Review of Skate 3 — You wanna go skateboards?

When EA decided to start the Skate series and go head-to-head with Activision’s Tony Hawk franchise, that was a big deal.  The latter had long been the king of virtual skateboarding, but it was beginning to go downhill in the late 2000’s, and something else eventually had to drop into the halfpipe and issue a challenge.  Thanks to a more realistic resemblance of the sport and a unique “flick-it” control scheme, Skate was quickly lauded by critics and skaters around the globe, proving that you don’t need Tony Hawk on the cover in order for your skateboarding game to be popular.  With that being said, it’s been over nine years since the third installment in the series, so let’s hit the park and reminisce about the virtual skating masterpiece that is Skate 3.

Pretending I’m a superman

The story takes place in the fictional skate haven of Port Carverton.  After a stunt on live TV goes horribly wrong, your filmer convinces you to start your own board company.  From there, you recruit a team of rookie skaters and complete a wide variety of challenges, including things like trick competitions, races, following other skaters, filming/photoshoots, Hall of Meat, Domination, Own The Spot/Lot, 1-Up, and S-K-A-T-E.  Your ultimate goals are to impress the pros, earn as many fans as possible, and sell a million skateboards.  Best of all, your path to becoming Port Carverton’s top skater is entirely up to you.

The control scheme is business as usual if you’re familiar with the previous two games.  Your right stick is used for ollies, nollies, manuals, flip tricks, and tweaks.  The left stick is used for steering, spins, and reverts.  The left and right triggers are used for grabs, each corresponding to whichever hand you want to grab the board with, and also for frontflips and backflips.  The face buttons are used for pushing, getting off your board, briefly taking your feet off the board during a grab, and lying down on your back while your board is moving.  The right bumper is used for lip tricks and darkslides/dark catches.  When you get off your board, you can perform hilarious aerial stunts and bails, and also grab hold of different objects to use for your trick lines.  This game does everything in its power to be both easy to learn and challenging to master, just like a certain other skateboarding franchise.

‘Cause I’m TNT

If you’re tired of skating solo, you and up to five friends can team up to complete goals, go head-to-head, or just explore Port Carverton.  You can even share your photos and videos around the online service, as well as create your own skateparks for anyone to visit.  The sky’s the limit in terms of the amount of freedom you have in this virtual skateboarding experience.

Unless you’re playing this on the Xbox One X, the framerate won’t always be consistent and the graphics can have a case of pop-in somewhat often, but the team at Black Box did a fine job creating a massive skating playground with many places to roam around in.  I personally like the audio better than the visuals, as all of the pro skaters lent good voice-acting to their virtual counterparts.  You also get a decent soundtrack that features popular artists like Neil Diamond, Beastie Boys, Jeezy, Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., and Agent Orange.

I don’t think contrast is a sin

Like many other people on social media, I have long been begging EA to make a sequel to what I consider to be the best skateboarding game on the market.  But for the time being, Skate 3 will always be a very prominent title in my gaming repertoire.  Whether you’re a longtime skater or sports-game junkie, you’ll definitely want to tighten up your trucks and take this game for a spin.

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Review of Pokémon Snap — For those with the benefit of Pokémon photography

For those of you who don’t know me very well, something I really wanted when I was a child was my very own camera.  Not because I was jealous of those in my family who owned one, but because I developed a fascination with walking around and taking pictures of the beautiful pieces of nature that surrounded my home.  I know it sounds like I watched too much Discovery Kids when I was a lot younger, but this wish of mine was actually influenced by a very interesting spin-off in the heavily-revered Pokémon franchise.  Replace the turn-based strategy with on-rails photography, and you get Pokémon Snap for the Nintendo 64.

Gotta photograph ’em all

Released in the summer of 1999, Pokémon Snap tasks you with taking pictures of 63 Pokémon in their natural habitats.  You and your trusty ZERO-ONE vehicle travel through seven courses that make up Pokémon Island, and you must use your photography prowess and a handful of gadgets to make sure your pictures look as nice as possible.  Every time you complete a trip, you must choose which of your shots will be shown to Professor Oak, who gives your pictures ratings based on size, pose, and technique.  Even though the amount of courses seems small, the goals of timing your shots correctly and searching for all the included Pokémon will have you hooked.

