Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Godfather: Blackhand Edition review

You may remember me mentioning The Godfather: Blackhand Edition in my recent post regarding Wii ports. Thankfully, The Godfather is of the rare "good" variety of Wii ports. And this review will tell you why that is so.

One of the most legendary of movie franchises is the classic Godfather series. The first of the trilogy has received many honors throughout the years, and is called the greatest movie ever made by IMDb and Entertainment Weekly. It also won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Marlon Brando) and Best Writing. The list of awards goes on and on, but, in short, it was a magnificent movie. And it is that movie on which The Godfather: Blackhand Edition is based.

As usual, I'll be starting with the graphics, which haven't changed at all since the original XBox release. I suppose it's to be expected, though, considering the Wii is just about as strong as an XBox. With that taken into account, the graphics are fairly impressive, especially during the in-game graphics cutscenes. When Vito Corleone talks to the young protagonist in the opening moments, it's hard to believe that it's a video game. Vito looks exactly like Marlon Brando, and you'd swear that the young boy is real. Without a doubt, the people are the best looking part of this game.

But that's not to say the rest of the game is ugly, no no no! The cars are rendered well, as are most of the buildings. I say "most of", because as I watched my brother-in-law play today, his character leaned up against a wall. An incredibly blurry wall. This building looked like a glass box filled with smoke when up close. It wasn't until he walked away from the wall that it become apparent what the heck was going on.

Another somewhat lacking graphical aspect are the shadows. No matter where you stand, and no matter what time of day it is, your shadow is always directly below you. However, the lighting effects are quite nice, and you can see the emergency lights of police cars casting themselves onto the walls and surrounding vehicles very clearly.

There are some minor framerate issues when things get really hectic, but usually it keeps chugging at a good pace.

This next section of the review is the proving ground of Wii ports: Controls. Thankfully, Electronic Arts decided not to shoehorn in motion controls where they weren't welcome, so there's no tilting to steer you car or anything like that, just the analog stick. All hand-to-hand combat is motion controlled, but very simply so. It's basically a somewhat more forgiving Wii Sports Boxing control scheme. Jab the Wiimote for a right, jab the nunchaku for a left. Swing either control sideways for an across-the-body punch, etc.

Also benefiting from motion controls are the execution moves. Execution moves are also known as Blackhand moves, thus the name of the game. In certain situations when your opponent is weak, an on-screen prompt will appear telling you to press A. then a pair of cartoon hands holding a Wiimote and nunchaku will appear in the bottom-right hand side of the screen, simulating the motion you must perform to execute the Blackhand move. However, once this is done, your character acts out the move without any possible user input. Basically, the player performs the motion, then their character executes the mobster. This is still better than how it was in the PS2 version, though. In that game, you just press a button, and the execution is done. Pretty lame comparatively, but I still wished for a bit more control during these situations.

A no-brainer for motion control is gun aiming. Simply point and shoot while in free-aim mode, and there you go. However, when you target an opponent, things get kinda technical. While targeting, you can freely move the cursor to anywhere on the enemy's body to shoot at particular places. Shooting a weapon-wielding mobster in the shoulder will cause him to drop his weapon, shooting him in the knee will cause him to fall to the ground, and shooting him in the head will do much greater damage than anywhere else, usually resulting in a one-hit kill. And all it takes is a simple shake of the nunchaku to reload. All in all, The Godfather features some of the most brilliant controls seen yet on the Wii.

The audio is another high point in this game. Except for Marlon Brando and Al Pacino, every single member of the original cast has lent their talent to Blackhand Edition. Every line has been re-recorded from the original movie, giving a brilliantly crisp sound. Even the nobodies on the street have spoken words. The only problem is, sometimes you can overhear another person while you're having your own conversation, and it can be kinda hard to concentrate on who you're talking to. Well, I guess that's what captions are for.

