Well chaps, you've excelled yourselves. We had a tremendous response last week, and even more reviews in time for this Thursday's edition. So, we've been forced to hold some of them over - apologies for that - but we shall endeavour to post them all in the fullness of time. We may well start upping the number that we include in each instalment, too!
Anyway, no doubt you are wondering about this week's prize! And given the winner, we've decided to make it a Cube game. Not a good one, obviously, but we're working on it. So, this week's winner will take home a copy of the, er, inspired WWE Crush Hour from THQ [this originally said Take-Two, but I was being distracted by F-Zero GX so it's an understandable error -Ed]. It's a US copy, but we're sure he'll have no trouble firing it up. We're also throwing in a "squidgy Cube toy" for his nipper. Aren't we the best?
Star Review: Animal Crossing (Cube)
When one EG reader not a million miles away from this review launched an Animal Crossing thread in the forum back in early February, no-one could have predicted the response it would get. For a couple of months, discussion of this game dominated the EG community. The monster thread in question is still twitching away, refusing to die. Not bad for a cutesy niche title, available on import only. So what's all the fuss about?
You, the chief protagonist, find yourself on a train leaving home to start a new life in a new town. Upon arrival, the local hustler (name of Nook) bundles you into a jerrybuilt hovel, hands you some overalls, and sets you to work to pay off your new mortgage. Indentured labourer you may be, but you do get time off to wander around your new neighbourhood and meet your fellow citizens. Before long you'll be doing odd jobs for them too. From these inauspicious beginnings the game gently takes your hand, jabs it full of local anaesthetic, and crams hook after hook after little barbed hook into your pasty gamer flesh.
Two paragraphs in, I can already see it's a lost cause trying to stick to the 300 word limit imposed by our "do as we say, not as we do" EG overlords. Even so, I'm not going to attempt to describe the wealth of detail in this little gem of a game - it would take far too long. Amateur that I am, then, let me try to capture the flavour of the game in a few sentences.
The basic premise couldn't be simpler: pay off your mortgage, and beautify your home and town (now there are some game objectives with which we can all identify). Not up there with "rescue the princess, defeat the alien horde and save the planet", true, but then this game doesn't feature a single crate*, nor a single lava flow. Oh no. It's a massive breath of fresh air for us cynical, jaded veterans of the 8-bit wars. You need to pay off your mortgage? Fine. There are dozens of ways of making money, discovering them is only part of the fun. Lots of clever little mini-games are seamlessly woven into the overall fabric of Animal Crossing, making it a real challenge to get bored. Add to this the compulsive "gotta collect 'em all" brand of gameplay and you're already halfway to the Priory. Throw into the mix some (gasp) social interaction and, hey, it's goodbye life.
Yes, that's right, social interaction. This is a game to play with friends. Sure, chatting to your virtual in-game neighbours can be a good laugh, not to mention educational, but swapping stories, tips, letters and goodies with real-life people is what makes Animal Crossing uniquely entertaining. If you don't believe me, spend a few minutes browsing that behemoth of a forum thread I mentioned, you'll quickly see what I mean.
One last ingredient in this heady gaming cocktail is the clock. The world of Animal Crossing exists in real time, and you'll find different things to see and do at different times of the day or the year. A blindingly simple concept, yet beautifully executed, it will keep pulling you back to your town week after week, month after month.
Before we get too carried away, it should also be said that the passage of time affects your Animal Crossing experience in diverse ways. While your virtual town will change with the seasons, you the protagonist will also change. After an initial frenzy of activity, where you'll put a lot of effort into paying off your debts and turning your hovel into Hugh Hefner's mansion, things will calm down and you'll probably settle into a far more sedate pattern of play.
Animal Crossing does offer unparalleled longevity, of a sort, but a few months down the line you'll probably be content with a spot of weeding, perhaps a bit of fishing, now and then redecorating your upstairs bedroom. Look on it as a kind of marriage (bear with me on this). After the first throes of passion burn themselves out, you settle into domestic intimacy, firing up the GC for a quick bout of Animal Crossing every Saturday night, going through the motions… Even after all this time, though, that old chemistry is still there. Sure you flirt with other games, maybe you lavish more attention on them, but when all's said and done, coming back to Animal Crossing is like coming home.
