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By Banzi – Sports/Racing Editor [Editor’s note: Banzi is our newest contributor and he’ll be lending his expertise on sports titles and racing games! We’ll be doing a little catch up over the next few weeks and then we’ll spend some time talking about what the next generation has in store for our little sports fans!]

Produced by EA Sports

PS3/Xbox

Rated E
From the avid hockey fan to the novice just being introduced to the sport, NHL 13 by EA Sports has something for everyone. It sports amazing graphics, solid gameplay, and a multitude of game modes that provide hours of hockey for everyone in the family.

I’ve played most of the hockey games on the market and I have to say NHL 13 tops them all. NHL 13 provides the most realistic gameplay and is, above all else, the most fun. The controls are quite easy to learn; you will be scoring and dangling by the defense in no time. NHL 13 is simple to learn. There are tutorials on all aspects of the game from the rules of the game all the way to the controller functions.

EA Sports has done an outstanding job paying attention to all the small details. Player movement is fluid and realistic feeling. With improved A.I. defense and goalies gone are the days of running up the score. This year there has been a huge emphasis on team play and puck movement. EA has designed the game to force players to use the whole team and employ a more team oriented game strategy.

The controls may seem overwhelming, even confusing at first, however I assure you that with enough practice they will become second nature to you and your kids. Here are some highlights to get the little guys going:

  • In the most simplistic form, the left stick controls your player’s movement and the right stick controls you actual stick. For example, if you want to shoot, all you have to do is push up on the right stick. If you want to wind up for a huge slap shot, all you have to do is pull back on the right stick and then push up.
  • If you keep in mind that the right stick controls your stick on the ice most of the movement is intuitive. Even hitting is based on the right stick. All you have to do is push the right stick in the general direction you want to send you player and he will charge forward for a hit.
  • Just like in real life, practice makes perfect. If all these controls seem to be overwhelming you have the option to use the classic controls. Which are more a little easier for younger kids to grasp since it relies on button presses as opposed to joystick movement.
  • The more you play and experiment with you player the faster you will be dangling around the defense like Pavel Datsyuk.

There are a ton of game modes to choose from in NHL 13. Here are some of the highlights:

  • There is the General Manager mode which allows you to control every aspect of a NHL team. Manage your team through draft day all the way to raising Lord Stanley’s cup. This involves thing like contract negotiations, and long term team development. This is where some of the “meat and potatoes” of the simulation come in.
  • Be a Pro mode allows you to create a player and follow him all the way to the big leagues. Through your play you will earn points to upgrade you player’s skills.
  • Finally, there is the more classic “Versus” mode. Pick your favorite team and challenge the computer or a second player. Here you will control all the players on the ice and lead your team to victory or back to the drawing board.

These are some of the more popular game modes, but there are plenty more to choose from. They mix up the action a bit and keep the game from getting stale.

Most games include the option to play online these days; NHL 13 is no exception. You are able to bring your favorite team online and connect with thousands of players across the country and even the world. I would think long and hard about allowing your child to play online thanks to the varied personality types they might encounter. They could manage to end up in a game with someone else that is pleasant and interested in honest fun. But they could also end up with a profanity spewing monster. There is no real way to filter that out (currently)

I believe there is more than enough gameplay off line to keep your child occupied. So that doesn’t really take away from the value of the game.

Overall NHL 13 brings all the aspects of a great game together. With the ease of play and realistic gameplay this game is a great way to learn the game of hockey. There are countless hours of gameplay ahead for your budding hockey star!
For more information about this game and other games by EA Sports visit

www.easports.com

 

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Every once in a while a game comes around that takes an ages-old formula and turns it on its head. Drinkbox studio’s most recent downloadable game, Guacamelee, does just that.

Game historians will argue about the specific origin of the genre, but the idea of a game where players explore a 2-dimensional maze that forces them to backtrack constantly once new abilities are learned has been around for a while. The two franchises that contributed the most to the genre’s development are Nintendo’s Metroid series and several of Konami’s gothic Castlevania games. As a result, games in this new sub genre are often referred to as “Metroidvania” games.

