Bulletstorm Video Review

Here’s our full review for Bulletstorm. Overall it is a great shooter with some intense action, an interesting combat system, and memorable moments throughout the campaign. The pacing is a little uneven, but the second half of the game more than compensates for the game’s slow start. Take a look at the review below.

Final Score: 4 out of 5

Review: Deathsmiles

Just recently I did a feature on shoot ’em up (shmup) games, and one of the main reasons I was feeling shmup fever was due to the release of Deathsmiles for the Xbox 360. Developed by Cave, and published by Aksys, Deathsmiles has actually been around for nearly three years in Japan, so when it was announced that it would be coming to North America, shmup fans like myself were quite happy and surprised.

The game is a horizontal scroller and falls into the bullet hell category. You control one of five different characters that has a tag along familiar through stages packed with macabre style enemies. The gameplay is quite intense and on the harder difficulties it’s extremely challenging, even for seasoned shmup players. The difficulty can be dialed back quite a bit, but honestly the real satisfaction in Deathsmiles comes from getting through the punishing levels with as few deaths as possible.

The gameplay isn’t all that unique, but it does have some nice touches. Rather than multiple lives, the player gets one life and a 3 hit life bar. Bullets decrease the life bar by one, but collisions with enemies only take away 1/2 of a hit. You can pick up items to refill the bar along the way. As you accumulate points, you can increase the 3 hit life bar to 4 or 5, but it takes big scoring to make it happen. For attacks the player can tap the button for a standard shot, hold it for a secondary shot, lock on to have their familiar fire, or fire off a bomb-style attack. As enemies are destroyed, they fire off some smaller bullets (similar to in Ikaruga when dying enemies fire off bullets) that will do you damage, but if they strike your familiar you actually gain points. Also, when enemies are destroyed they’ll typically leave behind an item pickup. As you pick up items, a counter tallies your total. Once you reach 1000 items, you can power up your attacks for a limited time. It’s a simple system, but it all works well.

The story in Deathsmiles is nothing special, but story has never been a focus in the genre. There are two different endings for each character, however, so multiple replays aren’t based slowly on gaining a higher score. I guess there’s enough story dressing on the game to keep it interesting, but there’s nothing truly compelling to make note of.

The style is something that might be a turnoff for some, as it’s pretty heavily anime influenced. Really though, after a few minutes that styling fades into the background as you are jamming your controller stick in all directions to avoid the incoming storm of bullets. While I’m not an anime fan, I do have to admit that it does add some charm to the overall package, but I wouldn’t disagree with anybody that would say that the inclusion of it is a little tough to swallow.

Overall the game is great, even if it is a little expensive. I still feel like this genre can do well, but they need to release these games more often, and they need to hit a better price point. I don’t mind paying $50-$60 for a good shmup, but for such a niche genre they really need to get these down to $20-$30. I would definitely recommend the game without any reservations for shump fans and would advise casual fans to see if they can find it at a lower price. I would caution those who choose to wait that it’s very possible that this game could become quite scarce once the initial shipment sells out.

Overall Score: 8.0 out of 10

Review: Mega Man 9

For me, it’s a rare moment that I’m able to pull out my older consoles, dust them off, and dig into my favorite classic games that laid the groundwork for the modern masterpieces. However, when I get those consoles out, and it comes time to play NES games, two of my favorite games to play through are Mega Man 3 and Mega Man 2. When it was revealed that Mega Man 9 would look, play, and sound just like the old Mega Man NES titles, I was very excited. To think that in the age of hi-def gaming systems, TrueHD sound, and television screens that jump over the 100 inch mark that Capcom would be willing to create a new game in purely retro fashion is just amazing.

The gameplay is solid. If you’ve ever been a fan of the NES Mega Man games, you’re getting exactly what you’re getting into with Mega Man 9. The game looks and acts just like a NES game, all the way from the level design up to AI behavior. You can even pull the same old tricks on enemies that you could in old NES games, like walking off the screen and coming back to see the screen repopulated with the same enemies you just destroyed. It is worth noting that the game is hard. In fact, those not wanting a challenge are going to be best served steering clear of Mega Man 9’s unapologetic difficulty. While Mega Man games have never been a cakewalk, Mega Man 9 comes at you rough and never lets up. For long time fans of the series, this will prove to be a very good thing.

