Brain Challenge (Review)

“Exercising your brain has never been this much fun.”

When I wanted to put a decent game on my BlackBerry Bold 9700 a few months back, I wasn’t sure what to go with. I had tried Mega Man 3, but found the controls to be absolutely terrible. This ruled out platformers. I thought for a while about what would work on a keypad based mobile phone. The answer was Brain Challenge.

Brain Challenge consists of practice modes and daily IQ/stress tests that determine how much of your brain you’re using, or how stressed you may be. I don’t consider these tests to be entirely accurate, but it’s fun trying to improve your score day after day.

The tests present you with games that force you to use a wide variety of skills, such as memory, timed reflexes, and mathematics. Some of the games are quite fun, such as the one that makes you select which path a frog will traverse and which point he will end up at. Others are not so fun to me, like the one that has you trying to press a button on your phone the very second that a black outline aligns itself with a shape’s outer perimeter.

The better you do at the games, the harder they will be next time you play them. Over time, I recognized a very significant jump in the difficulty of the memory based games, which the game tells me I am best at.

The controls are great on the BlackBerry Bold. Using the trackball is a real joy, as it is more responsive than any video game controller. I have very rarely made mistakes while playing any of the games in Brain Challenge, though I have been slow to input my answers a few times because the BlackBerry trackball can in fact be very sensitive, but this is not the game’s fault.

Sound is actually quite annoying in Brain Challenge, and I always find myself turning it off to prevent myself from getting a headache. It does sound quite bad, especially the main menu music which I fear not even the composer of it may love.

While it isn’t going to win any awards, Brain Challenge is a great puzzle game to play on the go or when you have a few minutes to kill, and is probably my favourite game that I have on my BlackBerry, beating out The Sims 3 and Guitar Hero 5 Mobile by a very large margin. If puzzle games are your thing and you have a BlackBerry, give this one a shot.

Final Score

7/10

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Mega Man Maverick Hunter X (Review)

“A remake that takes the original and stomps it into the ground.”

I’m a fickle Mega Man fan. I was a huge fan of Mega Man and Mega Man 2, but then never truly enjoyed another until Mega Man X4. I greatly loved X5 and X6 as well, but these five are, for the most part, the only Mega Man games that I will lovingly play. Mega Man 9 and 10 were released recently, and I will admit that they come close to being loved as well, but they just narrowly miss out.

I decided, on a whim of course, to download Mega Man Maverick Hunter X off of the Playstation Store. I was never too fond of the original Mega Man X, believing it to be a very mediocre attempt to redefine Mega Man. I found the original on the SNES to be, dare I say it, boring. This is why I was very surprised to find that Maverick Hunter X was quite fun!

Perhaps there was just something fun about playing an upgraded version of an old game, but I really enjoyed myself. The atmosphere was the same as it had been on the SNES, complete with remastered music and glorious 3D robots. For a PSP platformer, it looks and sounds quite nice. In fact, it looks so nice that I wouldn’t be upset if it found it’s way onto the Playstation 3’s store. Since I play my PSP games on a TV, I am able to see many more fine details, and this game is certainly pretty enough to be a console platformer.

The gameplay feels like it may be easier as a whole. With the exception of only a few spots, I found Maverick Hunter X to be a breeze. I remember being challenged quite a lot by the original SNES version years ago, and even recently when I replayed it.

There’s not a lot to say about this game because it is, literally, the same old Mega Man X only with a few revisions. It’s worth noting that there are some goodies available for you after you complete the game, which adds a bit of life to an already fantastic PSP game.

If you like Mega Man or even just platformers in general, this one is worth your attention.

Final Score

7.5/10

Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing (Review)

“It’s terrible and deserves the lowest score possible, but still has one redeeming quality.”

If I could write a really long and detailed review of Big Rigs, I would. Unfortunately, the game is nothing but a shell of a game and is hardly even worth anyone’s time. It is my honest opinion that this was never meant to be a legit game. The product is just so terrible that I believe Stellar Stone threw this game out into the retail world just to troll game buyers. I wonder how many mothers or grandmothers picked this up for their young child’s birthday, or perhaps as a stocking stuffer for Christmas, believing that they were doing good by buying their child a quality computer game?