Of course, the music isn't something to neglect, even with such a star-studded cast. Every track in this game has a distinct "mobster" feel to it, and no matter whether you're being chased by cops, infiltrating an enemy compound, or just simply going for a drive, there's always appropriate music to go along with whatever you're doing.

The sound effects do their job, I suppose. Guns sound like guns, cars sound like cars. Nothing spectacular, but nothing bad, either.

What's this game's longevity? This game will last any gamer quite some time. It took me over 30 hours to beat it my first time through, and about 15 hours my second time. Even after all has been said and done, you still must take over every business in the city, buy every gun upgrade, whack every target, and earn all execution styles.

What's missing? I feel that something sorely missing in this game is a co-op mode. Throughout the game you can hire men to follow you into battle and such, so it wouldn't have been much of a stretch. It could have been in split-screen, and while in co-op you and your partner would divide up your weapons, so there wouldn't be any unfair advantage. For example, one player could take the Tommy Gun and the Pistol, and the other could take the Magnum and the Shotgun. If one dies, the remaining player can pick up the dropped weapons and ammo. Yeah, this is a little ambitious, but it would've been sweet!


Graphics: 8.0/10

People are rendered very well, as are the weapons and vehicles. However, most everything else is somewhat poor, sometimes resembling an early Gamecube title at worst.

Controls: 9.5/10

Some executions never cease to be fun, no matter how many times you do them, thanks to the amazing Blackhand moves. Shooting with the Wiimote also works very well, with pixel-perfect aiming, and an aptly-sized bounding box. If only it were possible to interact more during the scripted events, this would be near perfect.

Audio: 8.5/10

The all-star cast was well worth Electronic Arts' money. The real characters make this game even more legendary. Also, there always seems to be the right music for the right situation, whether it be as minor as a routine hit, or even the legendary horse's head scene. But, the sound effects are nothing to scream about.

Longevity: 10/10

This game will last you for days on end. Even if you were to just do each main mission back to back, and never lose, this would still last you at least 10 hours. But why do that? There's so much more to do in here than what was in the movie, and the game benefits greatly from this aspect.

OVERALL: 8.25/10

The Godfather: Blackhand Edition is the perfect example of how to do a Wii port right. Amazing controls and on-par graphics, something that hasn't been matched yet in a port. The sound and graphics match the franchise perfectly, giving a truly authentic Godfather experience. This game is not to be missed by anyone (Well, unless M is too high a rating for you. In that case, look elsewhere.). If I could add just one thing to this game, it'd be multiplayer. That really hurt this game's score. Perhaps we'll see one in the sequel, hmm, EA?

The Duck Has Spoken.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Various news

Hey, readers! Just got a few things to say here, so listen up, okay?

First, there will most likely be no new blog today. My brain is totally fried, and I can hardly recall what I had for breakfast, let alone what I had in mind for an opinion piece.

Second, you may have noticed a few things going on with the sidebar as of late. Well, so far I've added a Chat Box and a few ads. The Chat Box is for the readers (That's you!) to chat amongst eachother, and maybe even shoot me a question every once in a while. As for the ads, no, I'm not writing this blog just to get a few bucks. I'm doing it for a hobby. But, I figured if I could make a buck or two, hey, why the heck not? Also, the site may go through a few color schemes and such over the next little while, so don't freak out if the place looks kinda different!

Well, that's all for now, folks. See you guys around later!

The Duck Has Spoken.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Wii Channels: From current state to the future

I was browsing around my Wii Channels this morning, and as I was doing so, I began thinking of where they may be headed in the future. As of now, we have the Mii Channel, Photo Channel, Shop Channel, Forecast Channel, News Channel, Internet Channel and the Everybody Votes Channel. But what Wii Channels will we see in the coming months and years? Here's what I think of how the Wii Channels are doing now, and what they can do in the future to make our Wii experience even better.