The music and sound is very satisfying and will make you feel like you’re back in the 80s again as catchy chiptunes with short loops accompany the bleeps and bloops of Mega Man’s jumps and attacks. Capcom went all the way in making Mega Man 9 look like it belongs on the NES.

The replay value of the game depends on how much you like a challenge. If you choose to go back and hunt for the achievements in the game, it’s going to be a very long time before you manage to get them all. Also, playing the stages out of the easiest order is going to require total mastery, so you can be sure that the game will provide many hours of enjoyment.

I can’t recommend Mega Man 9 highly enough. I only hope that the game is successful enough that Capcom and other developers choose to go this route with some of their older franchises. Imagine another Ninja Gaiden from Tecmo in this style, or maybe another Battletoads from Rare. The possibilities are endless, and I’m very grateful to Capcom for what they’ve done here.

Overall Score: 9.5/10

Review: Grand Theft Auto IV

It seems every couple of years a game comes along that the majority of the industry can rally around. Games like Halo, Goldeneye, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Half-Life 2, Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid, Metroid Prime, and Super Mario 64 are all universally recognized as timeless classics that pushed the boundaries of the gaming medium. With Grand Theft Auto IV, Rockstar is hoping to create another timeless and endearing gaming experience that will recognized amongst the best gaming has to offer. Early reviews for GTA IV came in with near flawless results, and later reviews only reinforced that idea, if only to a bit lesser degree. So, how did I feel about the game? I’ve been a little outspoken against the level of praise that the GTA series has received in the past; was GTA IV enough to finally understand the appeal of the series? Keep reading to find out, and to witness a Stupid Gamer first.

GTA IV is huge. Everybody knows that the one of the strongest points of each game in the series, since GTA III, has been the size of the game world. Set in Liberty City, which is just a different way of saying New York City, you play as a recent immigrant named Niko Bellic. As you try to earn a living for yourself and your idiot cousin, you eventually get drawn into the world of organized crime, government conspiracy, and complicated loyalties. The storyline is stitched together through multiple missions (some required, some optional), and it’s up to you how to approach them and in which order. As you progress through the missions, Niko’s world changes, his loyalties shift, and new areas is the game world are opened up to you.

The scale of the game is downright impressive. Liberty City is as close to a real, living city that we’ve ever seen in a video game. The streets are filled with pedestrians, cars, motorcycles, buses, taxis, and even street vendors. You’ll witness car accidents, police interactions with people, bad drivers, taxis loading up and unloading passengers, and more. From the miles of shoreline to the packed downtown streets, Liberty City is a sight to behold. As you play the game, you can’t help but to admire the virtual recreation of New York City; even after you’ve already put in 20+ hours in.

The story in GTA IV is engaging, but I can’t help to feel a disconnect from many of the moments of the game that are designed to be emotionally weighted. When the game begins, you’re an immigrant fresh off the boat. Yes, you have a dark past, but you get the feeling that Niko really wants to do things the right way. In early moments of the game, Niko seems to flinch at some of the killing he’s coaxed into, but not much later he’s as cold-hearted as can be. Unfortunately you have no control in this progression, so you go from caring about Niko’s actions to just feeling numb about his killing. As a result, you have a hard time caring what happens with Niko’s personal relationships as well. Someone close to you might die, and it’s kind of a shrug your shoulders moment and onto the next mission. Had Rockstar either given me more control over Niko’s actions or not fiddled around with giving Niko the appearance of a man with some sort of morals for the first 3 hours of the game, the emotional weight of the story could have much more easily been felt. Even with that, I think most gamers will still care how Niko’s fate plays out.

Graphically the game is pretty nice. There are some issues worth noting, namely a dodgy framerate at times, some odd looking shadows that can look like fuzzy blobs, and mostly average character models. Given the scale of the city, and the very infrequent amount of loading, however, it’s pretty amazing that those are the only real issues that can be found (and admittedly they’re not very pervasive). GTA IV definitely sits alongside the rest of the AAA titles in regards to graphics for the current generation.

