Block & Roll: LEGO Rock Band Confirmed

TTgames, makers of the LEGO video game franchise are teaming up with Harmonix and Warner Brothers to bring together a meeting of two cash cow meccas. That’s right kids. Now you too can play Rock Band without having your parents’ look on in chagrin as you sing the lyrics to “Dani California”. Designed as family friendly, LEGO Rock Band is set for a 2009 release across all current gen platforms save the PSP. Look for little Lego Rockers on your Xbox 360, PS3, Wii and Nintendo DS before Christmas this year.

Some more information from the press release:

The unique family-friendly music experience is currently in development by TT Games in partnership with Harmonix, and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. The game, which will allow families, tweens and teens to experience a wild journey to rock stardom where they can“Build a Band and Rock the Universe”, will be available for the Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system from Microsoft, PLAYSTATION®3 computer entertainment system and Wii™ home videogame console. LEGO Rock Band for Nintendo DS™ will be co-developed by TT Games and Harmonix in partnership with Backbone Entertainment, a Foundation 9 Entertainment studio. All versions are scheduled for 2009.

LEGO Rock Band combines the multiplayer music experience of Rock Band® with the fun, customization and humour of the LEGO videogame franchise packed with brilliant chart-topping songs and classic favourites suitable for younger audiences, including:

Blur:“Song 2”

Carl Douglas:“Kung Fu Fighting”

Europe:“The Final Countdown”

Good Charlotte:“Boys and Girls”

Pink:“So What”

Players will become rockers as they embark on a journey to stardom that the whole family can enjoy as they work their way through local venues, stadiums and fantasy locations on Earth and beyond, that mimic the imaginative settings that the LEGO world offers. Also continuing the LEGO“build-and-play” gaming experience, players will be able to create their own LEGO Rock Band style as they customize their minifigure avatars, band and entourage, including roadies, managers and crew. LEGO Rock Band supports Rock Band instruments, as well as other music game controllers.

“LEGO Rock Band combines two compelling properties and creates an experience that family members of all ages will enjoy playing together as a group,” said Tom Stone, Managing Director, TT Games.“Harmonix and MTV Games are the world experts in music gameplay, and we’re genuinely thrilled to bring the unique and humour-filled LEGO experience to their Rock Band universe.”


Upsides as far as I see them:

LEGO universe – hilarious and self-deprecating.

Accessibility – Thankfully the higher ups realized that while charging an arm and a leg for The Beatles is one thing, people with small kids might not have as much disposable income. So making the game compatible with already existing software was awesome.

Music – Hell YES, Kung Fu Fighting!

Customization – As if the custom options of the original product weren’t enough, LEGO is upping the ante by letting you customize damn near everything in the game.

Downsides as far as I see them:

Internet Whining – The purist, the cynic and the childless will all be whining that this is a blatant attempt to cash in on a hot property and nothing more. Gamers with kids (or parents) will not care.

Backwards Compatibility – So far there has been no word on whether songs from Rock Band and Rock Band 2 will be playable on this new version. While that might not necessarily mean anything, it might mean the upper brass aren’t as smart as I just gave them credit for.

So as far as I’m concerned the positive (so far) outweighs the negative by a mile. But that’s just one blogger’s opinion. Feel free to leave your own, differing or like-minded, in the comments section.

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Square Enix Has Gone Country…

…or at least that’s what the first half of their new game trailer had ME believing.

(Sorry about the poor quality but other than their Website, Square hasn’t released the trailer officially as far as I could tell)

Of course, about halfway through the trailer for Final Fantasy: The Crystal Bearers (CB), the music and footage reverts back to standard Square. Honestly I’m not sure what to make of this video.

The original Final Fantasy: The Crystal Chronicles (CC) was released on the Nintendo Gamecube. An experiment in repetition and forcing you to make friends with people that owned GBA’s, the game was nevertheless unique.

In the story, the entire (unnamed) world is covered in deadly miasma. Even touching it can kill you. Luckily for the inhabitants there are crystals powered by myrrh that protect them and their cities. Unluckily, the myrrh runs out every year. So caravans, apparently comprised of adults except for your heartless town that sends out kids, traverse the landscape with a chalice (that also conveniently keeps the deadly miasma at bay) looking for enough myrrh for another year. Less Final Fantasy and more Gauntlet, the game was a hack n slash dungeon that sent you out over and over and over until your eyes bled. Up until that point though, it was fun.

However the new game, scheduled for the Wii, doesn’t appear to have much in common with its predecessor. Where CC relied entirely on multiplayer (playing single player was one of the more excruciating Gamecube experiences), other than a showing two people riding on Chocobos for a split second, nothing in the CB trailer looks like multiplayer.

Not much to go on in the press release either. According to Square Enix:

The upcoming FINAL FANTASY CRYSTAL CHRONICLES: THE CRYSTAL BEARERS provides a fresh take on the FINAL FANTASY CRYSTAL CHRONICLES series as it combines the storytelling depth, expansive world and graphical quality of FINAL FANTASY with motion-driven, real-time action gameplay.

No release date, no whiff of multiplayer, no indication that you’ll be forced you use your DS or DSi as a means to play the game. Hopefully Square will start filtering down more information about the two former and be smart and not require the latter. If any of you have more information (or a direct link to higher quality trailer), please let me know.

