The last time the chaps at Eurogamer were brave enough to commission a feature about games that aren't videogames, some readers went mental. So a word of warning: if you're one of those readers, this article is about the original role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons. Which, in case you aren't aware, isn't a videogame. But wait! Before you wander off, spitting rage all over your keyboard, come back! Because it turns out that a new subscription model and a suite of online tools take the new 4th Edition of the game closer than ever to the medium that it helped inspire. Besides, as well as just helping to spark the whole videogame medium, the Dungeons & Dragons rules form the actual bedrock of many of them (from the Gold Box series to Baldur's Gate and beyond). So even if you have a pathological distaste for non-videogame games, maybe it's still worth your while reading on to find out how the new 4th Edition rules are shaping up.
So, Bangai-O Spirits. I think it's amazing. I sort of suspect that if you didn't play or love the first one, it'll probably leave you baffled for a long time. And then suddenly you'll have an epiphany, in which you utterly understand it and what it's trying to do.
You may remember Red Faction. Set below the surface of Mars, it used the newfangled technology and unprecedented power of PlayStation 2's Emotion Engine to allow players to blow things up in new and spectacular ways. Red Faction: Guerrilla is set on the surface of Mars and uses the newfangled technology and unprecedented power of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 so that players can blow things up in even newer and more spectacular ways.
Gary Gygax died, last week, on 4th March, 2008, after being diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurysm. Although the gaming press was swift to offer eulogies, his death was greeted by a relatively muted indifference in the mainstream media - initially greeted by relatively brief, tucked away, news stories, and, a few days later, by short obituaries that noted his role as the co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons. That muted indifference is an utter travesty, because Gary Gygax is one of the most important individuals of the twentieth century. His influence on the sum of humanity goes far beyond polyhedral dice and black-clad teenagers sitting in darkened rooms, and it extends well beyond the 20 million people who played the game that he created, or who read one of the many fantasy novels that he wrote. His influence on western culture is far more profound and important than just games and the people who play them.
The obvious comparison is Pokémon: when Dragon Quest Monsters was spun off from Dragon Quest proper, back in 1998, it was clearly, and pretty brazenly, inspired by Nintendo's pocket-sized behemoth. It combined the same top-down dimensions with the whole collect-'em-all shtick, and wrapped them up in a similar sort of RPG-lite. Now Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker has taken the series to two screens and three dimensions and it looks superbly fancy thanks to the sort of cel-shaded graphics that made Dragon Quest VIII such a joy to play. The design, however, remains fundamentally the same: wander round collecting monsters, fighting your way to the top of the latest monster-fighting tournament.
Saints Row 2 contains the same slightly disquieting mix of openworld, urban violence and gang culture as its predecessor. It begins with your character waking up in prison, having been comatose since getting blown up in the last game, lending the game the perfect pretext for a darker, revenge-oriented story as you return to Stillwater to find out how and why you were betrayed. Your character is, according to the game's producer, Greg Donovan, "a very angry young man or woman who needs to rebuild the saints, find out why he was betrayed, and reclaim Stillwater for his own." And it's a game that is, apparently, "a lot darker, a little bit more sinister."
Given the involvement of hotshot RPG superstars like Final Fantasy creators Hironobu Sakaguchi and Nobuo Uematsu, it should come as no surprise that Lost Odyssey is utterly, utterly traditional. There's no fannying around with real-time combat here, like there was in Final Fantasy XII, just reams and reams of random battles, exploration and cut-scenes. Over the course of its 40-odd hours, it progresses at a glacial pace, taking a good few hours after you fire it up just to reach the barest semblance of a plot (which, just so you know, involves an immortal called Kaim trying to discover why he's been alive for so long).
I made a mistake while reviewing Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom. I made the mistake of playing its single-player campaign for 12 hours before venturing online. That's a mistake because the single-player game is terrible, reaching new heights of energy-sapping tedium and ennui-inducing boredom. The story is rudimentary, fragmented, bizarre, and pointless, the game is an unconcealed level-grind, and that level-grind is monotonous and tedious. So for those 12 hours, the score at the bottom of this review ticked inexorably down in inverse proportion to the levels that my character was monotonously clocking up.
