired Of All Things Poke, playing the game was like watching the 700th episode of a sitcom you don't like anymore.

The magic is gone.

More GTA fallout

Top-selling "Grand Theft Auto IV" continues to generate controversy. There've been protests from feminists, immigrant groups, New York City police and New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg.

Florida attorney Jack Thompson called "GTA IV" "the gravest assault upon children in this country since polio."

This week, Mothers Against Drunk Driving came out against the game, which enables players to drive while under the influence of alcohol. The organization wants the game to be rated "Adults Only" (I think it should be, too).

"Drunk driving is not a game, and it is not a joke," MADD said in a statement released last week. "Drunk driving is a choice, a violent crime, and it is also 100 percent preventable."

MADD is calling on publisher Take-Two Interactive and developer Rockstar Games to consider stopping distribution of the game "out of respect for the millions of victims/survivors of drunk driving." Of course, Take Two has no such plans.

"We have a great deal of respect for MADD's mission, but we believe the mature audience for `Grand Theft Auto IV' is more than sophisticated enough to understand the game's content," Rockstar Games said in a statement to The Associated Press. "For the same reason that you can't judge an entire film or television program by a single scene, you can't judge `Grand Theft Auto IV' by a small aspect of the game."

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Minors & mature videogames?

“Grand Theft Auto IV,” released last week, has already made half a billion bucks, but a pair of bipartisan House members want to make buying the “Mature”-rated game a little more difficult -- at least for minors.

On Wednesday, Reps. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) and Jim Matheson (D-Utah) introduced the Video Games Ratings Enforcement Act to ensure that minors “can only access age-appropriate content without parental permission.”

“The images and themes in some video games are shocking and troublesome,” Terry said. “In some games, high scores are often earned by players who commit ‘virtual’ murder, assault and rape. Many young children are walking into stores and are able to buy or rent these games without their parents even knowing about it.”

Terry acknowledged that some retailers have tried to develop measures to prevent minors from renting or buying age-inappropriate materials, but felt more needed to be done.

The new bill would require ID checks for purchases of games rated M for Mature or AO for Adults Only. It would also make retailers post a ratings explanation in the store. Violators would face a $5,000 civil penalty.

The Parents Television Council, which advocates responsible entertainment, supports the bill.

"It’s high time a common-sense bill like the one introduced today be signed into law,” said PTC president Tim Winter. “Video game ratings supposedly exist to protect children from material that is created for adults, but there is no consequence for irresponsible retailers who repeatedly sell these games to children. The importance of this issue cannot be overstated.”

Several state legislatures have enacted similar laws, but each has been struck down by courts on First Amendment challenges.

Terry said he remains optimistic because, unlike the state laws, “This bill doesn’t involve itself in content or defining the standards for ‘Mature’ or ‘Adults Only,’” he told Daily Variety. “It simply requires the retailer to post what the industry has defined as ‘Mature’ and ‘Adults Only’ so that parents can know, and requires checking of identification.”

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Violent thrill wears off fast

Viking: Battle for Asgard
Sega, for Xbox 360, $59.99 (also available for PlayStation 3)
Rating: 2.5/4

You play as a Viking warrior named Skarin, who has been charged with protecting Asgard from an army of demons that has been released by an evil goddess.

The game is incredibly deep. The amount of area you can explore is massive, and you can interact with almost anyone or anything.

The violence is fast and furious. (Think "300" on steroids.) You will fight dragons and have dragons come to your aid, literally torching the competition. You'll hack and slash hordes of demons.

Unfortunately, saving is a big chore, the storyline is fairly weak, and after a few hours of play, the game quickly starts to feel repetitive.

Once the thrill of slashing and hacking has worn off, there isn't much incentive to finish the game.

Condemned 2: Bloodshot
Sega, for PlayStation 3, $59.99 (also available for Xbox 360)
Rating: 3/4 stars

You play as a special agent named Ethan Thomas, who was so torn up after chasing crazed supernatural serial killers in the original version of this game (which I didn't play) that he's become an alcoholic.

Now a friend is missing, and to find him, he'll need to return to battling those crazy killers as he makes his way down a pretty scary and intense road to more supernatural adventures. Along the way, you'll face some moral choices -- like whether to kill a really, really bad person after beating him to a pulp (and if so, which weapon to do it with).

The plot is major-motion-picture good, and the graphics are great, too. I like the emphasis on hand-to-hand combat, which requires you to really master combinations. And almost anything can used as a weapon; you can even pick up a bowling ball.

As games designed for adults go, this is near-brilliant. But let's be clear: This game is only for adults.

News and notes

• Interesting interview by GameDaily with EA Sports head Peter Moore last week. Moore said the company will not make Madden '09 available for the PC.

"We've built sports games to take advantage of the plasma televisions, and the new high-def experiences that people are having in their homes," Moore told the Web site. "We've also built them to be very social. So whether it's playing online -- or equally likely, two or four of you in the room together -- the PC business has just ... waned."

• Nintendo President Satoru Iwata told several media outlets last week that his company isn't concerned that Microsoft may be considering a motion-sensing, Wiimote-type device for the Xbox 360. Iwata said the technology is hard to develop, and that Nintendo is focused on making great games, not what the competition is doing.

• Check out my four-star review of "Grand Theft Auto IV" -- which industry analysts predict will become the highest-grossing video game ever -- at

Langston Wertz Jr.: 704-358-5133;