Version tested: DS
Pro Evolution Soccer 2008
- Developer: Konami
- Publisher: Konami
It doesn't pay to be complacent, as PES can well testify. After gaining an unassailable lead over the years, it never reckoned on its rival, FIFA, mounting a strong counter-offence and streaking down the left wing in a determined effort to equalise. And that's all the strangled footballing metaphors you'll get out of this review, thank you very much. [Oh no. How terrible. - Ed]
In other words, the competition between the two soccer behemoths isn't as clear-cut as it once was. FIFA has improved considerably in the face of PES' acclaim, while PES still has the habit of making silly feature decisions we could do without. Between the two the ultimate football game probably lies. Ah well.
Mind you, we're really only talking about the console titles here, so let's not waste words. Football on handhelds is less troubled territory and the DS version of PES's 2008 outing bears only a minor resemblance to the big boys, as well you'd expect. Any showboating has been stripped away for a game of simple football and simple features.
Taking it in the context of the previous PES6 DS outing, a few tweaks have been made, though nothing major. A few new licensed clubs have been added, including the likes of Newcastle and Spurs, along with the usual mix of pseudonymous national players. Control feels like it's been tightened up some, making everything a little more responsive than it was before. The graphics, too, are brighter, exuding a more summery vibe than last time, and the crowd noise of '08 is a lot better than the eerie silences of before. Players have also been given portraits to accompany their stats, as opposed to pixellated blobs.
On the down side, it can't really get over the lack of analogue control, and it still suffers from noticeable slowdown when too many players are on screen, particularly when everybody's crowded into the penalty box for a corner kick. And the irritating, unpredictable method of scoring or saving penalties by picking one of six boxes is still here. Many's the nil-nil draw where I might as well have tossed a coin than go into a deciding shootout.
The Konami Cup tournament mode and World Tour are still present, the latter asking you to grind through a groups of teams in each skill level, earning coins to spend on new players and fancy power-ups. You may or may not be pleased to know, too, that the bizarre capsule machine used to buy new team members with coins won in matches makes a return appearance. Meanwhile, Wi-Fi and single-card multi-play are all present and correct.
With such minor improvements, then, there isn't that much incentive to upgrade from last year and our sentiments lie roughly along the same lines as before. You're probably as well-served going for FIFA '08 on DS than you are this. That said, this is a decent attempt at portable football on the DS that carries Pro Evo's name, though don't let it fool you into thinking it's anywhere near as majestic as other versions.
- Developer: Gameloft
- Publisher: Ubisoft
I don't know if I should feel insulted that Tom asked me to review one of these so-called brain games. Is he trying to tell me I'm stupid or something? Me, with my B in Mathematics (third attempt)? Perhaps, though, the real indication of stupidity was in agreeing to the task when a hundred awful Brain Training clones have flooded the market. Why bother subjecting myself to another one? I may not know much, but I know how to spell 'saturation'.
Where Brain Training had you reducing the age of your thinking organ, Brain Challenge offers the less 'scientifically accurate' method of using tests and puzzles to increase the percentage of it being used. Whatever. It's an entirely made up figure anyway - it starts you off by scoring you with a low number then eggs you on to keep getting better. Providing you don't fluff up badly, it increases a few arbitrary percentage points each game until you're supposedly into boffin territory, able to blow up heads with your mind.
Besides that, the numbers are really only there to keep you playing in order to unlock mini-games after percentage landmarks. Despite encouraging a daily test, there's no restriction on how often you can play each game, meaning you can shoot through it all in a few days if you want.
Tests are entirely stylus-driven (no shouting "blue" in a mangled accent here) divided into five categories of five puzzles: Logic, Maths, Memory, Visual, and Focus. To train for the day, you have to go through a sequence of short, timed challenges in each category answering as many as you can. Also included alongside the main package is Stress Training, which asks you to answer the same questions under some form of distraction the game decides throws at you - forcing you to answer two questions at once, covering the screen in insects - in order to measure your stress level. It's all rather silly, yet pretty enjoyable. In both modes, as your brain score increases, the puzzles do gradually get harder, keeping your interest a while longer after familiarity with the puzzles kicks in.
Its flaw, however, is that we've seen most of these puzzles before. Some have even graced other titles in some form or other: the maths questions in Brain Training, the 'Which is the heaviest?' questions in Big Brain Academy, to name two. Counting things and matching shapes aren't exactly new ideas and there's nothing overall that makes the challenges memorable in their own right.
It is admittedly well put together, though. It wraps it all in colourful presentation, avoiding stepping into the stark world of Dr Kawashima. Instead, you're accompanied by a sexy choice of male or female doctor who offers advice and babbles away every time you power up the game. Conversely, it never feels more than throwaway fun. And while it never claimed to be anything to the contrary, its blatant copying of the Brain Training formula and the lack of innovation that results don't do it any favours.
Mega Man ZX Advent
- Developer: Capcom
- Publisher: Capcom
Attempting to make sense of the convoluted proliferation of Mega Man titles is enough to drive a man insane. Consequently, I won't be attempting that. Suffice to say this is the latest in a long line of robo-suited platformers that started on the NES with Mega Man and splintered down so many different paths, it's a wonder anyone can follow them all.
Certainly I marvel at anyone who does. Mega Man never appropriated the modern critical reputation that blessed other 2D throwback platformers, chiefly Castlevania. It's perhaps because the Mega Man universe isn't quite as appealing a place to visit, plagued by the kind of character bloat and lack of innovation that corrupted the purity of Sonic the Hedgehog.
