Kinect Day 3 : 5:00 AM Workout, plus Detecting All sizes

So I'm on to day #3 of my Microsoft Kinect adventure (not to be confused with Microsoft's Kinect Adventures, the pack-in game).    I got up at 5:00 AM this morning to test out my ability to make use of "Fitness Evolved" before the rest of the family woke-up.   I was able to get the 360 and Kinect up and running in just a couple minutes.  Since I did not have to find and/or check/replace the batteries of Wii-mote, Nunchuck and Balance Board, the process was far quicker than the last time I tried this with Wii Fit Plus.  By 5:05 I was into the the Gym Games, and moving fast.

The block breaking game is still the most compelling, but the other mini-games are certainly appealing to me more and more as I play them.  I went through all of the multiple times,  By 5:40, my middle daughter had woken up, and she came down to play too.     One great thing about Kinect is that it tries (and mostly succeeds) to automatically identify anyone who enters the "play space".  Instead of having to go through a cumbersome character  switch, she was up and playing the block balancing game very quickly.

Later in the morning my other two daughters arrived, and they started playing Kinect Adventures in earnest.  One of them is four ,and the other is twelve.  There is maybe, a 2 foot difference in height between them. Still, Kinect responded to their movements without fail.   Especially good for little kids is the "stop the leaks" game because they can flail around and still be successful.  My wife commented that it was the first time she has seen the two girls play anything together for any length of time.  She was right,  I had not realized that before.  Such much for being an "observant" dad, eh?

Even later in the morning, when the Kinect was back in my hands (or that is, I was back in Kinect's hands) I noticed that there was demo for "Kinect Joy Ride" on the "Kinect Adventures" disc.  I loaded it up, a bit skeptical of the driving game because you only steer and do stunts, you don't control the speed.   However, the game was surprisingly enjoyable.  I was espscially struck by how kids would be able to play it , simply by mimicking driving a car by pretending to hold the steering wheel, the same thing they might do anyway.

So as day #3 closed, I felt very pleased with Kinect.  I appears that Microsoft has done a very good job of getting little kids into the fray, almost the same way Wii got older adults to play video games.   The jury is still out on the rest of the games.  I have one more I'm holding back until Thanksgiving, but if the girls like it enough, there may be more for Xmas.


Microsoft Kinect Day 2: Punching And Kicking My Way to 180 lbs With No Excuses.

Day 2 of Microsoft Kinect has been spent playing Ubi Soft's "Your Shape Fitness Evolved" which would be the most metrosexual game imaginable if it was not for all concentration on hitting stuff.  There might be all kinds of workouts and training classes in this thing, but I would not know because I've spent most of my time punching, kicking evil  green blocks as fast as possible.

The mini-game section of this title has some really enjoyable stuff, and the best two best games involve the aforementioned violence against green blocks , and also balancing blocks just like one of Flash stacking games....except you do it with your arms.    This thing is very addictive.  I believe I will have dreams tonight of how to attack those green blocks faster and faster.

My goal is to reach 180 lbs by using this thing every day.  I tried the same thing with Wii Fit, Wii Fit Plus, and EA Sports Active, but all those games suffered from one fatal flaw:  The Wii.  Yep, both the wires that tether the controls, and the Wii balance board got in the way of my exercise.  Kinect offers almost total freedom, so I have no excuses this time


Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 for the Wii

Soccer video games have not changed very much since the the first 3D version of FIFA appeared on the 3DO almost 15 years ago. The graphics and models have gotten much better, and the licensed player names have improved, but the actual game-play has stayed (relatively) the same. The controls of nearly all modern soccer games go something like this:

  • 1 button passes
  • 1 button lob passes
  • 1 button shoots
  • 1 button is used to switch control to player closest to the ball
  • 1 button is designed to be mashed as quickly as possible to make the above player run as fast as possible to or with the ball
  • 1 of the above buttons is used to volley the ball from a pass
  • Defense consists of the above running and switching of players, plus an abundance of slide-tackling