Gameplay is where I have my biggest issues with the game. Since GTA III, Rockstar has had Vice City, San Andreas, Vice City Stories, Liberty City Stories, and now GTA IV to refine and improve upon their gameplay formula. Unfortunately the core of the game is still pretty much the same as it was in GTA III, and in many cases, the game has become even more formulaic and repetitious. I feel that 90% of the missions in the game were just slight variations on the following set of actions:

  • Find target or drug deal to supervise
  • Attempt to kill target or rival drug dealers after the deal goes sour
  • Chase down escaping target
  • Lose wanted level (ditch the cops)
  • Go to next mission
  • Repeat

In addition to doing variations of the same thing over and over, the controls leave a whole heck of a lot to be desired. It’s a shame just how clunky and irritating the controls are in the GTA series as a whole, and GTA IV only takes minor steps toward fixing things. Driving is still really awkward, and it takes a long time to adjust to the squirrelly nature of the vehicles. Walking around is no picnic as Niko controls like a drunk rhino. You take wider turns that a 747 commercial jet, even while on foot, and in order to sprint you have to continually tap a button. In the age of analog controls, you think that we could make him run, walk, or jog with just the analog stick (see: Super Mario 64…which released last century). The cover system is a nice addition, but the camera can play havoc with your aiming and combat efforts. In fact, the camera in general is pretty poor. You can swivel it around with the right analog stick, but as soon as you let go it re-centers behind Niko. A good camera should stay where I put it and only re-center when I tell it to. This is really elementary game design, and it’s unforgivable that Rockstar can’t see this. Even lesser open-world games, such as Saints Row (blech), and Crackdown provide the gamer with much better controls and a more reliable camera system.

From a presentation standpoint, GTA IV is going to give you everything you ever wanted. Well, everything you ever wanted if you’re an angry and undersexed 17 year old with no sense of tactful satire. For a game that’s pushing a deep and serious story, you’d think that the world in which it is set would reflect that. Instead you have a city that’s packed to the brim with sex jokes, shallow innuendo, and heavy-handed criticisms. Rather than put some effort into creating clever in-game jokes, Rockstar decided to go lowbrow and create the 69 Diner (a 69 joke, seriously?), an Internet cafe named tw@ (twat), a radio station named CNT, a bowling alley whose logo is a pin and two balls, and a set of dialog that is drenched with gratuitous F-bombs, gay jokes, and mentions of “titties.” I’m all for comic relief in games, but when the jokes are so overbearing that they actively work against the theme of the game, I will take issue with them. Why create such an impressive living and breathing city only to allow it to be sullied so thoroughly with unconvincing and sophomoric “humorous” content?

Gripes aside, I can understand why GTA IV has been a hit with many gamers. Personally I feel that the gameplay formula is in serious need of improvement, but I was very impressed with the setting and technical achievements present within the game. If I could have the same game with some improved controls, a bit more variety in the missions, and a toned-down level of crass behavior, I think I could enjoy it much more. For those that can overlook these things, or even my some miracle enjoy them, I envy you (seriously). If I was to be entirely subjective in my evaluation of the game, I’d probably drag it through the mud and kick it to the curb. If I’m being objective, however, I do have to recognize that the impressive aspects of the game outweigh the nagging issues by a noticeable margin. While I cringe at reviewers claiming perfection or that a new high in gaming has been reached with GTA IV’s release, I can understand the sentiment of those that truly love the game. For this reason I’m doing something different with the score for the game; I’m splitting the score into two separate scores. One will be how I feel about the game subjectively, and one will be how I’d score it on a purely objective level. I think this is fair because it eliminates the “it’s just not for me” bias while still allowing me to feel good about the score(s) I’m giving the game.

My subjective and personal score for GTA IV (the one I prefer people take from this review):


My objective and bias-free score of the game (the one I think the game deserves from a purely objective level):


UPDATE: Super cheap preorders at Wal-Mart.com

Update: The pricing has been changed back to regular MSRP. No word yet on whether or not Wal-Mart will honor the orders already placed.
This might be a pricing error, but many preorders at Wal-Mart.com are worth checking out. The most notable games are:

Wii – Super Smash Bros.: Brawl – $20:

Xbox 360 – Devil May Cry 4 – $40:

PlayStation 3 – Haze – $30:

Xbox 360 – Burnout Paradise – $40:

Xbox 360 – Turok – $30

Xbox 360 – Condemned 2: Bloodshot – $20

There are more games that are priced way below normal retail price. If it’s a mistake, there’s a chance that Wal-Mart will honor all orders that are placed before it gets corrected, and you could always cancel your order if they don’t honor the price. Who knows how long the prices will be active if it is an error…so be quick!

Review: Pac-Man Championship Edition

Pac-Man Championship Edition, available on Xbox Live Arcade is pretty dang awesome. With challenge on par with the best of the XBLA games, and an addictive charm that rivals Geometry Wars Retro Evolved, Pac-Man CE is the best title to be released on the download service in quite some time. The game sports some beautiful visuals and some rock-solid gameplay.


