Sep 6, 2010

Disney Epic Mickey and Dead Rising 2 Collector's Editions Announced

By Paul Hunter

We ended off August the right way with collectors' editions announced for two of the most anticipated games this holiday season. Disney Interaction Studios have revealed their Collectors' Edition for the Wii-exclusive Disney Epic Mickey, while Capcom showed off their glitzy Dead Rising 2 High Stakes Edition.

Happy Labour Day - Gaming Deals

By Andrew Shin

Happy Labour Day to our NextGen Player readers! Hope everyone is enjoying the last long weekend of the summer. If gaming is on your list of 'to do' things during this long weekend, then you'll want to check out Best Buy Canada's online sale that ends tomorrow (Tuesday, September 7th) at 10am EST.

Sep 5, 2010

Prince of Persia Creator Keynotes IN 2010 Conference

By Paul Hunter

It's no secret that Ontario is a growing hotbed for video game development, with investment in the province heating up in recent years. Building on Ontario's growing prominence in the global games industry, Interactive Ontario will soon be presenting their flagship 2010 IN Conference, a cross-platform, multi-stream conference where vetrans of the interactive industry from around the world come to share their knowledge, and showcase their cutting edge technologies. This year's event will be taking place from September 12-14 at the Carlu in Toronto.

Video Games Live Returning To Canada

By Paul Hunter

The world's largest video game concert event, Video Games Live, is returning to Canada for 16 action-packed shows in Spring 2011. Legendary video game music composer and creator of the concert series, Tommy Tallarico, made the announcement last Saturday during his panel discussion at the Fan Expo Canada.

Aug 31, 2010

Halo: Reach Sneak Peak in Toronto

By Paul Hunter

Xbox Canada have announced on their website that a Halo: Reach sneak peak event will be coming to Toronto on Saturday, September 4th.

Dubbed "Mission: Defend Reach" on the event page, the mission will let you become a new UNSC recruit and battle Covenant troops live using "state-of-the-art weapons technology". Not sure exactly what that entails, but sounds like you'll get to wield over-sized, fake plastic guns. The battle is taking place between 4pm and 10pm at 306 Queen Street West. I did a google street view and it appears to be a parking lot, so yeah, lots of cars to use as cover fire.

For more details on the event, check out the official page on Xbox Canada's website.

Aug 30, 2010

Nintendo DSi and DSi XL Price Drops

By Andrew Shin

Today, Nintendo of Canada officially announced a price drop for both of their highly successful handheld gaming systems - the Nintendo DSi and Nintendo DSi XL. As of September 12th, the Nintendo DSi and DSi XL will have a new retail price of $149.99 and $169.99 respectively.

"We know shoppers want to get the maximum value out of every dollar they spend," said Ron Bertram, Nintendo of Canada’s vice-president and general manager. "Our new Nintendo DSi prices make it easier than ever for consumers to access the tremendous variety of games, applications and social tools on the Nintendo DSi and Nintendo DSi XL systems."

The new price drop will be important in sustaining Nintendo's dominance in the handheld gaming segment against its long time rival the Sony PSP. With the PSP having dropped in price a while back to $169.99, it was only a matter of time that the DSi and DSi XL would see its own drop in price. It could also have a little something to do with that new handheld system that Nintendo announced earlier this year...what was it again? Ahh yes, the 3DS.

Additionally, history has demonstrated that price drops for gaming systems in September translates to successful sales leading up to and during the holiday season - just ask Microsoft and Sony.

Canada Overtakes UK To Become Third Largest Development Community

By Paul Hunter

Canada's robust video game industry is making moves again to further strengthen its position as a world class leader for top development talent and innovation, according to the Ontario Technology Corridor. Leading the charge is the province of Ontario which has committed $130 million to new gaming infrastructure in 2010.

Sony Releasing New PS3 Models in North America

By Paul Hunter

Continuing the trend of roomier hard disk drives, Sony Computer Entertainment of America announced two new, larger capacity PlayStation 3 models that will be available in North America soon. The new SKUs were announced initially for Europe during gamescon, and later confirmed for western markets.

Aug 21, 2010

Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock Full Track List Revealed

By Paul Hunter

The publisher behind the sixth main entry to the Guitar Hero franchise has unleashed its full track list today, containing more than 90 songs from rock music's pantheon of legendary guitar shredding bands.

Dates Announced for New Kirby, Donkey Kong and Pokémon Games

By Paul Hunter

Nintendo has put dates to their upcoming holiday Wii line-up, including Kirby's Epic Yarn, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and PokéPark Wii: Pikachu's Adventure. Dates were also given for anticipated Nintendo DS games such as Professor Layton and the Unwound Future, Pokémon Ranger: Guardian Signs, and Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem!

Aug 19, 2010

Welcome, Visitor 250,000

By Paul Hunter

At the NextGen Player HQ we like finding random reasons to party and today is no exception. Looking at our site analytics it looks like we're on the cusp of welcoming our 250,000th visitor, in fact it should be achieved by the time this article is posted.

Nintendo of Canada's Moving In

By Paul Hunter

Nintendo of Canada is taking their hit games and going on tour across Canada, visiting select Real Canadian Superstore and Maxi & Cie stores. Dubbed the "Neighbourhood Tour", the store displays will let you take a stroll down Wii Street, Nintendo DSi Drive, or spend some time in the activity gazebo with Crayola and Kodak.