Of course there are other controls, many of which use shoulder-buttons and combos that are nearly impossible to remember lest actually execute in heat of the game. After the initial learning curve of each new game is completed, play usually falls into a rut where you use one or two "super-man" players who do nearly everything on the field, taking shots at the goal from a set of standard positions that you know have a high probability of getting you a tick on scoreboard. While this can be fun for a while, it's really not soccer at all, no matter what the Cockney accented color commentator would have you believe. The real problem is that the interface to the game (the gamepad) does not allow for the complex interactions that make soccer an interesting sport to watch and play. The games simply capture a shadow of what really makes a soccer match a great contest: the immersive nuances in the run of play.

Because of these limitations designers have created games that eshued nuance altogether. They place games in dark alleys with power-ups and weapons, or on mini-fields where the proper combo can launch 8 balls at an unsuspecting goalie. They make rarities in an actual game (like a bicycle-kick) into sought-after power-ups and special moves that replace tactics with gimmicks. Sure, they make the game fun to play, but they also pave over the actual game of soccer in the process. Sadly however, without a new way to implement the basics of the game, it seemed like soccer games had gotten just about as good as they could possibly get. The game could not get any more immersive as long the control scheme stayed the same.

On a tip from the weekly IGN Wii Podcast I picked-up Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 for the Wii last week. The podcast (and subsequent reviews) told a very intriguing story about a new control scheme for a soccer game that could only be accomplished on the Wii with a Wiimote. To me, this seemed like it could be the answer to immersion problem. The reviewers described the game as using a "John Madden tele-strator"-like interface. Even though these descriptions made it sound like the game would be played in slow motion, I was intrigued enough to buy the game and see for myself.

When Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 for the Wii starts for the first-time, you are thrust into a tutorial about the controls. This is appropriate because the controls are like nothing I have ever experienced before in any kind of sports game. All action on the screen is directed using the Wiimote and the Nunchuck, but not in any garden-variety way. Like other soccer games, you have direct control of one-player at a time. By pressing down the (A) button, an arrow appears on the screen. By controlling the length and direction of that arrow, you control the player. It might sound weird at first, but after a couple tries is appears to work almost flawlessly. Instead of mashing a button to run, pressing a shoulder-button for a step-over, and controlling the player movement with an analog stick, you (almost) effortlessly glide the controlled player through the defensive-line and into scoring position. All the way you are weaving, dribbling, stepping-over, etc, but these tactics come from intuitive flicks of wrist instead of multiple button combos. Shooting the ball at the goal comes from a flick of the Nunchuck. This itself is significant, as it actually separates shooting from passing and dribbling: something that most other soccer games get completely wrong. By separating shooting to it's own unique action, it becomes much harder to make mistakes in-front of the net. This should be welcome news to anyone who has played a soccer game in the past and has furiously yelled at the TV to "shoot shoot shoot damn it" only to realize they have been shttoing at all, but repeatedly telling the game to "lob" the ball back to the wing.

While improving the control of single player is welcome, in and of itself it is not enough of an improvement to warrant calling this game "revolutionary". You might be thinking: "Sure, you can shoot easier, but how does that offer more immersion and nuances than a gamepad? In fact, it seems like the gamepad might be more flexible and nuance than the Wiimote." If the improvements in single-player control were all that Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 had to offer, then these thoughts would be correct. however, it is the passing game truly sets this game above all that have come before it. In most other soccer games, passing the ball is relatively "magical" process. Since you can only control one player, you must rely on A.I. to direct the other players on where to stand and when to run for a pass. While some games offer a modicum of control of the player that will be passed the ball, going beyond single passes, one-twos or pass-volleys is nearly impossible. Those games take a full-field game of soccer, and crunch it down to a series of one-on-ones and one-on- two and match-ups. It's like a mini game of one on one basketball on a giant green field. However soccer is not basketball, and the makers Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 for the Wii figured out a way to take the essential but seemingly simple tactic of passing the ball in soccer revolutionize it.

