- 04:06 PM ET 08.05
What We Liked
Hogwarts, a History: Any self-respecting Potterphile has spent many moons daydreaming about what it would be like to don a robe, grasp a wand and roam around Hogwarts. Muggles like you and me may not have an invisibility cloak or Marauder's Map to facilitate our exploration, but we now have the Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince video game. The game's story mode shouldn't take more than five hours to complete, but the real fun begins for the user once the Dark Mark hits the sky and the narrative ends. Once the credits roll, the user can freely explore the castle and grounds while completing the tasks (namely dueling, potions making and crest collecting) that went unfinished during story mode. It's your chance to hop around Hogwarts' moving grand staircase, discover which portraits serve as shortcuts and poke around Hagrid's pumpkin patch; to, in short, explore all of Hogwarts' nooks and crannies like Harry always did.
Wands at the Ready: If Hogwarts students dueled as much in the novels as they do in this game, the entire student body would spend term in the hospital wing or detention. No such penalties exist in this digital world, however, and the duels come fast and furious. Each of the four Hogwarts houses runs a sanctioned dueling club, and each resident house champion challenges Harry to battle for top status. Take the early duels seriously, because as you advance through the ranks you unlock new areas of the castle and grounds, unlock new spells and strengthen the ones you already possess. Unlocking more advanced spells like Levicorpus and Petrificus Totalus provides a huge advantage by enabling you to immobilize your opponent so you can freely fire shots, which is hugely important when characters like Crabbe and Goyle, Bellatrix LeStrange and Fenrir Greyback challenge you in story mode.
A Subtle Science: In Harry Potter and the Sorcere's Stone, Potions Master Severus Snape tells a group of anxious first-years, including Harry, “You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion making. As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic.” Upon playing this game, it becomes clear everyone’s favorite dungeon-dweller was mistaken. There’s quite a bit of foolish wand-waving (or at least stick-wiggling) during the potions challenges, and there’s nothing subtle about the cloud of greenish-grey smoke that fills the screen when you botch a step. But because of that, potions making is one of the more engaging aspects of gameplay. If you don't remember whether to use lacewing flies or shrivelfig in Polyjuice Potion, fear not; the game provides a list of prompts. You’re simply responsibly for adding the right ingredients and properly stirring your cauldron -- in, of course, the allotted time.
Mount Your Brooms: The game's Quidditch challenges are surprisingly fun -- and challenging. The computer will pull Harry along as he zooms through a path of colored stars hoping to catch the Snitch, but the up-down, left-right control rests with you. A little tap of the stick will send Harry where you want him, so don't overshoot; missing stars delays the final grab and gives the opposing Seeker a chance to gain ground. One complaint: The challenges increase in difficulty, but they always feature the same basic task. It would be nice if the user got to do something on the pitch besides chase the Snitch.
Nearly headless? How can you be nearly headless?: Often, a fellow student will stop you in your tracks and instruct you to head to a specific location to perform a task (no one else will bring Ginny the Shrinking Solution you brewed for her, after all). Since Hogwarts is a world unto itself, it helps to have Nearly Headless Nick, the Gryffindor House ghost, on-call to guide you. If you’ve just been told where to go, Nick will know where to head once you summon him. After the story mode ends and you no longer receive instructions, you can choose where you want Nick to lead you from a list of locations.
What We’d Change
The Wand Chooses the Wizard: Or so Ollivander tells Harry is SS. As you play, though, it sure won’t feel like your digital wand chose you. No matter how steady your hand, you’re going to spill a vile or 20 of potions ingredients and you’ll have a hard time casting charms and spells with much precision. It’s particularly difficult to cast Wingardium Leviosa, the first spell our digital Harry learns, with much consistency, and even more challenging to accurately project the object under your control once you levitate it. (More on that under “Holy Horcrux.”) The best way to counteract this lack of precision while dueling is to mount a rapid-fire offensive attack. You’ll earn more points for landing a “great” Charged Stupefy (cast by drawing the wand back with the right stick, waiting a second or two for it to charge and then pushing forward on the stick to attack) than repeatedly casting run-of-the-mill Stupefys (cast simply by pushing up on the right stick), but the points won’t earn you anything but pride.