Aug 18, 2010

A Glimpse of Nintendo's Epic Lineup

By Alice Stancu

A while ago, I got some hands-on time with a few of Nintendo's upcoming games for the fall and holiday season. 2010 is without a doubt the year of the retro franchise revival – about half the games that Nintendo has announced are new entries in long-thought-dead series. Donkey Kong Country? Check. Tron? Check! Kid Icarus? ...Well, we'll have to wait a little longer for that one.

Aug 12, 2010

Chiptune Workshop in Toronto this Sunday

By Alice Stancu

Have you ever wanted to learn how to make music on a gameboy? Well, you're in luck!

Aug 11, 2010

GottaCon 2011 Date Confirmed

By Andrew Shin

Victoria, BC's own GottaCon has been confirmed for its 3rd straight year. The 3 day gaming convention will take place from February 4th to 6th at the Pearkes Recreation Centre located at 3100 Tillicum Rd. The unique aspect of the GottaCon gaming convention is that it will be open from 5pm on Friday and straight through to 7pm on Sunday. That accounts for 50 hours...yes, you read that right...of non-stop gaming debauchery. GottaCon promises a bit of everything from video gaming to role playing to collectables.

Aug 5, 2010

Review: Club Penguin: Elite Penguin Force: Herbert’s Revenge

By Paul Hunter

Disney's mega franchise Club Penguin returns with Herbert's Revenge, the sequel to 2008's Club Penguin: Elite Penguin Force for the Nintendo DS. There's no denying this series's popularity with kids -- the original game has sold over 1.5 million copies to date, a feat that only a handful of third-party Nintendo DS game titles can claim.

Aug 3, 2010

First Annual PlayStation Canada Charity Golf Tournament Raises $50,000 for Children With Cancer

By Paul Hunter

Sony Computer Entertainment Canada (SCEC) held their first annual PlayStation Charity Golf Tournament this past Wednesday, raising $50,000 for children with cancer. More than 130 golfers teed-off at the scenic Wyndance Golf Club located in Uxbridge, Ontario, for the charitable event benefiting Camp Oochigeas. Founded in 1983, Camp Oochigeas gives children united by the common bond of cancer the opportunity to participate in year-round programs at their site in Muskoka, at the Hospital for Sick Children and in the community.

Aug 2, 2010

Researcher Says "violent video game issue is a crusade in search of a crisis"

By Paul Hunter

Video games have long been given a bad rap by the general media which has a tendency to cite, in a rather sensationalized fashion, the supposed negative impact they have on society, and on children and adolescents in particular.  Many of the opponents of video games make claims that video games are linked to a growth in youth violence -- especially school violence -- and that prolonged use of video games not only leads to a decrease in social competency but also lowers creativity.

StarCraft II Contest Winners

By Paul Hunter

Hello NextGen Players!

I'm happy to officially announce the Grand Prize winners of our StarCraft II Giveaway Contest.

Our lucky winners are: Chris Trickey from Newmarket, ON, and Eric Chan from Toronto, ON.

As the Grand Prize winners, they will both receive one copy of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty (regular edition) for PC, courtesy of Future Shop.

Congratulations to both winners and a thank you to everyone who entered and made this contest one of our most successful to date. The NextGen Player team appreciates your continued support of the site.

Also a big thanks to Future Shop for supplying the two copies.

Paul and the NextGen Player team

NextGen Player Review: ModNation Racers

By Jeff Alyanak

Back at the end of 2008, the Playstation 3 got a taste of something that the PC gaming world had been enjoying since time immemorial: user generated content. Sure, Playstation gamers had seen their fair share of it in the past - titles like the RPG Maker series for the original Playstation stands among many others - but never in the full, mature way that computer gamers had come to expect. LittleBigPlanet finally brought an in-depth creation system together with the crucial ability to share those creations with the world at large. The response to the game was a resounding “Hell yes!” with reviews consistently in the 90% range and more awards than I have time to list. Sony’s “Play, Create, Share” motto had clearly resonated with the gaming public.

ModNation Racers might be Vancouver-based United Front Games’ first game ever but it’s certainly fielding an all-star team with former member of EA Games, Rockstar Vancouver, and Volition Inc (makers of the Red Faction series, the Saint’s Row series, and my personal favourite Descent). Pedigree aside, ModNation Racers is a game that doesn’t just wear the “Play, Create, Share” jacket to look cool, it’s “Play, Create, Share” to the very core.

The first thing you’ll notice, in both the PS3 and PSP versions, is the incredibly large selection of ‘bits’ with which you can customize your racer and his/her kart. Dozens upon dozens of ears, eyes, shirts and shoes. I’m hesitant to say the sky is the limit because I’m not even sure of that. The reason you’ll be so familiar with the customization is that, even just playing through the game’s short story mode, you’ll be forced to use it (for no real reason except to show it off).

While on the topic of the story mode, I’ll give one warning: if you are looking for a long and satisfying campaign, look elsewhere. While the cutscenes are somewhat amusing, the story just doesn’t work - I’m not sure it would work well in any kart racing game, but that’s another matter - and it ends up consisting of a series of races that feel disjointed from the story. It’s not helped by the fact that the racing mechanics themselves are nothing special and that the tracks are, again, satisfactory at best.