By pressing the (B) button on the Wiimote an second arrow appears. By clicking on another player, while pressing (B) you will pass them the ball. simple right? How is that revolutionary? Well, here comes the best part. Before you pass the ball, you can press the (B) button over more players. This does not cancel-out your first pass, it adds to it. Very quickly you will find yourself lining-up 3, 4 and 5 pass plays that result in shots on goal. If you press both (A) and (B) at the same time, you can direct players into one-two plays around defenders. You can even direct players to run for an open space to receive a leading pass. As far as I know, this has been essentially impossible, or at least improbable with other soccer games. I might have accomplished these feats a few times with all other games combined in my lifetime, but with Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 for the Wii I can make them happen on every play. Furthermore set-piece passes can be set-up in much the same way. With other soccer games, a corner-kick was most likely a "prayer" pass while mashing the "shoot" button for a hopeful volley into the net. While you can still do that with this game, a bit more careful planning will lead you to directing a corner kick volley as pass to a 3rd player and possibly a 4th before swinging the Nunchuck for a shot on goal. The results are truly astonishing. All of a sudden you will find yourself using the entire field to play a soccer video game.

While offense is modeled amazingly well in Pro Evolution Soccer 2008, defense, while still good, doesn't offer the same significant level improvements. You can mark specific players, direct players to intercept passes, call an off sides trap, direct the goalie to come off his line, and call for slide-tackles. It's all fine, but simply not as immersive or enjoyable as offense. Some people might argue such is the nature of defense, and I'd tend to agree, if it was not for the nagging want to gain control a single players and go after those any bastard that tries to attack my goal! Still, defense if certainly not a deal breaker, and as far as staying with the intended game design, I could not think of a better implementation.

The game offers a slew of play options and modes. A wi-fi online mode is available, but the most enjoyable mode to me is called "Champions Road". This option allows you to select a team, and play in a series of tournaments of increasing difficulty. After every game your players increase in their abilities, and if you win, you get the chance to pinch the best players from the other team. In this way, you get to mold and form your team as the you play the game and immerse yourself in the details of team management. The significant immersion and nuance of on-field play, added to this addictive and interesting tournament mode, make this one of the best soccer games available today. If you even think you might like to play a soccer game, but have been put-off or frustrated by the controls of earlier soccer games, be sure to check this one out. Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 for the Wii offers the type of innovative controls and game play that I expected from the Wii in 2006, but slogged through 2007 without finding. I'm happy to see that in 2008 developers are finally finding ways to move Wii's unique control scheme away from hand flipping mini-game gimmicks, and towards new and innovative methods to control and immerse the player into games that I once (mistakenly) thought had reached their apex.


Review: Pinball Hall Of Fame:Williams Collection for the Wii

A week or so back I wrote a pissed-off blog entry about how it was to find Pinball Hall Of Fame Williams Collection for the Wii out in the wild. That has not changed, and I still have not heard or found any real explanation for it. I ordered my copy from Amazon.com, and it arrived in 2 days, which seemed reasonable, and I've been playing the game ever since.

If I was bewildered about the lack of availability, promotion, etc. for Pinball Hall Of Fame Williams Collection before I played it, I'm simply astonished over it now that I own it. This game is by far, the best simulation of pinball ever created for a home console or computer. I have played nearly all "video pinball" games (save for  "videogame-ized " titles that include well-known Nintendo or Sega characters...sue me) over the past 30 or so years: Video Pinball on the VCS and in the arcade, Davids' Midnight Magic on the Apple IIe, Pinball Construction Set on the Atari 800, Macadam Bumper on the Atari ST, Tristan Pinball on the PC, the Epic Pinball series on the PC, Eight Ball Deluxe on the PC, the Pro Pinball series on the PC, the pre-cursor to this title, Pinball Hall Of Fame The Gottlieb Collection on the PS2, as well as countless others in-between. All of these titles have, in some small way, improved upon their earlier cousins creating digital simulations of the very analog game of pinball that were closer and closer to the real thing. However, all of these earlier games suffered from some or all of the same problems: the camera view (top-down for the 2D games, odd and weird angles for the 3D games) was never quite right, the physics were not simulated to allow for"real pinball" strategies, the controls did not have the "feel" of a real table, the layouts were decent, but did not always model real-world and well-known designs, and even if they did try to model real-world tables, the graphics were not powerful enough to pull genuine nostalgia through the player's digital cognitive dissonance.