Put simply, Guacamelee is brilliant. It takes everything that you can love from the genre and infuses it with charming humor, feverish melee combat, and a beautiful art style.

The story is straight forward. You play as an agave farmer named Juan who dons a powerful luchador mask that grants him magical powers. The masked hero goes on a quest to save el Presidente’s daughter (the woman he dreams of being with despite his low class) from the evil Carlos Calaca.

The story involves the exploration of a small farming town in Mexico. The game also includes an interesting dimensional shift mechanic that lets players travel though the same area in both the land of the living and the land of the dead. This presents numerous interesting game play scenarios.

The combat is where this game sets itself apart from its predecessors. The vast majority of games in this genre involve ranged weapons. Samus has a blaster built into her suit and the members of the Belmont clan each fight with a long chain whip and a variety of ranged weapons. Juan doesn’t have the luxury of attacking from range. He has to close in on his opponents and fight at melee range. The game even includes a grappling system that allows you to perform wrestling maneuvers that either deal significant damage or send your opponents flying across the room (possibly even damaging other targets). This adds a level of excitement to the combat that is absent in games where players can hang back at range and shoot.

The vast majority of the game, however, does not involve combat as much as it involves traversal across the game’s map. This is done by jumping across platforms and bouncing back and forth between walls. This becomes more and more complex as the game goes on as the various challenges force you to move in between dimensions in order to traverse the levels. For example, you will need to jump back and forth from wall to wall to climb up the inside of a cavern, but the two sides of the wall will only exist in one dimension or the other. This constant shifting is very challenging. With that said, the challenges were very rewarding. Some of the greatest joys this game brought me were the fleeting moments of triumph after failing to do a section for a while.

One of the game’s greatest triumphs for family gamers is the drop-in/drop-out co-op game play. Your kids can pick up a second controller at any time and hop into the action. Being defeated is hardly of consequence as they are able to join back in after a brief timeout. There are even power ups that can be acquired in the game to reduce the time between lives. (Hint: Get these ASAP.) They can skip the complex platforming segments by pressing a button and hopping into a bubble that they can fly around the screen or by simple dropping out of the game for a moment. I played through several segments like this with my 7 year old and we had a blast. He was able to participate in the fun cartoon combat without having to put up with the hard stuff.

Guacamelee is rated E10+ by the ESRB. This is due in large part to the animated combat. There is no blood or gore. Instead, the colorful enemies simply pop backwards upon defeat and blink out of existence. Even further, none of the enemies are real people. They are all monsters or skeletons in ponchos. There just isn’t a lot to worry about with the combat here.

There is no foul language to speak of, but some of the dialogue includes some sexual innuendo. But, it is limited to one scene, and I would expect it to go over the heads of most kids.

The game in animated in a whimsical art style that is very reminiscent of Mexican folk art. I felt like I was watching a Saturday morning cartoon for most of my time with the game.

This game is a prime example where the rating does not give a real picture of the difficulty of the game. The bottom line here is that Guacamelee is hard. The platforming challenges are very difficult. The combat can be hard to manage. The bosses are incredibly hard. I cannot recommend this game for solo play to young kids who are new to video games. This one is definitely more advanced than a lot of other platform games out there and, as a result, can be very frustrating to children (and adults).

A lot of the challenge comes from the complexity of the controls. Most platform games focus their controls on the face buttons of the controller (which can be a challenge to inexperienced players to begin with). Guacamelee adds the trigger buttons on the top edge of the controller to the mix.

A lot of the challenge comes from the complexity of the controls. Most platform games focus their controls on the face buttons of the controller (which can be a challenge to inexperienced players to begin with). Guacamelee adds the trigger buttons on the top edge of the controller to the mix.

I enjoyed every minute that I played Guacamelee, and my kids were along for the ride during most of it. As long as they don’t mind watching during the difficult traversal segments this will be an excellent game to share with them.