* Well, OK, one orange box.
No score supplied (take it up with him, eh?)
Unless you live on the sun, or have 100W bulbs in every light socket in your home, you'll have noticed that the GBA screen is a little hard to make out in low light situations - enter the Afterburner. The Afterburner is a hardware mod for the GBA which provides a light source in front of the screen and is powered by the GBA's own batteries.
Having watched my father do some soldering when I was a lad, I felt up to the task of fitting one of these myself and duly ordered a kit and got hold of a soldering iron. Following the advice in the supplied fitting manual, I set myself up in my newly cleaned bathroom, as it's the least dusty room in the flat, and set about taking my GBA apart.
The first main modification to make involves cutting parts of the front casing away to make room for the lighting panel. I used a rotary engraving tool, which did the job admirably and I managed to avoid the horror of removing too much material. Next main task was fitting the anti-reflective film to the LCD screen. A fine chance to plaster the inside of your GBA with sweaty fingerprints! I however, took the precaution of wearing rubber gloves and suffered no such misfortune.
Now we come to the meat and potatoes of the task – soldering. Soldering whilst kneeling down on the bathroom floor, pins and needles making your feet feel like huge blocks of foot on the end of your legs, is no easy task. Eventually I decided to run the gauntlet of dust and complete the soldering at my comfy kitchen table.
Suddenly, the soldering became a relative doddle, although not such a doddle that I wanted to fit the supplied dimmer wheel! All in all the job took me several hours, but the results were unarguably worth it. Battery life is definitely down and there are a few specks of dust visible on the screen but luckily they're at the edge and once I start playing I never noticed them. All of these negatives are far outweighed by the joy of being able to see the screen in any lighting conditions. Several readers (and even your favourite editor) of Eurogamer have seen my front lit GBA, and all seemed impressed to a greater or lesser degree [true and true -Ed].
8 / 10
Def Jam Vendetta (PS2)
Def Jam Vendetta is the latest wrestling game to be developed by AKI, creators of the fantastic ''WCW/nWo Revenge'' on N64. Taking their game engine that was last seen in those games, EA Sports have given it their BIG work over.
The story is very basic, you chose one of four heroes and fight to the top, but the game takes the same path no matter your choice. There is also a survival mode and standard multiplayer options (one on one, tag and free-for-all), there are not many game modes and to make matters worse, you can't edit the moves.
The controls are simple but effective, with one strike and one grapple button, which are both used in a variety of ways, all easy to understand. With these two buttons, it's possible to do plenty of attacks (changing with how long the button is pressed) add two more buttons for counters and blocks and you've got the meat of the game.
As you fight, and inflict damage on your opponent your ''momentum'' meter rises and when it's filled it flashes and you can enter ''blazin''' mode, when in this mode grappling your opponent and tapping the right analogue stick will perform your special move. If your enemies health bar is low enough, this will KO them. You can also work on body parts, until they can't stand the pain and submit (usually accompanied by a superb bone cracking sound) or you can try and pin them for a three-count. As there's no DQ or count out, it really is last man standing.
The sound and graphics though are nothing special; it's all colourful enough and sounds OK, but by no means anything special. I do like the cartoon style look of the fighters though, as it fits in nicely with the game as a whole.
Vendetta is a good, enjoyable game; it's got a fair few flaws but nothing game ruining. WWE SmackDown! this is not, but its good fun all the same.
7 / 10
Wario Ware, Inc. (GBA)
by Chris Cohen
Stop what you're doing and listen up. Forget what you know about games. Forget the "down, down-right, right" of Dragon Punches, forget the "triangle and square" of special moves, in fact, even forget the "forward and fire" of space shuttles. That's far too complicated... and boring.
Instead, harness the wonder that is Wario Ware.
The old saying "I can play that with one arm tied behind my back," no longer seems so amazing. The simplicity of this game is one of the most appealing aspects.
