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Review: You Don't Know JACK

 

The world of trivia is what it is. You either like it or you don't. But, when it comes to fond memories of You Don't Know Jack going way back to its PC roots where you and your buddies would sit around a single keyboard abreast to a single key as your buzzer it's all gravy. Over the years though, a proper release of You Don't Know JACK has been absent minus a web incarnation developers Jellyvision concocted sometime ago. Fortunately fans of the game from yester year have need not worry about wheter the game still holds up, it does.

On first look everything you would remember from You Don't Know JACK is all there. The wackily worded questions intertwined with irrevent humor? Check! Dis or Dat? Why yes. Check! "Screwing" other players in the game? Check! Jack Attack? Of course. Check! So, is that it? Nope, there's more to be had now.

 

With this newest incarnation of JACK, you'll be greeted with a few wrinkles to the formula that change things up just enough that give a little bit of a much needed edge where you don't feel you're just going through the motions if you've played any of the versions that have come before. At the beggining of every game you'll be introduced to what is called the "Wrong answer of the game". You'll get what turns out in the end to be a clue at the beginning of every game as to what wrong answer you should be looking for to score a cool 4,000 or 8,000 points (Round 2 doubles your points) by getting the answers wrong on purpose.

Semantics aside, what separates YDKJ from the other trivia games outthere is the raunchy humor that is very much not for the family as much as on the surface the game seems like it would be a perfect fit. On the contrary, keep you kids far far away unless you want to be put into an awkward spot when Cookie decides to make jokes about "whoopy" leaving you "with some explaining to do".

 

Unfortunately all is not well in You Don't Know Jack land. As the Xbox 360 version of the game is what was played, what you'll likely come across is the game most glaring flaw. Assuming you'd like to have as many people in the game as you possibly can in addition to what you may have on hand in person, prepare for some sad news. Mixing of local and Xbox LIVE players is not and option. Either you play the game by yourself on Xbox LIVE or play it local only. To call that a major oversight would be saying Jeopardy would be missing something without it's iconic opening theme song.

Everything is there (minus the huge ommison above). 73 episodes of You Don't Know JACK goodness brought up to todays speed, big button support if that fits your fancy, a presentation that seldom gets old, and last but not least it's half priced. You can't go wrong with this game unless you are eternaly alone. Playing by yourself is most defintely doable, yet, the magic of "not knowing JACK" is in the fun of reactions from others. If you can grab a few buds the mound of episodes found on the disc will last you for quite some time. Just remember -- no matter what, You Don't Know JACK!

 

 

Review: Donkey Kong Country Returns

When Donkey Kong Country hit the Super Nintendo, it changed the face of the video game industry forever. With its 2.5D graphics and its platforming perfection, there was no doubt in our minds that DK had much more up his sleeve than simply hurling barrels at Mario. The game also presented a significant challenge to gamers of all backgrounds and experience level. All of these traditions from the original Donkey Kong Country have been carried through with the latest release, Donkey Kong Country Returns on the Nintendo Wii.

The game is, much like New Super Mario Bros. Wii, a huge nod to nostalgia-seeking gamers in their 20's and 30's. From the enhanced graphics and the new game mechanics, however, the title definitely brings enough new to the table that it doesn't feel like a simple rehash of the successes of a game that came out three generations ago.

When you begin playing, you'll notice that Donkey Kong Country Returns features some amazingly well-done updated versions of the original Donkey Kong Country tunes. The familiarity will be enough to draw in fans of the original from square one, which is something that Nintendo really needs to capitalize on if they hope to keep up with the improved motion sensing of the other consoles in this generation.

The concept of the game has remained largely similar as well. You run from left to right, simply trying to make it to the end of each level. If that's not enough for you, another well-known concept from the series has been carried into this title as well. Throughout the game, there are unlockables and hidden items galore. You have the original K-O-N-G letters to find, then you also have puzzle pieces, secret passages, and a whole lot more to worry about as you make your way through each individual levels. It's because of this that completionists will find a lot to like in way of replayability.

Even if you aren't a completionist to that level, the level design will certainly leave you satisfied with just making it through the levels alive. There is no way around it, this game is tough. You will die a lot throughout the course of the game and you will definitely be engulfed in a severe fit of rage more than a few times.

The fine line that Nintendo always seems to tread in its first-party titles is the line of whether your in-game deaths are fair or not. Sure, some of the New Super Mario Bros. Wii levels were frustrating, but none of them were unfair. That same notion applies to Donkey Kong Country Returns. While most of the platforming levels are manageable and rather fair, there is a pretty sizeable amount of vehicle-based levels that feel downright unfair and will have you throwing your Wii Remote across the room. While the old adage of "practice makes perfect" certainly applies to these, it feels like many of them are trial-and-error, which is fine to an extent.