It is currently Available for download on the Playstation Network and on Xbox Live Arcade.

 

 

 

 

 

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By Bill Gibbs, Staff Writer

Editors Note: I know what you might be saying. “This game is rated M. How could this be reviewed on a family gaming website?” The reality is that we will be reviewing major M rated releases because teenagers are part of the family too! We recognize that there are parents who are willing to let their 15 and 16 year olds play rated M games. So there is no reason to hide the information from anyone.

 

ESRB Rating: M for Mature

This review is intentionally vague on the details of the game as to not require a spoiler warning. Main themes, visual elements, dialog, gameplay, and age suitability are discussed below.

Overall Review:

Remember Me is a game which starts with a truly interesting yet classical feeling science fiction concept: digitizing human memory and the consequences thereof. The world created is deceptively deep given the game’s story (more on that in a bit) although most of the world of the 2080’s is revealed by optionally found journal entries. These entries detail a world ravaged by global weather changes, war, and the dramatic shift of society due to the invention of the “Sensation Engine” (called Sensen). Sensen allows for the digitalization of thoughts and the overlay of digital information in real time into the mind, an idea which the game uses constantly.

Which brings us to the problem with Remember Me. Without any major spoilers, the game itself does little to capitalize on all of this set up. The story for the game itself is fairly straightforward, and although it throws a few curves to keep things interesting the game never really deviates from a basic “topple the evil corporation” line until the last second. Overall the story is average with a few interesting bits, but it’s nothing to be amazed at.

While the soundtrack is not terribly memorable, it does its job during game play to set all the needed moods and set the pace for combat. Voice acting is well done with a particularly good job by the game’s main character Nilin.

Graphics are nearly not worth judging in today’s AAA games unless they are subpar. That is not the case here. The game is good looking, its best features being water effects, lighting, and shadows. These are the basic hallmarks of graphical ability and the game does them well. The neat thing about the visuals in this game isn’t the quality. It is the way the Sensen is intergraded into the world. Shops have their names and menu’s floating in the air directly in front of them, out of order elevators have warnings floating directly in front of them. It takes everything that is being talked about today regarding augmented reality and takes it to its logical conclusion. It’s another example of the depth and detailed thought put into this game in every area accept the gameplay or the main story. A lot of effort went into creating an amazing setting; they just failed to tell an interesting story in that setting.

This brings up the gameplay. This is unfortunately where the game is really lacking, which is a problem since this is a GAME. The primary problem is the simplicity of the combat, the insultingly straightforwardness of the platforming, and the shear linearity of the game as a whole. Starting with the combat, you can customize your combos by selecting “pressens” which is the game’s version of individual hits in the combos, into four combos. 3, 5, 6, and 8 hit combos are available which sounds like a great level of customization but in combat it breaks down into rinse and repeat the same four combos over and over for the whole game. There are a few special pressens which grant short term extra power or the ability to one shot certain enemies, but they do little to break up the monotony of combat and in many of the fights are unfortunate requirements due to enemy invulnerabilities to standard attacks.

The platforming sections which separate the fights have only one way to go: forward. There are no mistakes to be made, no having to figure out where to go or going the wrong way. To top it all off the Sensen displays in real time the next jump or move to make, so although you are playing traditional platforming sections (ala Prince of Persia), these sections are little more than an exercise in going through the motions.

There is one saving grace to the gameplay and that is the “memory remix”. In these sequences the game shows someone’s memory of a key event in their life. You then have the power to fast forward, rewind, and pause the memory while you change key details to dramatically alter the target’s personality. Not only are these sequences challenging puzzles but they are brilliant examples of the core theme of the game. How much of whom we are is dependent on our memories? What happens when you start tinkering with the most important events of a person’s life? These questions are directly addressed by the remix sections. There are 4 of them in the game, and they are the clear high points as well as being some of the darkest parts of the story.