This was the first game to have 3D Pokémon character models, and the team at HAL Laboratory did a fantastic job designing both those and the courses’ graphics.  There can be a little slowdown when things like smoke and fire cover a big portion of the screen, but it’s only temporary.  In terms of sound, the voice-acting for each character (Both human and Pokémon) is above average, and each course comes with very appropriate music.

Snap, crackle, Pika

This Pokémon game doesn’t have nearly as much replay value as the main series we know and love, but it’s a unique game within its franchise.  If for some reason you enjoy photography simulators, or if you simply enjoy on-rails games of any kind, Pokémon Snap will no doubt be a very charming addition to your N64 library.  It could definitely use a sequel on the Nintendo Switch, especially if it’d allow you to share your in-game photos directly to Facebook and Twitter.  If we can’t bring our cartridges to Blockbuster anymore to print out our photos, we may as well go the social media route.

Review of Mischief Makers — Shake-shaking things up

If there was anything the Nintendo 64 was knee-deep in, it was platforming games. Not only was Super Mario 64 an absolute masterpiece in the genre, but there were a handful of second and third-party platform gems in the 64-bit console’s library. And no matter how obscure a game may be, you know it has a strong cult-following when lots of gamers request it to be re-released on a digital marketplace…Which brings us to a 1997 2.5D platformer called Mischief Makers, developed by the fine folks at Treasure.

Stop and shake it

To set the scene, the Planet Clancer is faced with the growing possibility of war, not to mention the Emperor is tricking the inhabitants, known simply as Clancers, into doing indisputably evil things. The brainwashed Clancers kidnap one of the planet’s visitors, that being the robotic mastermind Professor Theo. Luckily for him, the professor’s robotic assistant Marina Liteyears witnesses the capturing, and she sets off on a journey to not only bring her creator to safety, but also protect Planet Clancer from all of the threats that are about to unfold.

Every level puts your 2D platforming skills to the test. And thankfully, Marina has plenty up her…Robots have sleeves, right? Marina can perform both normal and long jumps, and the C buttons grant her special moves like rolling, sliding, and even boosting herself in any direction. However, these moves are afterthoughts compared to the game’s emphasis on grabbing and shaking the many objects and NPC’s you’ll come across. Grabbing things in mid-air and launching yourself towards platforms far away from you will become very vital as your journey progresses. Along with a truckload of platforming playgrounds, you’ll be faced with a handful of boss fights against rogue Clancers and other cold-hearted villains.

Shaking, not stirring

For a 1997 N64 game, Mischief Makers is full of good-looking level backgrounds, well-animated characters, and above-average cutscenes that some gamers may have thought the N64 just couldn’t pull off. In terms of sounds, you’re not gonna hear a lot of voice-acting (Although it was performed well) due to the console’s limitations, but you’ll still be treated with plenty of well-composed songs that are very fitting for each level and boss fight you go through.

In terms of replay value, Mischief Makers‘ length depends on how long you are willing to explore each level and whether or not you can succeed at the bonus tasks in the special events. If you’re good enough, you’ll be able to find all the gold crystals, one of which is found in each level. The amount of gold crystals you have at the end of the adventure determines how long the ending will be, so you’re gonna need a lot of patience and platforming prowess if you want the full experience.

No tomfoolery, no hijinx, just mischief

Just because a game falls under the radar due to its console’s heavyweight-filled catalog doesn’t mean it’s a meaningless game, and Mischief Makers strongly proves that. It doesn’t fit into the same league as heavily-revered platformers like Super Mario 64, but if you’re looking for an obscure platformer with an entertaining (And sometimes funny) plot and a deep pool of replay value, Mischief Makers will not disappoint you. Also, I don’t recommend taking a shot for every time Marina says “Shake, shake!” Alcohol and robotics don’t mix!

Review of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory — Did you say “chocolate?”

