Flying Hamster (Review)

“An excessively crazy and cute side scrolling shooter that anyone can pick up and enjoy.”

While poking around the Playstation Store’s Minis section for something to play on my PSP, I happened across a curious sounding title. Flying Hamster. I read the description and realized that the game was side scrolling shooter, like Gradius or R-Type. Considering the fact that the player assumed the role of a hamster, I just had to check the game out to see what it was like. Well, after playing the game quite frequently on my PSP, I can say that it’s a pretty fantastic shooter.

In Flying Hamster, you play as a hamster who is constantly trying to rescue his girlfriend hamster from the clutches of evil. Just before the start of each level, the protagonist’s girlfriend is captured by the boss of the next level. It’s all done in a really adorably cartoon-like anime style that you can’t help but chuckle over. The game’s cuteness is so over the top that it is absurd. That does not mean that the game is just a cute little romp for kiddies, no. While the presentation of the game may be very sugar coated, there is a very dark sense of humour in this game. In the first level, cows that use their udders as machine guns attack the player, and in the following level that is set in the desert, penguins with parasols try to shoot down the player with pistols. Yes, you read that right… Penguins in the desert.

The joy of Flying Hamster is that it makes practically no sense at all. The game is just mindless fun, and it plays like something straight out of 1990. If the graphics were a little lower quality, this game could easily pass as something straight out of the Super Nintendo’s library. That is in no way a bad thing, since the Super Nintendo had a healthy amount of fun shooters. Flying Hamster is perhaps even more enjoyable than any shooter on the SNES. The game’s insane levels of quirkiness help it along quite a lot, but the gameplay is also extremely solid. Controls are very fluid and precise, so missing your targets or failing to avoid incoming projectiles will always be your own fault.

Flying Hamster is divided up into roughly half a dozen stages which are all themed. Throughout the stages, the player will have to dodge all sorts of zig-zagging enemies and projectiles while shooting down obstacles and stage bosses. The bosses are pretty fun in this game and definitely make you smile. The bosses start out moderately easy with a giant owl that shoots homing lasers from it’s eyes, but the game will quickly ramp up the difficulty slightly, though the game never becomes as difficult as other games in the genre. I think most of the reason for this game being fairly easy is the fact that you are able to take three hits before dying instead of just one, and the powerups are pretty darn powerful.

My two favourite power-ups are the beer and the fire. The beer will make the player squirt little dabs of beer, but when it is charged up, prepare for projectile vomit-like streams of beer! It’s a prett gross (but hilarious sight) and, fortunately, it’s strong as hell too. The fire is in the same boat as the beer. If you fire it without charging it, you’ll just shoot off weak little shots, but when the fire attack is charged, our little hamster spews a steady stream of fire that obliterates everything in it’s way! There are many other power-ups to collect, such as homing bees and boomerange bananas. All of them are pretty silly and should put a smirk on your face.

The presentation is what really sells this game, though. The graphics are ridiculously cute (just look at the screenshots in the review) and the music is so light-hearted and fun. It really is impossible not to be captivated by this charming little game. I had a recent play session of the game where I hooked my PSP up to my TV and everyone in the room got a kick out of all of the hilarious and silly things happening on the screen.

I honestly cannot give this game a low score or not recommend it to anyone. It’s such a lot of fun to play, and the crazy presentation of the game even appeals to people who don’t like side scrolling shooters. For only a few bucks on the Playstation Store (as well as on the iPhone App Store), you really can’t go wrong with having this game in the palm of your hands.

Final Score

9/10

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Back to the Future: The Game (Review)

“A love letter to the fans of the Back to the Future trilogy which should not be missed.”

I was never really a fan of point and click adventure games. I’m not sure if I can offer a valid reason as to why, so I’ll just go ahead and say that the genre as a whole isn’t my cup of tea and I rarely ever like adventure games in even the slightest amount. The only exception, ever, was Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. That game strayed a bit from the typical adventure formula, so it may not even count.

However, I can now say that there is a point and click adventure game that I feel I really and truly enjoy. Back to the Future.