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House of the Dead: Overkill

the-house-of-the-dead-overkill-screens-20080818065349937_640w

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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Nintendo Announcements at GDC

gdc

Earlier today, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata took the stage at the Game Developer Conference to talk about what the company has in store for 2009.

Nintendo DSi

As I stated in an earlier post, the Nintendo DSi is set to hit American shelves on Sunday April 5th. Having already sold over 2 million units in Japan since the systems release in November of last year.

Today Iwata announced that anyone who buys a DSi within the first six months of its American launch will receive 1000 DSi points. This is a marketing strategy to get consumers to check out the new DSi Shop which will feature games for download. As of now they will be in increments of free (always the best price), 200 points, 500 points and 800+ points. Nintendo has made it no secret however that they are courting developers to create not only games for the shop, but applications in line with the iPhone apps store. After burning through the initial free points, you can either purchase more with your credit card or, starting April 5th, at certain retailers. Still no sign of Nintendo merging Wii points and DSi points into interchangeable currency. Boo.

Two DSi exclusive games were also shown to conference attendees. WarioWare: Snapped will utilize the system’s two cameras for a unique gaming experience and a game until the developmental title of  Moving Memo will allow gamers to create their own animated flip-books. There were also several DSi Shop mini games available on the floor for short demos.

Nintendo DS

Don’t despair if you decided not to upgrade to the new DSi model. Iwata also unveiled today the first peek at a new Zelda game for the DS. The new title will use the same touch controls found in the Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks utilizes a steam locomotive to travel around the world, switching between Phantom and Link to explore the dungeons, and solve puzzles using new and classic items.

Nintendo Wii

Both Excitebots: Trick Racing and the upcoming rehash of Punch-Out!! were available for conference attendees to play. The former is set to release on April 20th and the latter on May 18th.

Also announced was the increased capacity for storage on the Wii. Sort of. As of today, Wii owners can save all of their Virtual Console games, Channels and WiiWare onto high capacity SD cards in addition to regular SD cards. Woo hoo? I suppose it’s a good thing and really the best and cheapest option for Nintendo. After all, issuing a  hard drive would be counter productive to profit margins. According to the press release:  To play games that have been saved to SD cards, consumers will be able to select and launch them from an SD Menu icon on the Wii Menu. (Note that when launching games or channels from an SD card, an equivalent amount of internal Wii memory is required. To clear space from the internal memory, users can transfer games or channels from the Wii Menu to the SD card). This feature is included in the latest version of the Wii System Menu Update, which owners will receive immediately after performing a system update today. So my guess is as good as yours as to whether this update actually does anything.

But Nintendo was just using this as a jumping off point for their next bit of news. Starting today as well, the Virtual Console is being expanded to include third party arcade classics. These include STARFORCE by Tecmo Ltd., and Mappy, Gaplus and Tower of Druaga by Namco Bandai Games Inc.

Oh! And the Wii is expected to surpass 50 million units sold this month. No big, right guys? >.>

So other than the new Zelda game for DS, Nintendo failed to impress me at the GDC. No officially announcement on a new Mario game, a new Metroid game. No nothing. They couldn’t even throw a bone to some of the more neglected mascots since the Wii launch. No Kirby, no StarFox. Not even a Donkey Kong. As much as I keep digging for that glimmer of hope that Nintendo hasn’t forgotten its roots, it’s getting harder to keep believing.

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10 million strong…and growing

wii-play

Nintendo announced in a press release on March 19th that their game, Wii Play, had surpassed 10 million units in the United States alone. This makes Wii Play the top selling game of the current console war. However, it still has a ways to go to catch up to Nintendo’s biggest moneymakers; Wii Sports and Super Mario Bros. Both games, which have had the unfair advantage of being packaged with their respective systems, have sold over 40 million units a piece.

This brings to light the question though, “Are these games really selling that well?” With Wii Sports and Super Mario Bros. the answer is a resounding “yes”. The former for its nostalgic play and the latter for having some of the easiest pick up and play seen in years. But Wii Play is another story. Marketed as nine games and an extra Wii mote, the package seems to be a steal at $49.99. After all, the Wii mote by itself is $39.99. So for ten dollars more you get nine games! That’s only slightly over a dollar per game! Wow!

And that was the line I used to feed customers and they’d buy it , the poor sods. Even now, that bit of deception makes me feel dirty. Yes, technically, they were getting nine games but Wii Play is a classic example of you get what you pay for. Unlike Wii Sports which is easy to learn but still deep enough to be fun after fifteen minutes, the majority of the Wii Play games seem like filler that shouldn’t have been allowed to go gold in the first place. Of course, one could argue that for slightly over a buck any amount of fun that can be gleamed is worth it.

But it just strikes me as cheating for Nintendo to go on and on about how well this game is doing. Like it’s some paradigm at which future programmers should aim for. Sure it’s sold 10 million units, but it wasn’t for the games. It was for the controller. When this glaringly obvious aspect was put to Nintendo, their response was, “Even if you believe people are buying Wii Play solely for the controller, that indicates that there are now more than 10 million people who have an extra Wii Remote controller in their homes. When added to the 12.7 million Wii Remote controllers that have sold separately, this reinforces the growing ‘social gaming’ trend we have been seeing where friends and family use their Wii games as a social hub– both in person and online.”

Well played Nintendo. Well played indeed.

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