Extreme Fever! A Peggle Review

Epic win!

Epic win!

In this day and age, where the line in the sand has been drawn, gamers are either hardcore or their not. Either you blow people up with rocket launchers or you look for hidden pictures. You either spend three days zerg rushing the enemy combatant or spend three days perfecting your chocolate empire with mini-games. Well, PopCap Games is here to tear down that wall with their blockbuster hit. Peggle doesn’t care if you like shooters or sims; it just wants to make the world a better place through digitized Plinko.

The idea behind Peggle is ridiculously simple. In each level, you shoot silver balls reminiscent of pinballs from the top of the screen. The ball in turn bounces off of the many blue, orange, green and purple pegs below; each peg lighting up and giving you points as your ball pings off of it. The bottom of each stage is pit for the ball to fall into but if you time your shot right, you may hit the bucket that roams side to side at a steady pace. If you manage this, the game will give you an extra ball; the equivalent of an extra life. Each level gives you a set number of balls and the goal is to clear the board of all the orange pegs. The strategy is involved in finding the quickest way to clear the more plentiful blue pegs to get to the orange ones. All before you run out of balls. In later stages the pegs become animated, rotating or moving on and off the screen, making this simple task more and more challenging.

Those inner tube circles don't stay put.

Those inner tube circles don't stay put.

The other major gameplay element is to build up your score. For each peg hit by a single ball, a multiplier is added. Blue pegs are worth the least, followed by the orange ones, with the elusive purple peg being worth the most. If the player manages to reach a certain threshold of points with one ball, the game will reward your Peggle skills with a free ball. Once you’ve managed to clear all the orange pegs, the camera zooms in on the ball and goes into slow motion while Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” from Symphony No. 9 plays in the background. The bottom of the screen, once a cavernous mouth stealing your balls, becomes five separate buckets for you ball to fall into; giving you an extra point boost anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000.

Of course that’s only the basic premise. Once the player has that down, the game adds on a layer of depth and that’s where the mind numbing addiction comes into play. The first time you play Peggle, the game will be in Adventure mode. Set up into groups of stages, each themed chapter has its own avatar. These Peggle Masters, ranging from a jack o lantern to a gopher to a sunflower, will be visible from the top of the screen. The stages for each avatar’s chapter set up the pegs into shapes that accurately depict the current theme or background; such as flowers, a river bank or car.

Vroom Vroom!

Vroom Vroom!

Each avatar also has a special ability. Special abilities are designed to make hitting the pegs easier. Using your ball to hit one of the two green pegs in each stage will trigger the special. For example, the jack o lantern’s ability is called “Spooky Ball”. Triggering this effect causes the ball to return to the top of the screen once it hits the bottom instead of disappearing. The flower will cause twenty-five percent of all orange pegs on the board to light up and so on…

Challenge Mode

Challenge Mode

After completing the 55 modes in Adventure, the rest of the game opens up. The player is now free to go back and play any level with any avatar; not just the ones affiliated with it. Dual mode allows players to go head to head against a friend or computer player and Challenge mode offers 75 new puzzles with varying tasks to complete.

On the version for the Xbox 360 there are the added bragging rights of trying to get the highest score for any individual level which will then be put on Live for the entire world to see your mad Peggle skills.

This is usually the paragraph where I go into detail about the game’s flaws, but I really can’t think of anything to put. Peggle has sold over 10 million downloads on PC and has been in the top ten XBLA games since its launch last week.  It’s spawned versions on the iPhone and DS and already has a sequel. Not bad for a little game from the company that brought us Bejeweled.

So whether your idea of gaming is Halo 3 or Solitaire, do yourself a favor and give Peggle a chance to win you over. Download the trial for free at PopCap games or XBLA on Xbox Live.

Peggle is available for the Xbox 360, PC, Nintendo DS and the iPhone. It is rated E for Everyone.

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Zombie Hooker Nightmare: A Review


Click Here To Play!