Still, things are as polished as they're going to get in this sequel to Mega Man ZX. Two different characters are playable in separate plots using roughly the same locations. Grey and Ashe each stumble upon the Mega Man armour in a contrived story that finds them fighting against other Mega Men and all manner of large beasties. Those bosses set the scene for a traditional part of the series' history: defeat them and you earn their shape and powers, able to transform on-the-fly and use them as you see fit. You take advantage of these new powers to strategise new ways to defeat foes, and occasionally do a spot of backtracking to reach previously unreachable areas.
Backgrounds are detailed in some respects, but there's some poor design at work. Your character seems to lack grace in terms of control. More likely you don't suit the environment, which, despite the graphical Shonen Jump sheen, never feels coherently joyful to explore. It's also rather tough beyond Easy mode. Not for the fact that you can't break through any difficult part eventually - it's certainly not Contra 4 levels of hard - but that it contains the archaic notion of throwing you right back to your last saved game should you lose all your lives.
Now get this: you can activate various warp points throughout a level for yourself, but you can only warp in from a save point in the hub areas, not out. So if you want to save before a boss, you have to walk all the way back again, killing everything that just respawned on the level. Provided the door to the exit is reachable or unlocked in the first place, otherwise there's a whole lot of hoping and praying going on.
For some, they'll enjoy that old-school challenge, possibly even laugh at it when they think back to the original NES Mega Man games. It certainly doesn't belie its heritage. There's no denying, however, that the platforming feels a little tired and the constant blibbering of the characters is rather trite. And he still can't duck. You can pull a decent platformer out of here, but after interminable sequels we're all still waiting for Capcom to push the big blue Mega Man reset switch and do it all over again properly.
Paint By DS
- Developer: Etrain
- Publisher: Mercury Games
One of the downsides of doing these roundup reviews is that I don't get to think of a witty intro headline to place on the front page. A blessing and a curse for all concerned, I suppose. Rest assured, though, had Paint By DS received the single review treatment, surely nothing more than 'Color Me Badd' would be succinctly appropriate in the circumstances.
The game is, as it freely admits, less of a paint package and more of a colouring-in game. You select from a number of famous landscapes and still-life paintings which have been drained of their colour and fill them in as best you can, trying to stay between the lines. Points are awarded for how accurately your effort matches the actual article. Beyond that, you're left to your own devices.
There's a choice of pencils, watercolour and oil paints to use for each canvas, the latter two of which require you to blend colours by dragging different ones onto a palette until you get the desired mix. You then slop it on as required, zooming in on the picture to work on the fine detail.
Here's the point of contention, though: to think that the DS's stylus and tiny screen are appropriate tools to imitate the brushstrokes of the past masters is plainly ridiculous. It can't do it. It can't match the strokes of a paintbrush with any sort of precision, nor can the screen's resolution do justice to the paintings on offer. Even my best-intentioned efforts (and, fair point, I'm rubbish at art) made it look like I'd scribbled over the page with a stubby crayon.
Granted, practice makes perfect. Then again, why would those with patience spend time getting creative in a package that is eminently too inept for its grand artistic ambitions? Even the best endeavour seems futile in the face of a clunky control system and a lack of strong visual feedback. To call it a relaxing piece of leisure software doesn't excuse it, either. It needn't be said that a piece of paper and a few paint pots will yield more satisfying and creative results than putting in the effort here.
Cooking Mama 2: Dinner With Friends
- Developer: Office Create
- Publisher: 505 Games
In these days when Jamie Oliver and chums are trying to drill the message into our blubbery heads that we should chuck the pre-packaged additive-rich lasagnes in favour of fresh home-made ingredients, the first Cooking Mama couldn't have come at a better time. Similarly, in the days when the DS was beginning to fully blossom and show what it could really do with its control system, this bubbly cookery sim came at just the right moment.
Translating the culinary art into stylus taps, scribbles and swipes proved a likeable choice. Mama's world is as cheery and colourful as they come, and her easy-to-understand cookery tasks make it accessible to all. While it never took the world by storm, it appealed to those of the more casual persuasion to which it pandered.
Unfortunately, the fishbone in the kedgeree was that it soon became repetitive, a problem that can't help reoccurring in the sequel given its remarkable similarity to the first. As before, each recipe is split into self-contained micro tasks like breaking eggs, kneading dough, etc, and the various methods used in numerous recipes keep cropping up again and again. There's only one way to chop an onion, for instance, so expect to see that in any recipe that requires it.
Likewise, as we said before, there's no real progression of difficulty from the first to the last. Trauma Centre with a spatula, this is not. Your only challenge after exhausting what's on offer is to try to beat recipes without making a mistake or upping your score in the mini-games. Rewards do however come in the form of bonus items when things go right, with which you can decorate your kitchen and dress up Mama.
The Dinner With Friends subtitle, then, isn't all its cracked up to be. In single-player games you can cook recipes you've learned for some of Mama's chums, which boils down [I'm watching you, Lyon - Ed] to repeating the same recipes you played in the main game in the guise of impressing somebody other than Mama. Multiplayer, meanwhile, is all about who can beat the mini-game challenges the fastest.
Given its similarity to the first, it's hardly an essential purchase, but if you haven't experienced it already then this is the one to get, or at least sneak a go on after buying it for a younger member of the family. It's simple, but has noodles of charm [that's it - Ed].