Posted by Duane at 19:54
t's finally here, after about three years of waiting, Nintendo have finally gotten round to releasing another console Zelda. This is, in fact the Gamecube's third Zelda , the most released on one console, with the other two being Wind Waker and Four Swords Adventure, but this one, Twilight Princess is possibly the most anticipated due to its dual release on both Gamecube and Nintendo's new home console, the Wii.

Critically, the visual style of Wind Waker was loved, but for some reason it didn't fit well with a lot of fans, this was probably due to the SpaceWorld trailer of Ganondorf and Link fighting prior to the Gamecube's launch. This is a huge shame as it is what made Wind Waker such a charming and accessible tale. This is probably why Twilight Princess as a more realistic look to it, a more advanced version of the style introduced in the N64 Zeldas. The majority of the game plays pretty much how you'd expect it to, like the other three 3D Zeldas, but with the inclusion of Link's wolf form, there is a slight difference in how you approach certain aspects of the game.

Rose tinted glasses of Links first foray into the 3D world can easily spoil any new Zelda game, after all it is widely regarded as the finest example of the series, this seems to be something Nintendo have obviously picked up on, with Majora's Mask being a fully fledged sequel and Wind Waker's intro as well as the return to Hyrule Castle and Twilight Princess certainly has its moments that will no doubt bring a huge cheesy grin to your face In a mirror of Ocarina of Time's adult Link sections, Ocarina of Time features a dark and foreboding land that's being infested by evil beings. The lands and species that were in OoT also feature heavily in TP, while the story has a dark edge very similar to that in Majora's Mask.

As previously mentioned, the biggest difference that Twilight Princess has compared to the other titles is the introduction of Link's ability to transform into a wolf. As twilight takes over an area of Hyrule at the start of the game, Link is forced into the form of a wolf, losing all the abilities he had as a human, while having new ones that are specific to being a wolf.

It's pretty well done, and adds an extra element to solving puzzles later in the game, as you're eventually given the ability to switch between wolf form and human form, similar to Link's ability in Ocarina of Time where you can change between Adult and Young Link, although this time around you don't have to keep returning to a particular point in the world to change form, thanks to your companion Midna, a being from the Twilight Realm.

Link's abilities as a human are immediately stripped from him, temporarily, as soon as you take on the wolf form. As a wolf you are granted two new abilities, Dig and Sense. Digging allows you to find items and entrances to particular areas by finding black marks on the ground via your Sense ability. Your sense ability, other than finding the dark marks on the floor, allows you to follow scents, see twilight creatures and a few other things. Later in the game, some dungeons force you to switch between the two forms to solve puzzles using the abilities of both a human and a wolf. There is only one, small niggling problem that I found with Link's wolf form, one that also affects Epona, Links horse, and that is that when moving around, movement feels extremely wooden, especially when you compare both animals to how Agro felt in Shadow of the Colossus.

That's not the only aspect of Twilight Princess that bares a resemblance to Sony's much loved Zelda tribute either. The "Press Start Screen" is very similar to the intro movie of SotC, with the games hero on the back of his trusty steed crossing a bridge. The visual style of the game is also similar, with many parts of Twilight Princess featuring that bleached out look that Team ICO appear to love so much, but that's no bad thing, this graphical technique really suits Twilight Princess and makes the twilight realm seem all the more dark and moody.

Unlike in Ocarina of Time, Epona has more of a role to play in Twilight Princess, in the former title, she was just a form of transport between one point and another. Now, however, you can partake in horseback battles and even jousting, although, for the most part, these events are scripted into the game as part of story scenario's. But pretty early in the game you're given the abilities to either walk, ride or warp to a location on the map.

With the next-gen now freely available via Microsoft's XBox 360 many people believe that Zelda's visuals suffer because of those available elsewhere, especially in the case of the Wii, which many feel is underpowered. Speaking on a personal level however, this is a lot of rubbish. The Gamecube, and Wii, do an exception job of making this such a beautiful game, it doesn't quite have the majesty of Shadow of the Colossus, but it also doesn't have quite as many graphical tricks going on to achieve that goal, instead it relies on the raw power of its hardware to bring a truly astounding 128 bit graphical experience into your home, although, unsurprisingly, the textures can be a bit flat at times, but as with the movement of Links wolf form and Epona, this is only a small niggle in what is an exceptional addition to a historic franchise.

Many people will compare Twilight Princess to Ocarina of Time, and to be fair, they have a right to do so, the foundations of Twilight Princess are pretty much the same as they were in that original 3D tale, and its subsequent releases. Even so, Twilight Princess can stand proud alongside all three games as the formula hasn't aged in around ten years and Twilight Princess brings to the table everything that made the others great and adds its own distinctive flavour, making it easily as good as Ocarina of Time, especially as there is nothing in this game that is quite as frustrating as the bloody Water Temple!

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Posted by Ben at 05:37

ith the PAL release of the first Gamecube Naruto game almost upon us it seemed apt to pay a visit back to the most recent Japanese release; Naruto Gekito Ninja Taisen 4

The short version of this review would simply say that Naruto 4 is one of the very best games on the Gamecube, and arguably the best fighter on the system, however it’s relatively shallow and maybe more for fans of the anime than fans of the genre. In truth there is far more to it.

