Beyond Co-Op Reviews - October and November 2009

11/13/2009 at 9:38 AM

We've all been so busy actually PLAYING the myriad of releases this fall, including some awesome co-op ones, that we didn't have time to write about all the other games out there.  So we've combined our Beyond Co-Op reviews for October and November into a mega issue.

How about Brutal Legend, Forza 3, Torchlight, Half-Minute Hero and more?  


Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron ................................ Page 2
Mini Ninjas ...........................................................................Page 3
Forza 3 ................................................................................Page 4
Obscure: The Aftermath ......................................................Page 5
Brutal Legend ......................................................................Page 6
Half-Minute Hero ..................................................................Page 7
Torchlight .............................................................................Page 8 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 - This one is probably a rental if it interests you.


Publisher:  Lucas Arts
Developer:  Renegade
MSRP: $29.99
by: Jim McLaughlin

Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron departs enough from the Battlefront series to feel like a different game to fans of the series, but retains plenty of familiarity.

The controls have been tweaked for ease of use, while adding some new frustrations to veteran players. The default lock-on scheme from Renegade Squadron is still available, which is a blessing on a system that has only one analog control. The lock-on control has now been added to space veterans will be quick to prefer the previous "camera lock" control and manual flight stick. However, a quick press of the contextual trick button (which will pitch your ship into a barrel roll or u-turn) breaks the target lock; this should dispel most complaints. In a backwards move, the button to manually reload weapons has been removed. Holding the left shoulder button once again allows your character to sprint - but now the animation takes slightly longer to commence, which results in some awkward moments during battle.

According to Rebellion, some of the original design from the canceled Free Radical Battlefront 3 project - which featured ground-to-space travel - has remained intact, minus some proprietary tech. An in-engine cutscene now splits the space and ground battlefields, and to be honest it's very slick. Vehicle damage suffered in one zone carries into the next, and can even be seen in the transition cutscene. To justify the ground-and-space feature, Rebellion allows interaction between the two in the form of being able to attack capital ships from large planetary cannons, and vice versa. Unfortunately, only pre-designated ground targets can be attacked from space, so really the only purposes it serves is to expand the multiplayer levels and to give more diversity to the serviceable - and expectedly cheesy - plot.

For the most part this is Renegade Squadron re-hashed with a few new bullet points. Customization of your multiplayer character seems to be carried directly over from Renegade Squadron, with the exception that many options are unlocked as you progress, so bragging rights abound online. Score values overlay your targets, giving it a slight RPG feel. Melee has been added in the form of Jedi characters and infantry staff weapons which work quite well, actually. Approaching a docking bay or planetary atmosphere automatically initiates docking or transitioning if you forget to press Up. It's obvious that this was built with long-term play in mind for more casual players, and while combat is a bit tougher - the game overall is more forgiving. Coming in at $30 US at retail (a full $10 below Renegade Squadron's release price), the game is hard not to recommend for PSP owners, especially with its solid online play, engaging campaign, and quickplay mode.


Publisher: Eidos
Developer: IO-Interactive
MSRP: $49.99/$39.99/$29.99
by: Katrina Pawlowski

Mini Ninjas takes familiar ninja lore, and transforms it into a unique gaming experience. See, there's this evil Samurai Warlord that was sealed away for "all eternity". 300 years after "all eternity" began, he's somehow managed to reappear in the forests surrounding a small Ninja Village. He's been kidnapping poor innocent animals and turning them into mini samurai minions before he's even spotted, so he's got quite the mini army amassed. It's up to Hiro and his mini ninja friends to stop this evil Samurai Warlord to free all the enslaved animals in the realm.

As Hiro, you're the only ninja in the current ninja generation that can use the fabled "Kuji Magic." This power makes Hiro the most valuable asset against the Samurai Warlord, granting him the ability to control the elements, forest animals, and enemies. Each character has their own set of skills based on their weapons, and they're all unique. Futo, Suzume, Shun, Kunoichi, and Toro aid Hiro in his struggle.