As I said, we already have a large amount of Wii Channels at our disposal. Some are necessary (The Disc Channel and Mii Channel), some are for expanding our experiences (The Everybody Votes Channel and Shop Channel) and others are just convenient little programs (The Forecast Channel, News Channel and Internet Channel). They all serve their purpose (Some slightly better than others), and they help make the Wii what it is. But what about more Wii Channels? Here are a few ideas I've thought of, as well as my thoughts on a few others people have dreamed up.

A Wii/DS Demo Channel

This channel is actually supposed to be coming in the near future (Nintendo even said so themselves). But how will it work? Here are my ideas. When it comes to DS demos, the software is simply downloaded onto the Wii from the internet, and from there sent to the DS via the handheld's software download function. The software can then either be wiped from the Wii's memory, or stored so it can be downloaded again later on.

As for Wii demos, things won't be quite as simple. Once a demo has been chosen, only the most crucial files will be downloaded, and the rest will be streamed onto the Wii through the internet as the user play through the software (Similar to how a CD-ROM installs some information onto a computer, and then streams the rest onto the PC while in the disc drive.). As the streamed data is used, it is deleted from the Wii's internal memory in order to save space on the console's already cramped 512MB of flash memory. When the demo is exited, any remaining streamed data is also deleted, but the crucial files will remain (These can be deleted later on manually.). This may not be possible, as I'm saying this as a person with very little knowledge of the behavior of computer data. If there's a techno-geek out there who can tell me whether or not this is even feasible, please do!

A Music Channel

This channel isn't an original thought by yours truly, but my ideas are! Anywho, it's already technically possible to listen to your own music on the Wii, but only during Excite Truck races and Photo Channel slideshows (This one is extremely clunky to boot). What the Wii needs is a dedicated Music Channel where we can play music from our SD cards!

This channel would be quite simple, really. All it would have to be able to do is read sound files from an inserted SD card and play it through the TV's speakers. However, there are plenty of other things it could do to further the experience! You could make playlists of your favorite songs, bands and genres and perhaps even download exclusive Nintendo tracks from a Wii Points-operated online shopping center! The songs wouldn't cost too much, probably no more than 100 Points each. But through this service, you could get classic tracks from original NES games, music from upcoming releases and even fan-made Nintendo-themed songs! There's a lot of potential in a Wii Music Channel, and I hope Nintendo realizes it soon.

Wii TV Channel

No, this isn't some stupid idea of watching TV on a Wii, which is already hooked up to a TV. This is something much more! Imagine a channel with nothing but Nintendo shows on it, 24/7, 365 days of the year! There could be classic old Nintendo shows like The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, the Legend of Zelda Cartoon, Captain N: The Game Master and maybe even SEGA-themed shows like the Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon! There could also be brand-new programs on it like a Wii game review show and some more unique ideas such as Reggie Speaks (A monthly program where Reggie addresses the state of Nintendo and such.)!

Sure, this is a very ambitious idea, but damned if it wouldn't be awesome, huh?

Well, that's all I've got for now. As always, feel free to comment!

The Duck Has Spoken.

Ports on the Wii: A blessing, or a curse?

Lately, the Wii has been seeing a lot of ports. Is this a good thing? Sure, it adds greatly to the size of the Wii's game library, but what about their quality? That's the subject of my first opinion piece: Are ports good or bad for the Wii?

Perhaps two of the most well known and highest rated ports on the Wii are Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition (Japanese box art pictured above) and The Godfather: Blackhand Edition. Both of these games have received very high scores from some very picky reviewers (The former even gathered a 8.0, 9.0, 9.0 from EGM). I can verify myself that The Godfather is an extremely well-made Wii game. I've had it for over a month and I still play it! As for Resident Evil 4, I played it through once or twice on the GameCube, and I loved it both times! These games are quality additions to the Wii's rapidly growing game library. However, some games aren't so well-made...

