Today we seem to be in the eye of the storm. Having been struck by wave after increasingly crushing wave of high profile titles over the past month, today's release list is lower on volume, higher on content. It's the bunker bomb of October Fridays, and it's going to pound the pennies out of your pocket with as much fury as the average winter weekend's dross-strewn crater of 4/10s and unfamiliar TV spin-offs can ever manage. And I know it's bloody autumn.
It's not just games, either. If you doubted the bunker bomb analogy, consider that Microsoft is relaunching its limited edition Crystal Xbox this Friday as, er, a non-limited edition, which will probably make you feel bad if you paid the LE tax last time around, but will at least give you something to hang from the ceiling at parties. Better, we can now buy Crystal pads separately, so you can turn your lounge console stack into a veritable kaleidoscope of control pad variety.
You'll even discover that there's a goodly amount to play on it this week, in a list topped by Xbox-exclusive RPG Fable, which has been in development at Lionhead satellite studio Big Blue Box here in the UK for longer than I can be bothered to fact-check, and recently came out in the States to a warm reception. We'll be letting you know whether it warms us later today, but we're certainly aware of a current of disappointment flowing alongside it - as well as the cautious commendations it's received from the critics. Complaints that it's too short and too narrow compared to its original remit even prompted Peter Molyneux to pipe up and apologise for anything he might have described in the past that didn't make it into the final version.
There'll be fewer complaints, we fancy, about FIFA Football 2005, which - a couple of harsh review scores notwithstanding - is actually surprisingly enjoyable, particularly thanks to the online aspect. Or at least, that's what Kristan tells me. I picked it up and lost four games in a row 1-0 (well, if I will pick Liverpool against the Arse, eh?) and thought it was sludgy and lopsided with not enough emphasis on or control over defence, and that the way the back four sat so deep in every single scenario stunted its growth - after all, what fun is a game of football if there's basically no chance of a breakaway? [well, you can always play more attacking football, change those tactics and push up, dude - pedantic Ed]
However, I'd have to concede that it must be good, because Kristan's been playing it far more than seems sensible, and he keeps blathering about his Xbox Live ranking. He was 120th in the world last time I paid attention to what he was saying, with a fairly solid record. He even refused to get up and answer the door at one point because he couldn't pause the Live game he had in progress. Now that's dedication. It'll be interesting to see whether a) EA's handling of this PS2 Online and Xbox Live title beats its past experience with Burnout 3, which endured torrential abuse on forums around the globe on its opening weekend after the servers ran beyond capacity, and b) how popular the officially sanctioned FIFA World Cup tournament that kicks off this month will prove to be.
Just remember, if you're on the fence, Pro Evolution Soccer 4 is due out from Konami on PS2 next Friday, and on Xbox Live and PC in November. FIFA Football 2005, of course, is available for everything, including children's parties, weddings, after dinner speeches, and pro-am golf tournaments. It's also playing hard-talking, hard-drinking rebel "Johnnie" in a forthcoming sitcom from the executive producers of Anaconda. Probably.
Straying further into the realms of the multiformat (sorry, Xbox fans), Crash Bandicoot: Twinsanity is going to sell like hotcakes (hotcakes with free money inside them) on PS2 and Xbox, and, although it's a bit disappointing in some areas, deservedly so. Developer Traveller's Tales had a lot of good ideas, and some of them - the Monkey Ball-inspired rollaround and the Sleepwalker-style lead-Cortex-through-traps sections in particular - are genius. Although, given I used to live with a chap who worked on it, I feel duty-bound to point out that I-Ninja, which came out ages ago, did the whole Monkey Ball-inspired rollaround-thing-in-a-platform-game first. It also had a wisecracking ninja and a geriatric (dead, in fact) sensei who kept getting his sage-life wisdom in a twist. "A stitch in time is worth... two in the bush." Wait, what was I talking about again?