Gameplay in this clever troll game does not exist beyond the menus. Click on them and have fun, but they won’t matter much in the long run. Once you choose your truck and your track, really all there is to do is drive around through the scenery, which your truck clips through. Yes, everything you see on your monitor can be driven through. The fact that the AI doesn’t even work makes racing pointless as well, so the only amusing thing to do is reverse your truck in circles which for some reason causes the truck to spin around at warp speeds. This is the extent of the gameplay.

For a game that has no function or purpose, the graphics aren’t bad. To be honest, it actually looks like it may have been an early PS2 game, which is a huge compliment to this game. The menus are terrible though, looking like something out of a 1997 game in the bargain bin down at the local convenience store. Users who are decent in MSPaint could replicate the game’s menus.

If you want music and sound in your game, then look elsewhere. This game doesn’t have any. I’ve read that there is one audio track but, predictably, it didn’t play for me at any moment. I had to have music playing in iTunes while playing Big Rigs, because the eerie silence was too depressing.

There is little reason to play this game other than to get a few cheap laughs for five minutes, and unless you are horribly bored with absolutely N-O-T-H-I-N-G to do, you’ll probably never play it again except to show friends.

Play it for a few giggles, but don’t expect much else. After all, I’m sure that Stellar Stone will be laughing along with you, especially if you actually bought this game.

Final Score

0.6/10

F1 2009 (Review)

“A completely average and unremarkable F1 game.”

I’d like to take a moment to talk about Codemasters’ F1 2009 on the Sony PSP, was was released in November 2009. While I have heard good things about the Wii incarnation of the game (which I’m unable to play due to not owning a Wii), I feel that the PSP version must be inferior due to the fact that I’m unable to find much that is “good” about it. Words I would use in place of “good” to describe this game are bland, average, and uninspiring. Read on and I’ll tell you why.

Due to the imited distribution of F1 2009, this game can be hard to find in physical form. I did not even bother trying my luck and just shelled out roughly $40 CDN for a digital copy over Sony’s online Playstation Store. This is, more often than not, the approximate asking price for a brand new game on the Playstation Store. Fortunately, most games that wind up available in digital download form turn out to be quite good, which I discovered when I had bought a few games for about the same price. They were quality games, so I expected the price to reflect the quality of F1 2009 when I decided to take the plunge. Unfortunately, it didn’t.

Upon booting up the game, you are treated to an opening cinematic that is fairly uninspiring and boring. It didn’t capture the excitement and speed of Formula One, and I felt myself feeling underwhelmed after watching it. However, the main menu was very pleasant on the eyes, as was the background music. Unfortunately, the menus do not function as well as they look. Take for example the driver selection screen. In most cases, Formula One racers treat us with onscreen options to change between teams and drivers. However, in F1 2009 on the PSP, you can only scroll through drivers. To add insult to injury, information onscreen during this process is kept to a bare minimum. Beyond the driver name, portrait, and 3D rendition of their car, little else is given to you. Those who do not follow Formula One may not even know what they are selecting. There were a few statistics submenus for the drivers, but they didn’t really give many statistics at all. World championships and highest finishing position, I believe. What, no wins, poles, points? Odd.

Choosing a circuit to race on is visually satisfying, but the fact that you have to watch the globe spin around to various countries before really even committing to whatever track you want to race on hampers any enjoyment I had gotten out of this submenu.

After I chose the time trial mode and selected Rubens Barrichello and Singapore on my very first sitting with F1 2009, I had to sit through a loading screen which, fortunately, was not that long.

Once the track loaded, I quickly got to the point of the game, the driving. Did I like it? No. The handling of the Brawn was an absolute joke as I found myself wondering if I had mistakenly purchased a Need for Speed game with a Formula One license. For those unfamiliar with Need for Speed, all of them minus the latest in the series, are arcade racers with extremely loose handling. I found myself making my way around Singapore with little to no effort, underwhelmed by how easy the game felt.