The game play similar to the old Pac-Man, but there are some new and unique twists to the formula. Instead of starting with a full maze of pellets, you’ll be given a small maze partially filled. As you progress, the maze expands and more pellets appear. All of this is pretty frantic, especially since you’re working within a time limit. The goal, like any other Pac-Man game before it, is to rack up the highest score possible. Comparing scores with your friend list is going to drive you back to the controller again and again.


It’s a shame that a game of this quality is going to be passed up because people will see the name Pac-Man and figure that it’s an old and antiquated title. The truth is, Pac-Man Championship Edition is one of the most fresh and quality experiences to be had on XBLA. My sole complaint isn’t even with the game itself, it’s with the crappy quality of the 360 d-pad and the imprecise nature of the analog stick.

I highly recommend the game to all types of gamers.

Overall Score: 9/10


Stupid Gamer Review: Dead Rising

I’ve never been a fan of the “sandbox” games very much. Oblivion has been the most appealing, but I like my freedom in games to be a bit more structured that what’s offered in your typical Grand Theft Auto or one of its many clones. Normally I find myself so distracted that I either lose sight or lose interest in the main quest and ultimately brush the game aside in favor of something else. Dead Rising gives me enough structure that I’m able to stay focused, but it also gives me enough freedom to find diversion when I’m hungry for it.

The gameplay is pretty simple, but for a gore fest you wouldn’t want to make things too complicated. For those that need more of a technical fix, Capcom’s Devil May Cry may be more suitable. Basically you find yourself dropped into a mall in the middle of a city infested with zombies. You play as a journalist that’s out to get a scoop and possibly save some people along the way. As you roam the mall in search of clues to what’s going on, taking pictures of the carnage, and escorting people to safety, you’ll find yourself engaging in a zombie massacre with just about anything you can get your hands on. Over time you learn new combat moves, raise abilities, and increase your life meter. Every aspect of the gameplay is implemented in a straightforward and easy-to-learn fashion. Capcom does well not to muck things up with complexity.

The graphics are great, especially when you consider everything that is going on around here. Once in a while you’ll see a framerate stutter or two, but for the most part the visuals manage to be impressive while holding a good framerate. The details in the mall, character models, and just about everything else are great. Capcom definitely spent a good amount of time ensuring that everything looked great and animated smoothly.

The audio package is great. Crunches, splashes, clanks, and thumps sound spot on and the music is varied and fun. Certain situations will bring about a new kind of background music, often with comical results. In one scene a group of escaped convicts is racing around in a jeep causing extra havoc and their music is an odd mix of hip hop and crappy rock. Another situation has a psycho clown in an amusement park type area with an equally fitting audio track.

The game does have a few downsides to it; one of them being pretty awful. The save system is one of the worst I can ever remember, especially for a game of this nature. You are only allowed to have a single save file and you are only allowed to save in a few designated areas. This forces you to be extremely careful when saving since you can’t have a backup file in case you mess something up. It’s a bit disappointing to see this because it discourages experimentation at times in a game that begs you to try stuff out as often as possible. The lack of multiplayer is a tad bit disappointing, but it’s not that big of a deal. While some might miss it, I prefer to actually be left to my lonesome to progress and wander around as I see fit. Another downside is that there is a time limit, similar to what was seen in Pikmin (the original). Often this time limit will cause you to miss out on storyline elements or push you into abandoning quests in favor of other time sensitive things. I understand how the time limit fits into the storyline, but it’s more fun to not have to worry about it in a game of this nature. Subsequent playthroughs can remedy this issue; but I still would like to have seen to seen the storyline driven more by events than by time line.

It’s not that often that a summer release is really capable of grabbing you and keep you glued to your set. Normally summer is a time to work on your backlog and look forward to the massive Fall release schedule. Dead Rising, however, is one of those rare titles that manages to draw you in and keep you entertained for just about as long as your willing to sit hunched over on your couch with a controller in your hands. The game surely has its flaws, but it’s something I feel I can safely recommend to just about any 360 owner. The secrets, hidden objects, and variety of goals and achievements are great, so this is a title that’s a pretty safe purchase. Those that opt to rent the game probably won’t find enough time to experience all the game has to offer.

Overall Score: 8 out of 10


Other Reviews:
Advanced Media Network Review
IGN Review
1up Review