Even though the game may sound like an outright winner from the synopsis of taking the winning formula behind the Super Nintendo series Donkey Kong Country and giving it the New Super Mario Bros. Wii treatment, it is far from perfect. Aside from the frustration you will feel from the vehicle levels, the biggest issue is definitely the control scheme. The developers, for whatever reason, felt it so incredibly important to force the player to utilize the Wii Remote's tilt and shake functionality, that they didn't include the ability to use the Gamecube controller or even the Wii Classic Controllers.

This definitely steals away from the retro experience and the forced use of the motion controls feel just that way. The way the motion/shake controls work in normal gameplay is that if you shake the controller when you're standing still, Donkey Kong will slam the ground, which will destroy things on the ground or stun nearby enemies. If you are pushing the D-Pad in one direction, Donkey Kong will rolls in that direction if you shake the controller, which will knock some enemies off the stage, or at least off their feet. The final variation is if you're pushing down and you shake the controller, Donkey Kong will blow in that direction, which is useful for unveiling hidden bonuses and defeating fire-engulfed enemies. The issue is that the D-Pad will sometimes be finicky, which will cause a lot of unnecessary harm to Donkey Kong. The issue certainly could have been remedied had the developer allowed for the use of those aforementioned controllers.

A big different between this incarnation of Donkey Kong Country and the original series is the health aspect of the game. in the original title, each player was able to be hit once and they were dead. It worked fine for that title, but with new challenges presented in Donkey Kong Country Returns, the developers felt it necessary to implement a two-hit health system, which allows for more mistakes at the cost of a more difficult game.

The highlight and purpose of this game, for many, will be the co-op multiplayer. The mode operates very much the same as the co-op for New Super Mario Bros Wii, but with only two players at a time. In Donkey Kong Country Returns, player one controls Donkey Kong and player two controls Diddy Kong, much like the co-op in the original Donkey Kong Country. While co-op experiences generally tend to keep characters fairly equal in terms of base skills, Donkey Kong Country Returns actually makes Diddy Kong, and thus player two, the much more useful character. Not only can he shoot peanuts (which ends up not doing a whole lot), he can also utilize a jetpack, which comes very much in handy in the more difficult platforming stages.

In single player mode, this is also utilized. You can only control Donkey Kong in single player, but as you bust out Diddy Kong, he jumps on your back and you gain all of his abilities as well. It works like a power up for doing well, much like the laser sword in the original Legend of Zelda titles. It is weird always controlling Donkey Kong, even after unlocking Diddy, however.

Donkey Kong Country Returns represents a load of nostalgia, a ton of platforming challenge and a world of unfulfilled potential. The game may be one of the top titles of the year for the Wii, but the controls can be frustrating. With a little bit less reliance on the Wii gimmick, Donkey Kong Country Returns could have been the best title on the Wii, but instead, it may just have to settle for the year's best. It fails in comparison to New Super Mario Bros. Wii, but almost any update will. When all is factored in, Donkey Kong Country Returns is well worth the price of admission for all 2D platforming fans and a great pickup for fans of the original Donkey Kong Country.

Review: Sonic Colors

Look, we all know that the Sonic series isn't quite what it was at one point. During the Genesis years, Sonic was THE series. He was the obvious number one competitor to Mario and his attitude mixed with his fast-paced gameplay actually made him the favorite of many for several years. He has had some serious difficulty in his transition to the 3D realm, however. The Sonic Adventure series was fun, but definitely lacked polish in some areas. From there, it just went downhill with Sonic Heroes, Shadow the Hedgehog (which we personally loved!) and all culminated with the disastrous effort known as Sonic the Hedgehog (2006). Even Sega's reimagining of the series, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 left many scratching their heads (it certainly did that to us).

That isn't to say there haven't been moments of redemption for our favorite blue blur. Sonic Unleashed was certainly a step in the right direction, despite some of the tedious levels that were associated with the downright silly WereHog mechanic. Now, Sonic Colors, which many are calling the game that is bringing Sonic and his furry companions back to glory, has hit the Wii and as die-hard Sonic fans for the better part of two decades, we could not be more excited! We've learned to be cautiously optimistic with Sonic as of late, so we find ourselves stuck asking, will the title stack up to the hype, or will it go the route of the previous two Wii Sonic releases?

The first thing you'll notice when you start your game of Sonic Colors is, well, the colors. The game is beautifully designed and certainly lives up to its name. From the level design and setting, to the various effects that Sonic can use through those very levels, the beauty of Sonic Colors is consistently impressive and never dull. The title seems as though its pushing the Wii's power to the limit, however. We continually caught ourselves wishing that we could experience the title in true high definition, but that does not mean it's not one of the best looking titles on the Wii currently.

Another thing you'll notice is that the entire game gives off a kind of Mario Galaxy vibe. The game takes place in an outer space setting, and for much of the game, the background features a planetary view, so that might be the bulk of the reasoning behind that vibe. The other reason is certainly the soundtrack, particularly that of the title screen. The soundtrack has a very epic sound to it, which is definitely reminiscent of that of Mario Galaxy.