Based on the amazing film trilogy from the late 1980s and early 1990s, Back to the Future: Episode 1 is the first of five stories that will ultimately make up the full game itself and is, in a way, Back to the Future 4.

The game picks up a few months after the end of Back to the Future 3. Doc Brown has been gone for some time and his belongings and property are to be sold off. When the DeLorean unexpectedly shows up outside of the Doc’s house, Marty is practically forced to investigate.

After using the time traveling DeLorean, Marty is taken back to the year 1931 where he finds out that Doc Brown has been imprisoned and is linked to burning down Hill Valley’s speakeasy. The rest of the episode deals with Marty trying to bust the Doc out.

Overall, Episode 1 is fairly short, and most people should be able to get through it in about two and a half to three hours. Considering that there are several more episodes to play through in the coming months, this isn’t such a big deal and I imagine that the full game, complete with all five episodes, will run about as long as most games out there today.

The graphics in Back to the Future aren’t really pushing any boundaries as they aim for a cartoon-like presentation. I found the graphics to be a little off-putting initially, but they quickly grew on me and I ended up liking the graphical style quite a bit. The graphics aren’t bad at all, they’re just done in a different style than we’re used to.

The sounds of the game are pretty decent. Music is mostly in the background and not too distracting, and actual sound effects also take a backseat in favour of the voice acting. The voices are definitely the high point of the game’s sound department. A few actors from the film series lend their voice to the game, the most notable being Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown who does an absolutely awesome job in the role considering he hasn’t had to voice Doc Brown so much in well over a decade. Michael J. Fox unfortunately does not voice Marty, but the guy they got to play Marty (AJ LoCascio) sounds so much like Fox in the films that it is almost scary.

Since the environment is fully 3D and the player has to hold down the mouse and move it around to tell Marty where to go, I found the controls to be a little awkward. I never really seemed to adjust to them, and they are perhaps the greatest strike against the game in my opinion. In this day and age, poor controls are almost impossible to find in a game, so it baffles me that Back to the Future seems to have a control scheme that feels like it was lifted straight out of a ten year old game.

For fans of the Back to the Future series, there are a lot of references and little hidden goodies that the player will spot as they play. Those who are not overly familiar with the film or even the setting won’t notice too much, and will probably just chug through the game.

Overall, this is a very fun adventure game that feels like a love letter to the fans of Back to the Future. If you’re a fan of the movies, then you’ll most certainly have a lot of fun with this game. However, if the franchise doesn’t really appeal to you, then this game may not be your cup of tea solely because the game practically relies on the player knowing the characters and the setting. People who haven’t watched the movies or bothered to remember finer details will probably have absolutely no idea that Kid Tannen is the father of Biff Tannen, the fellow who bothered Marty’s father in high school.

So, if you like the Back to the Future series, then this is definitely a game that you should play! If you’re not, then check out the movies before playing this game.

Final Score

8.5/10

 

Sonic the Hedgehog 4 – Episode 1 (Review)

“A decent game, but a huge disappointment for Sonic fans.”

Before I get this review started, I feel the need to say that I’ve never been a huge Sonic fan. I’ve enjoyed the Sonic games, but I am anything but a nostalgic fan who looks back on the past with rose tinted glasses. I enjoyed the previous Sonic games and, oddly enough, Sonic 2 on the Game Gear was my favourite. All I want to say here is that my views on this game are not clouded by nostalgia. With that out of the way, let’s begin.

It’s been sixteen years since Sonic & Knuckles, which is an awfully long time for a series to go before getting a proper sequel. Sonic’s rival, Mario, even had a rocky return to 2D platform with New Super Mario Bros. on the DS, but the Wii version was significantly better and felt like a proper Mario game. It’s expected that Sonic 4 would be a little rough around the edges, just like Mario was on the DS, but that in no way justifies the quality of this hollow husk of a Sonic game. Sonic 4 suffers from many glaring problems that keep it from being a decent platformer. Pretty much all issues I have with this game are gameplay related, so let’s dive right into what’s wrong with it.