Honestly, these Dynasty Warriors reviews almost write themselves: Dynasty Warriors is, once again, the game that launched a load of consoles. In the week that Dynasty Warriors 6 (or Shin Sangokumusou 5 as it's known over there) came out in Japan, sales of the PS3 eclipsed the Wii. That's the same sort of sales spike that was triggered by Gundam Musou when it came out, and Dynasty Warriors 2 when it was released back in the early days of the PlayStation 2. And yet - as I point out at the start of every one of these reviews - here in the west, gamers remain resolutely impervious to the unique charms of Koei's battlefield blend of strategy, action, terrible voice-acting, and mental haircuts. And so I ask the same question that I do at the start of every one of these reviews: is this the one that'll fare any differently?
So yes, the obvious frame of reference is LocoRoco. There's that clean, crisp, 2D visual style, a similar cast of quirky little imps tumbling around the screen, and it's all accompanied by a joyous sort of shouty singing noise. That's not entirely surprising given that the two games have been developed by some of the same people, apparently. But actually, Patapon bears very little comparison to almost any other videogame (apart, perhaps, from the similarly odd collision of genres to be found in Odama). That's because it's a rhythm-action real-time strategy game, in which you perform the duties of a deity, guiding a tribe of warriors called Patapons to fight their way through the ranks of their enemies, the Zigoton, to find the end of the world.
Front Mission on the DS is pretty much exactly the same game as Front Mission on the SNES. Which, since it wasn't ever released in Europe, might not mean much to you unless you're the sort of hardened import gamer for whom only kanji will suffice. So, just in case you aren't, it means this: it's a turn-based strategy game in which squads of bipedal metal robots wander across isometric landscapes and fight each other with guns. And the robots are called wanzers. Snigger.
So this is Christmas. [Off to a good start. -Ed] Which must mean that it's time to crack open the Advocaat and get on with a board game. But which board game? If the only traditional board and card games you know about are the ones you play at Christmas, you might be surprised how far they've evolved since the last time you played. They've had to. With today's fickle audiences able to access almost every spectrum of gaming entertainment from their game consoles, or internet browsers, or even from the pages of facebook, many manufacturers of traditional games have found themselves falling back on technology to make their games more attractive.
So that's it. Another year over. And what have you done? If you're reading (or, indeed, writing) this, the chances are you'll have spent most of it arguing with strangers on the internet about games you haven't played yet. Just like last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. So in the spirit of the New Year, perhaps it's time to make a change? Perhaps it's time to, I dunno, stop arguing with strangers on the internet about games you haven't played yet. A daunting prospect for anybody, I know, but here to help you are some ready-made resolutions for you to follow, to help make 2008 an even better year than 2007.
These days, videogames are getting the blame for everything: for making people violent; for declining standards of literacy; for England being rubbish at football. One of the few things they haven't been blamed for yet, however, is making people worse at history.
There was this one time a videogame journalist sent an email boasting about what a brilliant feature he'd just written. Except he accidentally forgot to delete the draft notes that were attached to the end of it. Everybody who received it (and it was quickly forwarded) agreed that it provided quite a frightening insight into his psyche, full of unexpected violent threats towards 'chavs'. Imagine what people would make of the draft notes I composed for this article then. Here's a small smattering: Battle Raper; seminal; hentai; knob in your hands etc.; Custer's Revenge (first game to feature an erection?); Tomb Raider skinflick; Baldur's Gate, undressing elf; Japanese game in which you poke a girl's... Well, I think you get the picture. That's because, following my expert appraisal of hentai, Eurogamer has asked me to write a definitive history of sex and nudity in games. It would, of course, take too long to list every sexual moment, or nude patch in the history of videogames. What follows, then, is a history of the most seminal moments in the history of videogame sex, if you will. Or, if you're too young for that sort of thing, you won't.
The Japanese launch of Gundam Musou inspired a surge of interest in the PlayStation 3, with the 170,000-odd copies of the game that shifted in its first week on sale helping to double sales of Sony's console. That's because the game marks a conjunction between the massively popular Gundam anime series and the massively popular Musou videogame series. When the time eventually comes for the game to come out over here, it will no doubt inspire only a ripple of indifference - a mark of the stubborn apathy with which western audiences view both Gundam and the Musou series (better known as the Dynasty/Samurai Warriors series in the west). It's their loss: Gundam Musou - Dynasty Warriors: Gundam to you and I - is absolutely brilliant.