Holy Horcrux: Think Harry had a hard time finding and destroying Voldermort’s Horcruxes in the series finale? Try finding and securing the 125 Hogwarts House crests hidden throughout the castle and grounds. (Your goal is to amass 150 crests, but you accumulate 25 of those by collecting Hogwarts mini crests, which appear as green glows and, unlike the full-size crests, pop up around every corner.) A savvy searcher who looks above every door frame and behind every stairwell won’t have trouble finding the first 100 crests or so, but actually getting them is another matter. Specifically, you must dislodge the crests mounted on the wall by levitating a nearby boulder, desk or other object and projecting it into the crest. If repeatedly failing to lift the object on your first try doesn’t frustrate you, propelling the object at the crest and missing repeatedly surely will. If your path’s clear, you’ll have fewer problems, but every now and then the game throws a wicked angle or a gaggle or precariously located students in your way. It’s hard enough to aim and shoot without having to account for the haughty Ravenclaw fifth-year trying to steal your bolder. Occasionally, a wonky camera angle will complicate matters further. If Nick’s around, send him away, because his presence can anchor your vantage point and impede your shot. Just remember, patience is a virtue, even in the wizarding world.
Magical Me: EA deserves props for creating digital renderings that so strongly resemble the movie characters, but that’s where the congratulations end. The characters are simply creepy. Harry blinks too much, Dumbledore’s mouth moves too little and Snape sounds like he’s taken one too many hits on a helium pump. The students are constantly getting in Harry’s way. (This can be amusing when you’re not in a hurry, but when you’re on the clock -- when you’re chasing Malfoy to confront him in the U-Bend, for example -- it’s a real impediment.) Perhaps the creators are tennis fans, because every time there’s a hallway collision, the kid on the receiving end lets out grunt that would make Maria Sharapova proud. And while we’re talking about things that come out of the characters’ mouths -- the dialogue is comically bad. The game does an admirable job of following the HBP plot, but in order to do so a conversation that took place over 10 pages in the book or three minutes in the film takes place in 15 seconds in the game. An example: Hermione sees Ron getting frisky with Lavender after the Quidditch match and manages to express all of her feelings and confront Harry about his budding love for Ginny in the time it takes to toss a dung bomb.
Check out Harry Potter in action:
The game hits its mark by appealing to the die-hard fans. If you’re a gamer finally deigning to give an HP game a go, repetitive play will likely disappoint you. If, however, you’re one of the self-respecting Potterphiles mentioned at the start, you’ll surely enjoy the chance to roam around Hogwarts, hex a Slytherin and find out if you’ve got what it takes to brew a Draught of Living Death strong enough to kill a room full of N.E.W.T. students with a single drop.
-- Reviewed by Mallory Rubin
What We Liked
Team Building Exercise: We've all customized our own characters down to the shade of their nose hair, but NCAA Football 10 ups the ante this year. Rather than just create your own player, EA challenges you to start up your own university. No detail goes unturned. Unleash your inner-Project Runway desires by picking uniform colors and designing logos for helmets and jerseys. Build your own stadium with your new logo plopped down on the 50-yard line. (Minor drawback: You have to do all of the customization on your computer, then upload it from your console. Truth be told, it's easier to handle all of the options with a keyboard and mouse, but it's still worth noting.) You can even upload other gamers' newly created schools. Pretty deep and pretty awesome.
School Spirit: The new Season Showdown mode prompts you to pick a school and stick with it throughout the real college football season. Every time you play as that team, whether it's online or against the CPU, you'll tally points for your school that will display online. Winning counts, but so does loyalty and sportsmanship (yeah, so it's not that realistic). At the end of the season, EA will crown the best gaming university in the country by pitting the 32 top ranked teams against each other in a single-elimination tournament. The last two universities standing will be pitted against each other during college football's real championship week. (We're sure the BCS is thrilled about fans getting the opportunity to see a college football playoff system in action, regardless of whether it's real or imagined.)
We've Been Set Up: The new Set Up Plays option lets you make decisions with more than just one down in mind. As you scroll through the offensive playbook, you'll notice adjacent plays joined by links. Pull off one of the linked plays and it'll set you up for a big play on the next hike. The game even provides a percentage on the second linked play to let you know how vulnerable the defense will be if you call that play next.
CPUniversity: An upgraded and adaptive artificial intelligence will keep you honest. It's been a while since a sports game featured one play you could exploit over and over again, but NCAA Football 10 has really amped up their AI. Repetitive playcalling results in sacks and interceptions by the second quarter. An overreliance on one play will also put you up against a defense that shades to the correct side of the field and places defenders where you're trying to place the ball.