For starters, the graphics are not terribly impressive. I can tell that the graphic artists spent a fair amount of time on them, but the fact of the matter is that the graphics in Sonic 4 lack character, personality, and soul. The graphics look fine, but they evoke no emotions from me. They are remarkably generic looking, which isn’t good for a game that is supposed to be a triumphant return for Sonic the Hedgehog.

To accompany the fairly bland graphics are overly long levels that, honestly, go on longer than they should. I found several levels to be somewhat interesting at the start, but when they drag on for several minutes at a time with no interesting changes? Well, that just gets very dull and repetitive. Some levels made me want to turn the game off because they were so long and boring, but I forced myself to carry on.

What really makes these long levels unenjoyable is the poor level design. Everything just feels really uninspired and mashed together. There’s no coherent point or purpose to anything in every level, and the same obstacles are repeated over and over again. Poor pitfall placement hampers the levels even further, as it is difficult to tell when a hole will lead to another path or to Sonic’s death. There are far too many gigantic, open gaps. Once you are out of the tight corridors, the levels just feel really barren and lifeless.

The difficulty is a bit of an interesting subject. Overall, Sonic 4 is very easy most of the time. I would rack up tons of 1-UPs only to encounter one spot in almost every level (outside of the first zone) that made me lose several of the lives I had earned. I’ve breezed through a few levels only to get through about three quarters of each before I hit some kind of bizarrely difficult spot that kills me several times. It seems unusual to have these difficulty spikes.

Working hand in hand with the difficulty spikes are the game’s enemies. They enemy placement in Sonic 4 is positively dreadful. Many enemies are placed so that you will slam into them at high speeds and lose your rings. Taking into account how fast Sonic moves at times, it’s almost impossible to dodge a lot of enemies your first play through because they literally come out of nowhere. Sonic 4 does not make itself difficult by presenting you with legit challenges that require skill, no. Instead, Sonic 4 makes itself harder by placing enemies and obstacles in unfair locations. The fourth zone is the worst offender, constantly putting things in locations that makes Sonic getting hurt an inevitability.

A few other minor things bother me as well. First is the lack of Knuckles or Tails, which is very unusual. Tails, at the very least, should have been in this game. Instead, all we get is Sonic. Second, the non-linear level select makes Sonic 4 feel like an ordinary budget game by indie developers. You can essentially play any level whenever you want, rather than being forced to play through each level one at a time like in a regular platformer.

That’s a lot of strikes against Sonic 4, and it’s probably very evident that I don’t like this game much. There are a few good things worth mentioning, however!

Boss battles are very simplistic, but I found them to be pretty enjoyable. Last boss aside, they’re not horribly difficult and are somewhat based on older Sonic bosses, so you should have a basic idea as to how to defeat them.

Equally enjoyable are the Lost Labyrinth levels. I can’t say much against them and they were really quite fun, easily standing out against the rest of the zones. The second level of Lost Labyrinth was a little bit on the long side, but overall it was pretty well made. I enjoyed the wealth of puzzles, and it was nice being able to control Sonic more than 40% of the time, since in other zones it seems that Sonic is usually always being pushed, propelled, or shot in various directions. Lost Labyrinth gives the player lots of control and feels more like the classic Sonic games.

Several levels are very replayable for speed runners. In fact, it is encouraged since there is even an achievement that requires you beat the first level in under one minute. I’m not much of a speed runner, but the game has plenty for gamers of that sort to do. That’s definitely a plus for them.

Overall, I feel that this game suffers tremendously from several glaring issues, and I’m shocked at how few innovations there are between Sonic & Knuckles (1994) and Sonic the Hedgehog 4 (2010). If anything, it feels like Sonic 4 took a few steps back. However, there’s still a bit of fun to be hard here, and diehard Sonic fans from the 1990s should enjoy the game.

Final Score

6.6/10

Dead Rising 2/Sonic 4 First Impressions

So I’m playing two games at once right now, and they are Dead Rising 2 and Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1. These two games couldn’t be any more unlike one another, and this is reflected in my feelings towards them so far after clocking about two hours in Dead Rising 2, and about an hour and a half in Sonic 4.


I never played the original Dead Rising since I do not have a 360, so I wasn’t able to experience the exploits of Frank West. That did not stop me from wanting to check out the sequel, though.