The setting of the title is a giant amusement park in outer space that Dr. Robotnik (we still hate the name Dr. Eggman) has designed apparently in order to atone for his past transgressions. He makes it very public that this is his logic and it is in no way associated with any diabolical scheme that he has. This message comes across as very obviously inaccurate, but definitely sets the tone for the rest of the game's dialog.

The dialog is something that Sega has definitely finally gotten right within the Sonic series. In the past 15 years, Sega has tried to move the dialog in Sonic games from being anime-esque, to taking itself way too seriously, to even unsuccessfully taking a page out of Final Fantasy's page with Sonic 2006. The dialog in Sonic Colors is masterfully tongue-in-cheek. The characters spend the entire time goofing on each other and cracking jokes in the style of old-school Saturday morning cartoons. Sure, it may get a little too goofy at times for the tastes of many adults, but for kids and adults that just want to play a fun Sonic game, the dialog is the best it's been in the series.

Another change that has definitely affected the game for the better has been the navigation between the levels. Rather than having Sonic and friends run to a hub within an open world, as we saw in Sonic Adventure and Sonic Unleashed, they took a page out of Nintendo's book and just made hub maps, much like was seen in games like Donkey Kong Country and New Super Mario Bros. Wii. This means that characters will have no trouble accessing the exact level they want to access and there is non-stop action, aside from the well-executed cutscenes.

The gameplay is, quite simply, the best Sonic has ever been in 3D. He can sometimes feel as though he's on skates and the action can come at you too fast at times, but there is no doubt that the gameplay doesn't get in the way of the fun, as it has in past titles. Sega has even realized that some people just can't get into platformers that use the Wii Remote, so players have the option to use the GameCube controller to play the title. We still aren't incredibly fond of the awkward design of the GameCube controller, but it will definitely please those that don't like using the Wii Remote and Nunchuck. Due to this dynamic, we are curious as to why Sega chose to not bring the title to the PS3 and Xbox 360 as well.

As Sonic progresses through the levels of the game, he'll come across various types of aliens, or Wisps. These aliens, which he is bent on saving from Dr. Eggman, enable him to use special powers. From a laser-like shot that allows him to blast through a portion of a level, to an orange rocket powerup that shoots Sonic high up into the air, the power-ups are always fun to use and feel like they are anything but a novelty.

The largest issue that has plagued the Sonic Team since Sonic's transition into 3D is the issue of level design. From the issue of of the camera getting in the way to the over abundance of instant kill bottomless pits, players have become unnecessarily frustrated with the overall design. With Sonic the Hedgehog 4, players and critics applauded the branching level design, but Sonic Colors is the first 3D game that we can honestly say has excellently designed levels.

The levels see Sonic running from point A to point B as fast as he can, which really gives the game an old school feel. To top that notion off, the game also has a large number of 2D or 2.5D levels that work better than anything we saw in Sonic 4. The sense of speed and the excellent platforming dwarfs that of Sonic 4 and Sonic Colors also got the homing attack right, which is something Sonic 4 neglected to do. In fact, the only thing that Sega didn't quite do right in this regard lies in the fact that the later levels tend to throw a few of the cheap deaths at the player.

One incredibly cool thing that Sega added to this title is something called a "Sonic Simulator". It's accessible the same way any of the levels are in the story mode, and allows for multiplayer. The player chooses one of several levels in a level select that is styled like the classic arcade machines from 80's. From there the player will be placed in a virtual training style of world that looks very similar to the Animus training modules found in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. From there, the player will race through the levels trying to get the highest grade possible. This works very well in multiplayer and gives that old school feel that we got from Sonic 3 multiplayer.

Sonic Colors is a game that fans will hopefully give a chance. After the massive hype of Sonic the Hedgehog 4, Sonic Colors seemed to get somewhat buried commercially since it is only for the Wii. After games like Sonic Unleashed, Sonic and the Secret Rings, and Sonic and the Black Knight, we were honestly just waiting for the gimmick of Sonic Colors to present itself. While the Wisp aliens provide an interesting dynamic to gameplay, we wouldn't consider it a gimmick per se. Instead of a game that uses a gimmick as a crutch to poor design and gameplay, Sonic Team seems to have received the fans' message loud and clear.

Sonic Colors doesn't rely on petty gameplay gimmicks to sell the title. Instead, Colors brings to the table an excellent gameplay engine, great level design, expedited level select that allows for nonstop action, beautiful graphics and some very entertaining interactions between characters. If Sega is able to successfully turn the Sonic franchise around and bring it back to it's heyday with the next few releases, Sonic Colors should be looked at as the point that brought it back from the brink and put it in the right direction.