The graphics weren’t too bad though, so this was a plus. They reminded me of a late Playstation 1 Formula One game. Actually to be fair, the graphics are a little better than any PS1 Formula One game for sure. There’s still a lot of room for improvement, though. The sound is in a similar boat to this, with passable sound effects which do the job considering this is a PSP game. You can only do so much with a little handheld console with tiny speakers. This does not excuse the KERS sound, which sounds very strange and out of place.

By lap three or four, a very serious problem reared its ugly head. I really have to address the controls in this game, and I have to really stress that they are very, very uncomfortable. Square is brake, X is accelerate, and Circle is KERS. Given how small the PSP is, I found myself twisting my hand in awkward ways, and having to shift between braking, accelerating, and using KERS really started to take its toll as I felt my entire hand getting sore, especially my in palm. I found myself aborting the time trial to give my hand a break and I tried to understand how anyone would be able to complete a full distance race in this game.

Now, I’m 24 and I love gaming. I can sit down with a keyboard and mouse, or a Playstation 3 Sixaxis controller for hours and never develop sore hands unless I’m playing something that involves a lot of quick finger motions (fighting games and action-filled side scrollers do the trick), and this takes at least an hour to occur. The fact that some little PSP racer was able to accomplish this same feat in a matter of minutes said something. This game has a very terrible button layout! To make it even worse, I spent five minutes trying to find a way to reconfigure the button mapping, but it appeared to be completely absent from the game.

I attempted an actual race later on though, five laps around Interlagos as Kimi Raikkonen. I started 20th and finished in 6th,and overall I found the actual racing to be fairly decent. It won’t win any awards and the AI did not really do anything to wow me, but it was pleasurable. My only problem was that the controls made my hand sore about four laps into the race. I should mention KERS as well. I found that it was difficult for me to concentrate on the actual racing and where my car was going whenever I would use KERS, because I would shift my thumb so that it would cover both X and Circle. This left the Square button far, far away from my thumb. As a result, if I made even the slightest mistake, I couldn’t brake in time and I would always go off track because of this. If the button mapping wasn’t so terrible and could be reconfigured, then this would not be a problem. Ideally, L1 should be brake, R1 should be accelerate, and X should be KERS. Having all three lumped together made focusing on the race difficult, and I spent about half of my time staring at where my thumb was.

But let me end things right here. I’d like to say that this is a pretty decent F1 game, as it looks and plays just fine. However, it cannot even compare to the more popular ones out there. F1 ‘97 on the Sony Playstation remains my favourite F1 game of all time and, from a gameplay standpoint, that game did more impressive things than F1 2009 on the PSP.

However, if you are both a Formula One and gaming enthusiast and own a PSP, then I would recommend this game and you should find at least get some enjoyment out of it.

Final Score

5/10

Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis (Review)

“A fine park building game that no dinosaur fan should overlook.”

Let me get this out of the way immediately. I love city building games such as SimCity, but park creation games usually don’t get much play time with me. Neither Theme Park nor any game from the Tycoon series could hardly hold my attention for more than two days. That said, I love Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis. There is something about this one, something different. It could be the fact that I watched Jurassic Park when it came out in theatres when I was eight years old and fell in love with the movie and eventually the trilogy. I’ve played some really terrible Jurassic Park games before though, so surely my love for the dinosaur-centric franchise can’t be the sole reason behind my adoration for this game?

On the surface, this is a pretty standard park/zoo sim. Make pens and put dinosaurs in them to exhibit while tending to the ever demanding needs of your visitors. That is the gist of the game in a nutshell, but there is far more to it than just this.

When you begin a new game, you get to generate the island that you will be playing on by deciding upon the size of your island while also tinkering with sliders that increase or decrease the density of mountains, rivers, and trees. When you’re happy with your island, you click accept and away you go. The first order of business is setting up a park entrance and then laying down a few basic structures to start off. Perhaps a food kiosk, restroom, ranger station, and cleaner station. You’ll then want to plop a few dinosaurs into your park, so you’ll obviously have to set up a pen and then breed dinosaurs in a hatchery that you must place. I’ve always found that the hatchery should have it’s own pen so that your dinosaurs have optimal room in their own pens.