The samurai minions come from a variety of transformed woodland animals. Small animals, like bunnies, frogs, foxes or raccoons make up the core samurai units. Larger animals, like bears and boars, make up the leaders and tank units, and uppity hyper monkeys make up the irritating and somewhat hard to hit, teleporting enemies. Mini-Ninjas is directed at delicate audiences, you don't actually kill the minions or the animals they're inhabiting, you are simply breaking the spell on the animals releasing the furry creature inside.

Sneaking is an important element in most ninja games, though it may be more optional in Mini Ninjas, it's still recommended. If you're spotted, you're greeted with the battle cry "N-n-n-n-n-n-niiiiiinja!" which summons waves of mini samurai to hack, poke and shoot at your Ninja hero. Sneaking is very straight forward in Mini Ninjas; stick to the tall grass and bushes to stay fully concealed.  Alternatively, you can just run in swinging until you hear the satisfying pop of an enemy. It's really up to you how you want to play, there was no right or wrong way to go about it.

You can shoot, slice, pound or poke using your Mini Ninja heroes, but you also get a plethora of items at your disposal. The standards are all there; caltrops for laying traps, throwing stars for...throwing, and a variety of little bombs to catch your enemies off guard. You can throw a smoke bomb to conceal your escape or assault, or a pepper bomb to disorient your foes. The pepper bomb isn't debilitating like mace, this is family friendly afterall.  Instead the samurai affected will simply begin sneezing uncontrollably until the effects wear off.

Mini Ninjas is a refreshing course in what makes games fun. The fighting mechanics were very straightforward yet worked very well, sneaking accompanied by item throwing or outright attacking, rescue missions, unique characters...the list goes on. As a 15 hour game I was surprised that I never once felt frustrated or bored by the story or gameplay. Overall, if I had any one thing to say about Mini Ninjas it's this: It's simply fun.


Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Turn 10 Studios
MSRP: $59.99
by: Nicholas Puleo

From the minute you open up the Forza 3 package, you know this is a game that's all about content.  Not only is there a second disc included with 104 additional cars and 29 additional tracks, there's also a card with a token for a free piece of DLC that contains two additional environments and 10 additional cars.  This bonus content isn't just thrown into the game, from the minute you fire up Forza 3 you'll notice spit and polish on everyone of the 400 cars and 100 tracks available.  The menus and graphics are gorgeous, the presentation is top notch, and it's incredibly easy to start playing.

That's the biggest difference you'll find with Forza 3 over the previous versions of the game, and other racing sims, accessibility. While the series started out as a love letter to hardcore racing fans (and it still is), now there are plenty of options for casual fans and beginning racers.  Tuning your performance and upgrades to your vehicle can be auto handled by the game with "quick upgrade" options available before the race.  The game even warns you if your car isn't up to snuff, and asks if you'd like to perform upgrades.  During races whenever you make a mistake, the game will casually remind you that the back button will rewind time, helping you correct your error. This controversial feature is a God send for those long 15 minute races where one mess up on the final turn cost you the entire race. It's completely optional, and using it nullifies your leader board position for those with a competitive edge.

The career mode in Forza 3 consists of a few "seasons" that level up the difficulty by increasing the car level used.  You'll start with your basic commercial vehicle working your way up to a full R1 class race car. The more you race, the more experience and credits you'll earn for your driver and your car. Driver level earns you bonuses like free cars, while car level will earn you discounts on upgrades. Your driver is persistent, so racing online will also earn you experience that carries back into your game. With 50 driver levels, it's very much welcomed.

The most amazing thing about Forza 3 is the fact you never even have to race if you don't want to.  The game can be played from a manager perspective, customizing car graphics, tweaking builds, and selling your setups and vehicles on the marketplace for in game credits. If you've never seen the quality of artwork the Forza community can churn out with just by layering basic shapes, do yourself a favor and do a google image search.  The stuff is downright amazing...I'm still waiting for my custom Co-Optimus car!

Forza 3 is the complete package for casual and hardcore racing fans. The game looks gorgeous, runs silky smooth, and exudes polish at every corner. If you are even mildly interested in racing games do yourself a favor and give Forza a try, I guarantee before you know it you'll have lost, and enjoyed, hours of your life.