I'm happy to say that Pinball Hall Of Fame Williams Collection for the Wii solves nearly all of the aforementioned problems. The intelligent camera follows the ball (and when unnecessary, doesn't) in nearly the same way a trained "pinball-eye" watches the ball while playing. an actual game. Multiple camera angles are available for people who don't like this intelligent system, but to me, the default is the best I've ever seen. The physics seem spot-on. Different tables have the same feel as their real-world counter-parts, and this feel is significant enough to make each table a unique game unto themselves (just like in real-life). Furthermore, the physics allow for most of the same strategies that you would use while playing the actual tables. The controls of the Wii version (nunchuck in the left hand using Z-button for the left flipper, the stick to launch the ball, Wiimote in the right-hand using B-button for the right flipper, shake either one to nudge) are the closest to real pinball that I have ever experienced. There is something unique about having each hand free from the other (pinball control schemes for other systems and computers either have both hands on one control pad, or both on the same keyboard) that allows for the same kind of independent flipper strategies used in the real world. Furthermore the kinetic rumble feedback from Wiimote does a great job of simulating the feel of a well-aimed shot hitting it's target. Since Williams created some of the most well-known tables of the 70's, 80's and 90's you will find games that you either played in the arcade, passed-by with a token hot-in-your hand for a Tempest machine, or at very least , heard their distinctive sound-work emanating around you. Finally,the graphics are certainly the best ever for a pinball simulation, and arguably, some of the best to ever grace the Nintendo Wii. With the camera pulled-back the tables sometimes look cramped and jaggy, but up-close the table modeling is nothing short of breath-taking.

There are 10 memorable Williams tables modeled in the game. Unlike the Gottlieb collection from a few years back, these are the games I actually played in the arcades. While I can appreciate the unique features and craftsmanship of Gottlieb's games, the over-all theme and table design of Williams's games in their 80's (roughly) hey-day have never been, nor do I believe will ever be, matched. The tables in this collection are no exception, Jive Time, Gorgar, Firepower, Black Knight, Space Shuttle, Sorcerer,Pinbot, Taxi, Whirlwind, and Funhouse were created by legends of pinball design like John Trudeau , Barry Oursler, Python Anghelo, Mark Ritchie, Norm Clark, Pat Lawlor, and Steve Ritchie (Who  actually got his start at Atari's ill fated pinball division) as well as countless other artists, designers and programmers. If the only thing this title was successful at was highlighting the artistry and craftsmanship of William's best games, then it would have been a success in it's own right. The fact that the creators at Farsignt Studios did the games true justice by making the best pinball simulation ever, makes this game a an unqualified triumph. A salute needs to go out to Farsight lead engineer Ryan Broner who did an amazing job with the technical simulation of these pinball tables. .

Now, there are a couple small little problems with the game that don't detract much, and might even be figments of my graying memory more than faults with the simulations. Most of the games (besides Jive Time) only allow for 3 balls to be played. I seem to recall at least a few of these games (i.e. Gorgar, Firepower and Black Knight) having a full 5-balls per play in the arcade. As well, it seems like the "grace period" in some of the modern games that allowed a ball to stay in-play if it drained too early is missing. Again, these things might be my own projections and not missing features. As well, there are a few missing Williams games I would have loved to see in the collection. Comet, Cyclone. High Speed, F-14, Hurricane, Police Force, Black Knight 2000 and the phenomenal Machine Bride Of Pinbot could easily for the basis of a sequel..and God-willing, hopefully will.