Usually at the start, you are given one to two starter dinosaurs, and they are usually always small herbivores that require very little security. After introducing the starter dinosaurs to the park, it’s time to open the gates and let the public in. From that moment on, it’s a pretty typical simulation game as you must make sure your visitors remain happy and keep spending money in your park, allowing you to research and build new structures while also working on getting more dinosaur species into your park.

The method in which you learn how to make new dinosaurs is pretty interesting, and is a breath of fresh air from games which simply make you research everything. In Operation Genesis, you can consult with Allan Grant (yes, the guy from the first and third movies) who is in charge of your paleontologists as well as the fossil market. Your paleontologists (digging crews) can dig at sites of your choice across the world in search of amber or fossils which each contain bits of DNA that you can direct your researchers to extract. When you acquire 50% of a dinosaur’s DNA, you will be able to create them. Of course, they will not have long lifespans at 50%, but they’ll be able to survive long enough to impress your visitors or even increase your park’s star rating.

The fossil market is a great place to obtain DNA quickly. If you are too impatient for your diggers to find anything, you can check out the fossil market for DNA of whatever specific dinosaur you may be interested in. Of course, the amber and fossils on the market are expensive and usually run at $10,000 or more, but the quality is quite often always very good.

There are many other gameplay factors to pay attention to, such as making sure that you are using the proper security fences for specific dinosaurs, keeping your star attractions healthy, researching new structures and technologies, and making sure that your park is laid out in a way that will satisfy your picky visitors.

Moving on from the gameplay, the graphics are worth mentioning. Though this game is six or seven years old now, it’s actually still fairly attractive looking. These graphics were absolutely top notch for a simulation game at the time, and the majority of the dinosaurs still look very nice. Each dinosaur in the game animates surprisingly well and you can quickly identify how your dinosaur is feeling. Terrain and water look subpar by today’s standards, but are in no way unpleasant on the eye. The park buildings look just fine and have probably aged better than any other graphical part of the game. I am, however, not too keen on how the park staff and visitors look. Even when this game came out, which is around the time I first played it, I felt that they looked extremely mediocre. By today’s standards, they look downright terrible. Fortunately you rarely ever have to zoom in on them and their bland and unappealing models, and they look fine enough from a distant overhead angle.

The sound in Operation Genesis is quite nice as well. The ingame music is very good, and was easily movie-grade quality if it didn’t come from the films. Most of the sound effects are great, from ambient sound effects (birds chirping, storms, and helicopters) to the dinosaurs, which seem to have most of their vocal callings taken straight from the films. A very emotionless female voice (presumably supposed to represent a computer voice) says “message from so-and-so” whenever you receive new mail, and this can be a bit of a distraction. When mail is heavy, I found myself wishing that the voice would just go away forever. Sound effects used in the menus are also quite repetitive, but they do not take away from the overall experience.

This is essentially all that Operation Genesis is. It all sounds very standard, but the actual gameplay is quite good for a park building game. Do I believe that it has an edge over the Tycoon games? Yes, certainly. Unfortunately, Operation Genesis has been overlooked by many due to being a very obscure title based on a franchise that appeals to a very specific audience. Even though this game is heavily based on all things Jurassic Park, I really do believe that people who don’t like the film trilogy should enjoy this game. Once your park gets off its feet, it’s really quite an experience. Nothing compares to examining a seaside brachiosaurus pen from a viewing dome nestled quietly inside of the enclosure. Doing so almost makes me feel like Allan Grant in the first film, when he first sees the dinosaurs upon arriving at Jurassic Park. It’s a really glorious and immersive sight.

So who should play this game? Well, almost anyone. Sim fans and Jurassic Park followers are certainly the main target audiences, and I’m under the impression that this quiet game flew under the radar of both demographics. If you are a fan of either building cities and parks, or have a childhood love of dinosaurs, then this game is surely something worth giving a try. As someone who falls under both categories, I can safely say that behind a few SimCity games, this is my favourite building sim that I’ve ever played. It’s a good game, give it a try. Trust me!