On the Defensive: You may not think defense wins championships, but it looks like EA does. Man-to-man, zone, combos -- NCAA Football 10's got all the options you need to stuff a high-powered offense. Once you choose your play you can change how your linebackers and defensive lineman line up with more audibles at the line of scrimmage. Hit the triggers to control either the defensive line or the linebackers, then flick the left and right toggle sticks to pick which side to load up and whether or not to bring heavy pressure.
See more on the Road To Glory feature and the official trailer ...
What We'd Change
Control Bored: All of the major additions listed above have upped the replaybility factor for NCAA 10, but one nagging issue remains: the gameplay still isn't that smooth. The action on the field is more natural than last year's edition, but there's still very little control over the players once you set a play in motion. The blocking needs to line up perfectly on the exact right play call in order for a big play to spring and you rarely find room to maneuver in the open field. This is one of those cases where NCAA Football 10 falls on the wrong side of the fine line between realism and frustration.
Delay of Game: It seems like every three snaps, another player goes down with an injury. In an effort to keep you honest, you're sometimes given an option to either rest that player or bring him back on the field, risking further injury. The problem here is you rarely see any drop off in performance from a starter to his replacement, so there's no real function behind this feature.
Flag on the Play: Random penalties will halt your drives, keep your opponents' drives alive and come and go whenever they please. Don't you dare try to string together more than a few running plays in a row lest you want to see your drive stuffed by a ten-yard holding call. Holding and facemask calls seem to pop up the most, while off-sides and pass interference seem to have been left with NCAA Football 09.
Squawking Heads: Brad Nessler, Kirk Herbstreit, and Lee Corso handle the announcing duties from the booth and they're joined by sideline reporter and online tabloid target Erin Andrews. Between miscalling plays and falling behind the action, the trio in the booth do little more than spit out an annoying string of repetitive and misplaced clichés. Andrews' headshot pops up to alert you of injuries, but her reports are long and usually cut into the next play. Sideline reports are annoying enough during real broadcasts, we hardly need them added to our video games.
Between creating your own player and program and having the ability to control your school's national gaming reputation, NCAA Football 10 divvies up the ways you can stay occupied with this disc. I still can't shake the feeling, however, that in putting so much effort into the game's peripheral features, the action on the field has taken a backseat. Once they learn to combine the extensive extras with slick gameplay, this title will be impossible to put down.
--Reviewed by Paul Ulane
- 05:42 PM ET 07.29
What We Liked
Who ya gonna call?: Ghostbusters: The Video Game? Yeah, it's been 25 years since the original Ghostbusters movie debuted and you're probably wondering what took so long. Thankfully, Atari has delivered a game well worth the wait. Since Harold Ramis and Dan Akroyd, the original screenwriter/actors from the Ghostbusters movies, wrote the story for the game, it serves as a sequel to the Ghostbusters 2 movie. Ramis and Akroyd lend their voices to the game along with Bill Murray and Ernie Hudson, and though the dialogue can be a tad cheesy, the story, set in 1991, moves along well and is infused with enough comical moments to keep you engaged and on your toes.
If you're seeing things running through your head: For fans of the movies, this game oozes nostalgia. The first time you catch sight of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man you'll be grinning. For folks new to the franchise, you won't be disappointed as you strap on the proton pack to chase down and capture a bevy of paranormal nasties. The game environments are varied, featuring libraries, city streets, cemeteries, other dimensions and more. Each environment boasts solid details and many destructible elements that combine with well-crafted sound effects to produce an immersive and eerie feel in the game.
Something strange in your neighborhood: You'll view your character, a trainee with the Ghostbusters, in a third-person perspective. Character movement is on the slow side but the game is clearly at its best when you're tracking down ghosts and capturing them. The basic idea is to hammer ghosts with your proton pack until they're weak enough for you to use the capture stream and haul them into traps. Wrangling the ghosts into traps can be tricky, but even though it's an inexact science it's a satisfying experience when you bag one. In most cases you'll be playing alongside the AI controlled members of your team, so the more beams on the ghosts, the faster you can weaken and trap them. It's an impressive sight when you're fighting a ghost and the screen's awash in a tangle of energy beams and paranormal madness.