Adultswim.com, part of the Cartoon Network family, is well known for their violent tongue-in-cheek games. From playing as an Amateur Surgeon to Five Minutes To Kill Yourself, the developers of these miniature web games have no idea where the line is. Which is awesome.

Their latest addition to the website is Zombie Hooker Nightmare. The premise is simple. You’re a hooker, living in a trailer in a very maze-like cemetery. Zombies have taken over the world but you’ve still got to make a buck. Luckily the undead don’t deter your customers, who stand around like the sheep they are until either they’re killed or you pick them up.

When you first begin the game, you’re standing outside your trailer with legions of the undead headed your way. For some reason, all the zombies in this cemetery are remnants of hot chicks. Most of them are green and can be taken out with one well placed punch or kick. The gold ones are a little hardier, using their own limbs to give them reach and taking two hits to kill. Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to make as much money as possible before being inevitably killed.

Each level charges you with picking up tricks, with the difficulty going up one trick per level. The controls are simple enough. The directional buttons move you and the space bar is attack. But, when getting a trick’s attention, you use the “X” button to slap your ass. This causes them to turn from puke yellow to black which makes them unkillable by the zombies. That’s right, YOUR ASS is the most potent defense against the undead. Unfortunately your powers only work on the customers and you must defend yourself as you wander, lest your health bar reach zero and end the game.

The game is pretty generous with weapons however. Everything from a machine gun to a severed leg to a heeled shoe can be used to kill the enemy. Watch out though; all weapons have a limited number of hits or uses. If you manage to herd all the men to your trailer before you use up the weapon though, it will have full ammo/hits when the next level begins.

As a hooker, your job is to rake in the cash. Tricks give you most of your points, but for every zombie you kill you get a small monetary reward. There also can be cash or weapons hidden in the tombstones, so be sure to deface as much property as you can. But be warned! Greedy bastards that just run around the level are in for a surprise. The game starts sending more diverse enemies, including zombies in red dresses that blow kisses of doom. If you get caught in their haze it slows you down. And trust me, a slow hooker is a dead hooker. And if even then you aren’t deterred, the game sends out decapitated obese women in lingerie to throw their flaming heads at you. o_O

That’s not to say the game is without its faults. Being a web based game on Adultswim, the goal is to get the high score for the week and be immortalized for ten seconds on television. So the game is remorseless about death. If you run out of health, there is no save. You are just dead. Much like real life. I also found out the hard way that gunning down a clump of zombies surrounding the trick will also gun down the guy. Friendly fire is always on here. And nothing is more frustrating than having a weapon with a long reach, like the golf club, and not be able to use it. If you get too close to the zombies, they’ll hit you so fast you don’t even have a chance to use your weapon, no matter what you have.

In conclusion, as far as free web based games go, Zombie Hooker Nightmare is a lot of fun. Addictive and needing an alarmingly high degree of strategy in later levels, it has the added incentive of being able to be minimized. You know, in case your boss walks in. Save a hooker, kill a zombie.

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House of the Dead: Overkill


For me, the House of the Dead series has always been judged by its own set of standards. Being a rail shooter of dubious plot and even worse character development, it would be unfair in my mind to compare it to juggernauts Resident Evil or Silent Hill. But coupling zombies that fall from the sky in droves with arcade guns and a few friends always made up for the lack of depth.

So when we put Overkill into the Wii last night, my expectations were exceedingly low. After all, it was a rail shooter on the Wii. Now I love my Wii, but M-rated games just aren’t its scene. Choosing the two player campaign, I played Agent G (the staple character in this series) and my husband picked up Detective Washington, a new character to the lexicon. The following is the intro that greeted us. WARNING: Extremely adult language.