However, this game is not about the story. It’s not even about gameplay or course design – not in the traditional sense, at least. ModNation Racers is a game about creation, and that is where this game turned my opinion around. The track creator is both powerful and intuitive, allowing for easy control with you PS3 controller or PSP. A little aside here, I was blown away by the PSP version’s creation tools. I expected them to be much less powerful but they allowed for an incredible amount of control over my creations and I was able to make everything I could think of while testing it.

Turn your game into the Super Smash Bros of kart racing! Wait, isn't that called -

After you’ve finished creating, it’s time for the last part of the game’s motto: Share.  Both the PS3 and PSP versions allow a lot of control over uploading your creations for others to greedily lap up. Likewise, you can browse through a veritable smorgasbord of wonderful creations, be they carts, characters or courses. Nothing beats downloading doppelgangers of other famous game characters and pitting them against each other on a course of your design. It turns the game into a sort of Super Smash Brothers kart racing game.

All silliness aside, both the home console and handheld versions of this game impressed me more than I had expected. However, you have to know what you’re getting yourself into: ModNation is, above all else, a game about creating and sharing. It is not a highly finessed kart racing game, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s found its own little home on this big planet (see what I did there). I scored the PSP version a little higher than the PS3 version because I feel it was more impressive given the hardware restrictions and because there are fewer titles with user generated content on the handheld market, but that’s just my opinion. Either game is worth playing, and I recommend you try them out.

For the PS3 version...

For the PSP version...

Discussing Interactive Advertising With Monster Media

By Paul Hunter

Forget everything you know about traditional advertising. There's an emerging channel where, like video games, user interactivity plays a central role in the experience. It's called interactive advertising and I recently had a chance to speak with a company at the forefront of the industry, Monster Media.

Founded in 2004, Monster Media is a full service multimedia company focused on brand interaction through the use of portfolio of products that engage audiences in ways traditional TV, print or display advertising simply can't do. The key difference is Monster Media's ability to capture the attention and imagination of people through advertising that must be experienced, instead of simply watched or read.

Like Microsoft's upcoming Kinect for Xbox 360, much of what Monster Media creates uses player movements and gestures to "control" the interactive advertisement. During a demo by Crystal Koskinen, Director of Sales Canada, I was shown a campaign the company launched last year for ESPN to raise awareness for Monday Night Football's 40th season kickoff. The massive digital football game (see image above) utilized an interactive LCD wall combined with gesture-based technology that challenged players to catch as many footballs as possible, using body movements, and high scores were submitted in real-time to see how they measured up against players in other cities. To begin the game, pedestrians were required to touch a start button and were brought to quarterback selection screen where they could select the quarterback of their choice from a popular Monday Night matchup. A video of this unique interactive advertisement can be viewed here.

Shoppers look on at the Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story motion activated advertisement

Noticing a huge potential market in Canada, the company opened their first office here in March 2010. The first campaign recently kicked off in Toronto for BMO Financial Group outside their corporate headquarters at King and Bay Streets. Hot off the heels of the World Cup, the interactive display is to celebrate the growing excitement around grassroots soccer in Canada. Similar to the EPSN game, eight linked LCD screens utilize a combination of touch activation and motion cameras to transform pedestrians into virtual athletes, only in this case they play the role of a goalkeeper who goes one-on-one with a selection of Canada's future soccer stars. The campaign, including the eight-by-six metre display and interactive custom LCD wall, is the first-of-its-kind in Canada, says Sandy Bourne, Vice-President, Advertising, Sponsorship, Events and Merchandising, BMO Financial Group.

In addition to touch interaction and gestural interaction, Monster Media displays are capable of incorporating many other technologies including augmented reality, which Sony (e.g. EyePet, Invizimals) and Microsoft (e.g. In The Movies, Kinect) are also getting into in a big way, and mobile interaction by dialing an 800 number or sending an SMS text to instantly turn a cell phone into a keypad to control the ad.

A pedestrian stops and goal tends on Verizon's NHL Showdown interactive advertisement in Boston, MA

The company is also no strange to working with game publishers, having worked with Nintendo to promote last year's Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story and with 2K for NBA 2K10.

Last year the company created 245 campaigns, such as a giant pinball machine in Times Square for Zyrtec, and an NHL Showdown competition for Verizon that cast pedestrians in the role of goaltender against some of the NHL's most coveted hockey players.

Monster Media has "big plans" for Canada says Koskinen, and says the BMO Financial Group campaign will be the first of many interactive advertising campaign the company will bring to Canadian consumers.

[This article originally appeared on the Future Shop Tech Blog]

Jul 28, 2010

Red VS Blue: First Five Seasons on DVD

By Jeff Alyanak

You’ve probably have never heard of the Academy of Machinima Arts & Sciences. Heck, you may not even know what Machinima is, but using real-time graphics engines - most often those found in video games - to create CGI scenes has been a filmmaking technique since 1996’s Diary of a Camper (and probably earlier). United Ranger Films “shot” the entire film using the Quake engine and distributed it widely, though the reception wasn’t very good.

