Review | 1/14/2011 at 7:26 PM

Beyond Co-Op Reviews - January 2011

Beyond Co-Op Reviews look at the games that don't necessarily have co-op in them.

It's a new year and that means a fresh batch of titles to look at.  While there wasn't a whole lot at retail, the downloadable space seemed loaded with titles the Co-Optimus staff needed to play.  Whether it was large DLC like Bad Company 2: Vietnam or an arcade title like Raskulls, we've got plenty to look at this month.

Raskulls.................................................................................................................. Page 2
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Maijin and the Forsaken Kingdom.....................................................................Page 4
Marvel Pinball
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Kung-Fu Live...........................................................................................................Page 6
Infinity Blade...........................................................................................................Page 7
Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Vietnam.................................................................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: Microsoft
Developer: HalfBrick Studios
MSRP: $9.99
by: Jim "txshurricane" McLaughlin

Think back on Castle Crashers, the excellent four-player arcade beat-em-up from 2009. Take its humor and animation style and put it in your left hand. Next, take the downward block-busting gameplay of Mr. Driller. Put that in your right hand. Now slap them together as hard as you can. Ta-da! Raskulls.

Okay, so it’s not really that simple. But if you had to convince someone to play it, that’s probably a good start. Raskulls is a simple to play, frantic side-scroller in which your most ominous opponent is the clock. Colored blocks stacked like the remnants of a Tetris session stand between you and the checkered finish line, and your task is to blast through them with a wand given to you at the beginning of the campaign. Levels vary in objective, but they always involve busting the blocks in a manner that either beats the clock, re-structures the level in some way, or both. For example: one trio of levels asks you to get a set of mushroom containers from where they sit atop the blocks to pedestals below; you must bust the blocks out from under them, but cannot let them drop more than three squares lest they break.

Levels are splayed out in world maps, Super Mario style. Each map has a unique theme and playable character, and features special areas that can only be accessed once you’ve accumulated enough coins; this extends replay beyond just the simple once-through.

The backstory of Raskulls is silly and wouldn’t be worth noting if not for the humor littered throughout. Puns and corny dialogue galore is accented by some real genius bits of comedy. The game as a whole is more fun than original, and safe for the entire family.

A versus mode is the only multiplayer here, unfortunately, but what’s available works like a charm. Not one connectivity issue hampered any online matches, not even when the host had a terrible latency reading. Online options are: matchmaking, hosting, and party match. Once all players are ready, each one picks their character of choice (all characters play the same, the differences are purely cosmetic), then chooses their tournament of choice. The game then randomly stops on one of the tournaments chosen and the match begins.

Raskulls is easy to recommend because it runs flawlessly, it’s good for some laughs, and there’s enough challenge and replay to come back to once in a while. Its only real drawbacks are its lack of multiplayer modes, and its price of 800 MS points ($10 US). While that’s inexpensive in comparison to other Xbox Live Arcade original titles, it’s not exactly a good deal. Raskulls almost gets the honor of a Golden Billy, but just barely misses the mark. Just barely.


Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Developer: Bottle Rocket
MSRP: $59.99
by: Andrew "Cubninja" Gaskill

Splatterhouse was my guilty pleasure of 2010. I love this game. Even though it has many flaws, I really enjoyed almost everything about it. It is bloody, brutal, and crass. There is foul language, viscera, decapitations, dismemberments, and plenty of nudity. This is an homage to 80’s slasher flicks.

When word came that Namco Bandai had dumped developer Bottle Rocket because of ‘performance issues,’ I thought the game would be shelved. Namco finished the game in-house, and yes, it feels rough and unpolished. It’s also gory as hell, and one makes up for the other.

The story opens with our protagonist, Rick Taylor, lying in a pool of his own blood and guts. His girlfriend, Jennifer, has been taken by the evil Dr. West. As Rick lays there dying the Terror Mask beckons, promising life and the safe return of Jennifer. Rick puts on the mask, and then it’s splatterin’ time.

The game looks good, not great. The graphics have a a quasi-cel-shaded look at times. Enemies are repetitive and easily dispatched. My favorite technique is ripping off a creature’s arm and then beating them with it. Repeat this until you come across a machete, 2x4, lead pipe, etc., then use that until it breaks, then rip off another arm. Once an enemy has been weakened you can perform a splatter kill, which ratchets the gore up to eleven. I should note that the enemies don’t resemble people in the slightest, so you can mutilate them without any feelings of discomfort.

Rick and the Terror Mask progress through different areas that have been affected by the Corrupted, an evil force trying to break into our world. As Rick takes damage it shows on his body, ribs become exposed, limbs are lost, but never fear, he can regenerate. An upgradeable combo system as seen in God of War 3 (and dozens of other beat ‘em ups) unlocks more brutal moves. The few boss fights offer a change of pace. There is also an arena mode available where you must battle through waves of enemies. Complete these arenas for collectibles.