 

Review: Wii Sports Resort

When the Wii was released, each system came with Wii Sports, a game which was meant to show off the console's motion-sensing capabilities, as well as it's ability to market towards the casual gamer. The game was a smashing success in the casual market, but at the same time, it exposed some of the flaws that the Wii Remote possessed.

The main issue was that the Wii Remote did not possess one to one motion sensing, something that Nintendo recognized and attempted to remedy with the Wii Motion Plus accessory. What better way to market the new accessory than to make it mandatory for and bundled with two of the most anticipated Wii titles of the year, Wii Sports Resort and Red Steel 2.

The concept of Wii Sports Resort is simple; take the winning formula that was introduced in Wii Sports and expand it based around the Wii Motion Plus accessory. Nintendo decided that they wouldn't completely scrap the games list from the original, but rather make a couple of those games more accurate based on the technology.

Back from the original are Golf and the ever popular Bowling, but the main attraction will obviously be the new additions. New to the Wii Sports line-up are Wakeboarding, Frisbee, Archery, Basketball, Table Tennis, Power Cruising, Canoeing, Cycling, Air Sports and the new most popular Wii Sports game, Swordplay. Each of the titles does a great job showcasing the new accessory.

One of the most hyped of the new mini-games was Archery. In this game, the player holds the Wii Remote vertically with the Nunchuck at the side. Mimicking the motion of pulling the back end of an arrow back, the player pulls the Nunchuck towards them while aiming the arrow as they would a real bow and arrow. The motion feels incredibly natural and works better than any other mini-game on the disc. Players will also encounter varying wind conditions and distances that will require alterations to a possible winning formula that they craft up.

Another hyped mini-game on the disc was the Swordplay. Ever since the first time anyone picked up the Wii Remote, they envisioned it as a sword of some kind, whether it be a Lightsaber or otherwise. Unfortunately, the first Red Steel title failed in its attempts to emulate the sword-fighting motion. The issue turned out to be the hardware of the Wii Remote, so with the Wii Motion Plus, Nintendo has decided to try its hand at sword fighting to please the masses. It works rather well, though sometimes the Remote will get a little confused and won't translate your movement in real life perfectly to the game. Though those moments can prove frustrating, the goods far outweigh the bads in this mini-game. Nintendo assumed that players might resort to spamming swings at their opponents, and while that may work a lot of the time, they instilled a fighting system that will usually reward strategy over spam.

Another game that works well is a game that has been somewhat fantasized about since the inception of the Wii; table tennis. While tennis has worked alright in the previous iteration of Wii Sports, table tennis adds another spin to the game. With the new one to one motion tracking, players can put spins on the ball like never before and it works very well. Other than the slightly different serving motion, the game controls very much like the popular tennis minigame from the first Wii Sports.

Outside of those games that work best with the new accessory, there are a few that range from being good to forgettable. The first thing you will do in Wii Sports Resort is to skydive to the island where all of the games take place. During this free fall, you'll fly through hoops, link up with other Miis and do tricks as the Wii Remote controls very well the body of the Mii one to one. As you link up, the Miis will smile and a photographer will free fall next to them and snap a picture. As the skydive ends, you'll form up and land on the island safely. The skydive looks great and plays even better, but it fails to do anything more than serve as a pretty tech demo and introduction to the Wii Motion Plus.

Frisbee, Power Cruising, Airsports, Golf and Wakeboarding fall victim to the curse of the majority of the titles of the original Wii Sports game: they play great and are fun, but get old quick and don't bring enough to the table. Airsports is probably the closest to achieving vertical movement in the hierarchy of the best minigames offered in this title. Either way, each of these minigames serve as interesting tech demos and work amazingly in the party setting.

The two minigames that don't quite achieve what players hoped they would are certainly canoeing and cycling. The titles work well enough, but they don't utilize the power of the new accessory as well as they should. The canoeing can't help but feel more like a chore at times and often-times the Mii will actually stroke on the wrong side. When the motion sensing works well, the game is fun to play, but it can lead to various frustrations when competition between two or more players is introduced into the formula.

The final minigame left to cover is the ever-popular bowling. The game was definitely the most enjoyable in the first Wii Sports title, and it continues to be a blast in Resort. The core part of bowling remains very similar to the original, but there has been a lot of content added. There now exists a few minigames within this minigame. In one game mode, you'll find yourself going up against over 100 pins at once. This adds a brand new spin (no pun intended) to the bowling and also helps the game retain it's title as a great party game.

Visually, Wii Sports Resort looks great. The game implements the Miis flawlessly into the various situations, which was an original draw to Wii Sports. It's always fun seeing your Mii playing the numerous sports featured and the fact that you can see other Miis in the crowd during many events is a great bonus and definitely adds to the fun. Since the setting of Resort is an island, the game is beautifully (and very blue-fully, as you can see in the screenshots here) rendered and shrouded in the tropics.