Family Gaming Assessment:

Remember Me deals with some very dark topics at times as well as being visually graphic where its enemy designs and environments are concerned. That being said, there is little in the game’s fighting that would not be found in any PG-13 adventure or monster movie. A few moments of foul language complicate matters for the young teen audience but aside from some mutated humans called “leapers” the overall themes and events of the game are acceptable to anyone over the age of about 17.

The game does deal with some dark topics however. Differences in economic class to the point of near slavery, personal manipulation leading to suicide, and generally involved questioning just how far society can fall when given to its own vices are the core themes explored in the game. It is a dystopian world strife with inequality and violence. Although the punch kick combat is fairly sanitized (no blood, guns, or gore) the environments range from filthy flooded sewers full of mutated humans to secret high tech labs where the poor have been experimented on. These environments are not directly inappropriate for early teen players, but they also imply a lot of unseen violence and human suffering. The other issue, as noted before, is the use of profanity in some stages of the game. Though none of these sections are particularly gratuitous and in fact the language used is fairly acceptable given the situations, the fact remains it is profanity and it does happen a few times throughout the course of the game. If you don’t want your 15 year old hearing an F-bomb dropped during the memory of a man arguing with his girlfriend, then this game is not for them. Despite the thin main story, the characters and the setting itself are very real, very charged with emotion, and full of adult themes as noted above.

Playability Assessment:

All things being equal, this game uses a very simple series of mechanics. As mentioned above, the Sensen is used as an “in-game” way for the game to basically hold your hand throughout every section and basically tell you where to go. The combo system is limited and very simple. Anyone with the ability to play “Simon Says” can get through this game with little overall difficulty. The “custom” part of building your combos, while cool, is very easy to exploit which eliminates most of the challenge in the game fairly early on. There are maybe two hard fights in the game on normal difficulty, and they are less hard because they require skill and more because they require the use of a specific special move in order to do any damage to the bosses, and that move has a 2 min cooldown. Frustrating, yes. Difficult, no. Anyone with even a modicum of prior video game experience will quickly master everything this game offers in terms of challenge. Everyone else just has to be able to follow on screen instructions and learn some basic button timing. The price of failure is also not too steep, as you will quickly automatically load the last checkpoint. Checkpoints are well spaced out and after each fight, platforming sections, or major cutscene. This is good pacing but it also means that if you die during a fight all that happens is you end up restarting the fight.

Conclusion:

Remember Me is an ok game meant for a more mature audience based on its themes and dialog but will likely be ok for anyone 17 and up (again, with the profanity exception). The gameplay is lackluster and very point A to point B with little change as the game progresses. The story is thin, but the setting is fantastic. Remember Me will likely not provide much of a challenge to an experience gamer but does rely on some very common core gaming mechanics which allows anyone to pick up the game and learn some important basics.

Bottom line: the game is worth it if you are interested in experiencing a brilliant setting of a dystopian future where man’s quest for technological improvement to the self has resulted in terrible unforeseen consequences. Excellent characters that are well voiced and react fantastically to their dystopian world but unfortunately do so while undergoing very little of an overall story. If you’re looking for innovation in gameplay, a challenge, or a deep and complicated story, you’re going to end up skipping Remember Me or picking it up in the discount bin in a few months.

Parents: Though visually the game is tame and lacks most of the gore, guns, knives, and other implements of violence in its combat, the game is still not suitable for pre or even young teens. The themes are dark and disturbing, the language is adult and laced with profanity, and the atmosphere often depicts vast human suffering. ESRB has it rated as M for “Mature Audiences” citing blood, partial nudity, strong language, and violence.

This review, based on the PC version.

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Contributor: Joe O’Malley- High School Intern (yep, an honest to goodness Teenager, folks!)

The Justice League is back!

KABOOM!—We begin our story with the chilling fact that the Joker has used a nuclear bomb on Metropolis- killing millions of people. Needless to say, Superman is furious! The scene starts with him using his heat vision to make an entrance through the wall of the police building where Batman is already trying to get answers from the prince of crime, who’s even more insane than usual. Superman proceeds to throw Joker around while the clown mocks him for not being able to stop the bomb. The Joker also teases Superman about the death of Lois and his son. In his rage, the last son of Krypton punches straight through the Joker (though you don’t actually see it) and lets out his last sinister laugh.