Ah yes, the game also has collectibles, but these are not silly coins or trinkets. It seems that Jennifer has left a trail of breadcrumbs for Rick to follow, in the form of torn up photos. Once again Splatterhouse embraces its slasher film roots as these ‘collectibles’ are photos of Jennifer in varying stages of undress. Collect all the pieces from one level, and BAM! Booby pic. Sophomoric, yes, but Rick was going to go through the level anyways, so you might as well pick up the nudie pic.

The sound is-well, gooey. Creatures scream and splatter and the voice acting is above par. The banter between Rick and the Terror Mask is amusing enough. The soundtrack is full of death metal including Five Finger Death Punch, Lamb of God, Mastodon, and Goat Whore. Man, are these band names, or my ex-girlfriends?

As an added bonus the original Splatterhouse, Splatterhouse 2 and Splatterhouse 3 are unlockable. This is a must buy for any old school fan. I’d just buy it at a slightly cheaper price than the $60 dollars. I mentioned God of War 3 earlier. Splatterhouse is a cartoon version of GoW3, with the violence and nudity turned up and everything else dumbed down. Personally, I’d give Splatterhouse a Gold Billy. Objectively, I just can’t do it.




Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Game Republic
MSRP: $29.99
by: Sam "Samoza" Tyler

Why in the fabled land of movies do two similar films often come out very close to one another – are there no original ideas in Hollywood? This phenomenon is less obvious in gaming, but when most first person shooters are indistinguishable from one another, perhaps it happens all the time? Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom appears, on the surface, to be Game Republic’s take on the upcoming Team Ico game The Last Guardian. Criticism has been levelled at how Majin appears to be a game based around a human character and his cute monster AI ally (seemingly similar to the Last Guardian). However, seeing as Last Guardian is not out until later this year (and probably slipping to 2012), there is plenty of breathing space for Majin to flourish alone and for it to be examined and reviewed as a game in it’s own right.

In a once peaceful world, an evil is rising and only charismatic thief Tepeu can save the land with the aid of the mystical Majin. Unfortunately, the Majin has grown weak over centuries of imprisonment and the pair must first build their power and experience if they are to defeat the evil. Rather than being the all out action game you expect from most modern third person games, Majin has a far more cerebral edge. You must tackle each segment of the game with your brain as well as brawn. Tepeu can ask the Majin for help via a series of simple commands; move this, hit that, heal me, etc. Before taking on a large group of enemies, and risking death, you can often use the environment to your advantage to even the odds, introducing a puzzle element to the gameplay.

On a purely aesthetic level, Majin appears to have had only a modest budget. The graphics are clean, but bland, the voice acting is occasionally painful to listen to and the various menus appear to be taken from the Playstation 1 era of gaming. There is no denying that many elements of the game are extremely clunky and will put off more fickle gamers. This is a shame, as just below the surface is a fun game with a nice central relationship. As the game progresses you grow to like the cocky assuredness of Tepeu and the docile humor of the Majin. Their relationship drives the story onwards and makes it a far more engaging experience than your typical faceless game.

With an emphasis on puzzles as much as action, Majin is a more sedate experience than any other third person action game I have played in recent years. Whilst the likes of Namco Bandai’s own Enslaved caters for those with a short attention span, Majin is equally as good, but in a different way. If you are in the market for a slower paced game that works the mind - as well as finger speed - then Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom is certainly worth a purchase (especially as it is already coming down in price).



Publisher: Microsoft/Sony
Developer: Zen Studios
MSRP: $59.99
by: Andrew "Cubninja" Gaskill

Marvel Pinball is the latest title from Zen Studios. For Xbox 360 owners, this game is an add-on for Zen Studios Pinball FX 2. PlayStation 3 owners get it as a stand alone game. Some may cry foul at a digital representation of a physical arcade mainstay, but I can tell you that the tables ‘feel’ good, if not great. For those of you with a competitive streak, four gamers can get together to play against each other on one console, or you can play online. Players take turns, so four people can play with one controller.

The first thing I did with the PS3 version was change the flipper controls from the R1 and L1 bumpers to the R2 and L2 triggers. The bumpers actually felt like they had a little lag. I had a guest playing with me and she felt it as well. I didn’t get a crack at the Xbox 360 version, but the controls are easy enough to change. The physics of the game feel great. The ball interacts with the flippers like it should, and I didn’t feel like the table was screwing me through wonky physics.