Developer: Hydravision
Publisher: PlayLogic
MSRP: $29.99
by: Mike Katsufrakis

Ah, American college life, interpreted in ways only the French can! Equal parts Silent Hill and Dawson's Creek, Obscure: The Aftermath is a PSP port of the 2007 sequel to a 2004 survival horror game that no one played. (Hint: Naming your game "Obscure" is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.) Some bad juju has gone down at Fallcreek University, and a new drug (same as the old drug) is causing students to transform into hideously deformed monsters who wreak havoc on all in their path.

You control your rag-tag group of college stereotypes two at a time, battling monsters with found weapons (a hockey stick being my personal favorite) and firearms, solving bog-standard puzzles with requisite camera-issues that give the game a definite "early 2000s survival horror" feel. Certain students have special abilities, whether it's the blond bimbo who sports low-rise jeans and a whale tail at all times' preternatural ability to solve complex codes and see patterns, or the Asian girl's handy ability to be good at math, complete with elite computer hacking skills. The male characters prove less interesting, but are the only ones athletic enough to climb objects or push heavy things around. The gender bias and social commentary is staggering, for sure.

The story is completely forgettable, poorly acted, but has the incredible bonus of mentioning several times that chugging an energy drink cures the following: hangovers, headaches, hallucinations, gashes, slashes and sucking chest wounds.

Not all is so terrible, however. The character models and environments are well-detailed, and despite camera issues, the controls are responsive. The soundtrack is pretty decent as well, and Playlogic has made it available on the game's website. I know this is in the "Beyond Co-Op" section, but surprisingly enough this game offers drop-in/drop-out ad-hoc co-op! It is unfortunate then, that I don't have any friends with PSPs that I see regularly, and I'm not so certain they'd be foolish enough to drop thirty bones on this game.


Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Double Fine Studios
MSRP: $59.99
by: Jason Love

Brütal Legend is, simply put, Tim Schafer’s love letter to metal music and all things typically associated with that particular genre (i.e., studded leather, Norse mythos, and muscle cars). Like any love letter, it generally gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling, but, occasionally, it also makes your stomach churn.

For the most part, Brütal Legend is quite impressive. The world that protagonist Eddie Riggs finds himself hurtled into is quite breath-taking, filled with rolling landscapes, monolithic stone monuments, and trees that grow metal exhaust pipes. The story itself is well told, filled with quite a few laugh-out-loud 

moments, and the voice actors do a great job of bringing the characters to life. Really, the only parts of Brütal Legend that fall flat are the “Stage Battle” portions, which mix RTS and action elements in a way that is neither fully one nor the other, and pretty much fail to successfully implement either. This would be the part in the love letter where Mr. Schafer decides to talk about those times he cheated on you with that other girl, but it’s ok, he still loves you.

You can make your way through most of the campaign “Stage Battles” by just hacking and slashing through the enemy forces without having to direct your support forces too much. However, towards the end of the game, many of the enemy units are too powerful for Eddie to take on alone, and a little more strategy is needed in order to succeed. This wouldn’t be too hard if it was more obvious what units you should be using, or even how to use them properly, but neither is the case. It’s somewhat telling that Tim and the folks at Double Fine made a news post about how this game that uses RTS elements shouldn’t be played as an RTS. While I’m all for new game mechanics, a game that uses even a few elements from other genres should ensure those elements are absolutely spot-on in order to successfully create something different.

In the end, Brütal Legend makes for a good game; the characters are well written, the dialogue is funny and never feels forced, and the environments are beautiful. It would have been a great game if Double Fine could have decided whether or not it wanted action-based or RTS-based battles and stuck with it, or created a new mechanic that actually works.


Publisher: XSeed
Developer: Marvelous Entertainment
MSRP: $29.99
by: Mike Katsufrakis

I believe through my years of experience, I have come up with the perfect code to create a Japanese RPG from scratch. Distilled to its very basics, the summation of a classic JRPG is as follows:

50 GOTO 10

Half-Minute Hero's main mode, Hero 30, not only takes this to heart, but it adds its own clever twists. A mysterious evildoer has taught the various evil lords of the world a spell that will end all existence in 30 seconds. It is your job as the titular Hero to level up, earn money to purchase new gear, keep yourself healed, take on side quests and defeat the evil lord of each level all within these 30 seconds.

