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Luke Albiges

Contributor

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Skate

Down with the sickness.

King Of Fighters XI

Well, it's one louder, isn't it?

Hour of Victory

War is hell.

Naruto: Uzumaki Chronicles

Teenage kicks.

With most anime licences being turned into turgid or impregnable beat-'em-ups, its good to see a developer go down a different road once in a while in an effort to keep things fresh. Kudos, then, to Cavia, because Uzumaki Chronicles does just that. It is, in essence, an extremely gentle action-RPG, with the emphasis very much on the action side of things. And while the pummelling might not be up to the dizzying standards set by the likes of Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry 3, it's still surprisingly robust, especially for a game with such a young demographic.

Colin McRae: DIRT

Now wash your hands.

We've only just noticed this, but there hasn't been a good rally game since Rallisport Challenge 2 on the good ol' Xbox. That's pretty shocking really, especially when you consider that before that, you'd see a new off-road racing game every few months. Then again, perhaps that's precisely what killed off developer enthusiasm for the genre - as the market filled with uninspiring rally titles like Rally Fusion and Richard Burns Rally, the world just seemed to lose interest. Who better, then, to breathe new life into this ailing sub-genre than Codemasters, the guys who first showed us how well consoles and rally racing could coexist back in the early years of the PSone? And with the very same series that showed us just how exciting real rallying could be the first time around, no less. C-Mac in the house, y'all.

Pokémon Diamond/Pearl

'Super Effective' as always.

In just ten short years since the franchise's introduction, the Pokémon series has enjoyed monumental success and now sits just behind Mario's many and varied outings as the second most lucrative gaming franchise of all time. But the basic facts don't really do justice to the phenomenal sales of the monster battling saga. Indeed, if you factor in the fact that Mario has had the benefit of a ten-year head start, as well as the fact that the NES, SNES and N64 all featured huge-selling Mario hardware bundles, things start to look a little more impressive. But of course, 'things that are popular' and 'things that are good' aren't always the same thing. Just look at Oasis and Coldplay. Anyone who has played one of the true Pokémon adventures, though, will most likely vouch for the quality - and with so many improvements squeezed in between oodles of fuzzy familiarity for this DS debut, it looks like 160-odd million sales might be justified for this market-leading IP.

Yu-Gi-Oh! World Championship 2007

Stuck in the middle with Yugi.

Never in a million years did we imagine that one day we'd start a review by reminiscing about the good old days of Yu-Gi-Oh! but that seems to be exactly what's happening here. Makes us feel sort of dirty, but we'll run with it for now. You see, World Championship 2007 really makes us miss the days of being offered a variety of starting decks at the beginning of a new game.

Xiaolin Showdown

Kung Fu Hassle.

It's amazing what some developers think will pass for a decent game when kids are the main demographic. Contrary to popular belief, kids aren't stupid and with so many of them having grown up surrounded by games from an extremely early age, most can now tell an absolute classic from a sloppy cash-in.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

It ain't easy being green.

There's a worrying trend starting to develop in games aimed at the younger end of the market these day. Back in the day, the idea of even saving your progress in a game was an alien concept but today, ever since Lego Star Wars did it, developers seem to think its okay to churn out games in which you can't actually die. The only thing this can ever test is patience, which is no good thing. And with its oh-so-frequent checkpoints in case you fall off a building (which will happen a lot through no fault of your own) and unique 'press A to get up with full life after being killed in battle' system, Turtles is the latest such offender. Oddly, though, this is pretty much the least of the game's worries.

Def Jam: Icon

Momma said knock you out.

If, like us, you were looking forward to this latest Def Jam title on the strength of its predecessors, you might be a little put out to discover that ICON bears but a passing resemblance to Vendetta and the excellent Fight For New York. Yes, they all feature rappers fighting but that's pretty much where similarities end. With Aki no longer at the reins, the Fight Night crew have been called in to further the franchise with this third title and while that sounds like it should be a workable substitution, something has definitely gone awry here.

Virtua Fighter 5

AM2 on the long-awaited sequel.

Being able to 'see into the future' as we are often called to do in spreading the word about the best upcoming games is a real mixed blessing. Yeah, we've had a fair few bouts on the wonderful new Virtua Fighter 5 but coming home from SEGA's offices to the semi-crushing realisation that we'd have to go back to VF4:Evolution in the interim was, in a word, nasty. To try and fill that gap a little, we decided to catch up with SEGA's ever-spectacular AM2 team to lay to rest our list of 'if...'s, 'why...'s and 'what if...'s - this is what they had to say for themselves on the subjects of new characters, online options and making allowances for old men.