Zen Studios makes digital pinball tables that would be impossible in the physical world. For Marvel Pinball, these four tables are based on three of your favorite Marvel heroes: Wolverine, Iron Man and Spider-Man. Oh yeah, and then there’s Blade. (Don’t worry, Blade fans. Even though he isn’t a Marvel heavyweight, he still has the coolest table.) Each table is tailored to the character’s personality through different mission parameters.

Yes, there are missions in a pinball game. Multiple Marvel super villains stand guard over each table, each corresponding to their hero. Sabertooth, Green Goblin, The Mandarin, and Deacon Frost are joined by many others. Players can access battles against each foe by completing a set of criteria, like shooting a ramp so many times or setting the ball in so many saucers. Victory is achieved through similar pinball mechanics. Some of these tasks are daunting for a pinball novice, but the game’s difficulty can be adjusted, and a slow motion feature can be used. The main goal, of course, is to get high scores, and there is an impressive scoreboard system.

My biggest problem with Marvel Pinball is with the complexity of the tables. When I first started out I was assaulted with a flying ball bouncing everywhere as I desperately tried to figure out exactly what I was supposed to do. There is an old fashioned dot matrix display in the upper left hand corner of the screen that was trying to tell me what to do, but you’d have to be a chameleon to be able to watch that and the ball. When the game is paused you can access a ‘Rule Sheet’ that can be very intimidating for a pinball novice. My advice is to simply keep the ball in play and see what happens. You’ll have a lot more fun if you do. Once you get a feel for the table you can then concentrating on things like hitting the Green Goblin ramp three times in a row.

Marvel Pinball is an excellent game for pinball enthusiasts who don’t want a giant, loud, clanging, box in their living room. The Marvel theme is just icing on the cake for fans. Having only four tables might make this a steep purchase for those of you on the fence. At times the game may become overwhelming, but you’re either a pinball wizard, or you’re not.


Publisher:  Virtual Air Guitar Company
Developer: Virtual Air Guitar Company
MSRP: $9.99
by: Katrina "Shadokat Regn" Pawlowski

Hey guys, I know Kung Fu. Okay, maybe not quite. But I did play quite a bit of Kung Fu Live, the game that puts you (literally, your image) in the game to punch, kick, and cast magic using Chi. Kung Fu Live follows the story of a man/woman (you) who has started working in a comic book store. The comic books look old as though they were in an antique shop, and one in particular stands out. Kung Fu offers the reader three new magic powers, and suddenly the shop boy/girl is sucked into the comic to start fighting ninjas using the PSEye camera.

Later “comics” you find will have a variety of scenarios and enemies to square off against. Each comic offering new special attacks as you advance through the story - the ultimate goal: Protect the stash of magical comics from thieves who would misuse their hidden powers and don’t mess up the old ladies comic shop.

For those of us who are a bit taller than the average target audience, you’ll need quite a bit of space to safely play and fit within the games parameters (feet at the bottom of the camera, hands straight up within the top). 9 ft surrounding the TV is what is requested of you - though I found myself punching the ceiling more often than not with a low ceiling, regardless of how much space I made around myself.

Playing the game is pretty fun, though some of the imagery is bizarre. You are standing on screen with the game as your background. If you’re wearing dark colors, these background images will overlap with what you’re wearing and your movements will be obscured. The game is also less responsive than I would have liked when pretend punching, kicking, and otherwise playing this game.

Otherwise the premise is simple: you’re learning kung fu in a comic book, and you’ll have to clear enemies off the screen as you progress through the story. Enemies attack from left and right, and will block and dodge fairly often. Most attacks (or in the case of getting my PSEye to register, flailing swings) will do a moderate amount of damage. If you’re feeling brave enough to risk actual kicks in your house, you can also do a large amount of damage with some awesome attacks - screen prompts will congratulate you for a combo, an Aerial attack, a jump dodge or something else of the sort.

The game is fun, but it’s got a lot of technical issues. If you’re into trying to fiddle with settings and rearranging your surroundings it’s a great deal of exercise and fun - for the rest of gamers everywhere I’d recommend sticking with the PSMove wands, they’re more responsive and easier to sync up with your movements.


Publisher: Epic Games
Developer: Chair
MSRP: $6.99
by: Marc "DjinniMan" Allie

“Phone games” are not exactly regarded highly by most gamers. Sure, Tetris clones and Tower Defense variants are decent ways to pass time waiting in the doctor’s office, but usually expectations are pretty low. The iPhone and other iOS devices are changing that somewhat, but the field is still dominated by casual games. Infinity Blade, though, might be the game that changes everything.