...and possibly the most infamous of the bunch is Ubisoft's Far Cry Vengeance. This game had terrible, terrible graphics, sloppy controls, borderline retarded AI, ubiquitous bugs and, to make it all even worse, the game was already available for both the XBox and XBox 360 for over a year at the time, meaning most interested gamers have already long finished it. It is undoubtedly the worst port ever to violate the Wii with it's presence.

It isn't the only one, though. Other crappy ports to hit the Wii are Splinter Cell: Double Agent, GT Pro Series, Bionicle Heroes and Monster 4x4 World Circuit. But have developers learned their lesson? It wouldn't seem so, since Data Design Interactive is shoveling over their crappy PS2 budget software over on to the Wii, 30 games at a time! This load of crap includes "gems" such as Billy the Wizard, Action Girlz Racing, Earache: Extreme Metal Racing and Myth Makers Super Kart GP. Many of these games are just re-skinned versions of eachother, and they didn't even do well on the PS2. But oh no, Data Design believes we Wii owners must "experience" the "thrills" of their "all-star" lineup of software (Probably should've quoted that word, too, considering this junk barely qualifies as software). Gee, thanks, Data Design, I don't know what I would've done otherwise... Stab my face with a pitchfork, perhaps?

But, there is a silver lining to this thundercloud the size of Russia. A lot of the developers are learning what does and doesn't work on the Wii, which will lead to higher quality games down the line (Hopefully). So, for now, we'll just have to put on a smile, get down on our knees and eat some manure. But there'll always be a nice piece of high quality chocolate mixed in with the rest of the mess, and you'd better be sure to enjoy it. Eventually, we'll have gone through the manure, and it'll be nothing but fine chocolates from then on. Unless Data Design decides to take another nice steamy dump on our plate...

The Duck Has Spoken.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Pokemon Diamond review

Whew, sorry it took so long to get around to this! I've been kinda busy the last little while, so I haven't had much time for this, let alone many other things. Anyways, on with the review! Also, as a note, this review is of Pokemon Diamond, but it also applies to it's companion game, Pokemon Pearl. Writing both all the time gets pretty annoying!

We all know how the Pokemon games play out: You start off in your bedroom as an eleven year-old boy obsessed with anything and everything Pokemon. You then meet up with the local Pokemon professor one way or another, get your very own Pokemon, and embark on your journey to become a Pokemon trainer. Along the way, you see many Pokemon, battle many trainers and have plenty of adventures. This is how Pokemon's played out for nearly ten years, and this generation is almost exactly the same.

And yet, Pokemon Diamond remains fresh!

There's so much about this game that's familiar, but there's also a lot that's new. For starters, there's 108 new Pokemon, bringing the grand total to a startling 493, as well as the brand-new land of Sinnoh! Also new are the Poketch and online trading/battling. But, there'll be more on that later! For now, let's move on to the controls, shall we?

As always, you can move your character in four directions: Up, down, left and right. This is, of course, handled with the D-Pad, and not the touch screen, which I'm sure would've been a finicky control decision. However, action selection during battle uses the touch screen in a big way. Instead of rifling through your attacks, items, Pokemon and such using the D-Pad and A button, you now have the much faster option of simply tapping the attack/item/Pokemon you wish to use or check out. Item selection is further streamlined by separating your items into four categories: Health restorers, status healers, battle items (Such as X Attack and Dire Hit) and Pokeballs. The classic method of button taps is also available, handy for when your other hand is holding a TV remote or something like that. The result is a very streamlined battle system, allowing for lightning-fast selection and execution.

On the negative side, item selection outside of battle is still primarily a button-oriented task. You can spin a small touch screen Pokeball to cycle through your items in a particular pocket, as well as pressing one of seven touch-buttons to instantly shift to another pocket in your bag, followed by another button used simply to close the item screen. The pocket selection buttons work well enough, but the spinning Pokeball doesn't go nearly fast enough when you have over 40 items in a pocket, as is my case.

Which brings me to another low-point: There's no PC item storage in this game, unlike it's four preceding generations, which can lead to pockets full of items you will never use (But don't feel comfortable selling) such as the various elemental plates you'll come across in your adventures (Necessary for utilizing one of the legendary "event" Pokemon, Arceus).