Koei's Dynasty Warriors games just don't sell very well outside of Japan. The solution is obvious: take all the hallmarks of the Warriors series, and apply them to European history. Hence Bladestorm.
If you're one of those people who remain resolutely nonplussed by Koei's Warriors series you can move along now. There's nothing to see here. Warriors Orochi is unlikely to convert you to the joys of Byzantine genealogies, shoddy voice-acting and button-bashing-filled battlefields. If you're not one of those people, well, you'll probably be wondering where Orochi fits in to the series: what new nuances it brings and how they affect the finely honed balance between battlefield strategy and button-bashing combat that Koei has pioneered. Read on.
Whether you're one of those people who sneer at orcs and goblins, and scoff at bearded men who roll dice, or whether you're actually one of those bearded men (or, indeed, women), it's impossible to deny the far-reaching influence of Dungeons and Dragons. Without Dungeons and Dragons we'd still be stuck playing Space Invaders. We wouldn't be playing Zelda, or Final Fantasy, or Dragon Quest, or maybe even Deus Ex. We may not even have been introduced to Doom. And we certainly wouldn't have been able to play any of the magnificent officially licensed D&D videogames, from SSI's gold box series all the way up to Bioware's richly detailed narrative epics. And now, hopefully, up to Dungeons and Dragons Tactics, a turn-based strategy title for the PSP, created by Kuju Entertainment.
Here's the answer to perhaps the most important question anyone could ask about SEGA Rally on the PSP: yes. Yes they have. They have absolutely nailed the handling. Triumphantly. Sublimely. Simply, yes. SEGA Rally on the PSP is all about controlling the powerslide - about finding your flow state and sticking with it as you course round one long easy curve after another, nudging your nose into the optimum position to maintain your speed around the apex of each successive bend. Well, the nose of your car, anyway.
Is it possible to start a review of a golf game without a reference to a good walk spoiled? Apparently not. But golf's real problem isn't that it spoils a good walk. It's that golfers spoil a potentially good game, with their blazers and ties, and their committees, and their archaic attitude to women and all that sort of thing (although don't tell my dad I said that: he's the captain at his local golf club).
My mum was once the Rose of Cork. My dad taught Donal Lenihan how to play rugby. That's apropos of nothing other than to establish my credentials for reviewing a game set in Ireland (or Oirland as it's more commonly known in the videogame voice-acting community, with Folklore no exception). But since we're talking about my mum, when she was a little girl, she used to play in the fairy rings around her grandmother's house - and Irish fairy rings aren't patches of mushrooms like they are in this country, but ancient burial mounds that are also the homes of faeries and the entrance to their magical realms.
Surely it's time to put an end to World War II? I mean, how many Nazis/Japs can one gamer blow away before it gets boring? There's only so many battles you can fight, surely? Only so many theatres of war that you can shoot people in? Right? Wrong. Sort of. Now there's another theatre of war: the US of A. Turning Point: Fall of Liberty is the latest game by World War II FPS specialists Spark Unlimited, but it's got a twist: the Allies have lost their battle against the Nazis, and now Hitler's minions have invaded America.
The chaps at Codemasters hope that Jericho will be the start of a longer term collaboration with Clive Barker. On the evidence of the most recent demonstration of the game, it looks like a collaboration that will get off to a good start. It's a game that basically consists of squad-based apocaplyptica, complete with generous gobs of viscera splattering the camera, plenty of wisecracking banter between squad-mates, a mysterious and baroque sense of gloom and plenty of glistening gun metal and fancy lighting effects penetrating the murky shadows for good measure.
When Michael Bay was announced as the director who would be transforming some '80s toy robots into a live action movie for the modern era, the internet exploded with rage. But if the creators of the videogame of the movie are feeling any pressure from the fanboys, the game's producer, Andy Burrows, isn't letting on, to judge by his laid back interview style. Although he does have his concerns about the level of internet interest in both the movie and the game.