Wario Ware is, in it's essence, hundreds of mini-games tied together in an amusing, and typically Japanese style storyline, in which Wario decides to cash in by releasing his own game to finance a life of luxury... the worrying thing is, his plan may just have worked. I haven't played through a game and been so thoroughly hooked in a long time. Since the days of Shadowrun on the SNES in fact.
The single player mode sees you tackle various opponents by playing mini-games on their choice of device... be it a mobile phone, car windscreen or elevator shaft. Don't ask. You are given a command, such as "Balance" or "Sink" and are left to work out what you have to do with the precious three seconds you are given. However, you'll be surprised just how easy and intuitive it is to work out what you have to do in that time. Certainly, some of the games will take you a couple of goes to master, but that's half the fun. There is nothing more rewarding than figuring out that you have to cover up Wario's manly belly in order to progress to the next stage. In fact, there are probably several thousand things more rewarding than that in life, but hey... it sounded good.
The fun doesn't end here though as two players can share the oh so perfectly formed SP, and take part in a battle of cleanliness as each player speeds around the screen trying to Hoover up as much rubbish as they can. Or perhaps you would prefer to "dong-dong" it out, as each player attempts to push blocks through the middle of the screen, and onto their opponent's unsuspecting head.
My one reservation before purchasing the game was the longevity factor. Yes there are over 250 mini games to play, but once you've seen one, will you want to keep playing and playing just to get a higher score? Well, in true Nintendo style, yes... yes you will. You see, Nintendo must have thought long and hard about that one, and decided to reward the hardcore gamers with the original versions of classics such as Dr. Mario and "that fly swatting game that came bundled with Mario Paint on the SNES all those years ago."
To leave this game on the shelf would be a crime. An injustice to your GBA. It may however spare you some embarassing moments on the train. I burst out laughing whilst trying to make an attractive Japanese lady sniff up her snot by frantically hitting the A button. Needless to say, I was asked to leave the train at the next station and had my travel card revoked. Don't let that put you off though. You can always have another go whilst you wait for the bus...
8 / 10
by Nerdhater, who says "sorry for the grammar mistakes, I'm Dutch".
Nerdhater is thrilled. Hundreds of soldiers are storming the enemy base, tanks rumble past, ships scourge over our heads. Out of Nerdhater's speakers comes a cacophony of gunshots, rocket explosions and death cries. It is war.
PlanetSide is about war. There are thousands of players online at any time fighting it out over the control of continents in first person view. Players can use the experience points they gain from this to gain more skills: to ride new vehicles, to shoot better weapons, and whatnot.
All the pieces of the game fit. But they don't all the time. In fact, Nerdhater estimates, only one per cent of the game is truly enjoyable. Or perhaps this gamer doesn't understand it all. Could be. PlanetSide is extremely hard to get into. And the dynamics of the game are not entirely transparent from the outset.
But still one per cent of the game has been enjoyable this far. The rest of the time has been spent in respawn, doing resources or, when no vehicle is nearby, long, long walks. Being a soldier is apparently very hard work.
PlanetSide suffers from the lack of something all massively multiplayer online RPGs suffer from the lack of: a point. The goal of all is the goal of one. Everybody wants to conquer a base, because you as a soldier gain experience points. And then you gain more skills to conquer bases more easily. So it really isn't about conquering, it's just the quickest way to gain experience.
PlanetSide is about war, yes. But it is also about cold, nerdlike, stat-building to show off your character to your friends. And Nerdhater hates nerds, and he has no friends that care about these sorts of efforts. Hopefully one day massively multiplayer game developers will stop trying to addict gamers to their games and start entering the realm of real fun. If it were objective-based this game would have been so much better.
6 / 10
That's all of you, folks
Reader Reviews should be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org, and can be written about anything you like - hardware, games, peripherals - even if we've already written about it. In fact, that's kind of the point! Your word limit is 300 although we'll tolerate a bit of overflow if you can string words together nicely, and please try to keep it clean and legal. Just like we do for you! The best candidate each week, or rather, each time we decide to take the afternoon off and print your stuff instead, will receive a random bit of game-related tat (possibly even an actual game) as a prize. Lucky, lucky you. And of course, your work will be displayed for all to see.
Yes, that was the same thing we said last week. But this isn't!