For: Nintendo Wii
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, violence)
Few developers love revisiting their recent past quite like Capcom, which has released portions of its "Resident Evil" catalog on just about any system that will have it.
Capcom returns to the well once again with "The Umbrella Chronicles," but it's a pretty inspired trip this time around. Rather than repackage outdated "RE" gameplay onto yet another system, "Chronicles" functions as a series retrospective, revisiting pretty much every major pre-"Resident Evil 4" storyline through the fresh eyes of an entirely different genre. Instead of creeping through corridors in the third person, you're shooting your way through them in an environment more befitting of a first-person arcade light gun game.
In providing some new takes on some old storylines, Capcom also manages to freshen up the notion of what a good on-rails shooter is capable of achieving.
"Chronicles" mostly plays as one would expect it to, leaving you responsible for your gun's aiming reticule while it handles your character's movements. The surrounding storyline is full of series mythology, but the chief gameplay objective _ shoot everything that moves and stay alive _ is pretty straightforward.
Where things get interesting is when Capcom incorporates traditional "RE" hallmarks in new ways. You'll still collect herbs to heal yourself, but you have to grab them quickly before they leave your line of sight. Familiar boss characters return, but with new patterns and weaknesses. Branching paths still sit waiting to be discovered, and the game perfectly replicates the sense of dread that comes with turning an uncharted corner.
Best of all, "Chronicles" doesn't stick you with a single weapon throughout the whole game. Your handgun contains unlimited ammo and the knife is handy for close-quarters combat, but the upgradeable machine guns, shotguns and grenade launchers you occasionally find pack a much deadlier punch. As with any good "RE" game, ammo management plays a crucial part in staying healthy.
None of this is to suggest "Chronicles" is vastly more complex than it ever purports to be, and there's nothing here that will make you love on-rails shooters if you don't at least like them already. But Capcom gets a ton of mileage out of a really cool idea, and it produces a fun piece of fan service in doing so. Arcade shooter fans _ particularly those who can take advantage of the two-player co-op mode _ are encouraged to give this one a look.
Reviewed for: Xbox 360
Coming Soon for: Playstation 3
From: Artificial Studios/SouthPeak Interactive
ESRB Rating: Teen (blood, mild language, mild suggestive themes, tobacco reference, violence)
The era of the downloadable patch is fully upon console gamers, with developers regularly putting less-than-perfect games on the shelf and relying on the convenience of users' Internet connections to fix problems that reveal themselves after a game has entered the wild. For the most part, these patches fix problems relating to online play or some other feature that can't always be effectively stress-tested before release.
"Monster Madness: Battle for Suburbia" is another story entirely, and it raises an interesting question: Do games deserve a second chance at acceptance if they completely blow their first?
Conceptually, "Suburbia" hasn't changed. It's still a cross between an overhead shooter and dungeon crawler, starring you as one of four kids who have to fend off a hometown invasion by a horde of deranged monsters. The things that initially made the game appealing _ lots of melee weapons, plenty of guns to build and upgrade, a cartoony graphical style and some fun level and creature designs _ are still there.
What no longer remains is a ludicrous control scheme that required you to press L3 to jump instead of A or B, which puzzlingly were used for weapon switching. That change alone makes "Suburbia" a better game, but it's one of many. Other fixes include a new camera angle, significantly more sensible (and snappier) player movement controls, interface improvements, weapon tweaks, and a ton of fixes to the game's multiplayer component.
The laundry list of fixes, combined with a price drop that has sent the game into $20 country in some stores, makes "Suburbia" appealing all over again for those tempted but disappointed by it in the first place.
Unfortunately, a better game still doesn't translate into a particularly good one. "Suburbia" is fun in spurts because of all it purports to be and because of how different it is than most every other Xbox 360 game. But there likely is no way for a simple patch to alleviate some of the remaining issues, which range from serious framerate dips to all manner of cheap-death syndrome.
In fact, the unpatched game's worst problem _ an inconsistent and unforgiving checkpoint system _ also is the patched game's biggest spoiler. Nothing ruins fun quite like barely reaching a checkpoint with only a sliver of health remaining, dying shortly after, and having to respawn ad nauseam with that same useless sliver of health backing you up.