Remember the 2005 film adaptation of the classic children’s novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? That movie was heavily hyped up before it came to theaters, and for good reason. Tim Burton was in the director’s chair, Johnny Depp portrayed the internationally-famous Willy Wonka, and it was the first time since 1971 that Roald Doahl’s masterpiece came to the big screen. The film itself was a dark and quirky remake, but I found it to be a well-made piece of cinema full of hilarious one-liners and catchy musical numbers. And as I saw in its heavily-replayed commercial, the folks at Take-Two Interactive and High Voltage Software were turning this into a videogame that combined puzzles with action-platforming. Not gonna lie, this game kinda became a guilty pleasure in my library, and it’s my job to tell you about all the interesting features in this game’s…Inventing room, so to speak. Television-Chocolate goggles at the ready!

Sideways, longways, slantways

The beginning of the story is not surprising if you’ve already seen the film, although the plot as a whole has been tweaked for the purposes of the game. Charlie Bucket dreams of visiting Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, and the notorious candy man ironically announces that he is allowing five children to do just that, as long as they are in possession of a golden ticket hidden in a random Wonka Bar. Quickly, four tickets have been found, meaning Charlie has only one slim chance to make his dream a reality. And then out of nowhere, a $10 bill flies in and leads the boy to the local candy store. By some miracle, Charlie finds the final golden ticket and rushes home to gear up for the journey that awaits him. He chooses his Grandpa Joe as his chaperone, as the latter used to work for Mr. Wonka before the factory closed down. The tour seems to start off swimmingly…But just like in the movie, four of the five children end up in danger and cause huge problems within the factory due to their self-indulgent behavior. It’s up to you and Charlie to travel through many prominent rooms, solve a variety of puzzles, and repair the giant factory from all the issues that are about to develop.

Each level tasks you with doing some action-platforming and puzzle-solving through the factory’s most important rooms. You won’t be able to handle all of the incoming tasks by yourself, and who better to help you than the miniature assistants known as Oompa-Loompas. They’re pretty much this game’s equivalent of Pikmin, and are able to perform tasks like picking up important items, knocking candy out of trees, fixing leaky pipes, and repairing electrical devices. As the adventure goes on, you’ll be given special candy that will help you reach high places and do combat with machines gone rogue.

Everybody give a cheer

The graphics don’t do anything mind-blowing, but as long as you have the Xbox version, the resolution will be high and you’ll hardly encounter slow framerates. Each room in the factory looks very well-made, as do the character models. The game’s camera might occasionally interfere with your ability to admire how breathtaking the factory is, but it’s not a broken camera by any means.

I’ve probably said this about the majority of games I’ve reviewed on this site, but I’m gonna say it again here — I absolutely adore the audio in this game. Nearly all of the actors and actresses from the film reprise their roles, and the script is nearly identical to that of the movie. One thing to note is that Johnny Depp was not available to reprise his role as Willy Wonka, but James Arnold Taylor does a very nice imitation. I feel this version of Mr. Wonka is wise rather than over-the-top, and I don’t mean that as a complaint…Just giving my honest point of view. But what I love more than the voice-acting is (You guessed it!) the music. If you’re expecting a Danny Elfman score filled with Oompa-Loompa dances, you’re not gonna be satisfied, but you still get a laundry list of incredible songs courtesy of the talented Winifred Philips. The melodies are either really cheerful or on the dark-and-moody side depending on the room you’re in and the task you’re faced with, and all of them fit perfectly considering how up-and-down the film is in terms of emotion.

With a golden ticket, it’s a golden day

It’s not one of the best movie tie-in games in existence, but Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is not without merit despite its short length and imitations of established franchises. Even if you weren’t fan of the big-screen remake upon which it’s based, it’s still a satisfactory and charming game if you like platforming and puzzles. Just don’t try playing this game while simultaneously dancing like an Oompa-Loompa…That would probably be as safe as testing out the three-course dinner chewing gum.

Review of James Bond 007: From Russia with Love — We will win this for Mother Russia…And MI6

It’s no secret that when a game company acquires a license to make games based on a movie franchise, the devs will do anything to make some extra dough before the next film is released. Take Electronic Arts and the 007 franchise, for instance. A year after Everything or Nothing took to the shelves, the next film in the Bond franchise was still training at the MI6 HQ, so EA decided to take what they had built in the 2004 action game and do a little refining. But instead of writing an original story, they pulled a slick trick and chose to turn the clock all the way back to the 1960s. So how does James Bond 007: From Russia with Love fare at going from 60s cinema to third-person shooting? Let’s hop into our trusty Aston Martins and find out.