ELSEWHERE,—We join the J.L. in the midst of a fight over a Metropolis (which hasn’t been destroyed. Yet.) as well as The Watchtower. All of this fighting seems to be led by Lex Luthor, aided by all of the headline villains we know and “love”, including Sinsestro and Doomsday and Ares and Bane.

MEANWHILE,—The Caped Crusader goes to check out on the Joker at Arkham, only to find the Joker has escaped again. Batman is ambushed by the assassin Death Stroke. Following a quick battle, and then another with Bane and Luthor, Cyborg and Batman discover Joker preparing his nuclear weapon. Batman arrives at Joker’s location just as joker is about to detonate the nuke.

BAM!—They are teleported somewhere else which is now out of range for the trigger to work. And this is only the beginning of this EPIC and CHAOTIC story.

Growing up as a kid who preferred DC over Marvel any day of the week, I think that this game lives up to the standards of the franchise. The plot does take a slightly darker turn when we find out that Superman is an evil dictator. The storyline was an interesting change of pace from the recent Arkham Asylum series. With the Mortal Combat gameplay style and the creative character match-ups this makes for fun gameplay. The voice acting stays very accurate to the expected characteristics that go along with the all of the DC icons. However, we do not get the low scratchy voice of Christian Bale who has recently played the Dark Knight in the Batman movie trilogy. And this is the first time the Joker is not voiced by Mark Hamill in a video game in many years.

After you finish the campaign take a look at the other options of play in the single player menu. Personally, I enjoyed the battles where you have many choices of fights as any player that you want. The different modes include classic where you do battle with 10 randomly selected opponents of both heroes and villains, or if you only want to fight a select groups there’s also Heroes Only and Villains Only. But, if this isn’t tough enough for you, you may also play Poisoned where you are constantly losing health. You can also play Survivor and have your health bar carry over and you can only regain health if you preform special moves.

Parents, you needn’t be concerned for most children when they play this game. It’s classic comic book fighting that brings all of your favorite heroes and villains together. But, it is worth noting that the action is intense enough that some younger children might be better off not watching or playing. It’s somewhat graphic and there is a little foul language, but nothing major. Kids, you will be happy to know that this game also has a one on one multiplayer mode making for a friendly competition with your friends.

The game has adjustable difficulty depending on your preferences, but overall is a good challenge that won’t frustrate you once you get use to the button functions. Speaking of which, the game is very much of an all-out button mash at some points. For those of you who may not know, button-mashing is simply pressing random keys hoping for the best results. The tutorial makes reading the instructions not as important. At first the tutorial may seem like the hardest part of the game because you have to do each move 3 times to keep moving on, but you have the choice to skip it so you can get right to the actual game. Although, just a fair warning, it turns out to be quite helpful in the long run.

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By: Lara Murray

Staff Writer

 

Ni no Kuni is the collective project of developer and producer Level-5, of the Professor Layton games, and the Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli, whose notable movies include Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and My Neighbor Totoro. Ni no Kuni tells the story of thirteen year old Oliver, who sets off to restore the life of his late mother by rescuing her soulmate in an alternative world filled with magic and monsters. Along the way he visits multiple kingdoms and befriends many people, whom come to rely on him as not just a destined hero but for his genuinely good intentions to help those whose broken hearts must be mended.

The 3-D, cell-shaded graphics are as brightly colorful as a Disney film, and at pivotal plot moments there are animated cut scenes the help move the story along. All the characters and the creatures in the game have a fun stylization that makes them cute or cool, but not scary. The music is beautifully orchestrated and most scenes, whether animated or computer graphics, have voiced dialogue that makes the story fun and easy to follow.