Fast forward 7 years to the Internet release of Red vs. Blue’s first episode. Then fast forward one more day. Red vs. Blue had been downloaded by 20,000 people. Within a year, they had garnered Bungie’s blessings and nearly 1,000,000 hits a week. The show itself - for those few of you who haven’t seen it - is a sci-fi comedy set in the world of Bungie’s Halo: Combat Evolved game. However, the writers have taken some...liberties...with their storyline. The series is a total riot and it’ll be funny to you even if you’ve never played the Halo games - and there are plenty of fans out there who aren’t big Halo nerds.

Well, way back then I was one of those fans, watching from almost day one. Okay, I got into it around episode 3 or 4 - but still, for a show that ran 100 episodes in length that’s pretty much day one. Red vs. Blue’s creators, Rooster Teeth Productions, have been a long time staple at gaming conventions peddling their wares. I’ve seen them many times selling shirts, DVDs, and pins. However, I was always hesitant to buy the DVDs, because I wasn’t sure if I was willing to shell out for so many seasons. However, Rooster Teeth has a great solution.

They’ve now released the Red vs Blue: First Five Seasons Remastered Edition Box Set and boy is it loaded with value. It’s got over 250 episodes, videos and extras. The bonus content alone puts any commercial DVD release to shame with alternate endings, PSAs, and documentary footage practically bursting forth. Even cooler is the fact that the early seasons have been remastered and look better than ever.

If you’re looking to pick up the DVD, check it out at the RvB web store. It’s about $47, but it’s certainly money well spent. I’m usually the kind of guy who likes to experience everything there is in a game or DVD when reviewing it, but I couldn’t even get through everything on these DVDs, so you’ll certainly have no complaints about lack of content. So grab a copy of the box set of the box canyon chronicles and I’ll see you next year when you’re done watching it all.

Normally we don’t rate non-game releases, but this one’s just too good...

StarCraft II Contest, NextGen Player Style

By Paul Hunter

To celebrate the launch of StarCraft II we have received two copies of the game to give away to lucky readers. The copies have been provided to us courtesy of Future Shop (thanks!).

Entering is very simple.

All you have to do is send an email to with your favourite StarCraft II race in the subject line. Eligible subject lines are "Terran", "Protoss" and "Zerg". You must also include your full name, mailing address, age and skill test answer in the email otherwise your entry will be void.

SKILL TEST QUESTION: (8 + 6 - 4) / 2 = ?

Only one entry per email address will be accepted.

Two (2) random winners will be drawn on Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 11:59pm Eastern and the winners will be contacted via email with prize details.

This contest is open to all legal residents of Canada (excluding residents in Quebec). You must be 18 years or older to enter the contest. For more details on our general contest rules, click here.

Good luck to everyone.

NextGen Player Team

Jul 26, 2010

Future Shop Hosting National StarCraft II Midnight Madness [Update]

By Paul Hunter

It's Monday, July 26, 2010. Tomorrow it's Tuesday, July 27, 2010. Do you know what happens in a few short hours?

No it's not a national holiday, but it should be. It's the release date of StarCraft II, the most anticipated PC game of the year. If you're looking to get your hands on the game I'd suggest heading on over to your nearest Future Shop store since it's been confirmed that stores will be open at 12:01am tonight for a massive national midnight madness sale.

Future Shop's Elliott Chun posted details on the midnight madness sale on the company's Brand Talk blog last week. The retailer will be giving away gaming headsets with noise canceling microphone to the first 20 purchasers in line, plus the first 50 shoppers will receive a free StarCraft II hat and poster.

For gamers looking to take advantage of Future Shop's trade in program, if you bring in two games for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 or Wii you can net yourself a free copy of StarCraft II. For more information visit Future Shop's StarCraft II splash page.

It's been 12 years since the original StarCraft and amazingly enough Blizzard is still supporting the title. Makes me wonder if we'll still be playing StarCraft II in the year 2022?

Update: The fine print reads that stores in Quebec and Sudbury, ON will be open at 8am on July 27th. Thanks airdom!

EB Games Canada Opens Dozens of Stores at Midnight for StarCraft II

By Paul Hunter

Whoa, maybe the launch of StarCraft II is a national holiday in Canada. I just checked out the EB Games Canada / website and saw that the games retailer is also opening dozens of stores across Canada for the release of Blizzard's next real-time strategy behemoth.

No word on whether there will be any giveaways or entertainment provided.

For a list of the stores open tonight at midnight click here (note: it's a PDF link)

Best Buy Canada Hosting Two Big StarCraft II Launch Parties

By Paul Hunter

Best Buy Canada recently sent out an email to customers detailing the company's launch parties for the release of StarCraft II on the PC. Two locations will be hosting 9pm launch parties, Cambie Street in Vancouver and Bay & Dundas in Toronto.

Toshiba will be on-hand giving eager gamers a chance to play the game a few hours in advance of its July 27 street date. Fans in line to purchase the game will also have a chance to win one of five Toshiba Ultimate Gaming Prize Packs which includes a Toshiba X500-03L gaming laptop and StarCraft II Collector's Edition.