Pinball Hall Of Fame:Williams Collection for the Wii is the finest pinball simulation ever created. I still have no idea why it has been (mostly) ignored by the press and at retail. With the Wii audience supposedly made-up of many new and older games, I'd think that a simulation of fast-action yet mostly defunct and nostalgic type of electronic gaming would fit nicely along-side Carnival Games and Wii Sports on a Mid-Core/Casual gamer's Wii shelf...but what do I know? A decent 8.0 review did appear at IGN yesterday, which an amazing score for IGN, but it still seems a bit low for me. 8.8 or 9.0 would be much more accurate even for them. For our Mid-core Gamer purposes, I will score this one a 95 out of 100. If own a Wii (or PS2 for that matter) and ever loved to play actual real-life pinball, you should get this game right now.

(No disclosure: I am not related to nor do I personally know any of the companies, designers, programmers, etc. mentioned in this review. I simply as "giddy as a school girl" over this game and wanted to make sure the names of some of the otherwise anonymous yet talented people involved received a mention)


Bookworm Adventures Review

Bookworm Adventures




  • Official Site

    Game Play:
    A serious update to the Pop Cap classic Bookworm Deluxe. Fight monsters by creating words from a grid of 16 letter tiles. Play through three separate books and several mini-games. Collect experience to gain levels and increase your health and attack power. Use crystal tiles to increase your attacks. After you finish each quest, you receive a special item that can be used to gain bonuses in your attack or defense. Unlike the original Bookworm game, letters do not have to be touching to be used to form a word. A seemingly simple concept that is, in reality, insanely addictive.

    The game includes a thin, but welcome story to ties together the increasingly difficult set of word battles. Letters do not seem to arrive in a completely random manner, which helps make the player feel like they are in control. Creating extra-long words that bash enemies to smithereens might be the best use of 6th grade vocabulary words ever devised.

    Save Anywhere/Respect Our Time:
  • Perfect. The player can quit the game at any time, and the their progress will be saved. Battles last about 2-5 minutes, with a full level lasting 10-15 minutes. You can extract some satisfaction from this game no matter how much time you have to play it.


    Games Should be Affordable:
    $19.95 is an absolute steal.


    Reasonable Graphic Choices:
    Graphics and sound are nice and serve the game well. Sounds and special FX are satisfying and should not tax any video card.


    Single Player Games:
    This is primarily a single player game, although you might find others huddling around the computer trying to help you form words.

    Cooperative Games On One Screen:

    Multi-player Games
    N/A . A head-to-head mode would have been a nice addition


    Casual Games Don't Have To Be Simple Games:
    Bookworm Deluxe was watershed moment for "casual games" that required real brain-power to complete. Bookworm Adventures takes the concepts of the earlier game and expands them into a deeply addictive contest.

    Size Does Not Matter
    Very small footprint:. 43MB of hard drive space required. A perfect example of a quality game with almost no bloat.

    No need to be mature for the sake of being mature:
    Some of enemies are a bit scary, but nothing that would keep the family or your non-geek girlfriend/boyfriend away

    Yes To One-Time Fees, Rarely To Monthly Fees:
    Pay once, but no options to update with more levels.


    Final Mid-Core Gamer Score:

    One of the best Mid-Core game available for the PC



    Alien Shooter Vengeance Review

    Alien Shooter Vengeance




  • Official Site

    Blast scores of aliens in this 2.5D isometric shooter. The game has the feel of the "Fallout" series put into an action game.

    Feels old school, but plays very smooth. Explosions and FX are very satisfying. Addictive to the core.

    Save Anywhere/Respect Our Time:
    Auto save after completing a mission.

    Games Should be Affordable:
    $20.00 is right on target. The quality price ratio for this game is outstanding.

    Reasonable Graphic Choices:
    Plays on most PCs. Incredible 3rd person, above perspective 3d visuals. It looks and plays like the best Genesis, Amiga, or Atari ST game you have ever seen.