Overall, Wii Sports Resort reverts back to the issue that plagued the original title, which was being nothing more than a glorified tech demo for the Wii itself, but with the addition of Motion Plus, as well as the extra content to the returning sports, the purchase can be justified. The title will definitely do well in party situations and it really shows off the potential that this new accessory has. Only time will tell if the Wii Motion Plus will be a successful or failed venture, but as far as this title is concerned, the Motion Plus is very successful.

Review: Goldeneye 007

One thing that has always seemed to struggle a bit on the Wii is a genre that should definitely excel on a console that uses pointer technology: the first person shooter. Sure there have been a few gems here and there, but overall, controls have been clunky and imprecise and players have glanced over them and yielded to the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 for their first-person shooter needs.

Just like the Nintendo 64 in the 90's, the Nintendo Wii is looking at Goldeneye to bring the system's first-person shooter genre into the forefront away from the other consoles. Sure, Nintendo 64 was trying to bring the market from the PC to the home console market, but the analogy is still more relevant than ever.

The game follows the same general storyline of the Goldeneye film, but as you know, they updated the game to feature Daniel Craig's James Bond, rather than Pierce Brosnan. This is much more than an aesthetic change, though. Craig's Bond is a little more rough and tumble and a little less refined than Brosnan's imagining, some events that don't necessarily drastically change the plot, have been updated to better reflect Craig's version of Bond.

The game is chocked full of nostalgia. From the difficulty levels, to the level design, to the multiplayer, everything feels like a true sequel to the original Goldeneye game for the Nintendo 64, which is something the previous generation's forgettable Goldeneye game, Rogue Agent failed to achieve. The first level in this game is even the Dam, which is based on the original game's starting level of the same name.

Sure, the level designs have been updated to be less simplistic and more engaging than it's Nintendo 64 source material, but fans will definitely recognize the continuous nods to the classic title. The multiplayer is definitely the most obvious nod, as it features many of the classic Bond characters that players were able to utilize in the original Goldeneye game. The multiplayer feels loyal to the original, but it is definitely limited to the capabilities of the Wii itself.

Visually, the game is one of the better looking and sounding Wii titles. The character models look very true to their film counterparts, but the level of detail is obviously lagging behind the competition that exists on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. The main issue that was found in the visual department was the brightness. While calibrating the brightness, the screen instructs that the player should adjust the brightness so that the "Goldeneye" logo is barely visible in the black area of the calibration screen. It was found that on a high-end Panasonic plasma television, that the player would be required to turn the brightness of the screen, as well as the brightness of the game itself, all the way up in order to see the logo as instructed. This is a huge issue, as plasmas generally have a higher contrast and more vibrant colors, so it is unclear if the game would be playable if the player is less able to adjust the brightness.

Control-wise, the player has four options. The first, and defaulted option, is involving using the Wii Remote like a wand and then holding the Nunchuck with the other hand. The second option is for the player to place the Wii Remote and Nunchuck into the first-party Wii Zapper. The Wii Remote controls where the player looks and aims, with the crosshairs aiming and eventually moving the screen as the crosshairs reach the edge of the screen. This works well for the most part, but can become an issue if you are attempting to aim for a target near the edge of the screen. The controls are only as good, in this case, as the player's hand is steady, which makes the feeling more true to life than most shooters.

The big downside that we had with this control scheme is that we couldn't use our Nyko Pistol Wii Remote glove, due to the fact that the trigger actually hits 'A' rather than 'B' and there was no control option for such a setup. This was an issue with the House of the Dead franchise as well, so it's not to be held against this title, but it is more appropriate to levy this against the peripheral itself. We're just saying it would have been nice to have found a control scheme to work with this piece of hardware within the game's robust control selection screen.

The third and fourth options allow the player to use the Gamecube and Wii Classic controllers respectively. When using these options, the controllers function much like controllers in first-person shooters from other consoles, where the left stick controls player movement, the right stick controls the way the character looks and the triggers/bumpers are used for weapon control. This might seem like the method of choice for players that would like to play the title like a standard first-person shooter, but there are definite downsides to using these layouts.

The biggest and most universal issue with this control scheme is definitely the limitations of those controllers themselves. Shooters always felt strange on the Gamecube, so the fact that it feels slightly awkward playing this title on a Gamecube controller is no surprise. If you opt to play it on the Wii Classic Controller, you will have to deal with the struggle of playing a first-person shooter on what essentially equates to a Super Nintendo controller.

 

You can get a limited edition Classic Controller in specially marked Special Editions of Goldeneye 007. It would have been amazing if the Classic Controller included with the Special Edition was based on the Nintendo 64 controllers, but now we're just nitpicking. Sensitivity is another problem that was found, but that can definitely be remedied by adjusting the sliders within the options menu. The only other issue that exists with using the standard controllers is that you cannot use the "lean" move that is useable with the Wii Remote control schemes. This doesn't really come in handy with the single player campaign, but can really work to the player's advantage in multiplayer modes.