It’s tough to classify Infinity Blade. It is a weapon-based action/fighting game, with light RPG elements, but the touch screen controls make it feel different than anything I’ve ever played. The main character is a nameless warrior who fights his way through an ancient castle. A handful of minions bar the way, but soon, the player confronts the God King. The God King is extremely powerful, so the protagonist dies horribly. A generation later, a new warrior advances to the castle, eager to avenge his father’s death. And so the cycle repeats. The story is bizarre at best and corny at worst, but I found it suitable for a game that is likely played in short bursts here and there.

So how is the cycle of death broken? Each time a warrior dies, his attributes and items are passed on to his progeny. Level, armor, hit points, and magical skills carry over from one generation to the next. With each pass through the castle, the player becomes more and more powerful, but so too do the God King’s minions. Eventually, the God King will fall... but you’ll need to learn some new tricks to take him down.

As the game progresses, you earn money which can be used to purchase better equipment. Armor, helmets, rings, and all sorts of weapons are available to you. Each item can be mastered by using it in combat, but once you have maxed out the weapon, you no longer gain experience from it. This provides some interesting decision making in what is otherwise a fairly straightforward system.

The meat of Infinity Blade is the combat. Weapon strikes are activated by swiping the screen, while dodges and blocks are controlled by tapping the screen in certain locations. Parrying is particularly fun, as you have to swipe in the opposite direction of an incoming attack. Spells can be cast by tracing patterns on the screen, if you have the proper items equipped. I found the combat to be natural and at the same time a bit challenging. A fast flurry of strikes may work fine for a while, but eventually you’ll need to choose your actions carefully depending on the methods of your foe.

Infinity Blade is easily the iOS game that is most like a console game. Were it not for the intuitive touch-screen specific control scheme, it could be mistaken for an Xbox 360 or PS3 title. Graphically, Infinity Blade has no equal, running beautifully on the Unreal Engine 3. For anyone who owns a compatible device, it is absolutely worth picking up. It’s the closest thing out there to a rich console experience on a handheld device.


Publisher: EA
Developer: DICE
MSRP: $14.99
by: Jim "Txshurricane" McLaughlin

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is not a perfect game, but it’s very addicting and full of once-in-a-lifetime moments. You know - the stories that you tell years later in wistful reverie. DICE’s download-only Vietnam expansion promised more incredible Battlefield action with a twist of history. With the good comes a small dose of not-so-good, but ultimately Battlefield Bad Company 2: Vietnam is a righteous addition to an already top-notch game.

Upon scrolling to the new main menu option, “Vietnam”, the menu background morphs into a more period-appropriate image and the background music changes from Mikael Karlsson’s original soundtrack to “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. A new set of weapons is at your disposal also, although not near as extensive as the arsenal from Bad Company 2’s modern side. Several vehicles make their debut in DICE’s Frostbite engine, but since they are pulled straight from the history books and shooter games of the past they come as no real surprise. There’s very little to really celebrate in terms of weapons and vehicles; but to be honest, it won’t matter when the bullets start flying.

Five new maps bring the rice paddies and napalm-ravaged Vietnamese jungles to your living room. That’s no joke, either - one map is literally built around a small rice paddy, and another features a scorched field still burning from a recent napalm strike. Helicopters buzz past in the distant background. Foliage is greatly increased. All of these changes to the environment make for a slightly different feel when you’re just running around...but when it comes time to engage in combat, the gameplay is almost exactly the same. Probably the biggest changes are the much more effective choppers (which are faster, but easier to take down), and the flame thrower. I’ve seen some really inventive uses of the M2 flame thrower, such as lighting the objective on fire in order to deter anyone seeking to disarm a charge that’s been set.

If I had to name the best and worst features of Vietnam, I’d first tout its persistence with Bad Company 2. Any points or unlocks carry over to Bad Company 2 - and vice versa - with the exception of the weapons themselves. My least favorite part of Vietnam is the apparent trouble that the game is having with its matchmaking. Often times I’ve landed in a two- or three-person game. It’s possible that it’s for lack of people playing, but I doubt it. Plus, the game seems to have a hard time putting me in a squad when I request one. It’s a small quibble to most, and only slightly frustrating.

One last thing worth noting: the music. During the loading screens, you will hear Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones accompany a radio-style briefing while the background graphic resembles a film reel (instead of the satellite recon style photos from before). In-game the music isn’t so prevalent unless you’re in certain vehicles. Many times you’ll hear “Ride of the Valkyries” blaring across the river, and will look up to see a Huey bearing down. If you get waxed, the killcam will give you a brief close-up of the Huey as its occupants undoubtedly cheer their twistedly musical rampage.

All in all, Battlefield Bad Company 2: Vietnam is basically more filling for the Twinkie. For one fourth the cost of the original game you get more than one fourth of the original’s multiplayer content. There’s no denying that it’s great fun and must-buy if you’re a Bad Company 2 fan.