Also using the touch screen is the new Pokemon Watch, or "Poketch" for short. When you first receive the Poketch in the game's third town/city, Jubilife, it only has a few unimportant applications (Apps for short) such as a digital clock and a pedometer. However, throughout your journey in the land of Sinnoh you will come across many people who will give you many other Apps for your Poketch. These Apps cover a broad variety of purposes, such as a map, the Dowsing App (Diamond's version of the classic Itemfinder) and a monitoring system for your Pokemon placed in the obligatory Pokemon Daycare (Great for checking if your Pokemon are in the baby-making business). The Poketch is always displayed on the lower screen (Except while in the Sinnoh Underground or in a battle.), so it's nearly always at the ready! However, once you accumulate a large number of Apps, it can become somewhat cumbersome to shuffle through all of them one by one. And if you accidentally skip past the App you wanted, you have to go all the way through your collection AGAIN (No back button).

Now, on to the graphics! None of you purists out there have to worry, Pokemon Diamond hasn't gone all Gale of Darkness of you! The fifth generation of Pokemon still retains the classic two-dimensional, birds-eye view graphics that have been with us since way back in Pokemon Red and Blue. However, that's not to say that Game Freak merely recycled the sprites from the older games! Every building in Pokemon Diamond is now rendered in 3D, giving the player a great sense of depth. In addition, some environmental graphics are also rendered in 3D, such as hills and trees. To even further the overall sense of depth, things closer to the bottom of the screen are larger, while objects further up get smaller and smaller. The 3D effects really start to make themselves noticed in the windmills outside of Floaroma Town and the gym in Oreburgh.

Also benefiting from the DS' increased horsepower over the Game Boy Advance are the in-battle attack animations. Attacks are much more vibrant and some even have 3D elements thrown in, giving it all a distinctly more realistic feel over the previous generation of games. Again, you purists out there need not worry: In battle, the Pokemon are still simple 2D sprites, which merely slide around on the screen and don't change at all, except for when a wild Pokemon appears or a trainer sends out a Pokemon, in which case the character jumps around and cycles between it's default sprite and a secondary slightly altered sprite, further animating the already vibrant world of Pokemon.

And now, the audio. Most of the time, the music doesn't stray too far from the midi sound files we heard back on the original Game Boy. However, much of the background music utilizes many more notes and speeds than the scores of previous games. Oreburgh's music is a good example, a nice fast medley of beeps and boops that accurately portrays the hustle and bustle of a mining town.

The sound effects are equally improved, and they retain the classic growls and yells of the Pokemon (Although the original 150 Pokemon's cries are beginning to show their age). You still get the same bumping sound when you run into a wall or any other obstacle, but really, would you want it any other way? On the whole, these sound effects are largely recycled from past games, but they still seem fresh. And seriously, who can argue with nostalgia?

Some of you are probably thinking, "Come on, get to the online parts!". Well, settle down, spaz, because I'm gonna talk about them right now. New to the Pokemon universe are the online trading and battling. First, I'll talk about the one I've had most experience with, trading. There are two ways to trade, one with Friend Codes, and one without. When you have Friend Codes, you merely go to the basement of any Pokemon Center and talk to one of the two receptionists by the door. Once you get online, you can either invite a friend to trade, or accept an invitation already given by a friend (If an invitation has been made). Then, there's a short loading time, and you enter the trading screen. Once there, you can talk to your friend over the internet via the DS' microphone to negotiate a trade, or simply carry out a trade you discussed earlier in person or otherwise. Once your friend has done the same, each player is asked to verify the trade. If one or both of the players do not verify the trade, you are returned to the trade selection screen. However, if all is approved, your Pokemon are then traded after a short loading time. Once this is done, you can trade another Pokemon with your friend, or disconnect and continue to play your game offline.