Dead Rising 2 uses the Games for Windows or Windows Live sign-in crap, which plagues so many other PC games these days. I was a little upset to see that in here, but what really irked me was the lack of any sort of key configuration options, and apparently the only gamepads that this game has support for are 360 ones for the PC. I had to go into an ini file and remap the keys manually, which was fairly annoying. It took me about an hour before I was truly happy with the controls.

The gameplay so far has me hooked, and I can’t really fault it much. My only gripe is having to find Zombrex for Chuck’s daughter. I don’t even know where to start looking since I always have, literally, dozens of zombies lumbering after me at once. Taking the zombies down is a lot of fun, and is even downright gruesome in a few instances. If you have a fire axe, you can slice a zombie in half – and I mean VERTICALLY, so from the head and down. Ouch.

The characters are pretty good. Katey (Chuck’s daughter) isn’t too interesting, but the rest of the supporting cast is great so far. Rebecca is pretty much the most blatant use of sex appeal I’ve ever seen in a video game of this kind, but she’s also a well developed character personality-wise, so she has the looks and the character. Sullivan is cool too, I definitely like his no nonsense approach to things as he manages the safehouse/shelter. I’ve only talked to him a few times and he’s already changed his feelings towards Chuck twice. I like this guy.

I haven’t played the game enough to write a review, that’s for sure. Still coming to grips with a lot of things in Dead Rising 2, but I predict a pretty good score for it.


A new Sonic game in the original series, what’s not to like? Unfortunately, a lot. The game isn’t that bad, don’t be misled by what I just said. The problem with Sonic 4 is that it feels like the developers don’t know how to design Sonic levels anymore.

The Splash Hill levels were pretty decent, but they felt far too large and I never really knew how far into the stages I was. There are too many routes and secret passages, and it’s just far too overwhelming. Big levels are good in a lot of instances, but these levels are just too big.

I actually felt like the casino stages were really frustrating. Far too many stupid gimmicky props and such, and a few things, such as the cannons that shoot you around, really annoyed me. I felt that, in the casino stages, I was mostly just being pushed through the levels by the huge abundance of springs and other devices that would propel Sonic forward. Honestly, it’s a little questionable when you barely even have to press any buttons to progress through a level. In the casino levels, the game progressed Sonic for you.

The ruin levels seem promising so far, but I’ve only played the first one. It was a little Indiana Jones-esque, which I actually enjoyed. In a few instances, I had to flee from rolling boulders and then ride smaller boulders over bottomless pits. With the slower pace and the game not relying on springs and such to shoot me forward ALL THE DAMN TIME, the first ruin level was actually pretty enjoyable.

Aside from the weird level design and the game’s reliance on devices that constantly shoot you around the level, the other thing I did not like is the placement of enemies. A lot of them are positioned in places where, unless you’ve already played the level and know what’s coming, you’re going to get hit and lose all of your rings. A few enemies come out of absolutely nowhere and are positioned in spots where you are destined to hit them unless you are a remarkably fast thinker and can take them out in half a second. Unlikely.

It’s still early days for Sonic 4, so my feelings may change. At the moment, I’m going to say that this game is just fairly average overall. Despite it’s flaws, it is still fun. It’s just not memorable.


And that’s about it for these two games so far. I’ll be writing more detailed reviews on each later in the week. Sonic 4’s review should be Friday, and Dead Rising 2’s review will be over the weekend sometime.

Return to October 2010 Articles

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light (Review)

“Lara Croft’s brave new adventure is certainly one of her best.”

First off, I’ve never been a huge Tomb Raider fan. While the Tomb Raider games are fun to play, I’ve never really considered them to be really noteworthy games that deserve high amounts of praise. If anything, I think that the Tomb Raider games have worked best as diversions for gamers while waiting for more high profile games to be released. Because of my stance Tomb Raider, the fact that I think Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is a stellar game says something.