Final Score

8.2/10

Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing (Review)

“Sega combines their historic franchises to deliver an amazing karting experience.”

Racing games have never been terribly kind to Sonic the Hedgehog and friends, despite the fact that Sega has been responsible for some truly memorable entries in the racing genre. Sega and developer Sumo Digital look to make Sonic’s poor run with racing games end with Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. Have they succeeded? You bet your bottom they have.

All-Stars Racing takes the basic kart racer formula that has been popularized by Mario Kart and just runs with it, infusing characters from several different Sega franchises of varying popularity. Sonic the Hedgehog, Virtua Fighter, Super Monkey Ball, Shenmue and House of the Dead are all prominently featured while lesser known Sega stars of the past, such as Opa-Opa from Fantasy Zone, are also represented.

Selecting your character, as well as courses and game modes, are very hassle-free thanks to the game’s easily navigatable menus. Everything that you will be looking for is labelled and onscreen help is provided along the bottom each menu.

As is the case with Mario Kart and other popular Kart racers, All-Stars Racing relies heavily on easy to learn drift-dependent controls and weapon power-ups. Weapons are the typical staple items you will find in other games such as projectiles that home in on the racer in front of you, or stationary obstacles that you can deploy on the track to muck up the racing line of the characters behind yourself. Speed boosts and character specific special attacks are also present. Unfortunately, the specials are usually nothing more than overglorified speed boosts themselves, but they’re usually always interesting to watch anyway.

Drifting is done by holding L2 around corners and nothing more. Unlike in other kart racers, you do not need to wobble the analog stick or do any fancy tricks. As soon as you press L2, your character will be drifting and your boost will be powering up. The longer you hold L2, the higher level your boost will be, and the longer it will last when you let go of the drift button. With drifting being so easy to accomplish in this game, it is no wonder that it plays such an integral part in winning races.

There are quite a few different grand prix cups that you can compete in, numbering far more than a mere a dozen, and they span approximately twenty different courses which are all Sega themed. There are four races per cup, and winning a cup will net you a hefty amount of Sega Miles, the ingame currency used to purchase unlockables.

Aside from the standard cup racing, there’s also time trials, single race, multiplayer (local and online), and missions. The mission mode is pretty straight forward. You select a mission and are given a specific character to use who you must complete a task with. These tasks can be anything from beating someone to the finish line, completing elimination races, or collecting rings. You will receive a performance-based rank at the end of each mission that also determines how many Sega Miles you will rack up. Touching upon Sega Miles, they are used in the Sega Shop to purchase new racers, tracks, and music. To unlock everything, you will have to acquire hundreds of thousands of Sega Miles, and this should keep you very busy!

In terms of graphics, All-Stars Racing gets the job done. While the graphics are mostly just a little above average, there are so many things going on at each track that the graphics appear better than they truly are. This game is very flashy and the trackside of each location you will visit will be bustling with activity. In fact, so much attention to detail was put into the surroundings of each track that there is a bit of slowdown when the action picks up on certain tracks. The FPS will take a visible dip, but it will not harm the racing at all and is only a very minor concern.

Music in All-Stars Racing sounds repetitive at first, but it quickly becomes as catchy as the tunes in other kart racers. Ingame music becomes even more rewarding when you unlock nostalgic music tracks from the shop. Sound effects are what you would expect from a Kart racer, though there are many nostalgic sounds from previous Sega games thrown in to make you smile. Even the cheesy announcer who blurts out the most corny jokes ever should make you grin at least a few times.

In terms of content, this game is packed with things to do. Aside from winning cups, there are dozens of unlockables, time trials to perfect, and exciting multiplayer modes, and these should all guarantee that players have a lot to do in this game for quite some time. With downloadable content confirmed as well, expect this game to have a very long shelf life.

Sega and developer Sumo Digital have done a fantastic job bringing together Sega franchises to form a competent kart racer that not only matches the competition, but may very well beat it. In short, if you’re a fan of kart racers or Sega franchises, then this game is an absolute must own!

Final Score

9/10