The theme heavily focuses on family and friendship, and consults issues like death and running away from life’s problems. It may be too much for younger children to understand without an adult there to explain the concepts, but older kids can grasp the ideas presented in the game. Violence is conceived in a bloodless manner where characters faint from exhaustion if their health drops to zero, or monsters simply disappear in a puff of smoke when defeated. There is no sexual content or suggestive language, but there are several times where the word “damn” is dropped in conversation by an adult character.

Ni no Kuni offers only two modes of difficulty for players: “Easy” and “Normal”. Once a new game is started, it’s easy to switch between modes if the game proves to be too easy or too hard. At first it starts off with just Oliver and a familiar, but as the game progresses more party members are brought in and the ability to capture creatures and train them as familiars (similar to the Pokemon series) is gained. Players can switch between party members and control them or their equipped familiars, and when they’re not under the player’s control these party members will act independently based on the commands players chooses from a separate menu.

The battle system is designed on executing your moves at the right time to cancel an enemy’s attack or block significant damage, and by pulling off these counters will cause “glims” to appear, which will either restore health, magic, or more rarely, unleash a super charged move. More battle commands become available at a staggered rate throughout the entire game, but a child has to be able to read and understand complex instruction. Kids who have already played a few role-playing games shouldn’t have much difficulty picking up the battle system, and worst case scenario, it’s very feasible for a player to patiently force their way to victory through any battle by using the same character to run in circles and use normal attacks.

Ni no Kuni is a great game with a lot to offer, but younger children will be better off watching on the sidelines as an adult or an order sibling plays through the game, or to avoid altogether if they’re too young to understand the more mature themes. There’s enough content, from concluding the story to the aspect of collecting all the familiars to the completion of the many sidequests and secrets tucked into the game, that will keep most members of the family engaged.

 

Overall score: 8.5

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By: Lara Murray

Staff Writer

Nintendo struck gold when they released the Wii in November of 2006. A revolutionary system that used motion controls in its games, it became a success due to the simple fact that anyone could enjoy it, regardless of gender, age or experience in gaming. Following its success, Nintendo launched the Wii U in November 2012 to similar acclaim.

If a family doesn’t own the Wii, then the Wii U is a gaming must. Keeping with its predecessor by inheriting the motion control feature, the Wii U also introduced a separate handheld gamepad that functions similar to a tablet. The game pad works like an interface for controlling the Wii U’s menu, but it can also control the television while the system is on. The game pad also works like a second monitor, making it possible to switch the display of certain games from the television to the gamepad. Play can then be resumed, freeing up the television for family use. Multiple user accounts can exist on the same system, but game save data is shared among all accessible accounts.

Unlike the Playstion 3 or the X Box 360, the Wii U cannot play DVDs or Blu-Rays, but it has access to stream media from Netflix. Parental controls on the Wii U allow concerned moms and dads to restrict certain content from children’s accounts like games based on their ratings as well as other modes of entertainment like the aforementioned Netflix and YouTube, purchasing software from the Shop Channel, posting or accessing the MiiVerse (a social media outlet where Wii U users can comment on their favorite games), and overall Internet access.

The Wii U is backwards compatible with Wii games, meaning that a family can play any Wii game on their Wii U system in addition to the games available for the Wii U, but Wii U games cannot be played on a Wii console. The Wii U’s catalog of exclusive games is small at this time, as is the case with any new console, but over the next few years it’s expected that game releases will fade out on the Wii in favor of exclusive releases on the Wii U. The Wii U also has a “Virtual Console”, which is an emulator that plays classic games from former Nintendo systems and some Sega systems after they are purchased from the Shop Channel.

At a price of ~$350 for the deluxe bundle packaged with goodies like a 32GB hard drive and the game Nintendoland, or ~$300 for the just the system with an 8GB hard drive, parents on a budget may opt to fill a home’s console vacancy with an original Wii, which retails at about half the price of the Wii U but comes with the cost of missing out on worthwhile exclusives, specifically Nintendoland and New Super Mario Bros. U which are both available now. With a reputable back catalog, the Wii U is a favorable option for a family looking for a next-generation gaming console with something everyone in the family can enjoy.

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