    • Single Player Games:
      This is primarily a single player game.
    • Cooperative Games On One Screen:
      N/A for this game. No two player action that I can find on one screen. This doesn't hurt the game in the least.
    • Multi-player Games
      Free cooperative and death match multi-player


    Casual Games Don't Have To Be Simple Games:
    This is basically a shooter. There are RPG elements though that help it to be more involving.

    Games Do Not Need to Be 5.5 GB To Be Good:
    Relatively small footprint. 500MB of HD space required. Not out of the ordinary for the quality of the game

    No need to be mature for the sake of being mature:
    Very violent, a lot of blood and dead aliens.

    Yes To One-Time Fees, Rarely To Monthly Fees:
    Pay once. Free multi-player.
    Manifesto Score 10/10

    Final Mid-Core Gamer Score:

  • 30Aug/070

    Review: "Carnival Games" For The Nintendo Wii (7.5 out of 10)

    "Carnival Games" from Global Star software for the Nintendo Wii is the best game ever made about, umm, Carnival Games. This is certainly a game that would have been a minor failure on any other platform, but on the Wii is an entertaining success. You enter the carnival where you can decide to play a single player game (collect tickets, trade-up prizes, unlock contests) or a multi-player game (use 1 or more Wii-Motes to play any of your currently unlocked games). The multi-player mode will probably attract many people first, as it seems that this is where mini-game collection like this should really shine. In some places, it really does. There are about 25 games, and most of them are very accurate recreations of their real-life carnival counterparts. There are about 8 games that can be played in multi-player mode (2 or more people at once), but the rest make you take turns. This is fun for a while, but it also shows just how shallow some of the games can be. You don't collect tickets or prizes in multi-player mode, and this makes success seem a bit hallow. Single player is much better way to play, even with a group. Taking turns to earn enough tickets to open new games, unlock character modifications, and trade-up prizes is surprisingly fun. This little bit of challenge adds weight to contests that seeme somewhat trivial in multi-player mode.

    Note: Don't skip the instructions the first time out, as they have little animations that show exactly how to use the Wii-Mote. Without these instructions some of the games can seem harder than they really are.

    Here are list of the initial games and how they fare next to the real thing:

    1. Alley Ball: Very very accurate simulation of skee-ball. A bit easy to master though, but like Wii Sports bowling, even the "perfect" shots are not always perfect.

    2.Test Your Strength: You can't really simulate hitting something hard with a Wii-mote, but this still well done.

    3. Hoops: Basketball shoot. Hard to tell where you are shooting in this one. Still maddenly addictive, but only because you want to figure how the @#$! controls work.

    4. Collection Plate: A coin toss. Use the Wii-Mote aim, then flip to throw. Aiming is hard, but he flipping part seems pretty accurate.

    5. Spilled Milk: Knock-down 3 milk bottles. Insanely accurate to the actual game.

    6. Balloon Darts: hold the Wii-Mote like a dart, try to pop balloons. Fun, but you wish you had more darts to pop more balloons, especially in multi-player mode.

    7. Bowler Coaster: Roll a bowling ball and try make it stop in the middle. Too hard to learn, but then too easy to master.

    8. Shooting Gallery: Shoot the ducks, don't hit the red ones. Perfectly accurate and fun.

    9. Pigskin Pass: (football throw). Very hard until you watch the instructions and see that you hold the Wii-Mote the same way you do in darts...then it is just challenging.

    10. Shoot for the stars: Shoot your machine gun, try to knock out 100% of star. Very very hard, but still enjoyable.

    11. Frog Leap: See Collection Plate.

    12. Buckets Of Fun: Throw a softball into a bucket. Very accurate, but also easy to master.

    13. Clown Splash: Shoot water in clown's mouth to pop balloon. Adds a "water pressure" action that is not in any real-life version I've played. Fun game.

    14. Hole In One: Golf putt. Kind of annoying actually, but then I did not look at the instructions.

    15. Ring Toss: See Frog Leap

    16: Ka-Pow: Knock down fuzzy clown heads. Just like the real game.