Looking at Goldeneye 007 for the Wii and comparing it to the groundbreaking title that is this game's namesake on the Nintendo 64 is unfair. This title isn't an incredibly innovative title, but it is as important to the console as the original was for the Nintendo 64. This game shows that a good first-person shooter can exist on the Nintendo Wii. The only issue with Goldeneye 007 is that it is limited by the very console it is raising up. If this game were a generation-wide release, rather than just a Wii title, this title could potentially rival this week's release from the Call of Duty franchise both in popularity and quality.

 

Instead, we are stuck to using the Wii Remote controls or using awkward control schemes on standard controllers with graphics that aren't comparable to those shooters found on more powerful machines. If you own a Wii and you've been looking for a shooter that will use the Wii's power to the fullest, look no further than the quality title that is Goldeneye 007. The biggest accomplishment that this game can claim, however, is that it is not an embarrassment to the Goldeneye video game franchise and that it can be viewed as a worthy recreation of a legendary and fabled video game.

Review: Rock Band 3

When Harmonix told us that we'd "be surprised by how big Rock Band 3 is", we were all skeptical, yet we were ready to be blown away. While we knew a little bit about what Rock Band 3 was going to accomplish, we had no idea as to what we were in for. With the announcement that the game would not only perfect the formula that has made them one of the heavyweights in the gaming world, but also actually take strides to teach players how to play real instruments, we realized the magnitude of what this game could mean.

The first thing you have to look at with a game such as Rock Band 3 is the massive list of improvements and additions that the game has over its predecessor, Rock Band 2. Rock Band 3 takes the core gameplay elements of Rock Band 2, which many feel to be the top in the genre, and adds one of the most robust list of features ever seen in any sequel of any genre. The additions range from small to enormous and impact the player's experience exponentially.

The biggest, and most heralded additions are obviously the new instruments and the impressive Pro-Mode. This time around, instead of simply keeping the instruments locked at vocals, guitar, bass and drums, Harmonix has filled a much-needed gap with the addition of the keyboard. The five instrument scheme works amazingly within the Rock Band formula and the keyboard peripheral is made of very high quality. With the keyboard, players can use the realistic keys to play in normal mode, which consists of the classic five colors found on other instruments, or they can play it in Pro-Mode, which assigns nearly every key a scrolling indicator that makes the player actually work to learn to play the keyboard as an instrument.

Pro-Mode isn't limited to the keyboard, however. Pro-Mode also works for every instrument in the game. For Pro-Drums, you attach cymbals to your Rock Band 2 or 3 drum kit. Then, once you select how many cymbals you have attached (anywhere from one to three), you'll be forced to not only hit the cymbal when it's time to hit the cymbal, but you'll be required to hit the correct cymbal. The way the game indicates this is instead of scrolling rectangular notes at you, cymbal hits will show as circular. This definitely takes some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, you will find that Harmonix has completely revitalized the fun of drumming. As someone who lost interest in Rock Band drumming several years ago, I've now found that drumming is in tight competition for my favorite instrument in the platform.

If drums and keyboards aren't really your thing, but you still want to learn a thing or two from this game, you can purchase a Pro-Guitar and learn how to play the various Rock Band 3 songs on guitar and bass. The great thing about Pro-Guitar and Pro-Bass is that they are actually played on guitars that have real frets and use all six strings. For Pro-Guitar the game will replace the five colored rectangles with six strings that have a special tablature language that signals what fret and string must be pressed and plucked for individual notes and different shapes that show what chords must be played in the higher difficulties.

There will be two models of Pro-Guitars released for Rock Band 3. The first guitar, the Fender Mustang, consists of partial strings where you strum and uses touch-pad technology on the frets. This will, more or less, simply simulate playing a real guitar, while the Fender Squier, which comes out in 2011, will be a real guitar that is functional within the game. Unfortunately, neither Pro-Guitar controller has been released yet, so we have been unable to use this features as of yet.

For you vocalists, you aren't completely left out in the dark. Though there may not be an official "Pro-Mode" for vocals, there have been a few significant upgrades which will make the experience much better. The biggest addition is certainly the harmonies, which have been brought over from The Beatles: Rock Band and Green Day: Rock Band. While it still remains that all three mics used in the harmonies must be on the same machine due to the slight lag that is created through playing online. This may seem like a minor detail, but there are very few casual players that have three mics lying around, as well as two friends that would want to harmonize with them. The other improvement that vocals has seen is the fact that the "shaky-arrow" glitch, which made the vocal arrow shake and fall outside of the vocal bars, has been fixed and is no longer an issue.