Released this year by Crystal Dynamics and Eidos (as well as publishers Square-Enix), Guardian of Light features everyone’s favourite female Indiana Jones in a brand new adventure that is told from a perspective that’s the furthest thing from the standard Tomb Raider formula. Rather than being a third person puzzle game with a bit of endangered animal slaughtering on the side, Guardian of Light is played from an isometric camera angle and is overflowing with intense action. This is not the Lara Croft that we grew up with! A lot of series have received reboots or reimaginings lately, and they’ve worked brilliantly in all cases. Guardian of Light is no exception as Lara fits comfortably into this new action oriented platformer.

First off, there’s the story. In all honesty, there’s not a lot here that is worth talking about. Lara is checking out a temple when some bad guys storm in and accidentally awaken an evil demon who quickly lays waste to the invaders. Lara on the other hand teams up with Totec, a guardian who is tasked with sealing away the evil demon once more. That is the gist of the story so, like I said, there’s not a lot worth mentioning there. It’s basically the sort of story you’d expect to find in a cheesy Hollywood adventure film.

The gameplay is what is strongest in this game, and it certainly does not disappoint. Guardian of Light plays a like a mix between Diablo and Tomb Raider. While the puzzle solving is pretty much all standard stuff for Tomb Raider veterans and isn’t much of a surprise, the constant action is. The Diablo vibe that I get comes from the isometric camera and the constant barrage of demons who are out for Lara’s blood. Lara is frequently confronted by a dozen creatures all at once, but fortunately most of them are easy to dispatch. There are a few larger demons who are pretty tough to take down, and they bring a lot of excitement and tension to the fast paced action. The boss fights are even better, especially the one with a firebreathing dinosaur. I won’t spoil the fight, but it’s really awesome and stands out as one of my favourite boss fights in recent memory.

The puzzles are pretty much exactly what you would expect from Tomb Raider. Lots of rooms that cave in on you, falling platforms, spike traps, and tons of “fetch item A to unlock to door A, then proceed to find item B for door B” scenarios. That’s the great thing about this game, the puzzle aspect of the game will feel very familiar to many players.

The controls work pretty well in Guardian of Light. Combat is a breeze with a keyboard and mouse combination and I had no troubles fighting anything in this game. Puzzles were a little different though, as I found that the game is little stubborn and does not like to register a lot of actions if you are pressing too many keys at once. For example, you cannot run diagonally and jump at the same time on the keyboard. Lara will run and the jump will not register. Because of this, I had to remap my controls frequently to get around that problem.

Guardian of Light has some fantastic level design. Each stage is brimming with exceptional detail, and there are many side quests and achievements to unlock in every stage. Some of them are fairly easy and just involve navigating Lara through an obstacle course, while others are so challenging that you will question whether or not they are even possible. Some achievements ask you to beat the levels in five or ten minutes each, which blows my mind because I had trouble completing some in under half an hour! There is a lot to do in this game in terms of optional content like that. Each level will have about four side objectives to complete, and there’s no way that you’ll be able to finish more than two (and that’s if you’re lucky) in a single run through a level. Finishing a level’s objectives will award Lara with new weapons, relics, and so forth. This makes replaying levels and completing the objectives very beneficial to the player.

Speaking of relics and weapons, Lara is now able to hold four weapons at a time. They can be assigned to the 1, 2, 3, and 4 keys. The weapon I found myself using the most was Totec’s spear, which not only kills foes easily, but can stick in walls and allow Lara to jump up to higher ground. Relics are interesting as well, as they provide Lara with interesting combat bonuses when equipped.

Online play has been promised and should be available soon, so I can’t comment on that. The only multiplayer available at the moment is local co-op, and I don’t think that I’m going to bring a friend over so that we can both play the game on the same computer, especially since my friends have already played the more multiplayer-friendly PS3 version. I have heard great things about the co-op though, with many professional reviewers claiming that it is absolutely essential that both players work together.

Overall, this is a pretty great game. It looks and sounds great, and the gameplay is possibly the best ever featuring Lara. This game is fantastic for fans of platformers and puzzle games. Tomb Raider fans should also find a lot to enjoy here. The big surprise, however, is that this game also should appeal to hack n’ slash fanatics. Like Diablo or Sacred? Despite this not being an open world RPG, I still recommend it as the combat system is very similar. In short, this game should have mass appeal and it’s very well made. Possibly Lara Croft’s best game ever. For about $15 on the Playstation Network, Steam, or XBox Live, you really can’t go wrong with this high quality game.