Holy shit! This game’s opening line is “Wassup motherfucker.” And it just gets better from there. House of the Dead: Overkill embraces its “M” rating better than any game I can remember playing on a Nintendo system. Or any other system really. Fuck is said in one form or another so many times that House of the Dead: Overkill was recently given the Guinness Book of World Records award for most profanities used in a video game. To be specific, 189 or almost one F-bomb per minute.

Split into mini-movies instead of chapters (like Left 4 Dead) Overkill takes you through classic horror movie areas such as the plantation house, the carnival and the hospital. Along the way, it subverts or lampoons pretty much everything in the genre from creepy Asian ghost girls to the thing from Total Recall to Left 4 Dead’s helicopter rescue. Complementing this the whole time is the kitschy 70’s soundtrack and poor audio, the intentionally profane and poorly written dialogue and of course, tons and tons of zombies. Excuse me, mutants. (There is an ongoing debate between the two characters as to which these are.) Overkill’s style was very reminiscent of the recent “Grindhouse” movie by Quentin Tarantino.

All the bells and whistles are there, but of course the gameplay is essential. Overkill is your standard rail shooter here. Unload your clip into the bad guys, shoot off screen to reload, repeat. There is also the staple House of the Dead “Save the civilian by killing the things attacking her”. On top of these, the developers threw in a few extras to beef things up. Throughout each chapter there are golden brains to collect, and little green swirlies to shoot. If you manage to hit them, the game goes into “bullet time” making it easier to shoot the zombies…er, mutants. And even as a rail shooter, you are constantly looking behind you for enemies and ducking to avoid explosions and boss mutants.

That’s not to say the game doesn’t have its drawbacks. The pistol is still the preferred weapon of choice in the game since the shotgun is both slow and occassionally erratic. And don’t get me started on the sub-machine gun. If I unload an entire clip into a mutants head, it should bloody well die! Because it is a rail shooter, seeing the health pack/golden brain/green swirly in time can be difficult. I suggest utilizing a third “player”, usually a non-gaming friend that likes to watch, to keep an eye out for these things for you. We also encountered one glitch, where upon killing the boss of the level his minions continued to beat on us (albeit without doing damage) for about fifteen seconds. Standard for the House of the Dead series, the game is very short but beating it unlocks Director’s Cut mode which is bascally the Hard mode and several different minigames. There is also incentive to go back and earn more money to get new weapons and upgrade current ones.

Any of these negatives are glossed over and forgotten though by the campy and extremely amusing cut scenes, dialogue and even the hilarious lyrics to the soundtrack. This official prequel to the original House of the Dead not only exceeded my expectations with flying colors, but I feel reinvigorated the rail shooter genre. If you’ve been waiting for the Wii to grow up and speak your language, they couldn’t have given you a  more perfect game.

House of the Dead: Overkill is rated M for Mature for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Strong Language and Sexual Themes

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Dysentary Is Still Fun!

Awww, memories.

Ahhh, memories.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted that I had discovered that mobile gaming had emerged from the ages of ‘Snake’ and into a surprisingly fun experience while I was busy ‘paying bills’. Having wet my feet with the several demos that came pre-programmed on my phone, I set about the task of downloading The Oregon Trail. Why? Because who doesn’t have fond memories of subliminally learning while having fun? No one, that’s who.

Once downloaded from GameLoft, I loaded the game up and instantly noticed several slight changes. First of all, the graphics have been upgraded. Some would say that this detracts from the nostalgic feel of the game, but they were still cute and pixelated so it didn’t bother me any.

After I named my group leader, my wife and three kids (all of whom you actually get to SEE) I entered the store  to load up my wagon. In the version for my phone, which isn’t quite as cool as the iPhone, I only had basic options of my career (farmer, carpenter or banker) and the game automatically generated my supplies and money based on that. No more hovering in the store debating on whether or not to buy another yoke or three sets of clothes. Streamlined is the word. For a visual example, check out the video trailer by GameLoft.

Okay, so I’ve got my family, my supplies and I’ve picked which month I’m leaving in. Let’s get moving!

