Version tested: PlayStation 2
The PS2 sits proudly in the centre of the Playstation family photograph, nestled comfortably between its bearskin-clad pioneer father and the powerful child it spawned, the child it knows that one day soon will beat it in an armwrestle and officially make it an old man. That day is yet to come though, and judging by sales figures and the enormous amount of PS2 releases still hitting our shelves, it's some way off. For now the PS2 is still a force to be reckoned with, offering a huge variety of titles. To that end we've decided to take the Rawhide approach, rounding up a few last-gen stragglers and herding them into the EG review pen for slaughter.
Naruto: Ultimate Ninja 2
- Developer: CyberConnect2
- Publisher: Atari
You can hardly blame Namco Bandai for only just now getting around to releasing this title over here. We're still playing catch-up with Japan on the story of the whisker-faced boy Ninja with questionable fashion sense after all, and it was only last year that the books and cartoons arrived properly on UK shores. It's still surprising to note, though, that Ultimate Ninja 2 has been spinning in Japanese disc drives since 2004. In fact, they're already set to receive their fifth title (i.e. the second one based on the Shippuunden follow-up series). We reviewed the first one back in February, and the next should be along relatively soon. With that in mind, is this a worthy stopgap?
As before, the cel-shaded manga look is impressive. The pencil drawn visuals give the 2D brawler a distinctive style, and while the cross-hatch shading sometimes makes the characters look dirty rather than dark, it stays true to its origins. Compared to the first game, number two has a slightly tinkered look to the interface and backgrounds, infusing everything together more naturally. There's not much in the way of drastic visual improvement, however.
Still, it improves on the fighter roster, from fourteen to thirty-plus characters. Most are unlocked through the Ultimate Road story mode, which pitches combinations of combatants into one-on-one battles throughout its adventure; or through additional missions, some of which feature certain conditions (e.g. not using your special moves) that must be fulfilled. All the back story bumpf that goes along with it is a little confusing for those not steeped in Naruto narrative as it doesn't really do too well in explaining who everybody is. For fans, though, it's well done. But isn't that always the case? Proper anime pedants should rejoice, too, because you have the option to avoid inappropriate dubbing and switch every last grunt and squeal back to its original Japanese.
Overall, though, it's still the same one button melee combat - bold and brash but with little variation in characters' movesets - as the first. Special moves are a mixture of button bashing and pattern matching OTT cutscenes, and offensive and defensive items litter each multi-level stage, encouraging a fast, frenetic fight around the environment. It's a game that makes up in pizzazz what it lacks in depth. If Virtua Fighter 5's a bit too much hard work for you, you'll be happily pulling off impressive moves in here with just a little practice.
Ultimate Ninja 2 certainly appears to have had a decent spit and polish when put beside the first, but it'll take until the third for the formula to be played around with more than it has been here. As it stands, it's an enjoyable plug in the market until number three, and perfectly acceptable for Naruto fans, albeit not absolutely essential for those happy with what they've got, or what they'll get in the future.
Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3
- Developer: Spike
- Publisher: Atari
Just as Akira Toriyama's inimitable art style earned the Dragon Ball saga a significant pedestal in the halls of manga history, so too has the Budokai Tenkaichi series in beat ‘em ups. It's managed to carve its own niche as a unique hyper-kinetic blend of aerial 3D combat and fast-paced attack and defence that screams epic rather than intimate.
Its latest iteration, then, is its biggest yet, evidently so when you've got a line-up that puts even the bloated Mortal Kombat: Armageddon to shame. BT3 features a ridiculously large roster of fighters - one hundred and sixty-one if you include the various versions of every character - all fighting to see who's got the spikiest hair. More than you'll ever need but also an indication that not every fighter has been honed to perfection.
If you've just arrived at the series, it's plainly bewildering at first, and easier to initially bash away at the buttons. But despite having only the same basic attack commands for each fighter, it can often be a fruitless task against the game's tough AI. A comprehensive tutorial on counters and timing eventually gives some semblance of finesse, and practice leads to offensive exploits, yet, like Naruto, even with tactics to hand, the game never truly gets as deep as you'd like.