More Best Buy locations will be open at midnight (but not hosting parties) including:

1. Edmonton South - 9931-19 Avenue NW, Edmonton, AB
2. Edmonton West - West Point Centre NW, Edmonton, AB
3. Sunridge - Sundridge Power Center, Calgary
4. Ottawa West - 1701 Merivale Road, Nepean, ON
5. St. James - A-810 St. James Street, Winnipeg, MB
6. Langley - 200th St & 64th Ave, Langley, BC

The first 150 customers lined up at each location will received a free Sidewinder X3 gaming mouse with the purchase of StarCraft II. Furthermore, the first 30 customers who shop in-store, but not at one of the midnight launches, will receive a StarCraft II race t-shirt.

For more information on all the Best Buy Canada StarCraft II events and promotions, check out their info page here.

Jul 22, 2010

PlayStation Move Playable at Osheaga Festival

By Paul Hunter

PlayStation Canada have announced on their website that the company will once again be sponsoring the Osheaga Music and Arts Festival, taking place on July 31 & August 1, 2010 in Montreal, Quebec.

The company's upcoming motion control peripheral, PlayStation Move, will be playable at the PlayStation Gaming Lounge at the event. PlayStation Move is poised to compete with Microsoft's upcoming controller-free motion device, Kinect, and Nintendo's highly successful Wii. This is your chance to try Sony's motion control device in advance of its North America launch on September 19, 2010.

But wait, there's more.

Sony have also announced that their line-up of 3D gaming will also be playable on the PlayStation lounge. The first four games to receive the 3D gaming treatment are WipEout HD, Pain, Super Stardust HD, and MotorStorm: Pacific Rift. No word as to which games will be playable, but it's a good bet those four will be available for some hands-on.

Music artists performing at this year's Osheaga Festival include Weezer, Metric, Snoop Dogg, Sonic Youth, and Arcade Fire.

For more information on the festival, check out the official website here.

July 31st: Dragon Quest IX Tag Mode Event

By Alice Stancu

Have you picked up your copy of Dragon Quest IX yet? It's one of the biggest handheld games this year, providing action beyond the classic 1-player JRPG formula. In the spirit of Diablo 2, four players can band together through the local wireless connection to take on tough dungeons and monsters. Characters are fully customizable, and the gameplay is more open-ended than you'd see in a typical RPG. Oh yeah - and no random encounters!

I've only briefly tried out Dragon Quest IX, but I'm looking forward to getting this game ASAP - especially since there will be a Canada-wide tag mode event happening on Saturday, July 31 (2-4pm). Tag Mode lets you keep your game running while it's being stored, so when you walk by someone who also has the game on, you'll automatically exchange things like character info and treasure maps. This sort of game feature is pretty popular in Japan, but rarely makes its way to our side of the globe, perhaps because our population density is a lot lower. Luckily, variations on this concept - like the Pokéwalker peripheral - have started to appear in recent times.

To find the closest participating store near you, browse the list here.
Note that you have to complete Quester's Rest in Stornway to receive maps through Tag Mode.

It looks like you also have a chance of winning a Midnight Blue Nintendo DSi XL at the event - so go, go, go!

Jul 15, 2010

Review: Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story

By Alice Stancu

Let me be the first to admit it: in the years between the flagship releases of a beloved franchise, I rarely look into the side games that developers inevitably pump out. I've always seen them as nothing more than a reminder that the franchise isn't dead. I'm sure there are some people out there who enjoy The Legend of Zelda: The Lampshade of No Real Significance and Mario Does the Weekly Shopping, but that's just not my style. I loved the Mario RPG and Paper Mario series, and the mere idea of playing that sort of game on the DS was a turn-off. RPGs for the DS rarely work out for me. If you have to sit through hour-long cutscenes with no save points in sight, why are you playing on a handheld anyways? So, until now, I didn't think I was missing out. Of course, I was wrong.

A few months ago, I picked up Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story (the third game in the Mario&Luigi series) and realized just how wonderful these games can be. The plot is a typical sort of Mario plot – the princess is in another part of Bowser's body – but peppered with a charming and amusing cast of characters, ranging from the stereotypically French Broque Monsieur to the Engrish-speaking villain, Fawful. Fawful himself is basically what makes the game so great. He's the most lovable evil villain to ever urge you to “Stop and sample the sprinklies in life's salad bar.” You's be trolling, Fawful.

As the story goes, the Toads of Mushroom Kingdom caught a disfiguring disease called “The Blorbs” from ingesting mushrooms of the magical variety, and only The Bros can save them. Unfortunately, they are inhaled by a temporarily super-powered Bowser, so the first half of the game consists of escaping Bowser's body (and usually helping him get out of a tricky situation) and the second half involves finding the cure for “The Blorbs”. Of course, Mario and Luigi themselves are the darling Italian plumbers that the world loves, and they speak in a gibberish pseudo-Italian, which pairs nicely with Fawful's semi-intelligible Engrish. The graphics and sounds are generally nice; it's a standard look and feel for Nintendo and one that manages to feel timeless even though it's clearly current-gen.

"Blorbs" is a pretty apt name for it

If you haven't played a Mario RPG, be advised that the gameplay differs from the classic RPG formula. While battles are turn-based, all fighting relies on timing; your stats mean nothing if you can't attack efficiently and then dodge/counter when your enemy attacks. You can quickly rack up of damage if you can't figure out an enemy's attack pattern in time. Navigating the world isn't difficult, though it requires a bit of puzzle-platforming skill; you'll have to jump, whirl over, dig under, or beat the crap out of obstacles in your way. Bowser is a reluctant and unknowing protagonist in all this, so he has his own unique world-navigation abilities. Some of the puzzle sections get tedious, but the battles remain interesting throughout.