Luckily, there's a gold-digging Goddess of Time on your side, who will (for an ever-increasing fee) reset the time limit for you, but not your progress.

Battles are fought automatically, so all you have to do is run towards the foes you wish to vanquish, bump into them a few times (a nod to Ys? I know not.), collect your gold/experience and move on.

Everything sounds overly simplistic so far, but the real meat of the game is fighting the time limit. In fact, it ends up playing like a combination of a strategy and a puzzle game. Do you seek out the monster carrying a ton of gold to buy the overpowered suit of armor offered in the first town? For every side quest, there is usually great reward of some kind, though you will have to use all the skills at your disposal to make sure you not only use your time effectively, but have enough money to pay the Goddess to reset your time limit.

Add in deliciously chunky sprite graphics (think 8-bit characters over 16-bit backgrounds), an absolutely stellar localization, and you have one hell of a fun portable experience.

Oh, and did I forget to mention there are three other complete games in this package?

Princess 30 is a hilarious little shooter where you control an insane princess with a magical crossbow, carried on a palanquin by her royal retainers to seek out herbs to heal her ailing father.

Evil Lord 30 is a 30-second RTS starring an appropriately effeminate Evil Lord (all gothed-out, carrying a victorian umbrella and talking about how beautiful he is).

Knight 30 is a mode where you play a knight protecting a Mage who needs to cast a 30 second spell that will save the world.

With its great presentation, bite-size levels and enough unique modes to shake a controller at, Half-Minute Hero is easily one of the best handheld games I've played this year, and that makes it an easy recommendation for anyone with a PSP and a sense of humor.


Publisher: Runic Games
Developer: Runic Games
MSRP: $19.99
by: Nicholas Puleo

Utter the line "It's the Butcher!" to any PC gamer over the age of 25 and they'll immediately know what game you are talking about. The Diablo series started a trend of games that are near and dear to my heart, it's the action RPG genre with a strong concentration on item collection and player customization. While we've had many "clones" over the years, nothing has gotten as close to the original as Torchlight, from Runic Games. It probably helps one of the game's producers, Max Schaefer, and various other team members worked on the original Diablo. I could go on comparing the games, talking about how the music and sounds even appear to be straight from the big D, afterall they share composers; but to do that wouldn't be fair because Torchlight stands very well on it's own.

Torchlight features three character classes to choose from; The Destroyer (melee), The Alchemist (magic), and The Vanquisher (ranger). While Torchlight is a single player only game, you can bring a trusty companion along for the ride in the form of dog or cat. These pets will attack for you, pick up gold, and even sell your items in town.  Through the use of fish that you acquire through fishing holes, you can even transform your animal into other creatures temporarily by feeding him.  As your character levels up you'll learn new skills from three skill trees, as well as upgrade core attributes like strength, dexterity and magic. My playthrough was done with the Alchemist class, and I focused on things like summons (imps and Golems) as well as some kick ass spells.  My personal favorite is a gorgeous looking laser beam I can shoot from my palm.

Of course your characters attributes are a small piece of the puzzle, it's really the loot that games like Torchlight are all about. Your provided with everything from standard drops, to rares, to super rares, to epic sets. There's slots for gems, attributes that add +5 to this and 200 points to that. Seriously, the list of bonuses on some of the epic pieces i picked up were 8 or 9 items long.  The pseudo SteamPunk/Fantasy setting of Torchlight allows for interesting weapons like rifles and guns, swords, and equally unique armor types.  There's something innately satisfying about having a pistol in one hand and a magic wand in the other.

Torchlight's interface is fine tuned for the genre, making it easy to do just about anything you'd need to do quickly and efficiently. Item management, including selling and comparing, is extremely easy and quick casting of spells (the tab switch especially) is incredibly intuitive.

For $20 there's a ton of value in Torchlight. You'll get a gorgeous and scalable game with a ton of playtime in the main quest, and infinite replayability thanks to random dungeons and items.  I was a bit disappointed to find the lack of cooperative play, the genre is made for it, and eventually Torchlight will get it in the form of a free MMO.  Thankfully the lack of co-op makes the game a little more casual, allowing for quick 30 minute sessions - or in some cases - 3 hour sessions. It's up to you.