Again, like Naruto, BK3's graphics are cel-shaded, aiming to replicate Toriyama's style. It's arguably not as good a result. It's clean and manga-fied, sure, but there's certainly no wow factor to its look. Characters never really come to life, and fighting stages are often more functional backgrounds than gorgeous arenas. Much to most people's relief, however, you can at least switch to Japanese audio once more.
Various modes, tournaments and sub-RPG customisation bolster the single player content and there's enough here to keep fans happy. For DBZ veterans, it's enormously impressive. This is more of a culmination of everything that came before than an evolution of the series, diving headfirst into the story's enormous inkpot. Just going through and trying out the long list of combatants is enough entertainment in itself, although it remains questionable as to how much more you can really wring out of this if you played the last one to death.
For everyone else, it's a tough and not entirely rewarding slog that you may tire of before you see the fruits of your labour. If you're not prepared to wallow in the minutiae of Dragon Ball Z, there are far more competent fighters out there.
High School Musical: Sing It
- Developer: Disney
- Publisher: Disney
Would I be asserting my manliness if I commented that I didn't particularly fall for the cult smash that is High School Musical? Or would I just look like a grumpy sourpuss? Don't answer that. Whatever your opinion, I was a little underwhelmed with this tuneful teenage love story and its cast of perfect hair and white teeth. After all the hype, I was prepared for something phenomenal. Instead I got something a little part charming, a little part cliché, and a whole lot of cheese. The problem is that the songs, as well done and slick as they are, just aren't musical classics. I just don't understand why people like it so. In fact, I commented as much to a friend, who replied that maybe it was because I hadn't grown up with it. Maybe it can't leave a mark on me in the way it will in the minds of today's impressionable kids. I'm still not convinced, though. How can this be a patch on Grease or Bugsy Malone or even Little Shop of Horrors, tell me that?
My name's not Jonathan Ross, though, so to the game instead. If you're of the generation who can't get enough ohmigosh!, here's a treat for you: all the songs from the first and second movies and a handful of extra pop from artists you've never heard of on one sing-a-long-a-disc. Ohmigosh! Despite selling with Singstar mics, this is a PS2 karaoke game that wasn't built by Sony. In other words, it doesn't have Singstar's sleek interface or modes, opting instead for its own solution. That also means a few amateur niggles like not being able to save in Story Mode (i.e. singing through the songs as they appear in the film), or having to click through the menu options twice in order to properly select a song or singer.
One of the worst things, however, is the requirement to amass a cumulative high score throughout the game in order to unlock every last song and surrounding knick-knacks. Only the first movie's songs are available at the start, everything else involves singing away for access. While the good news for the tone deaf is that scoring appears to be more generous than Singstar, there's a lot of it to do to get everything unlocked, making it more of a chore than a challenge. It's a needless feature for a game that, for a party title, really should have had everything open from the beginning.
Videos of songs are gone too. Instead you pick an animated version of the movie's characters to perform in front of various backdrops of school. Each song is sung as a duet, usually split between male and female parts, but the game isn't gender fussy when it comes to who plays which role. Depending on whom you've chosen, boy or girl, this leads to amusing moments when the voice coming out of the singer's mouth doesn't always match the sex. Bizarre.
Getting to the point, though, a lot of the songs don't entirely evoke that karaoke feel and the bold, physical dance numbers of the movie don't always translate perfectly. That's not to say upbeat songs like 'Start of Something New' and 'We're All In This Together' didn't melt my cynical, icy heart. They did. They got me singing along like any good Singstar package could without too much in the way of irony. Sadly even that lapse of masculinity didn't stop me noticing that the remainder of the package is tame Disney-sanctioned soft-pop they wouldn't even play on lunchtime Radio One. It's all a bit too wholesome, and I'd sooner be singing along to The Sound of Music if I had a choice. Start waving your jazz hands in the air in protest and demand a proper Singstar Musicals package instead.
- Developer: I-Imagine
- Publisher: Virgin PLAY
Try this at home, ladies and gents: pop Final Armada in a random pile of PS2 titles and ask an unwitting somebody to place them all chronological order. Nine times out of ten Final Armada's going to be the first one in the list because, despite coming out recently, it looks like a game from the first months of the PS2's life. Possibly even a scrubbed-up N64 title if we were being particularly cruel. Levels lack detail; bland terrain with outcroppings of crude trees and rocks, and a poor, muddy draw distance to boot. Character models are stiff and wooden and lack what should be de rigueur voiceovers in the cutscenes. It really it is a game that's come unstuck in time.