Moving on to Tony Hawk's Underground 2, then, and it's safe to say I'm finding it a bit confusing. Is this THUG, or is it Jackass: The Game? The peculiarity of the new story mode aside, once again there's a lot more to do and despite the obvious limitations of having used every button combination and conceivable board trick imaginable in the last five titles, you can even pull off all sorts of new moves. And you can continue to go online on PS2 (but not the Xbox - weird, huh?) Expect a review of that soon, and find out whether I won my battle to stomach the presentation.
From "MTV-cool" to saccharine sweet, then, as we skip non-PS2s from Xbox to Cube and worship the ground that Pikmin 2 grows from. (Although, actually, THUG2 is out on Cube as well, so we're not really skipping forward in the traditional sense; this is more of a lateral bound.) As must be obvious, Pikmin 2 is, to us, a joyful experience. It takes what was already a clever formula, carefully separates it from the things that took it down a notch (the longevity, the sense of pressure) whilst retaining its inimitable structure and goals, and introduces a slew of new and intelligent elements to boot - the second controllable character, the new white and purple Pikmin, the dungeons, the multiplayer modes - and comes out smelling of and looking like roses. It's not the sort of game that leaps off the shelf at impulse buyers though, which is why anybody who is taken by it is hereby instructed to go into their local games shop and literally throw boxes around until people buy it. Take a gun, too.
Equally sweet but presumably less fulfilling is Sony's Jackie Chan Adventures title for the PS2. But since I've not played it, I couldn't tell you much about it, apart from it having a curious cel shaded graphical style and 'interesting' voiceovers, although I have a sneaking suspicion it's based on a TV series. Probably starring Susie Quattro. Gradius V, on the other hand, is a game that requires no Susie Quattro; it's a shoot-'em-up, right, full of the sort of side-scrolling shootery love that only perennial old-schoolists (and Ikaruga developers) Treasure can supply. And supply it they have. It's tough as nails (nails coated in ten metres of titanium alloy and then thrown in a car crusher and varnished with a "LOVE" tattoo across the knuckles), and clearly won't be to everybody's tastes, but we have a feeling it'll strike a lasery chord with the right people.
And with that, we're more or less at the end. All there remains to say is that NHL 2005 is also out this week on PS2 and Cube (having come out on Xbox in later September), and that I had a dream about it the other night that I can't fully explain, but which encouraged me to try it again and stop preaching my sermon about how the mid-90s NHL titles were phenomenally accessible Sensi Soccer-esque hybrids that arguably had little relevance to the sport, and that the increased focus on realism inherent to EA's sports franchises has stifled my subsequent enthusiasm for the subject. You know, from what I remember of it. I may have been dreaming about girls actually.
Oh, and it's worth pointing out that some games came out in the States that won't be out here for a while. Leisure Suit Larry and Tribes: Vengeance are due out here later this month, so I won't dwell on them (or on the Larry press pack we received the other day; ta for the porn and rubber gloves, chaps), but Mortal Kombat: Deception is due out in late November, so - unless you think you'll be playing it on Xbox Live or PS2 Online and don't want to be restricted by an imported copy - get ye to your importer. And there's also Get On Da Mic from Eidos...
Crivens, is that the time? Best get off da keyboard instead. Happy shopping.
- PAL Releases
- Club Football 2005 (Xbox)
- Crash Bandicoot: Twinsanity (PS2, Xbox)
- Fable (Xbox)
- FIFA Football 2005 (PS2, Xbox, Cube, PC, GBA)
- Gradius V (PS2)
- Jackie Chan Adventures (PS2)
- NHL 2005 (PS2, Cube)
- Pikmin 2 (Cube)
- Tony Hawk's Underground 2 (PS2, Xbox, Cube)
- Key US Releases
- Get On Da Mic (PS2)
- Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude (PC, PS2, Xbox)
- Mortal Kombat: Deception (PS2, Xbox)
- Tribes: Vengeance (PC)
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