My play-through barely scratched the surface of all the side quests; there are many different challenge modes, where you either have to perfect a special attack (which I didn't use much of in normal gameplay anyway) or find the fastest way to kill a certain enemy. The challenges tend to be ... well, challenging, but of course that's entirely the point – and there's enough of them to keep you loading up the cartridge long after you've completed the main storyline. While Bowser's Inside Story doesn't quite have the same replayability as other action-RPGs like the Tales or Kingdom Hearts series, you do get ample entertainment from your first playthrough. It's enough fun that I'm definitely going to have to go back and play the rest of the games in this series.

Jun 24, 2010

NHL 11 Cover Athlete Unveiled

By Josh Moore

EA Sports has unveiled the cover athlete for the upcoming game in their NHL Franchise: Jonathon Toews. Toews has had a monster year, winning a gold medal and tournament MVP at the Olympics, and also nabbing a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player in the playoffs. Toews joined Top NHL prospect Tyler Seguin to announce the arrival of EA Sports NHL 11, expected to be released this September. Despite having their beloved Vancouver Canucks eliminated from the playoffs two years in a row at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks, the development team at EA Vancouver has once again selected a Blackhawk for the cover. “I told Jonathon the first day I saw him that he had ousted my team two years in a row” said Sean Ramjagsingh, producer of the game. “Choosing him was still a no-brainer though.”

The game boasts an all new faceoff engine, full Canadian Hockey League rosters, and has added broken sticks - apparently the most requested feature from fans. If your player breaks his stick in the game, you will need to either get one from another player on the ice, or go to the bench to grab a new one. It also features a brand-new physics engine, which alleviates the use of canned animations, giving the game a more realistic feel. “We were at E3 and we saw about 25 different things in the demo that we had never seen before” said Brent Nielsen, the Executive Producer of NHL 11, on the topic of the organic nature of the new engine.

The franchise is also celebrating its 20th year developing hockey games. I asked Brent about whether the team had channelled any of the mid 90’s hockey games while reworking its franchise. “Absolutely. I grew up on the old NHL games. We looked at those and tried to figure out what made them so great. We also had to ask what we were capable of doing with the hardware.” The franchise went through a major overhaul when they released NHL 07; it introduced a new shot stick feature which used the right analog stick on the controller to shoot the puck. The move worked out nicely for them, as they have received immense critical acclaim, and 22 Sports Game of the Year awards. “We are so competitive that we are not allowed to just rest on our laurels, and that’s why we reinvented the game in the first place.” Said Nielsen. “We aren’t just competing with the 2K hockey series, we are competing with Madden, FIFA, and every other sports game on the market. We want to be the best sports game period.” There were no mentions of any special features for the 20th anniversary of the game, but it’s likely that some announcements will be made in the months leading up to the release.

During the playthrough, Paul Hunter and I both agreed that the game feels more organic and accurate than its predecessors, and that the physics are hugely improved upon. You can no longer simply skate around the ice like Bobby Orr on a power play; you actually need to move the puck well and play intelligently. It's slower and feels well-paced. According to Ramjagsingh, “It’s a game that we wanted to be accurate and challenging for hockey fans, but also one that is fun and accessible for people looking to get into the series. We have met so many people who got into hockey in the first place because of games like NHL 94, and I think we’ve done a good job of balancing the game.”

Last year’s iteration of the game was really strong: it felt like they had taken the foundation they'd built and really refined it. It’s tough when a game hits that point because it can be difficult to move beyond that – but with the new physics engine and overall obsessive attention to detail, the guys at EA Sports Vancouver might just once again reign supreme atop the sports game food chain.

Jun 15, 2010

NextGen Player Review: MLB 10: The Show

By Josh Moore

Sony’s MLB Franchise has been receiving some pretty huge buzz in the last couple of years. It’s been featured through extremely popular commercials and has also received a huge amount of critical praise. Everyone I’ve talked to is blown away with how realistic the game is, and critics all across the board have praised the game for how well it captures the sport. It’s regarded as one of the highest rated sports games of all time. I remember my cousin telling me that he wished that the development team at SCE San Diego would just drop the ball so that he didn’t have to buy the game every year. I’ve yet to really find anyone at all who doesn’t like MLB 10: The Show. Except for me.      

It’s not from lack of trying - I’ve given the game a very fair chance to win me over. My two favourite things in the world are baseball and video games.  I remember the off-the-charts reviews that last year’s iteration of the game was getting. I remember running to the game store near my house the day it was released to buy it. I remember wanting to tear the plastic wrap off of the game and play the damn thing the second it touched my hands. And then a funny thing happened that curbed my excitement quite effectively – I finally PLAYED the game.
My brother and I both played the hell out of MLB 10 the Show. We both admired the beautiful graphics and detail in the ballparks and players faces – how well they captured Kevin Youkilis’s grizzled, ugly scowl, Derek Jeter’s pretty boy-child face. We were both amazed by the in-depth and detailed Franchise and Road to the Show Modes. We both marvelled at the smooth in game animations and general attention to detail that went in to the game. But the longer we played it, the less we liked it - once the initial allure and enchantment wore off, we realized how little fun we were having.

