Review | 4/22/2009 at 10:07 AM

Beyond Co-Op Reviews for April 2009


With the weather getting nicer, it's a perfect time to take your gaming on the go. We've got three Nintendo DS game reviews this month with Henry Hatsworth: A Puzzling Adventure, Blue Dragon Plus, and Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon.

Rounding out the reviews are the artistic and beautiful Afro Samurai, the dark and violent Godfather II, and the addictive like crack Peggle.

Afro Samurai...........................................................Page 2 by Nicholas Puleo
Blue Dragon Plus.....................................................Page 3 by Marc Allie
Henry Hatsworth: A Puzzling Adventure.................Page 4 by Mike Katsufrakis
Peggle.....................................................................Page 5 by Katrina Pawlowski
Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon..................................Page 6 by Marc Allie
Godfather II............................................................Page 7 by Nicholas Puleo Widgets


Explanation of Scores:

- Golden Billy - This is a must buy title. Truly excellent in almost everyway.

  - Silver Billy - A solid title with a few flaws.

- Bronze Billy - An ok title. You might not want to pay full price for this game


Afro Samurai
Nicholas "bapenguin" Puleo
Namco-Bandai - 360, PS3

Combining Samuel L Jackson in an anime style series about an African American Samurai is a work of pure genius. Basing a game on the series with no restrictions on violence and language is another step in the right direction. Afro Samurai plays out similar to the recent Ninja Gaiden games, complete with a camera that's known to frustrate you. What sets Afro Samurai apart is the tight integration to the story and the absolutely amazing battle sequences with music from the show that's almost as much a work of art as it is fun.

There's a moment early on when the hip hop meets Asian inspired musical beats kick in, and the game mixes up the pacing of the on screen characters to match, that it becomes almost impossible not to smile and say - holy shit that's awesome. It's a rather enjoyable experience hacking and slashing your way through the relatively short game, but not too short. You can level up the Afro Samurai unlocking new moves and maneuvers, though some of these are particularly annoying when forced to use in a boss battle - I'm looking at you bullet slice!

All in all you'll have a decent romp through the game, one that's worthy of at least one play through - I'm just not sure if it's worth the full price.


Blue Dragon Plus
Marc "DjinniMan" Allie
Ignition - DS

Blue Dragon Plus is both awesome and awful at the same time. Many aspects of the game are highly polished, like the graphics and the dual screen cut scenes. In contrast, other elements are poorly implemented, like unit movement and itemization.

The turn based gameplay of the original has been abandoned in what could best be described as an RTS/RPG hybrid. The main part of the game involves exploring the inside of a cube-shaped world. Battles take place when enemies are encountered on the map. The largest problem in battle is the movement of units. Often, characters do not go where you want them to, which is an issue since many of the abilities are area based. Further compounding the problem is the different speed of all units. The better melee fighters tend to walk slower, while casters and healers are quick. This means weak units will run off ahead of the others to fight hand to hand and get killed if you don't watch them closely. A formation feature would be been a good solution, but instead you end up micromanaging each unit to the point of frustration.

Another maddening aspect is the fact that you have to split your party up at many points in the game. At one point, I had to have seven characters spread out into three groups. Too bad there was only one healer among them! I was unable to find any stores to buy healing items to use, either. I found the lack of instruction for the player quite frustrating as well. I was four or five hours in before I stumbled on how to equip items. Characters level up, but the player is not told how or why experience is awarded. Quite simply, I felt like I was fighting the game more than playing it.

There's a lot to like in this game, to be sure. The graphics are quite well done. The characters are interesting, and each feels unique. The cut scenes are the highlight; they are truly jaw dropping, easily on par with those of the Final Fantasy remakes. I truly wanted to like this game, but there are so many irritating aspects of it that I eventually just gave up. There are literally dozens of similar games for the DS, and while Blue Dragon Plus does have redeeming qualities, it fails to stand out from the crowd. Unless you are a fan of the original, or of the anime, I cannot recommend this title.


Henry Hatsworth: A Puzzling Adventure
Mike "Pheriannath" Katsufrakis
Electronic Arts - DS

As a dapper gent, I find that there is a dearth of games suitable for consumption by someone of great stature, such as myself. When Electronic Arts passed information about a game aimed at gentleman adventurers to me via telegram, I exclaimed (in a suitably masculine tone), “Horsefeathers!”, rushed to my dirigible and gracefully flew to the nearest purveyor of electronic games.

What awaited me was nothing short of awe-inspiring! Starring Henry Hatsworth (as dapper a gent as there ever was), you adventure your way through a variety of fantastic environments as you search for the most dashing suit in all the world. Any adventurer who finds himself in such escapades will naturally be faced with myriad enemies, and Hatsworth, as any gentleman should, is equipped with an array of attacks so effective, he banishes his foes to an entirely different genre! Once one of his enemies is destroyed, they are whisked away to a puzzle board, where they will claw and fight their way back towards the reality you and I know!