Once on the trail, several more changes to the original game became obvious. For one thing, my party is visible. Gone are the classic oxen and wagon meandering over tan dirt and a black sky. My wagon and oxen are still there, but the family walks outside the wagon (just like they would have in real life). The background actually consists of moving scenery and even changing weather patterns. If someone gets sick or injured (and they will), their shoulders slump and a little skull and crossbones appears over their heads. At the bottom of the screen are your movement and rest buttons. The upper left hand corner contains the health of your wagon, party and how much food you have left. The upper right tells you how much money you have left, the date and how many miles to the next stop.

Also, to make the game have a higher replay value (I assume), GameLoft added in several new and entertaining tasks. Other than the staple minigame of moving in diagonal lines and shooting game and avoiding river rocks with your caulked wagon, there is now sluicing for gold, fishing for food or as a challenge to win supplies, berry picking, and a game that gives you the chance to fix that damn axle that breaks every two days.

The Oregon Trail now includes a small questing element as well. In each town there will be at least two people; an obnoxious child that brags his family can beat yours to the next stop and a wealthy man. If you take the braggart up on his offer to race and beat him, you win money which can be used to buy the ever increasingly expensive supplies or medicine for your sick. The wealthy man always wants you to take a package to the next wealthy man in the next town. You can either deliver the package or steal it. Inside my ill gained package was an engagement ring and letter. I felt guilty but dammit that ring was worth $60! Of course, you can also be on the receiving end of random encounters where bandits steal your supplies or, bizarrely, a bear attacks from nowhere and mauls one of your party members.

Over all, I had a great time playing this remake. It had a handy save game feature which was nice since most of my play time was in snippets while waiting on kids, food, or what have you. But that’s not to say it wasn’t without it’s drawbacks. I don’t know if I just make smarter life choices now that I’m not in third grade, but the game felt almost too easy. Never once did we all drown from a poor river crossing choice. No one ever died either, since resting for two days seemed to have the same effect as medicine; whether they had dysentary or a broken arm. And where’s the fun in not being able to write ‘Pepperoni and Cheese’ on my tombstone?

If you enjoyed The Oregon Trail as a kid, aren’t a hard nose purist, and have seven bucks and twenty minutes to spare, you could do a lot worse than stake a virtual claim on the west coast.

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In Case You Missed It: Super Paper Mario

super-paper-mario-20070307071407639_640w Originally released for the Nintendo Wii in April of 2007, Mario’s first step onto next generation technology was met with relatively little fanfare. What attention it did receive was completely overshadowed by the release of Super Mario Galaxy which came out in the fall of that same. So in this, hopefully semi-regular feature, I’m going to be taking a look back at games that released months or even a few years ago that deserve a second look. This is Super Paper Mario…in case you missed it.

Super Paper Mario is a loose sequel to both Paper Mario and Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door for N64 and Gamecube respectively. However, it is only a sequel in the fact that it maintains the art style pioneered by it’s predecessors. With flimsy 2D graphics and colorful, almost childlike backgrounds, the games hearken back to the original days of side-scrolling platformers. And with this third installment the developers have managed to maintain the fast paced fun of stomping enemies and combined it with minor RPG elements.

You begin the game watching as the story unfolds. Princess Peach has been kidnapped, again. But this time by a new villain; one Count Bleck. Hypnotized and forced to marry Bowser in order to rip a hole in the time/space continuum, the player is forced to sit through this agonizingly long exposition. There is no way to skip past it, and although the writing is amusing, the sheer fact that it lasts almost twenty minutes is enough to scare off the most hardy gamer. But try to persevere. If you can get past the overly wordy beginning the game itself is joy to play.

Once your torture session is over and the game begins, the player takes control of Mario who is charged with the quest of collecting “pure hearts”. These are the artifacts that will keep the hole ripped in time/space from consuming the universe. Just go with it. There are eight unique levels to explore and collect these artifacts from.

