Game Review: “Madden NFL 13″

You know, I think “Madden 13″ might be the most depressing game ever made.

Seriously, when I first booted it up, I was greeted by the new (and very well done) menu score, loaded up a quick play Redskins vs. Cowboys game, and marveled at the new presentation that so perfectly recreated a CBS broadcast, it managed to subside my summer longing for the football season in earnest. From there, I’m welcomed to a beautifully rendered Cowboys Stadium by the new, and enjoyable, announce team of Jim Nance and Phil Simms who actually bring some enthusiasm to the booth again, as they give a fantastic and accurate introduction to the matchup. As you might expect, the set up and presentation to “Madden 13″ are phenomenal — I would even use the term unrivaled, in terms of sports games.

Then things actually get even more encouraging when I took the field. The new “Infinity Engine” that runs the game manages to avoid being a buzzword, and actually changes the gameplay in an initially significant way. Essentially the new engine attempts to prevent the canned animations and the predetermined outcomes they led to, by allowing for dynamic player reactions to on the field situations. It’s appropriate then that the cover boy this year is Detroit Lions great Calvin Johnson, as a play is never really over or decided until it is actually over and decided, much like the plays of Johnson himself. This new engine is bolstered by further innovations such as the ability to cancel a play action animation on the fly and regain control, or how defensive backs can hunt and track a ball with unprecedented levels of control. The goal of this year was obviously to make the on-field action feel more organic, and you may be surprised at how well this is achieved at first.

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App of the Week: Organ Trail – Director’s Cut

Developer:
The Men Who Wear Many Hats LLC

Compatible with:
iPhone
iPad
iPod Touch

Android Systems

Requires:
iOS 3.1.3 or later

Android 2.1

Price:
$2.99

Available here (for iOS) and here (for Android)

“You have Died of Dysentery”

Nothing was worse than seeing this message pop up on the Apple screen at the library we used to play “The Oregon Trail” at in grade school. Maybe the first couple of people to fall to it got away without too much ridicule, but as soon as one of us discovered what dysentery was, we became unstoppable forces of mocking nature. There were many ways to die on the “Oregon Trail”, but the only one you truly feared was the dreaded dysentery. It’s not like it was ever your fault either. If there was a “wash your hands after using the bathroom” button, we would have used it.

If you can’t relate to what I’m talking about then I truly pity you, because you missed out on one of the greatest gaming experiences of all time. What made “The Oregon Trail” so great was the many gameplay options and features, and how even playing the game right wasn’t a guarantee for survival. Even better, the vaguely historical setting meant that it was a game you could play at school, and at the aforementioned libraries. It’s one of those games where you can tell right away if someone grew up with it or not, because if they did, all it takes is a mere screenshot to bring a grin to their face, and set them off on a bombastic recollection of nostalgic memories.

Well if you did, in fact, never get to share that experience, then developer The Men Who Wear Many Hats has your back, thanks to some funding by Kickstarter. Because they are bringing back the old school gameplay of “The Oregon Trail” but infusing it with the harsh reality of the zombie apocalypse. Now truthfully, I’m getting a little tired of the zombie genre, but every now and then something will pop up that resurrects the style much in the same manner as the decaying dead that populate those titles.

“The Organ Trail” (huh…clever) is one of those instances. From the menus, to the basic gameplay, to the perfectly recreated graphics and sounds, “The Organ Trail” shamelessly apes “The Oregon Trail” with admirable accuracy. The basic goal is the same. You and yours traverse the country in search of a better home, while battling the dangers of the untamed world. But rather than just throw a couple of undead sprites your way and port “The Oregon Trail,” the developers have completely re-imagined the experience of that classic as it stands in this new world, and along the way have managed to perfectly recreate the experience of the original, while still making sure that anyone who grew up on the original game enjoys the near flawless ratio of nostalgia to the joy of a fresh game experience.

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App of The Week: Jar on a Bar

Compatible With:
iPhone 3GS
iPhone 4
iPhone 4S
iPod touch (3rd Gen)
iPod touch (4th Gen)
iPad

*Requires iOS 4.0 or greater

Price: $0.99 (Buy it here)

There’s really nothing original to “Jar on a Bar.” Aesthetically, it immediately brings to mind “Angry Birds,” and the basic concept is so dated that they used to call it “Jenga.” But that doesn’t matter, because for a mere 99 cents, you get one of the most addictive puzzlers to come to the app market in some time, originality be damned.

Let me backtrack a bit and explain. “Jar on a Bar” stars a fish in a bowl trapped precariously atop a ready to fall stack of pallets, glass, and other increasingly nefarious obstacles. Your job is simple: Get that fish to the ground and back into the water without breaking the bowl, all while trying to spill as little of the water in it as possible for bonus points. Sounds simple, right? Well, as you can imagine, as the game progresses through its 60 plus levels, things keep getting more and more complicated, until the point that this game of “Jenga” becomes a real mind-twister.