Outside of the really innovative Pro-Modes, there lies the classic mode, which made Rock Band famous in the first place. While this mode is largely the same as what we played through in Rock Band 2 from a gameplay standpoint, the layout of which you select your playstyle has been vastly improved. You can choose to "Play Now", which lets you opt to play through quickplay or complete several road challenges to increase your stardom, or go on to the career mode, which will allow you to progress through hundreds of goals separated across the five instruments and their Pro-Mode counterparts. As mentioned before, the entire setup and menu system is very intuitive and feels miles beyond anything we've seen on either the Guitar Hero or Rock Band side prior to this game's release.

Before you get to rocking, however, you need to create your characters and edit your band. The logo designer is pretty much the same as we saw in Rock Band 2, only with different designs. Once you have a logo and a name for your band, you can choose to create characters to put in the band. The character creator has progressed from Rock Band 2 as much as any other feature of the game has. Now, instead of simply choosing a face, skin tone and body type, you can go into a full-on edit mode where you can stretch and warp the face in nearly any way you see fit, much like we've seen in sports titles and Guitar Hero titles.

Once you create your character, you can dress them up in any accessories or clothing items you want. They did go a questionable route of including shirts from bands like The Doors and The Who, which you must pay $1 of real money to be made available for your character to wear, but you don't have to go that route if you don't want to. If you don't feel like going through the character creation process for four members of the band, you can always appoint stand-ins from the ready-made characters that we've come to know from the previous Rock Band titles. The only issue here is that there is no way to easily define what character plays what instrument, so if you want one guy to play guitar while your character sings, you have to jump through various hoops to achieve that.

Once you're ready to rock, you can navigate through the aforementioned menus to select the song, goal, or road challenge that you want to play. The best part about these three modes in this game is the fact that they are all integrated into progressing your band through their careers. This is something new to the genre. Before, if you wanted to gain more fans for your band, you had to play through World Tour mode, or if you wanted to achieve goals, you played different goals in career mode. Now, you can achieve goals and gain fans all at the same time. Even in Quickplay, you will gain fans for performances. This idea really meshes with the idea that you are here to "start a band and rock the world". As you progress through gaining more fans, you'll see cutscenes of your band. They start simple with your band sitting in a diner and deciding on a name, and work their way up to getting ready to run onto stage at a huge music festival. These also really add to the overall feeling of the game itself.

The most simple mode is Quickplay. All you do here is go through and play the songs you want to play. It's as simple as that, but Harmonix has taken this simple idea and created an enjoyably simple experience. Now, if you're a DLC hoarder, you don't have to go through the over 2,000 available tracks to find the one you're looking for. Now, you can sort by nearly any method you can think of. You can sort by song name or artist name like in Rock Band 2, but now you can sort by multiple options at a time. So if you want to only find country songs that you've gotten four stars on guitar and start with the letter "L", you can find that song immediately. There's even a new feature that allows you to rate any song, including on-disc tracks, so you can sort songs on songs that you really like. If that sounds like too much of a hassle, you can create a playlist and save it, so if you and you're friends like to play the same ten songs every time you get together, Harmonix has got you covered here.

With the Road Challenges, you will work you're way from being a locally touring band to touring the world by playing different sets at different establishments. These sets range from a pre-determined list of three tracks from a particular artist that you have in your library, to you playing to the interests of the crowd at that bar, club or venue. Either way, you'll always have a choice of whether you want to choose a custom set of classic rock songs, a three-set of Blink 182 songs or a random three-set of Nu Metal tunes. Another thing that Road Challenges implements is a system that awards "Spades" in addition to stars on songs. Spades are bonus currency that unlocks more venues to play and extra challenges. They aren't earned simply by playing well, however. You'll be given a random task at the beginning of the set, such as activating overdrive as many times as possible, or getting as many streaks as possible, or even nailing individual sections of the songs while you play through them. As you earn more spades, you'll unlock new tours that you can take. Touring will see you selecting a tour route and going across the country or even the world on those routes. Harmonix did an excellent job of creating a addictive feeling of being rewarded through this mode.

The final main mode is the career mode, which is essentially turned into the "My Goals" mode. In this, you'll be given hundreds of goals that are both general and instrument-specific. Some are tied to achievements and trophies, while others are simply tasks to shoot for within the game itself. The title does an amazing job of tracking your stats and accomplishments and lets you know exactly how far or close you are to achieving each and every goal set forth. This mode makes you incredibly prone to the "just one more hour" syndrome that every game, music or otherwise, should strive for. You can't begin to count the number of times you're ready to quit, but you see how close you are to achieving a goal, so you play another set. Each time you achieve a goal, you'll also unlock new customization items, as well as earn more fans. Goals aren't just tied to this mode, however. As mentioned earlier, everything is highly integrated, so if you achieve a goal in Quickplay, you'll be notified and it will be crossed off the list in your "My Goals" section.