Bustin' makes me feel good: As the game plays out you earn money to upgrade your primary weapon, the proton pack. Later you're able to access more modes for the pack (meson collider, green goo and shock blast). You can switch among the four using the d-pad, but once you've fully upgraded the proton pack you really won't need the other modes to beat the ectoplasm out of your foes. The other significant mechanic is the use of the Psycho Kinetic Energy Meter. You'll use the PKE to locate hidden artifacts and to scan and flush-out ghosts. The data you collect in the process will inform your attack strategy and provide back story.
Don't get caught alone, no no: The game features six online modes which are surprisingly fun and not just a tack-on feature like you'd expect. The six modes include Containment (nab as many ghosts as you can on the clock), Survival (face increasingly sizeable waves of enemies), Protection (defend marked spots against attacks), Destruction (destroy artifacts on the clock), Thief (fight to get back artifacts after ghosts steal them) and finally Slime Dunk (capture the most ghosts). Slime Dunk is probably the most entertaining, as part of the strategy is to blast the other human Ghostbusters to get free reign on capturing the ghosts.
Check out the game in action:
What We'd Change
I ain't afraid of no ghosts: Ghostbusters isn't a hard game to plough through, but it does suffer form occasional difficultly spikes. Your character often gets knocked down by projectiles or ghost attacks, at which point you're left to wait for the AI to revive you (you do the same for them throughout the game). But it's very frustrating in some areas where you're constantly getting knocked down and you can't avoid it, or where you're running around more than you'd want reviving the AI Ghostbusters.
I can't hear you: While it's fantastic hearing the familiar Ghostbusters songs, you're bound to get burned out on them. It would've been nice to extend the score and reduce the repetition of the core tracks.
Ghostbusters is a fantastic blast form the past. Offering quality graphics and engaging gameplay this title immediately ranks as one of the best movie franchise video games in a long time. Strap on your proton pack and get to it.
-- Reviewed by Rory Moore
Things We Like
OLD SCHOOL, NEW SCHOOL: Back in the original days of the Nintendo Wii, the game that got everybody moving (literally) was Wii Sports. The sequel to that title, Wii Sports Resort, offers an enticing add-on, bundling in the Wii MotionPlus, which is quickly becoming the must-have accessory for Wii owners. It's a little cube that attaches to the bottom of your controller and allows for super-sensitive pickup of your movements. The MotionPlus retails separately for $19.99, so you save $10 with Resort, which sells for $49.99. Resort works as a perfect way to introduce you to the MotionPlus and is a solid game in its own right, with 12 sports now (seven more than the original) including only two holdovers from the original (golf, bowling), and an achievements system (stamps) that keeps track of your progress.
SWORD FIGHT!: The best of the 12 sports is Swordplay, where you can have that lightsaber battle you've been pining for your whole life. You and your opponent (preferably a human) square off on a round stage about 200 feet up above the water. Loser is the first one to get wet. Though at first you will default to wildly flinging your sword, you soon realize that defense is the key to the game. A perfectly executed block -- you have to block in the exact opposite direction of your opponent's strike -- will send you for reeling backward off-balance. That's when you pounce and take over the match. There's also a slicing competition where you chop up any number of objects -- fruits, diamonds, doors, etc. -- in different directions, again showing off what the MotionPlus can do.
THE ISLAND: All 12 activities take place in a ... resort! Of course. It's called Wuhu Island and it's quite beautiful. The full list of the sports includes the following, and remember that there are three additional modes (two words: Frisbee Golf) of play within each sport: archery, Frisbee, basketball, cycling, canoeing, power cruising, table tennis, air sports, bowling, swordplay, golf (with added holes) and wakeboarding. Besides Swordplay, the best of the bunch is Archery. Hold the Wii-Mote with your left hand and pull back with the nunchuk, then let go of the Z button to whisk away the arrow. It's essentially the same motion as shooting a real arrow, minus the danger to human and animal life of course.
REAL EXERCISE: Like it or not, you will burn a few calories playing some of these games. The most labor intensive is the cycling, in which you move your arms up and down to simulate pedaling. You do get moments of rest though when you draft behind other riders. Canoeing also will make you pant just a bit, depending on your level of fitness, which is surely high for most gamers, right?