Sadly, it plays like it has, too. This isn't a game that makes up in personality what it lacks in looks. Its premise is clunky vehicular combat: trying to drive in circles to get behind enemies in order to put a dent in their metallic hides with your weak gun and weedy supply of missiles. The viewpoint fails to account for your peripheral vision in all this. Trying to futilely loop behind a swooping fighter without being able to look left and right shouldn't really be anybody's idea of fun, particularly how it's done here. And while you can look behind, it's stupidly mapped to the button which cycles through your forward camera views as well.
The game's one conceit to some form of innovation is a wingman who flies beside you and aids in battles; a wingman that requires nothing more tactical than to be pointed towards the enemy and commanded to fire. Pointless, really.
It starts off relatively easy and gets tougher as enemies overwhelm, adopting the Halo system of shield recharging (ah, so we can at least ascertain that it came out after that game) to make the challenge. While your health is poor, your shield fills up pretty quickly when damaged. That doesn't make the slog any more exciting, though, and a few fixed turret missions later on really put the boring icing on the boring cake. Transformers (the good PS2 one), say, or even ancient Rage game Incoming had more ideas based around the same shooter concept while also looking a hundred times better. Any sympathy for Final Armada not having to make do with a triple-A budget is stifled by mediocrity of the worst kind.
My next trick: look deeply into my closing paragraph. On the count of three you will forget about this unmemorable game completely. One... two... three. There. It's gone.
- Developer: Sidhe Interactive
- Publisher: Empire Interactive
As we speak my band of zany Eurogamer cohorts have set fire to my underpants and fired a coconut at my testicles, so what better time to write this review? Well...oh no! They're riding space hoppers naked and beating me with a giant inflatable spoon! What will they think of next?
Seriously, I've a fond regard for Jackass' gonzo brand of sado-masochistic skater comedy. With its cult cachet slowly flickering out in the years since the TV series and movies finished, however, it feels a little out of place for any game to be cashing-in now. Should we now expect an OC adaptation? An Ally McBeal action adventure? A Firefly MMO? No, wait, scratch that last one.
Still, despite an untimely release, it's hard not to let out a weary sigh upon the realisation that the videogame of the show is nothing more than a predictable collection of minigames. What more could you or I expect, or Jackass deserve, though? There are thirty-five in total, some culled directly from previous shows' stunts (e.g. eating eggs till you vomit or paintballing Johnny Knoxville's private parts); a lot more high risk and fantastical (racing dodgems on the top of skyscrapers, playing golf with grenades, or paddling through poo-infested sewers, and so on). For the most part, they're usually scatological and painful, often both at the same time.
There's certainly an effort to offer variety. The game mixes up challenges with different environments and multiple goals in each, without too much in the way of an overlap between them all. There's nothing entirely memorable, however: any game involving a vehicle or moveable object, handles awfully, and the challenge never gets beyond the standard tapping X, swerving to avoid Y, or matching face buttons to play. The only difference between this and a thousand other minigame collections is your Jackass cronies guffawing and gallivanting in the background.
The problem underlining it all is that the games are way too easy. Despite a few extra objectives to achieve, most can be cleared after one or two goes. At around ten minutes per game, at least they don't overstay their welcome, but they don't offer longevity either. Once the story mode is cleared you can go back to earn points to unlock the usual movies and artwork, but the glamour and comedy fizzles out by then.
It's a bonus that they got the cast together to mo-cap and voice the characters. It at least adds a semblance of authenticity to proceedings, but while the presentation is decent enough, the game's still a rudimentary collection of short, simple vignettes you'll half-heartedly enjoy racing though then quickly tire of. I could also argue that Jackass ethos is all about spontaneity and recklessness, which this game evidently lacks, but we'll leave it at that. Even the sound of Steve-O and the Jackass japesters laughing uproariously over the top of it all can't turn this into goof off gold.