For: Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (lyrics, mild suggestive themes)
If it wasn't possible for one game to be both the absolute best of its kind and a disappointment, it is now. "Dance Dance Revolution Universe 2" proves it.
As "DDR" games go, "DDRU2" rules all. The backing of the Xbox 360 gives it a visual edge over its PS2 and Wii counterparts, and that's to say nothing of the online capabilities (four players and leaderboards now, downloadable content possible later) brought forth by Xbox Live functionality.
More importantly, though, "DDRU2" features a ridiculous array of ways to play. Listing and describing them all in this short space would be impossible, but there's a reason a game that involves little more than stepping on a dance pad in time with music ships with a 42-page instruction manual. Bemani also allows gamers to tinker settings large and small in order to cater the game to just about any level of dance style and ability. Games in every genre should strive to be this accommodating.
Thing is, everything you just read applies to the previous "DDRU" game as well, and if you played that game last year, you're about to experience some serious deja vu. "DDRU2" ships with a new soundtrack, of course, and it refines a few modes and adds some new ones, including a freestyle mode for people too hopeless to play the game as intended.
But for gamers who do play "DDRU2" as intended, the changes aren't terribly exciting. The quest mode is better organized than last time, but it's still clumsy and confusingly presented. It also remains the one mode in which Bemani forces harder difficulty settings on unfit players _ a real problem given the cliff dive between basic and even moderate difficulty settings.
Meanwhile, secondary modes such as the Workout mode haven't matured beyond their peripheral status. (Given how much improvement the Wii version's Workout mode showed, it's surprising to see none of that carry over here.) Also speaking of peripherals, the solid but unspectacular dance mat returns unchanged. Unless you want a second mat, you're fine buying just the game disc.
The incremental growth is a product of a game that already was doing so much. While "DDRU2" is easy to recommend to anyone who loves the series, if only because it presents new songs to conquer, it'd still be nice to see "DDR" blow our minds again. (Translation: It's time for custom soundtrack support. Bite the bullet, Konami.)
For: Playstation Portable
From: Stainless Games/Atari
ESRB Rating: Everyone (mild violence, simulated gambling)
Massive compilations of Atari games on a single disc aren't the novelty they once were, and Atari has responded by going back to the well in as many fresh and inventive ways as possible.
In "Atari Classics Evolved," developer Stainless Games plays it safe by offering 11 games _ "Asteroids," "Asteroids Deluxe," "Battlezone," "Centipede," "Lunar Lander," "Millipede," "Missile Command," "Pong," "Super Breakout," "Tempest" and "Warlords" _ in both their original and "evolved" form. Both forms play identically, with the evolved form offering a prettier coat of graphical paint and a few bonus perks such as achievements, online leaderboards and wireless multiplayer for "Battlezone" and "Warlords."
While the graphical overhauls definitely look nice, the achievements should stand as "Evolved's" greatest contribution to the retro compilation racket. Each evolved game features four distinctive goals to conquer, and knocking out all 44 of them unlocks a library of more than 50 Atari 2600 games. Reaching these goals likely will fall beyond the means of all but the most skilled and dedicated of players, but it's nice to see a retro compilation offer something beyond nostalgia as a reason to pick it up. Having something to work for does wonders for longevity.
It's merely a shame "Evolved" only is available for the PSP, which proves once again why it's the most incapable system on the shelf to handle compilations of this sort. The analog nub isn't precise enough to replicate the experience of playing with a trackball or arcade stick, and fiddling with the sensitivity settings doesn't help much. The system's heavy widescreen orientation also clashes with vertically-oriented games like "Centipede" and "Tempest," which force you to turn the PSP sideways and hold it awkwardly while negotiating with the aforementioned shoddy control inputs.
Atari certainly isn't shy about porting its catalog to as many systems as will have it, so there's hope that "Evolved" eventually will make its way to a system with a better controller. (The Xbox 360's Live Arcade has downloadable versions of some of the games, but that's not quite the same thing.)
At no point is "Evolved" unplayable on the PSP, though. The games are emulated expertly, and if you can find a soft touch with the analog nub, the control issues may pose less of an issue. If nothing else, the inviting $20 price makes it easy to take a gamble if the concept has your attention.
(Billy O'Keefe writes video game and DVD reviews for McClatchy-Tribune News Service.)
(c) 2008, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.