100-PIN CHALLENGE: Fans of the original Bowling will love the new 100-pin challenge mode, where every frame has 100 pins. You can tell your friends you bowled a perfect 3,000! The MotionPlus comes in especially handy with bowling, where you can now throw sliders and screwballs down the lane at will.
See clips from Wii Sports Resort ...
What We’d Change
SOME GLITCHES: The controls aren't perfect on every activity. The jet ski racing is especially dodgy. When you hit the power boost it's tough to keep your line and you end up nearly going off the track. With basketball, it's neat how the 3-point shooting is set up with trays and the moneyball -- just like the 3-Point Shootout on NBA All-Star Weekend, but it's hard to figure out how to make a shot. It was clank-fu for me. Also, I'm still trying to figure out how to throw the frisbee without having it crash straight into the ground
OTHER MINOR COMPLAINTS: In the Air Sports, you get to fly around the island, which is cooler than you'd think. But the controls could be set up better. Gaining speed is done by pushing forward, but then when you bring your arm back to normal position you brake sometimes. Also, you only get 5 minutes to fly around and look for new items of interest before starting over, which is annoying. In Wakeboarding, you have no discernible control over which trick you do. Time your jump right and you will do a trick, just not sure which one.
ONLINE?: As with many of Wii's titles, there's no online component. Nintendo is catering to the social gamers who have other people in the room when they play. But how about throwing the Han Solos of the world a bone?
Sports Resort is a worthy addition to your library, and it's one of those games you're sure to fire up when you have folks over.
-- Aaron Samus
- 10:45 AM ET 07.23
Things We Like
Rare Antiquities: There's a wealth of bonus material here for the die-hard Indiana Jones fan, including trailers from all four movies, co-op minigames and -- best of all -- a pixel-perfect port of the 1992 classic adventure Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. Tragically, the point-and-click throwback is the high point of the material on the disc.
Fortune and Glory: After suffering through a wildly out-of-character alien adventure in the last movie, it's great to see the old Indiana Jones back in action against Nazis, looking for a mystical artifact -- in this case, the staff of Moses. It makes for an ideal MacGuffin and, in a different world, could have made for a great movie sequel.
It's the Mileage: The game taps all the nostalgia high points with the musical score that every fan loves and even a passable Harrison Ford soundalike. The rest of the vocal work is mediocre, but the whip, pistol and punch sound effects are spot on. That said, hearing Indiana Jones say "Wii Remote" just sounds crazy wrong.
Check out Staff of Kings in action:
Things We'd Change
It Was Wrong and You Knew It: Like too many Wii games, Staff of Kings suffers from an overreliance on dodgy, awkward motion controls that make the game an exercise in frustration. Fighting involves swinging the Wii Remote in various ways to punch or whip enemies, but throwing a punch works as often as it doesn't, so you never feel fully in control of the character. Even when the controls actually do what you want them to, the game feels more like work than fun. This is not the way to use motion on the Wii.
They're Digging in the Wrong Place: Because of the wide variety of motion controls and the constant and confusing onscreen prompts explaining which motions to make and when to make them, deaths are constant. Worse, the checkpoint system tends to save before tutorials and cutscenes, none of which can be skipped, so you'll end up watching and playing the same repetitive, annoying scenes over and over again while you figure out what arbitrary movement the game expects of you.
Cover Your Eyes, Marion: Everyone knows that the Wii isn't a graphical powerhouse, but this game looks terrible. Uncharted on the PS3 demonstrated what an Indiana Jones game could look like, but Staff of Kings looks like a game from early last generation. Some of the environments have a few nice details, but the levels feel small and confined. The constant mugging facial expressions on the Indiana Jones character model have to go.
Adios, Sapito: Linearity is a killer with games like this. You never feel like you're exploring a living environment as much as you are walking a narrow path with few choices and predictable, simple puzzles. The extent of interaction with the environment is limited to predefined objects you can pick up or whip, but you can only do so when icons appear above the items to tell you what you can do with them. Compared to a game like The Force Unleashed, where the player could pick up or smash nearly anything, the gameplay in Staff of Kings feels ancient. The sense of genuine exploration that you'd expect in an Indiana Jones game is nowhere to be found.
This game could have been so much more, but lackluster graphics, boring level design and frustrating controls sink this game from the very beginning. There are fleeting moments where it almost starts to work, but Indiana Jones fans should skip the main game and go straight to the Fate of Atlantis extra.
--Reviewed by lee Clontz