Final Score

9/10

Rocket Knight (Review)

“One of the best platformers available on the market today, and one that all fans of the genre must play.”

I can vaguely recall back in the Genesis days when I first played the original Rocket Knight Adventures. The game was lots of fun and very impressive back in the day, and it’s a shame that they game didn’t receive nearly as much attention as it deserved. Climax Studios and Konami look to change this though with Rocket Knight, a remake/sequel that serves as a potential revival of the Rocket Knight series. So is this Rocket Knight reboot a successful reimagining of the Genesis classic? Read on.

Rocket Knight opens with the game’s protagonist, Sparkster, witnessing an army of wolves invading his home nation of Zephyrus, which is where the possums live. The pigs team up with the possums to combat the wolf threat, but really… The story doesn’t matter at all. This is a platformer after all, and does anybody really play platformers for exciting stories? Not really. They are nice additions, but they’re not vital. Thankfully Rocket Knight keeps the story telling to an absolute minimum, just like the good old 16 bit days.

The gameplay in Rocket Knight is quite good, and playing this game immediately brought back slight memories from the original Genesis incarnation. The player controls Sparkster who is equipped with a sword and jetpack. The sword is used to, predictably, slash down foes. The jetpack enables Sparkster to speed across the screen in any direction, plowing through whatever unforunate enemies are in his path. The jetpack can also be used to ricochet off of walls, allowing Sparkster to reach ledges that would be impossible to reach without using the ricochet ability. The jetpack and sword can be combined together to create devastating spin attacks, as well as a “drill attack” which is capable of destroying obstacles later in the game.

Levels are, for the most part, your standard platformer obstacle courses. Keep going left or right, and occasionally up or down. There are many pitfalls and hazards (lava, electric currents, etc.) to avoid, and the everlasting presence of your wolf foes makes some obstacles slightly challenging to get past. Unfortunately, I found that most of Rocket Knight to be overwhelmingly easy. It wasn’t until the final two or three stages that the difficulty decided to spike incredibly, which I found a little bizarre as there was absolutely no difficulty curve in the game at all.

For the sake of variety, there are a few flying stages thrown in as well. These levels play a lot like standard space shooters such as Gradius or R-Type. Players can shoot rapid shots or charge up one powerful shot instead which typically destroys anything in front of Sparkster. These levels are fairly fun, but aren’t nearly as enjoyable as the ground levels.

There are a few boss fights, but they are nothing we haven’t seen before. Run in for an attack when the boss is temporarily unable to attack, bounce explosives back at them, and so forth. Like I said, the boss battles in Rocket Knight are the same battles we’ve gone through many times before. They’re still quite fun in this game though, even if they’re far too predictable and easy to figure out.

The graphics are pretty nice for a budget title. Rocket Knight is not available in physical form, only as a downloadable title off of the Playstation Store, Steam, or XBox Live. There doesn’t seem to be a Wii release, which is unfortunate because I’m sure that Nintendo’s console could easily handle this game. The graphics aren’t very detailed or extravagant, and could very nearly be last generation. Everything as a whole looks very average in Rocket Knight, but the game has a very charming graphical style that makes it easy to forgive the game for having mediocre visuals.

Equally as charming as the graphical style is the game’s music and sound effects. From the very first opening you are treated to a very epic sounding background tune that really sets the scene for an engaging cartoon-like adventure. The sound effects really aren’t anything amazing, but they still somewhat above average and sound decent. I can’t recall being annoyed or turned off by any sound effects, which is certainly a good thing.

So for about half the price of a full retail game, you probably can’t go wrong with Rocket Knight. It emulates Rocket Knight Adventures’ gameplay brilliantly and is a blast to play. The only other platformer I have enjoyed quite as much as this game over the past several years would be New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Yes, I even enjoyed this game more than LittleBigPlanet for the simple fact that this game nails the old school platforming formula far better than anything else on the market today. If you’re a platformer fanatic, then this is definitely a must try for you!

Final Score

8.3/10