Pokémon Ranger

Out of the loop

While we'll gladly defend the proper Pokémon adventures against any and all misguided attacks and insults, we'd find it much harder to do so for many of the loosely related cash-ins that carry the illustrious brand name. Pokémon Channel, Pokémon Dash and Hey You Pikachu all fall firmly into this category of undesirables and while recent DS adventure Mystery Dungeon manages to scrape by simply on merit of its scale, Ranger doesn't do quite so well for itself.

Naruto: Ultimate Ninja

Genuinely quite good, believe it.

If there's one thing we've learned from our time served telling the world which games are worth playing, it's that a game can never be written off based on its subject matter. Def Jam: Fight For New York makes for a perfect example - the idea of a couple of rappers slogging the hell out of each other might not do it for you but if you're big on your wrestling games, it's pretty much a must-have. Similarly, even games based on unfamiliar IPs can tickle you in a special way despite your lack of knowledge, awareness or interest. You may not know what a Naruto is, let alone what to do with one, but trust us when we tell you that regardless, Ultimate Ninja is a deeply enjoyable cartoon fighter. And if you're into the series anyway, the only thing you could really ask for is a bigger roster. But we'll come to that a little later on.

Saint Seiya: The Hades

Hash of the titans

There was a time early in the 32-bit generation where everybody wanted a piece of the 3-D fighting market. Success for the likes of Tekken, Virtua Fighter and Soul Blade forced developers around the world to have a crack at what was obviously the genre du jour to varying effect - Square's Tobal No. 1 rates among the more interesting, while shameless cash-ins like Star Wars: Masters Of Teras Kasi became a common sight as shops became saturated with PlayStation software. Recently, though, the genre has more or less been left to the big dogs and it's rare to see an accomplished 3D fighter these days that isn't from the same stable as one we already play on occasion. No real surprises, then, when we say that a relatively obscure anime license and an outdated game engine don't exactly make Saint Seiya: The Hades triple-A material.

Virtua Fighter 5

The one ruck you'll want to get into.

With the PlayStation 3 dangerously close to actually launching over here, we've been giving some serious consideration to the proposed software line-up. Amid a sea of titles that most seasoned gamers will already have played or ignored for a reason hides the odd interesting exclusive or update.

So it's been at least a month since the last Dragon Ball Z game and by now all you crazy kids must be clamouring for another one, right? Or maybe not. Regardless, Atari is back with another slice of anime-inspired action for you to ignore on the shelves of your local videogame boutique despite the fact that it isn't anywhere near as bad as you might think. In fact, if it weren't for a couple of really basic errors, Budokai Tenkaichi 2 would be a perfectly acceptable brawler.

Pokémon Diamond/Pearl

Game Freak's pocket monster evolves.

With most shops already stocking little but air where their Nintendo hardware should be, the Japanese firm is silencing critics with its impressive sell- through, with both the shiny new Wii and the loveable DS Lite being about as easy to track down as hen's teeth this Christmas. So with the installed base of the DS flying up faster than Sony would like, we look to next year with just one word on our collective minds - Pokémon. Diamond and Pearl are undoubtedly the most anticipated portable titles of 2007 and we've spent the last few months ploughing through the Japanese versions to give you the low- down on just what to expect come Easter. Or whenever the hell Nintendo decides to let us have the games in English. Maybe next Christmas. We just don't know. But every day that passes without this game makes us a little bit sadder.

Power Stone Collection

A portable gem.

While some may fondly remember the Dreamcast because it seems like the 'cool' thing to do, most of us do so for the right reasons - the wealth of lesser known titles that were disgracefully overlooked by many punters. Among these, the Power Stone games rate extremely highly for us and while we've been crying for a sequel for years, this portable collection of the first two games will do just as well for now.

Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3

You've got red on you.

Wow. They actually did it. They actually found a way to make MK Armageddon even less necessary. While the new game might have vast rosters of characters, the simplicity of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 and its wealth of classic finishing moves make it the far better game and for far less cash. We don't want dodgy third-person adventure modes, half-baked creation modes or reams of unlockable artwork. We just want to beat gallons of blood out of silly-looking characters then make them explode in a shower of bones and offal. Is that such a bad thing, really? Perhaps it is, but as far as guilty pleasures go, UMK3 is right up there.

Mortal Kombat: Armageddon

Not so special K.

Oh, how times have changed. Violence in media is now far more accepted than it was when Mortal Kombat first hit the arcades, but despite the fact that the world has moved on around it, Midway's once-celebrated fighting series has barely moved an inch in the fourteen years since its introduction. The comedy violence still raises a chuckle now and again, sure, but just as the world's attitude to violence has moved on, so have people's expectations of what a fighting game should deliver.