It can be a very infuriating game. For one that prides itself on realism, it has some gaps in logic. The pitching system works by choosing your pitch, aiming it, and then inducing a golf meter a la the MVP Baseball series of a few years back. You have to try and build up the meter for power, and then release it on the way back as close to the little black target as possible. The irritating thing about it, though, is that when you nail the meter, the pitch very rarely goes where you aimed it. I realize that throwing a pitch exactly where you want to is a very difficult thing, but if Roy Halladay is pitching and uses perfect pitching mechanics, he should be able to throw his fastball exactly where he wants to. The same inconsistencies happen when you are hitting. You will call a pitch, think you have it perfectly timed and then ground out weakly to second base.
I understand that this game is meant to be unforgiving. I get that it’s supposed to be realistic and that hitting a curveball is a difficult thing to do. I played little league baseball. I know that I can’t hit a curveball. I don’t want to be tortured by the fact any more. I just want to have fun playing this game.
The Road to the Show mode is also very in-depth but very frustrating. It can be a lot of fun to lead a player you created through the minor leagues all the way through to the hall of fame, but often the fun is derailed by stupid unnecessary stuff. I had a pitcher who was 12 – 0 and had an era under 1.00 in double – A and the manager decided that it would be a good decision to demote me from the starting rotation and put me as a mop up reliever in the bullpen. Clearly any time you have a pitcher putting up legendary numbers in your starting rotation, the only wise move is to take him from that role and place him in your bullpen so that he can pitch once a week when your team is down by eight runs. That’s just a move you’ve gotta make every time.
The longer my brother and I played, the more our true opinions of the game surfaced:
“What do you think of The Show, Daniel?”
“Oh, it seems pretty amazing.”
“Yeah the attention to detail is ridiculous, it’s pretty incredible.”
“You still enjoying MLB 10?”
“Yeah, it’s pretty good, I guess.”
“I just threw a fastball in on his hands! Why did he just hit a homerun?”
“That’s so stupid.”
“This game is stupid.”
“Want to play MVP Baseball 2005?”
I truly appreciate the work that has gone into this game. I think the team at SCE San Diego is incredibly talented, and I think they love baseball and have made some really impressive steps to making a really great baseball game. I just refuse to buy into the hype that has been thrown at this game and this series for the last couple of years. I spent more of my time being frustrated while playing it rather than having fun.
I just want a game to capture my love of baseball, not question why I liked the sport in the first place. Is MLB 10: The Show the “greatest” baseball game ever made? Maybe. Is it the most fun? Not even close.


May 28, 2010

Super Mario Galaxy 2 Launch & Impressions

By Alice Stancu

Last weekend, Super Mario Galaxy 2 launched at Yonge and Dundas square in Toronto - and boy, did it ever launch. The massive event was marked by more screaming fans than Justin Bieber at Much Music, and featured a guest appearance by the man himself, Mario. Lots of goodies were given away, and there was even a guy making balloon animals in the shape of Mario, Luigi, and Yoshi!

I've only put a few (dozen) hours into the game so far, but it's a lot more engaging than I expected, considering that the first Super Mario Galaxy didn't quite manage to charm me. Part of the reason was that the levels were just too cluttered and visually complicated to be very enjoyable, but most of all was that the game's attempt at including multiplayer fell short of being... oh, I don't know, fun.

But that's changed, thank the stars of Mario Galaxy for that. 2p now has the power to subdue enemies and collect coins/1ups, in addition to their abilities in the original game. As a result, the second player becomes the tactician while the first player is the adventurer. It's been a long time since a game's made local multiplayer in a serious game this fun.

As for the new abilities... well, there certainly are a lot now. Most of them are fairly easy and fun to use, although I still haven't figured out how to get out of some of the special-ability modes without taking a hit. Yoshi is a fun addition, of course, although he's just another extension of Mario's abilities.

I'm really looking forward to playing through the rest of Super Mario Galaxy 2. I'll be writing up a review as soon as I finish the game - and between now and then, I recommend you check this game out for yourself!

May 18, 2010

Split/Second Impressions

By Alice Stancu

Split/Second is a hectic arcade action-racer developed by Black Rock Studio and published by Disney - and yes, it's the 2000s, Disney can make a killer racing game if they want to. The game was released today, so be sure to give it a try. The demo just doesn't do the game justice, as there is a limited amount of things to trigger on the map, which is a key selling point of this game.

To begin, I should explain that I am absolutely dreadful at every racing game ever made. I do nothing to dispel stereotypes surrounding my gender and auto vehicles; generally, I come in dead last, about a minute behind my slowest competitor. Split/Second is no exception, and while I enjoyed the game immensely, I don't think I'll be able to make it through the entire game in a timely manner. So instead of a full-on review, I present you with my impressions of the game:

The track, at the start of the game

The gameplay of Split/Second reminds me of Burnout, except the point isn't so much to crash other cars as it is to blow up the track, leading them to crash. The more dangerously you drive, the more points you have with which to blow things up – these “power plays”, as they're called, can range from simply creating a shortcut for yourself or igniting obstacles in the middle of the road, to wreaking absolute havoc by destroying an entire section of the track and forcing players to reroute through dangerous terrain. What makes this game truly shine is that – because of the colossal amount of things you can damage on a track – no two races will be identical. Even if you've only unlocked a few levels, you get a different experience every time.