Strike, double, Turkey (The country)

The story follows that of the second James Bond film, although there are some tweaks due to legal/licensing reasons. The famous MI6 agent is attending a party as part of one of his usual assignments. While Bond is ordering his usual shaken-not-stirred martini, an evil organization called OCTOPUS crashes the party and abducts Elizabeth Stark, daughter of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. After the obligatory rescue mission, Bond learns that OCTOPUS is looking to steal an encoding device called the Lektor. Armed with the usual arsenal of cars and gadgets, it’s up to good ol’ 007 to be the true sharpshooter he is and return the Lektor in one piece.

As I mentioned, From Russia with Love is a refinement of the excellent Everything or Nothing. It still relies on cover-and-shoot gameplay, but makes some adjustments to the controls and adds new moves. You have a new ability called Bond Focus, which allows you to shoot even the smallest targets, like walkie-talkies. Melee attacks have now turned into quick-time events, initiated whenever you run towards an enemy. Your range of weapons, gadgets, outfits, and vehicles all reflect the 1960s era of the James Bond franchise, the first two of which can be upgraded by spending experience points.

Love is in the air

From Russia with Love is packed with enthralling missions, and not a single level disappoints in the graphics department. Being a 2005 sixth-gen game, there can occasionally be slowdown because of things like multiple explosions, but the graphics engine is still full of well-produced lighting and textures. Also joining you on your journey is a truckload of satisfactory audio. The soundtrack has a laundry list of fitting melodies, and you will constantly hear above-average voice-acting from popular names like Sean Connery, Natasha Bedingfield, and Maria Menounos.

If you want to bring your friends along for 1960s-era deathmatches, From Russia with Love will grant your wish. You get a hefty number of characters and maps, and there are two other game types other than your standard match. Sabotage is a contest to see who is the best at detonating and disarming bombs, and Dogfight is a match type where you’re constantly airborne via jetpack.

I believe in a thing called love

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I believe EA did a wonderful job taking gamers back to the beginning decade of the James Bond franchise. Going into this game expecting GoldenEye will fill you with disappointment, but you should be able to enjoy From Russia with Love if you like third-person action games of any kind. Put that martini on the coaster and get to sharpshooting!

Review of Pokémon Channel — Lights, camera, Thunderbolt

There’s always the chance that videogame IP’s can be great at one genre but stumble in another, and few franchises are as aware of that as Pokémon is. The globally-popular masterpiece has always been adept at the combination of turn-based strategy and role-playing, but the life-sim game Hey You, Pikachu left a bad taste in Nintendo 64 owners’ mouths. Three years later, the team at Ambrella busted out their Potions and designed a spiritual successor on the GameCube. Watching a variety of in-game TV shows with a wild Pikachu is the name of the game in Pokémon Channel.

No stadiums, no colosseums, but lots of television

The game places you in the first-person perspective of an unnamed child in Mintale Town. After a trio of Magnemite delivers a new TV into your bedroom, Prof. Oak appears on the screen that he is launching a network known as Pokémon Channel. Lucky for you, the professor has chosen you to test out the programs that a variety of Pokémon are producing. But just when you think you’re doing all this testing solo, this new television you’ve received somehow attracts a wild Pikachu. In contrast to its normally-shy personality, this Pikachu wants to help out with all the binge-watching and also explore Mintale Town with you.

With the previous paragraph in mind, it already seems like Pokémon Channel is just an updated version of Hey You, Pikachu, but it does bring some new moves that may remind you of The Sims, Harvest Moon, or Nintendo’s own Animal Crossing. When sitting in front of the tube, you have a wide variety of programs to test out, but most of them must be unlocked by waiting for the next day. It should be noted that the in-game clocks copies that of the GameCube’s clock, so when Prof. Oak says that new programs will launch tomorrow at 5:00 AM, he means it. To pass the time, you and Pikachu can buy new stuff for your bedroom, play a Pokémon Mini emulator, and venture around both your house and the entire town of Mintale. During your travels, you will not only have a laundry list of activities to do, but you and the electric mouse get to converse with other Pokémon. It’ll take at least five days (That includes waiting for each new show to launch) to 100% complete this game, but I’d say it’s worth the effort if you’re an open-minded Pokémon fan.