Of course, every music game ever created is made or broken by the group of songs available. Lucky for Harmonix and lucky for us, the game with the most features ever seen in a music game also has the most robust library of songs. There are 83 diverse tunes on the disc with hundreds of tracks that can be imported if you are an owner of previous Rock Band titles, and a DLC library that stretches beyond the 2,000 song mark. With the recent release of The Doors' Greatest Hits and the promise of greatest hits releases from huge artists like Bon Jovi and Billy Joel, Harmonix shows absolutely no sign of slowing down or shying away from the model that has made them thrive in the music genre.

There is one thing that must be realized for anyone that is reading this and is thinking about delving into the Rock Band series for the first time due to the praise that this title is receiving. All of this entertainment comes at a very high price. If you are starting from scratch and want to get the full experience, you can expect to pay well over $1,000 in order to get all of the instruments, the game, and a decent amount of downloadable content. This is a very steep price for new players to the series and something that is definitely a commitment that many people will need to shy away from in this economic climate. Luckily, there is enough to do on just one instrument to justify the purchase of the game with just one instrument to start out.

Rock Band 3 is by no means a perfect game, but it really gets closer than anything we've ever seen in any genre. The graphics are improved over the previous title, the feature list is almost as robust as the song list, and incredible strides have been made to improve the series over the last two years. If every series took the Rock Band approach and improved their series by this much with every sequel, the gaming world would be a much better place. Rock Band 3 is, without a doubt, the best and most complete music game we've ever seen and will certainly be looked back upon as the game that turned the music genre away from the abyss of normalcy and the business-as-usual mentality.

Review: Metroid: Other M

After the unbelievably successful Metroid Prime trilogy, Nintendo decided to enlist the assistance of Team Ninja, who are best known for their contributions to other well-liked series such as Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive to assist with the next evolution of the Metroid franchise. While some parts of this game shine and feel as though they are an updated version of the classic title, Super Metroid, not all of the changes and updates feel very welcome.

The first things that fans will notice is the stylistic change that has taken place in the visuals. In the Metroid Prime trilogy, Samus' first venture into the 3D gameplay, the visuals were realistic and very Halo-esque. With Metroid: Other M, however, there is a definite influence of Team Ninja. Everything looks a little exaggerated, as the graphics are in Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden, so they take a little bit to get used to. One thing that will remain familiar to Metroid fans is the theme of darkness.

As far as the quality of graphics is concerned, the game looks good, but it definitely suffers from the lack of HD capability on the Wii. The game truly looks like a higher end Gamecube game, showcasing some great color and contrast in the scheme, but in the end, they just don't pop off the screen as they do on titles from earlier on in the PS3 and Xbox 360 lifespan. Add that to the jagged edges that some characters will have in their outline and you have a title that looks good compared to other Wii titles, but pales in comparison to titles on other platforms.

Another area of this game that is heavily influenced by Team Ninja is the gameplay. Samus runs through the levels much like Ryu from Ninja Gaiden, athletically speeding through the levels and acrobatically jumping from platform to platform. While this is not unlike the earlier Metroid titles, the comparison can be traced back to not the way Samus is controlled, but how she feels when she is being controlled.

While the third person controls are tight and fitting for the game, those that do not like the controls in the Ninja Gaiden franchise will not like this change. The biggest issue comes when players switch to the often-used first person mode to target specific enemies or objectives. While this is the type of thing that the Wii should excel at due to its one edge over the 360 and PS3, this add-on to the core gameplay just seems forced and unnecessary.

It really has nothing to do with the first person view itself, to be frank. Instead, it has to do with the fact that it feels counterintuitive to be play the whole game with the controller sideways, then suddenly point the remote at the screen. That's not all that happens when you point the controller at the screen with the Wiimote, however. Once you make that slightly awkward transition, the camera will rush forward and the player will be required to find their bearings under the new view. It may sound nitpicky, but it definitely has the potential to give the enemies that are currently attacking an advantage.

Really, the only part where this game is anything but average is the story. The story features a much more feminine version of Samus. We hear about her struggles with being the only girl soldier and her difficulty in dealing with authority. The biggest downside has to be the voice acting. The characters will sometimes sound more disinterested than anything. While the story can be whiny, it has certainly been blown out of proportion.

One thing that has brought this game a fair amount of heat has been the so-called sexist undertones of the storyline. The game, despite the controversy, isn't sexist. As mentioned before, the game features a storyline that does, in fact, deal with sexism and the idea that its tough being a female soldier, but the game itself certainly isn't.

The part that has brought a lot of attention towards this subject is a part where Samus refuses to use her missiles and bombs until the man gives her permission. What the people stirring the controversy neglect to mention is that this man is the commanding officer and that she does it out of respect for his mission. The story may not be the most appealing to some, but it certainly isn't sexist.

All in all, Metroid Other M might be getting a bit of a bad reputation just because it is in the series that has constantly put out classic game after classic game. The game is a very average experience with a slightly below average story and some way above average moments that will stick with you. Fans of Metroid might be disappointed, but fans of the action/adventure platforming genre will definitely want to check this out.