What the track will inevitably look like about 30 seconds into the race

The game has very few low points, as far as I am concerned. While it's not very hard to maintain your position if you're ahead, it can be hard to catch up when you're far behind. The ability to blow up your surroundings is only really useful when you can actually see other racers in front of you.

The one thing that doesn't sit well with me is the storyline – rather, the inclusion thereof. Does an arcade racer really need a story? Can't we just blow things up and drive fast for the sake of blowing things up and driving fast? The premise of the game is that you are participating in a reality show in the future, which has an infinite budget. Okay – but why wasn't this theme really pushed to its logical limits? Sure, there's the gratuitous use of lens flare and bloom effects, and each episode has a “promo” before and after the racing, but there's a conspicuous lack of a cheesy host doing a play-by-play during the race. It's such a minute complaint, considering how spectacular the game is, but when a developer puts so much effort into the details of a game, it's sad to feel like something is missing.

I'd like to finish this off by showing you a video from the media launch of Split/Second that took place last week. We were driven around a track by professional stunt drivers who have been pulling off life-or-death stunts for much longer than I've been alive. It was lots of fun, even if it was a little terrifying.

May 13, 2010

Super Mario Galaxy 2 Launches in Style

By Alice Stancu

Super Mario Galaxy 2 blasts into Toronto next week! To celebrate, there will be a launch party on May 23rd at Yonge-Dundas Square. It's free and open to everyone - so what are you waiting for? Grab your flying Yoshi and take to the stars!

Source: Nintendo of Canada

May 12, 2010

NextGen Player Review: Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver

By Alice Stancu

A decade ago, Pokémon Gold and Silver were released as the second pair of games in the wildly popular series published by Nintendo. As the only generation that was still incompatible with the DS through either Pal Park (GBA slot) or Wi-Fi connection, the decision to remake Gold and Silver as HeartGold and SoulSilver shouldn't come as a surprise. Additionally, all four generations have had at least one revamp released soon after the original pair, often combining elements exclusive to either so that late adopters don't have to struggle to trade for their favourite Pokémon.

The gameplay of Pokémon is quite impressive for having remained largely unchanged for nearly 15 years. Instead of altering a formula that has proven successful, each successive entry to the series has simply added “side” elements that keep players entertained when they're tired of waiting for Magikarp to evolve into Gyarados. In this case, it's the Pokéwalker peripheral that makes HeartGold/SoulSilver absolutely essential. Yes, the Pokéwalker is just a step counter that lets you display your favourite Pokémon in glorious black and white. However, you can also catch rare Pokémon that might not be in your version of the game and obtain items through a mini-game. You can also “connect” with other people's Pokéwalkers, which makes for a great conversation opener with strangers.

While the level gains are small and the items might not be amazing, it's nice to know that you're still “playing” the game even when you're busy with your day to day life. Plus, it's just awesome to have your Pokémon constantly by your side in the real world.

Another addition to these remakes is the Pokéathlon, which – like the Beauty Contests before it – adds another set of stats to each Pokémon. The stylus-based mini-games in the Pokéathlon are decidedly more entertaining than Beauty Contests, and they can be a great diversion for when you're tired of getting your butt handed to you by Red yet again.

Alice's cute Pokémon artwork

Graphically, the game uses the Diamond/Pearl/Platinum engine, but adds a new “following” sprite for every single Pokémon – that's right, the first Pokémon in your party follows you just like Pikachu did in Yellow! And, complying to the standards of the last few generations, you can now choose to be a boy trainer or a girl trainer. These improvements might seem insignificant to the casual observer, but for anyone who's fallen in love with the Pokémon world, they're pretty awesome.

Overall, the quality of the music tends to be hit or miss. The battle melody gets tedious after a very short time, but since it is a portable game, the sound will probably be off if you're playing in public anyways. It's charming that each Pokémon's cry is still an 8-bit screech, reminding you that even if the game looks more realistic and polished, Pokémon are still “virtual” pocket-monsters. There is also a key item that unlocks a chiptune soundtrack - a mix of old tracks and new mixes - which I personally prefer to the “standard” soundtrack.

All in all, HeartGold/SoulSilver is a great starting point for any new trainer beginning their first Pokémon journey – and naturally, a fantastic trip down memory lane for every 20-year-old blogger who hasn't played this since she was a kid. While adult gamers might be put off by the fact that Pokémon has never quite “grown up”, being eternally favoured by the elementary school demographic (yes, Pokémon still don't “die”, they “faint”), there's no shame in delighting in this cute and complex RPG. There is enough deep strategy involved in the game to make it appeal to any age of gamer, although you are never forced to go any deeper into the mechanics than you want to. All in all, this is a great game to fill in the wait between Diamond/Pearl/Platinum and the next generation of Pokémon, Black/White. With the addition of the Pokéwalker accessory, this game is a must-buy.

NextGen Player gives Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver a...