Since you and Pikachu have your work cut out for you, Pokémon Channel makes up for that by treating you with a well-designed graphics engine. The 3D models of each Pokémon look very crisp, as do every part of the environments from the ocean to the snowflakes. Every song on the soundtrack fits perfectly for each place you go and every show you tune in to.

Gotta binge-watch ‘em all

Despite the rough-around-the-edges performance of Hey You, Pikachu, Nintendo and Ambrella crafted an enthralling spiritual sequel in Pokémon Channel. As long as you can accept the absence of the turn-based combat that is the norm for the franchise, there’s a chance you’ll appreciate the direction it takes. But just for the record, I do not recommend gathering a bunch of magnets in an attempt to carry your television like Magnemite. Safety first!

Review of Daytona USA — Stock car racing discovers kansei dorifuto

It’s not like this needs to be said, but I’ll start this review by saying it — If you asked a big number of people what their favorite arcade-cabinet racing game is, a very common answer would be the game that picked up where Sega’s own Virtua Racer left off; The one that was less about open-wheel cars and more about infectious music that was almost impossible not to sing. Take American stock car racing, give it an emphasis on drifting (And thus make driving on ovals similar to driving on the Toge mountain passes), and you’ve got the one and only Daytona USA — A 1994 arcade racer that was released on the XBLA and PlayStation Store eight years ago, bringing with it a new coat of HD paint.

The race begins from a rolling start

Being a game designed for the arcades, Daytona USA is meant to be a pick-up-and-play racer that tries to be fun to play even if it looks light on content. You won’t find a lot of depth in the appropriately-titled Arcade Mode; you simply select one of the three tracks (an oval, a road course, and a street circuit), choose your transmission, set the length and difficulty of the race, and you’re clear to start your engine. Your task is to go from the back of the pack to the top 3, which requires you to be adept at slipstreaming, drifting, and (If you turn tire-wear on) pit-stop strategy. And of course, since this is an arcade racer, you must record some fast laps to keep the obligatory timer from expiring.

The racing controls are not only very tight and responsive like they were all the way back in 1994, and can be tailored to your liking with a very helpful options menu. Plus, you have the option to hook up a racing wheel and crank up the force feedback, which really captures the feeling of the arcade cabinets of old.

A whole pit crew of new features

Being a console port with a $10 price tag, it would be a sin (And potentially pandemonium) if Daytona USA didn’t come with some new features under the hood, and the engine revs up loudly in that area; Survival Mode is similar to an endless-runner game and challenges you to pass as many cars and log in as much distance as possible before the clock runs out, which can be a very useful tool if your racing skills need a new…Car setup, so to speak. There is also a set of 30 challenges to complete, ranging from things like passing a set number of cars to reaching a target speed. If you feel like exercising your vocal chords or just being an all-around goofball with your fellow stock-car fans, there’s even a karaoke mode where you do as many laps as you want while singing along to the game’s catchy music; In fact, you can choose between the arcade machine’s soundtrack or an arranged soundtrack composed for this HD port.

If you’re like me and you absolutely adore racing against seven other drivers on an eight-unit machine in the arcades (Particularly at the local Dave & Buster’s), you’ll probably be itching for some eight-player online racing; Luckily for us, Sega grants your wish. You can join public matchmaking lobbies or set up a lobby of your own; When you do the latter, you have full control over the track, race length, and game type. You can even decide if you want AI cars to be on the track with you and your fellow drivers, even if the race has only eight drivers on the leaderboard.

The checkered flag is out

Sega has long been well-versed in arcade racing, and the HD version of Daytona USA is a strong reminder of that. It may not have the depth of modern racing series like Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport, but the fast-paced racing action more than makes up for it. If you have 10 bucks to spare and need a classic arcade racer in your garage, you might want to give Daytona USA a test drive. No need to insert any quarters, just climb into that cockpit!