But Mario is not the only playable character in the game. As you progress you will also pick up Luigi, Peach and Bowser. Each has their own unique abilities. Both Luigi and Peach regain their powers from Super Mario Bros. 2 with Luigi having the highest jump in the game and Princess Peach being able to float or hover over long distances. Bowser, true to form, is able to breathe fire onto enemies. Mario though, gets the best ability of them all; one that allows him to flip the game world from 2D to 3D, leading to one of the most innovative and fun aspects of the game.

Each stage of the game is set up like a traditional 2D side-scroller of old. But this simplistic layout hides a world of challenge and puzzle solving. Come across a gap too far to jump? Use the controller to have Mario switch the world to 3D. That once flat hillside background is now a path to the other side of the hole. There are many moments like this where flashes of developer genius shine through, whether in the way that you defeat an enemy or showing the player an otherwise invisible path or hidden area. Still, Mario cannot stay in this new state forever. For each second he is in the 3D world, his life bar is draining, adding another layer of challenge throughout the game.

Another new addition to the Mario family are the fairy-like Pixls. Adding a RPG element to the game, the Pixls serve as living items. Each has a unique personality and ability. For example, Bomber gives the party the ability to blow up walls and certain enemy types. That level you completed an hour ago with that weird crack in the wall? Now the player can return and find out what was behind it. There are about a dozen of these new characters, each playing a significant role in helping to complete the game. Discovering which Pixl is right for the job at hand is a wholly satisfying experience and easy introduction to role-playing mechanics.

Super Paper Mario is a tongue-in-cheek, nostalgic game that manages to inject a bit of newness into the platforming genre. While the overly long exposition and other giant chunks of text throughout the adventure are daunting and can interrupt the game flow at times, the overall experience is fun and enjoyable. One thing that struck me as disappointing was that only Mario can switch between 2D and 3D, making it impossible to play as other party members for an extended period of time. However, these negatives when viewed with the entertainment value of the game as a whole are not enough warrant passing it by. Recommended as a must-try for any Nintendo or classic gaming fan.

Available on the Nintendo Wii. Rated E for Everyone for Comic Mischief and Mild Cartoon Violence.

Left 4 Dead: A (belated) review

I see what you did there...four fingers...left 4 dead. Ha. Ha.Welcome to the zombie apocalypse. Hope you brought friends. That’s the basic premise behind Valve’s latest game and they run with it. This game is not for the kiddies, or even some easily frightened adults. It’s dark, it’s spooky and there are ominous messages written on walls and odd bloodstains on the floor. Not to mention the imminent death lurking down every shadowed hallway. For the shambling dead, zombies can be awful stealthy.

When you boot this game up, the first thing it’ll ask you is who you want to play as. There are four choices, all of them standard horror genre staples. You’ve got Bill the gruff ex-army guy, Louis the office worker with a penchant for hitting the firing range, Francis the tattooed biker, and Zoey the horror movie enthusiast. Picking a character is merely for personal preference and catchphrases as any of them can use any of the available weapons. Got your favorite stereotype? Alright then, let’s kill some zombies. Lots and lots of zombies.

When you enter campaign mode, or the main storyline of the game, all four characters on the screen are in a “safe room” where you can stock up on health packs and ammo. Each person can have two weapons; everyone gets a pistol with unlimited ammo and one other weapon. Your choices are the shotgun, the sniper rifle or the assault rifle. If you’re alone or your friends have the patience, I recommend taking a moment to read the scrawled handwriting on the walls of each safe room. Not only is it eerie and well placed plot points (and some of the very few you get) sometimes there is valuable information about where to go. Right then. Let’s bust down this red metal door and wreak havoc. But wait! This is not your average “I’m super awesome and can take on the entire world population in zombie form” video game. This will require strategy. This will require teamwork. And above all, it will require staying with the group! If possible, bring along some friends to play with you or just hop online and the game will put you in with like minded people. Though Left 4 Dead can be played alone, it is ultimately a multi-player experience.