Luckily, our man Hatsworth is informed on their machinations, as he possesses the ability to manipulate the aforementioned puzzle board and rid himself of these ruffians once and for all! He even has the nigh-preposterous ability to summon a mighty mechanical suit by drinking his afternoon tea, which transforms him into a fantastically Victorian dealer of what for!

I can recommend this title to anyone with an appetite for adventure, tea, biscuits, puzzles and fine menswear. Tally ho!


Katrina "ShadokatRegn" Pawlowski
PopCap - XBLA

Puzzle games tend to be somewhat of a gaming staple for me in between games. Fortunately, one of the top PC puzzle games made its way recently onto the Xbox Live Arcade to fill that in-between co-op gaming time and probably keep one from sleeping. Peggle, is addicting to say the least, and I've lost many hours at a time perfecting that peg bounce.

Peggle can be treated like kind of pinball game, but is a unique entity in itself. You have a ball, and a map of colored pegs. Your goal is to clear the map of all orange pegs in the shortest amount of time possible, while chaining tags on blue pegs to boost your score quickly. Your ball will bounce down the pegs (think of Plinko on the Price is Right) until it reaches the bottom; at which point you'll either lose the ball or it'll be caught in a moving basket for a free ball. Each chapter has a unique character with a special power on the ball, should you hit a green peg. For instance, one character will create multiple balls at once, while another will explode any pegs around the green trigger peg.

Added challenges after completing the “story” portion of the game, as well as a versus mode based entirely on points-per-shot, add a lot of additional play to the already addicting game. Seriously, this thing needs a warning label.


Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon
Marc "DjinniMan" Allie
PopCap - XBLA

The Fire Emblem series has been around for a long time, though only recently in the United States. Turn based strategy with RPG elements was a good fit for the Game Boy Advance, and now it's available for the DS. Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon is a remake of the Japan-only original Famicom Fire Emblem game, and features Marth, of Smash Brothers fame.

Gameplay in Fire Emblem is simple, yet quite deep. You are presented with a wide variety of units to command, ranging from heavily armored Knights and swift mounted Cavaliers to sword wielding Mercenaries and invaluable Clerics. Once you choose your army, your units take the battlefield. Different units are effective in different situations; for example, Pegasus Knights have high mobility, but can be wiped out by a single Archer. Knights are almost immune to physical damage, but can easily be slain by magic.

Playing Fire Emblem on the DS is one of those "eureka" moments. The touch screen is well suited to moving units and navigating menus quickly, and the second screen, switching from detailed unit information to a wider view of the map, is quite handy too. This type of game plays so much better on the DS, you'll wonder how you made it on the GBA. The graphics are cleaner, especially on the field map. I found myself missing the excellent hand drawn animations of previous Fire Emblem games, as Shadow Dragon uses 3D rendered, cel shaded models. These look nice overall, much better than more realistic models of the Gamecube and Wii Fire Emblem games. Still, you can't beat hand drawn animation.

Fire Emblem games are reknowned for their brutal difficulty. Unit death is permanent, and if you are a perfectionist like me, that means you will restart maps often. Shadow Dragon is not quite as tough as previous games, though; for one thing, enemy units, particularly bosses, seem far weaker. Additionally, there are multiple save points on each map, which is a welcome addition. For those who prefer the older, hardcore style there are several different difficulty levels available from the beginning. I find the game quite enjoyable on normal now, generally having to replay chapters perhaps two or three times. It's still challenging, but I haven't thrown my DS across the room yet. (My poor old GBA got tossed a few times, I have to say.) I played a few chapters on 2 star hard, and it was nearly impossible to keep all my units alive. These harder difficulty levels will certainly add to the game's replayability.

All in all, Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon is an excellent title. The gameplay elements are well suited to the unique capabilities of the DS. The changes to difficulty might alienate old fans, but certainly make the game more casual friendly. I found myself missing some of the innovations of previous games, like rescuing units, for example. But for a remake of a game two decades old, it holds up very well. Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon has been the only game in my DS for over a month now, and I don't see that changing anytime soon!


Godfather II
Nicholas "bapenguin" Puleo
EA - PS3, 360, PC

I never got around to playing the first Godfather game, but I had heard good things about the sequel from Electronic Arts. The new game follows Dominic, the new Don in town, as you build up your family through various locations like New York and Florida. Each location offers new areas of interest for you to control, gain power and grow your family.

Like any open world game, there's a lot to do in the Godfather II, though a lot of your open world time may be spent in the "Don's View" managing

Godfather II also offers an online multiplayer mode, and while the standard team deathmatch is ho-hum, some of the objective modes are a blast to play. Best of all, all stats and bonuses earned in multiplayer carry to your single player game.

While there's a lot of customization and unique ways to grow your family, the game really feels like it's the same thing over and over again. Sure you can blow up a building, a car, rough up an owner or a cop, and intimidate your way to get what you want - but it all feels very uninspired.

I thought about throwing in something about an offer you can't refuse, but in this case you may just have to.