Tekken: Dark Resurrection

Namco declares Marshall Law on handheld gaming.

Things haven't exactly been great for the poor old PSP lately. Aside from the insanely good LocoRoco, Sony's handheld has been starved of quality titles for much of the year, leaving it to look on helplessly while the DS rides the non-game wave into millions more households. But as the likes of Nintendogs have proved, it only takes one game to tip the balance of power and if Namco's fisticuffs extravaganza Dark Resurrection can't put the PlayStation Portable back on the map, it's unlikely that anything will.

Super Dragon Ball Z

Don’t let the title fool you.

It could easily be argued that the beat-'em-up genre is by far the hardest to break these days. Between Street Fighter and Virtua Fighter, the hardcore market is more or less sorted while flashier affairs like Marvel vs Capcom 2 and Soul Calibur 3 do their bit to keep even the gamer with the shortest attention span entertained. So, despite the Budokai series doing pretty well with fans, Atari has decided to take the Dragon Ball series back to the drawing board and come up with a whole new way of playing as Goku and friends/rivals/enemies. Well, to be more accurate, what they've actually come up with is a whole old way of doing things...

Street Fighter II' Hyper Fighting

Better late than never.

The decision not to support Street Fighter Anniversary Collection for the original Xbox through backwards compatibility can be seen in two ways. Firstly, it's an oversight of a niche game lost among demand for more popular titles. Looking down the compatability lists, this seems unlikely - other ‘lesser' games like Sniper Elite and Deathrow make the cut while the inclusion of Acclaim's turgid Vexx over Anniversary Collection just makes us cry. The second way of looking at this is a slightly more cynical one - why would Microsoft and/or Capcom let gamers play Street Fighter 2 online for free when it can be put up for sale again first? But despite our minor outrage, we invested in some Microsoft Points and hit the download button within seconds of Hyper Fighting appearing on the Live Arcade service. Damn it, we're weak.

Guilty Gear Dust Strikers

Go on - make your DS feel guilty.

By the DS' very design, it should come as no surprise that its games catalogue is such a hit and miss affair. So while developers with vision and know-how put the second screen, touch control and even microphone to great use to create original and compelling games, others often throw caution to the wind to simply try something new, seemingly without really thinking through whether it will even work or not. Guilty Gear Dust Strikers represents Arc System Works diving headlong in the second category on Sammy's behalf and within mere seconds of starting up the game, it's worryingly apparent that this isn't Guilty Gear as we'd like.

Street Fighter Alpha Anthology

One for all you alpha males out there.

Compilations are ten a penny these day, but it's rare to find one with more than two or three games worth playing.

The King Of Fighters Neowave

Kick, punch – it's all in the mind.

As you've probably noticed over the last week or so, the whole world has been going crazy for that gathering of the gaming industry's finest, largest and loudest that is E3. With plenty of new PS3 and Wii stuff to marvel at as well as some great new 360 titles, it's fair to say that this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo was the next-gen show. An appropriate introduction to this review really, since SNK Playmore has really gone to town with the glorious high-def visuals of Neowave to give the world's shiniest fighters like DOA4 a real run for their money. Ahem. If you hadn't already guessed, that was an absolute lie. If we were to crank the Cynic-O-Meter up to 11, we could even say that this should have been a Xbox Live Arcade download. But were not going to do that because we're not idiots.

Megaman Battle Network 5: Double Team

How does that title even fit on the box?

If you tried counting how many games Megaman has appeared in, your head would explode in a messy shower of pink goo. That's a fact. It's likely that not even Capcom knows exactly how many there have been, preferring instead to deal in highly technical terms such as 'shitloads'. And considering just how much Little Boy Blue puts himself about on the console scene, his strike rate is pretty low - for every truly great game that bears his name, there are at least five or six titles that try too hard to be 'modern', simply don't work properly or involve kart racing. One of the few current Megaman franchises that actually commands some degree of respect is the much-overlooked Battle Network series and while you'd have to be some kind of nutcase to have collected all five versions in little over four years (the last three having two versions a piece a la Pokémon Red/Blue), this DS debut for the series marks the perfect time to grab a piece of the action.

Final Fantasy XII

'Final' for this generation, at least.

The light creeping in through the small barred window above me reminds me of what I miss so much. The outside world. Life as an aspiring pirate isn't as easy as people make out and for the third time this week, I've ended up on the wrong side of the law. But this time it's serious. Serving time itself is one thing but the hardened inmates here are out for blood. My blood. With my equipment gone, I only have my fists to rely on when the inevitable occurs and one of these reprobates makes an attempt on my life. Sure enough, with a deafening crash, three hulking Seeq warriors fall out of nowhere and my very life hangs in the balance...

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