    17. Nerves of steel. Thread a metal ring. Not exactly fun, but it is challenging.

    18. Lucky Cups: Throw balls onto a field of cups, try to get it into a colored one. Just like the real game!

    19. Day At The Races: Move your horse forward by rolling balls into holes. Just like the actual game.  This is one of the better multi-player games.

    20. Dunk Tank: Dunk tank. If you like this sort of thing it's awesome.

    There are also 5 games that require 15-25 tickets to play. You get tickets in the single player games. These are:

    1. Push A Prize: keep adding coins until a prize gets pushed out of the machine
    2. Claw: Capture prize with the claw
    3. Going Nuts: Catch nuts in the basket
    4. Love Tester: Love tester, like in Moe's Tavern
    5. Fortune Teller

    There was one problem with these games. My daughter won a "prize" in the "claw" game, but we it was not available anywhere after she got it. This seems to be a minor oversight. If you have to pay to play these games, it would be nice to go back and see your prizes, love test results, and fortunes later-on.

    There are also 10 "super games", that you unlock. These are harder or simply more interesting versions of the regular games. For instance, "Super Alley Ball" has blockades much like the practice versions of "Wii Sports Bowling". "Super Balloon Darts" let's you throw as many darts as you want in 30 seconds. These are definitely worth speeding the time to unlock.

    While the game has a good variety on contests, there are few games that they missed that would have added to the already robust set of contests:  What they did not include but should have:

    1. Fish: Throw ping-pong balls to win fish, trade-up for bigger and better fish.
    2. Whack-Mole type game.
    3. Hoola-hoop toss
    4. Three Card Monty
    5. Other Skee-Ball variants (like clown-head skee ball)

    All in all, Carnival Games is quite good title for the Wii. It uses the Wii-Mote in a natural way, and has enough variety to keep almost anyone interested, at least for a short time. My kids really dig it. After playing for a short time the first day, one of them said to me "Wow, can we play this all night?" That has not happened since we first played "Wii Sports".

    Score: 7.5 out of 10.



    Indie Game Showcase: New Star Soccer 3 – the best $20 I've spent in a LONG TIME!

    Do all the fancy controls of the Fifa series confuse, frustrate or annoy you? Do you value playability over fancy rendered realistic images of Ronaldo's bald head? If you have any interest in Soccer, or role playing games, or sports game for that matter, New Star Soccer 3 might be just for you.

    I used to play some great footie games on my Atari ST in the early 90's - Anco Kick Off II (by the legendary Dino Dini), Anco Player Manager and the Sensible Soccer series of games. Once the ST was put into the closet, I purchased quite a few soccer titles for the modern machines - FIFA, Winning Eleven, etc. While they have all made great advances in technology, the games were just not as fun to play as the masterpieces of the 16-bit age. I thought I would have to remain satisfied with playing Player Manager in emulation, but then I happened upon what is quite possibly the best footie game ever published, New Star Soccer 3!

    This title, written in Blitz Basic, from New Star Games, is a testament to what an independent developer can achieve basically on his own. Simon Reed, the mastermind behind the game, is one of those indie developers who just "Get It". He understands exactly what makes a great game. Gone are any attempt to make his game LOOK exactly like the real thing, and IN is a game that actually PLAYS like the real thing. No effort has been spared to make this game as playable as possible. From the simple controls to realistic in game AI, he has created the first game that I have been addicted to in quite some time. The visuals are nothing to get excited about, but they are clean, crisp. and detailed. No mind, because the game plays like no other. The control is a combination of the "Kick and Run" Anco style and the "Ball Tied to the Foot" style of the Sensible series of games. (See Picture below). Yet, it feels unique, and brilliant in its own way too. If you played any of those classics on your c64, Amiga, Atari, Spectrum, or Amstrad, you will know exactly what I am talking about, and will be surprised at how well be has improved on the control in his game.

    Image Courtesy of www.newstargames.com).