If you don't have Friend Codes, then your only choice is to go to the Global Trade Station (GTS) in Jubilife City. The GTS allows you to trade Pokemon with other people all over the world, even with perfect strangers. When you enter the GTS, you can either search for Pokemon other people have uploaded to the server, or post a Pokemon of your own. First, the searching. When you search for a Pokemon, you decide which species of Pokemon you wish to trade for (You can only trade Pokemon you have seen in the game.). You can further filter your search by specifying which gender or level Pokemon you're looking for. If you don't care, you can just ignore these options. Then start the search! After a few seconds, a group of traders (Up to seven total) will appear on the bottom screen of the DS. You can then tap each character to check what they want for their Pokemon, and even see what part of the world they live in (If they've registered their location). If you can fulfill the parameters of their trade, you then select whichever fitting Pokemon you want to send off, then the trade commences. After the trade is done, the Pokemon is placed in a PC box, and you are returned to the GTS' main menu.

You can also offer your own Pokemon using an option on the GTS' main screen. You select which Pokemon you're offering, what species of Pokemon you want for it (Again, only Pokemon you've seen already), what level of Pokemon you want and what gender (The latter two can be left blank if you don't care). Your Pokemon is then uploaded to the mystical being known as the GTS server, for all the world to see and trade for!

Another thing that can be done online is battling, but you will need Friend Codes for this. You merely go online in your game like when you trade with a friend, then invite or join a battle. It's that simple!

There are actually a few other things that use the online capabilities of the DS, but I'll leave those as surprises. They're nothing too awesome, though.

There are also plenty of local multiplayer modes, such as local trading and battling, but those are nothing too new. The best new local multiplayer function in Pokemon Diamond would have to be the vast Sinnoh Underground. In this underground, you can mine for fossils and other items using the touch screen, build a secret base like in Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire, play Capture The Flag with other real people underground, or just generally run around chasing eachother like a bunch of morons (Quite fun, really!).

And now for the summary!

Controls: 9.5/10

The new touch screen battle really speeds things up, but outside of battle, item management is a little sloppy. The Poketch is also a welcome addition, offering several helpful programs at your fingertips. As for the rest, it wasn't broken, so they didn't fix it.

Graphics: 9.5/10

Everything looks familiar, yet fresh, offering nostalgia for veterans of the series. The game is full of vibrant colors and animations, and the occasional 3D moments are to die for. Battles are as hectic as ever, with new animations and sprites, although a few more frames of animation would've looked great when the Pokemon enter the battle screen.

Audio: 9.0/10

The music is even more complex and lively than ever before, but some of the older Pokemon's cries are beginning to show their age. Battle sounds are great and distinctive, and you always know what you're hearing.

Online: 9.0/10

Trading has never been easier thanks to the GTS. Trading and battling online has barely any lag at all, and the ability to taunt your opponents vocally during battles is a real plus! However, the lack of live online battling with strangers is sorely missed.

Local Multiplayer 10/10

The Sinnoh Underground is possibly the most fun I've ever had playing with my friends in a Pokemon game. Get four or more people down there, and that's when things really get cooking! Local battling and trading also work very well.

OVERALL: 9.5/10

Pokemon Diamond is possibly the greatest DS game ever made, and perhaps even the best Pokemon game ever, too. Every little thing in this game adds up to something really big, something that can't be missed by anyone, fans and newcomers alike. This is a true masterpiece of a game, and it will go down as one of my favorite games ever to grace my collection.


Well, so ends my first ever One Duck's Opinion article! Please offer any comments and constructive criticism in the comment section! Thank you very much for reading!

The Duck Has Spoken.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Welcome to One Duck's Opinion!

Welcome to One Duck's Opinion! On this page I will post my feelings on recent occurrences in the gaming industry, as well as a game review or two every now and then (Starting with Pokemon Diamond for the Nintendo DS).

So then, let the blogging begin!

The Duck Has Spoken.