I mentioned “Angry Birds” earlier, and that’s because at its core, the game’s main concept of removing various obstacles to reach your goal is highly reminiscent of that classic app. However, “Jar on a Bar” is more about manipulation than destruction. Its well implemented physics system accounts for everything from weight to momentum, and forces you to master it before you can make any progress in the later stages. You may have to push a block to a certain point to gain just the right leverage, or momentarily put the fish in danger in order to set up the right move correctly. You not only have to consider your next step at all times, but the next several after that as well. It creates just the right combination of on your feet decisions and long term strategy that makes the best puzzle games so memorable, and executes it very well. There is also an in-app store but, while it does feature some cool objects, overall it doesn’t add much to the core gameplay of “Jar on a Bar.” The good news is it doesn’t have to, and it far from hinders the experience.

I could be wrong on this, but I don’t expect “Jar on a Bar” to take over the world like some of the games that inspired it have. However, the 99 cent asking price is a steal, turning this into a must-buy for anyone that has half an interest in puzzle games. Quite simply, it is one of the best and most addictive new puzzlers, and overall app games, I’ve come across in a while, and it is a more than deserving app of the week.

  

Axe Launches New Interactive Game and Social Networking Hub

Last night at Manhattan’s Bowlmor Lanes / Greenwich Village Country Club, Axe previewed its new interactive global gaming experience, “AxeMan,” at a special, exclusive event shrouded in secrecy. Guests were taken by pre-paid car service to the venue near Union Square, where we were served complimentary food and drinks such as Axe’s signature drink, the “AxeMan” (basically just a good, strong Manhattan), and uniquely delicious breaded-and-fried mac & cheese bites.

We quickly learned the reason for the event’s top-secret, exclusive guest list: as we were seated with our drinks, all the event’s guests were provided with complimentary iPads on which we were given a tutorial on how to play “AxeMan.” In this case, the “axe” in question is an electric guitar played by a tough-looking bro reminiscent of Jack Black‘s “Brutal Legend” character, Eddie Riggs, but with shorter hair and nicer clothes. The game itself combines “Guitar Hero” with a first-person shooter, such as the classic “GoldenEye 007,” though its game-play is a much less complex horizontal scroll.

The object of the game is to collect curvaceous, scantily clad women (hereinafter referred to as “honeys”) to your “crew” while simultaneously defeating bad guys, just like in real life. The game’s setting is the fictional university “PWN U,” and the bad guys are frat-boys who throw either dodgeballs, beer bottles or free-weights at you as you attempt to gain honeys. You can block these by tapping them as they come toward you, and you kill the bad guys by strumming guitar notes at them from a fretboard at the bottom of the screen. The “boss” at the end of the game’s first level is the school’s mascot, a huge bull that comes to life and charges you, depleting your supply of honeys until you defeat him or die. It sounds pretty stupid, and to be honest it is, but it’s also surprisingly fun and addictive.

In addition to the “AxeMan” game, Axe has also launched “Planet Axe,” a social networking hub containing “AxeMan” and other games, where players can connect to share their high scores and talk trash. “AxeMan” also features a user-generated soundtrack of songs supplied by your own iTunes or other music player, so if you prefer to shoot bad guys to the sound of heavy metal, while your friend would rather pick up honeys to the sound of smooth jazz, everybody still wins. Watch out for the bull at the end, though – music of any kind will not likely sooth that savage beast.

  

The Ten Best Video Games for Dad on Father’s Day

In case you need a friendly reminder, Father’s Day is approaching once again. On June 17th, millions of dads will wake up to ties, cards and decorative beer mugs for them to drown their unspoken gift disappointment sorrows with alcohol in.

But not your dad; not this year. This year, you are going to give dad the gift of gaming. In trying to help all sons and daughters with this task, I was shocked to discover that there are actually quite a few good games for dad available. While you can’t go wrong with classics like “Call of Duty,” “God of War,” “Uncharted,” or a genuine full-size arcade cabinet of “Cabella’s Big Buck Hunter,” these are the ten titles that I feel most dads would want most on their big day.

Red Dead Redemption

If you’re dad’s anything like mine, he can catch a Sergio Leone movie or “Unforgiven” rerun on TV with frightening accuracy and consistency. So what better gift than what is far and away the best western game ever made?

Whether it’s ropin’, ridin’, thievin’ or shootin’, your dad won’t need the letter “g” if you give him the game that lets him freely roam the west and re-enact his favorite moments from the great western genre. To make the gift even better, pack it in with the “Man with No Name Collection“, or the first season of “Deadwood” to insure that you put your dad in a deadly entertainment cycle that will be driving mom crazy for months to come.

Forza Motorsport 4

This is just a gimme. Featuring over 500 cars (well over half of which most normal people will never see with their own eyes) and an almost endless amount of customization, tracks, game options and other extra content, “Forza 4″ is simply the greatest racing game ever made. Even if for some reason your dad isn’t a car nut (the odds aren’t great there), “Forza 4″ is a game that is having so much fun with its subject that it basically becomes impossible to not get swept up in it.

The only way you can miss on this one is if dad doesn’t own an Xbox 360. Then your prospects get trickier. For PlayStation 3, you could always go for the stuffier but enjoyable “Gran Turismo 5” and just never let dad know there is a better option out there, and for the Wii there is always “Mario Kart.” Everyone loves “Mario Kart.”

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