    You start the game as a 17 year-old bench warmer in one of 64 real leagues from around the world. You can download a selection of authentic club logos, colors, and player names during game set up. I chose to be Jeff "Goals" Fulton, a new member of the Los Angeles Galaxy (My Local Club). My team features real Galaxy stars such as Landon Donovan and Cobi Jones, but the vowels in their names have been altered for copyright reasons. The game allows you to train your alter ego in 14+ areas, and progress your career in a way that I can only describe as a brilliant sports / role-playing hybrid. You must first have a tryout and prove to the coach that you are able perform basic passes, shots, and tackles. If you are good enough, you might get in a match right away. If not, you will need to train like a mad man, while making sure not to over train and be fatigued when you are chosen for a match. Once you do get in a match your statistics play a huge part in the game. Your strength, speed and stamina are most important at first because you need to be able to play for more than 15 minutes without tiring. After you have sufficient training in the these raw basics, you can begin to focus on refining your technical skills such as passing, shooting, heading, tackling, using both feet, and your mental and tactical skills such as match vision (the ability to play the game w/o looking at your feet). As you train in real time sessions your player's attributes increase and you will see the results as you control him matches.

    The game control is flawless and easy to master, You really only need 2 buttons, but 4 come in handy. You can do quick shot or passes by tapping the shoot or pass buttons, or you can meter your pass/shot strength by holding down the button for a length of time before you release. A quick tap shot or pass will go in the proper direction automatically. As your skill attributes increase the accuracy of these will increase. You will notice that over time you will master the controls well before your alter-ego has become proficient enough to pull off exactly what you want. As you master shooting for instance, you will be able to take fast low shots that you can curve with "after touch". The other two buttons are used to call for the ball when you are open and do lob/slide tackle depending on your current situation. You can also head the ball and the accuracy will depend both on the movement of the direction controller and your skill in heading. You can slow down or speed up the match to your liking. I'm old, so playing in slow mode affords me the chance to actually score a goal now and then,

    The mental well being of your player is also important. If your confidence is low, your manager will not select you for a match. If your relationships with friends, family, teammates, coaches, or the inevitable girlfriend sour, it will affect your player's skill during match play. Thankfully, just as in real life, you can spend money on your girlfriend, family, and friends to "buy" their companionship and help your overall well being. Also, there are a selection of off-field activities (and drama) to participate in such as drinking and gambling outings with friends and teammates, spending binges, family problems, performance enhancing drug use, and more. This is all conveyed in a simple, clean interface. If you drink too much, you might be slowed for your next game, or might even be sent to dry out for a few weeks. All of your actions or inactions affect the out come of the game.

    One of the most fun aspects of the game is the chance to be chosen to play for the national team side for your country. You play not just in the world cup, but in qualifying matches and regional tournaments. Simon Reed has spent time modeling many regional international tournaments and competitions. You are not automatically chosen to play in these matches, you must perform on the field to have a chance. Your on-field performance is based on statistics such as goals, assists, passes completed, tackles made, fouls, yellow / red cards and more. If you want to get a good rating, you better pass that ball to your remarkably intelligent team mates. If you are a ball-hog, or they sense a lack of confidence in you, they will not pass the ball back. You will need to prove to them on the field that you are worthy of suiting up next to them. Your performance is boiled down to a 1-10 rating per game and averaged over the last 10. You are also given a financial value what starts at about 100K and goes up as you progress through your career. If you are worth including in the national team squad, you will get the call.

    After each performance, you get to read  comments from the news dailies on your performance. They can be brutal at times even when you win the Man Of The Match award! Once you choose a team or a league, you are not limited to that selection. You can request a transfer to any league in the world. Also, once you prove yourself a worthy player, you can re-negotiate your contract, and accept or reject transfer offers from clubs around the globe. I have played in the USA, Germany, England, Spain, and Italy, and then back to the USA. In the easy difficultly mode I won two world cups (with the USA!), and player of the year awards while with Palermo and AC Milan.

    All I can say is there is no other soccer, footie, or sports game like it. Simon is working on New Star Soccer 4 right now. I will be first in line to buy it when released.

    Check New Star Games today.

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