However, if your friends are too busy to save the world, the NPC’s will be happy to help. Valve did a pretty good job on the A.I. for the campaign. They are less likely than your real friends to ‘accidentally’ shoot you in the back of the head in the heat of battle, but also more likely to die as they seem bent on using their health packs to heal you instead of themselves. This seems cool until you’re alone in the subway because the horde of zombies just ate your friends. However, they won’t ever be clipping into a wall or shooting at nothing either. So it’s a trade off.

Gameplay consists of the standard get from point A to point B without being killed or eaten. Each chapter is split up into it’s own miniature movie with its own scenes, giving the budding zombie killer twenty levels to practice their firearms and Molotov tossing skills in. Valve threw in a few new things to mix it up and keep it interesting though. There are new Boss Zombies, or zombies that can apparently think instead of just run barreling into your shotgun blow. The five types are the Smoker, Boomer, Hunter, Tank, and Witch. Each has it’s own unique way of making your life miserable and a variety of strategies for killing or avoiding. Added to this is the fact that every time you load up the game, whether in campaign or multiplayer, the level is different. Oh sure, the main pieces of the set are still in place but don’t count on that ammo, health pack, or Molotov to be where it was last time. Ditto on the zombies. Where once a room was a safe place to reload and heal up, it may now be a swarming mass of animated flesh. Also as an interesting side note, zombies hate loud noises with a passion not seen since they first craved human flesh. So don’t set off the car alarm with your sub-par assault rifle skills unless you want seventy zombies freaking out on you. Or, turn it to your advantage by making a pipe bomb and watch the horde kick it until they explode into a fine pink mist.

All this though is merely training for the big leagues. The meat of the game, pun half intended. Competitive multiplayer. Because as much fun as it is to work with your friends against A.I. zombies, it is a hundred times more satisfying to eat your friend’s brain because he stupidly wandered off into the woods alone. Tough love buddy.

Again, when you fire the game up it’ll ask you to pick a character. You can choose to side with the survivors and work together to live or you can choose to be the walking dead and work together to kill. Playing a human, the mechanics are the same as the campaign mode only slightly ramped up since you have to account for your buddies’ intelligence instead of the computers. Or maybe ramped down, if your friends seriously fail at sneak attack. As a zombie, you are randomly assigned to one of three of the Boss Zombie types each time you spawn: Hunter, Smoker or Boomer. Each plays uniquely and requires teamwork and tactics to make them the best human killers they can be. Hunters spring like rabid spider monkeys onto their victims and tear away, smokers hide in the distance and use their excessively long tongue to drag stragglers into the dark and the Boomer vomits or explodes green goo all over the survivors which acts like catnip to the regular NPC zombies, causing them to swarm. Once or twice in a round, one of the people playing a zombie will be turned into the Tank, for maximum chaos and destruction. Sadly, the Witch is never playable but she is there and able to be used tactically. And let’s not forget the hordes of NPC regular old zombies.

There are very few drawbacks to this game and all of them are nitpicky. The storyline is extremely light, leaving the player to deduce exactly how and why the zombies are invading. Cut scenes, while understandably few and far between to keep the pace breakneck, offer little in the way of explanation. A handful more weapon choices would have been nice (I wanted my homemade flamethrower or even some standard grenades). And even though the characters have a far deeper grab bag of catchphrases to pull from, eventually it will get tiresome. If the game is going well though, you’ll barely notice these little flaws over the gunfire and screams for help.

All things said and done, Left 4 Dead is one of, if not THE most addictive multiplayer games on the market today. The combination of level variation and the absolute must of strategy and teamwork make this a game you’ll play over and over again. After all, wading into a sea of undead to save the world never gets old, does it?

Rated M for Mature for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence and Language. Available on Xbox 360 and PC.

For more information, visit the website at http://www.l4d.com