For those not familiar with the anime/manga Naruto follows Uzumaki Naruto, a young boy who had a village destroying Demon Fox trapped inside his body, making him an outcast. Naruto’s aim is to prove the other villages wrong and become Hokage (village Chief), a dream he shares with numerous other characters. Each of the characters that share Naruto’s world all have their own trials to overcome, and feuds to be settled, and each have elaborate signature moves perfect for a fighting game.

The fighting is a little shallow, initially anyway, combo’ing is often just a matter of hammering the B button, maybe with the odd tap of the A button for variety. Dodging is handled by the shoulder buttons, which also act as possible escape (the log replacement technique) should you be taking too much of a beating. Special moves require nothing more than a combination of the X button and a direction, provided you’ve got a full special bar things really are that simple.

The cell-shaded characters are almost perfect replicas of their anime counterparts, they’re bright and brash, full of humour and charm, and the musical score is lifted right from the anime. This may add to suspicions of a ‘fan-service’ game, a case of giving the fans what they want, a passable fighter featuring their favourite characters. Either way Naruto 4 represents one of the very best exponents of the cell-shaded style, to the point where 4 large characters on screen at once can push the engine close to breaking point.

While Naruto 4 is never likely to rival Virtua Fighter for depth and skill, it’s not nearly as shallow as it first appears. After a few plays you’ll notice that certain combos lead to other combos, and if you’re careful with your timing, you just might be able to squeeze in a few more hits. Even the specials can be combo’ed into, while it may be a cheap way to rack up points and damage, it is nevertheless devastating. In fact the more you play the game the more apparent it will be just how important timing is to success. Notice that your opponent has a full special bar, why not sit back and block a few attacks, with your finger ready over the dodge button, time it right and they’ll have left themselves wide open to a pounding. Similarly if you’re on the attack, at some point they’re likely to try to escape, watch for it, then launch a counter of your own. Tapping back and A activates a character specific counter technique, try it too early and your Chakra will train, but time it right and it can turn a match. Even timing your jumps can become a possible source of a counter.

Those who have previously played one of the Naruto fighters may be a little worried about over familiarity, an obvious inevitability within the fighting genre (just take a look at Soul Calibur), it’s fair to say their worries have some substance. Playing through arcade mode with most of the returning characters does have a certain sense of Déjà vu, a problem Tomy are clearly aware of, and have done their best to rectify. Naruto’s move set has been tweaked a little, back and A now activates his ‘Kage Bunshin’ rather than his countering ‘sexy no jitsu’ (I’m a little sad to see it go truth be told), and he no longer needs to have only a slither of health to launch into ‘demon fox Naruto’. More extreme is the entirely new move set handed to Haku, a change he really benefits from, it’s just a shame a few more characters didn’t have the odd tweak. Thankfully there are a host of new characters, all of which are distinct and enjoyable, the only downside being that to unlock them you’ll have to unlock a lot of old characters first.

Further changes can be seen in the addition of a 3 on 3 (Marvel vs Capcom 2 style) team mode, a welcome addition to the franchise, and where you’ll spend a fair amount of time. Characters can be swapped with a dap of the Z button, provided you’ve enough Chakra, and massively damaging team special is also available to you. The mission mode has also received an overhaul, now you’ll randomly be challenged on the menu screen to complete a task. Initially you may need to consult a translation guide, but it soon becomes apparent that each class of mission (C, B, A, S) is themed and only the character you’ll be required to use changes.

As enjoyable as Naruto 4 is, and it is, especially in multiplayer, its lack of depth will begin to show before you’ve unlocked the final character, and only the truly determined will beat every single mission. To get to that point however, you will have had to put in many hours of work, a lot more than most fighters in fact. It’d be too easy to simply say that this is a game fans will love, but other will not. The truth is Naruto 4 represents one of the Gamecubes very best moments, and is a must for any gamer who wants something a little brash and ‘arcadey’, it’s true some will never enjoy it, but frankly they are missing out on the most charismatic fighter this generation.

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Posted by Duane at 09:10

remember when I was younger playing computer games on my bbc micro. I’d sit for hours staring at the screen, grinning like a Cheshire cat, regardless of whether I won or lost. The games I used to play always had a fairly basic premise, get from A to B without dying. Sometimes this premise involved having to collect 100 somethings before I could do that or avoiding various spiders or barrels in order to get to point B but basically you just had to get there and I loved every second of it.

Super Monkey Ball makes me grin too. In fact when I first played it I may have even laughed out loud. This game is fun and that’s the ultimate reason we play games right? Those of you who had a pet hamster or similar rodent will be familiar with the concept of an animal in a ball and it’s this concept upon which this game is based. You take control of a monkey in a ball, hence the title, or rather you tilt the platform upon which your spherically imprisoned monkey is placed using only the control stick, and said monkey must be navigated around 100 various stages to reach the goal, occasionally collecting bananas on the way and yes it is as awesome, and as simple, as it sounds! Think Marble Madness with a chimp like twist to it and you’re pretty much there.

The main body of the game revolves around this simple principle. You have a time limit also, which becomes quite stringent in later levels, but most of the time the challenge comes from manipulating your ball based simian against some incredibly taxing terrains. The learning curve is reasonably consistent, starting off with very basic ‘move forward a bit and you’ve done it’ levels and graduating up quite successfully to the harder levels with moving goals, off camber turnings and scarily thin ledges all to be navigated without losing your ape friend to a pit of nothingness. Each level tends to last about thirty seconds too, great for those with short attention spans, which just adds to the appeal. How many times in a game have you travelled miles and miles only to die inches from your goal and be transported all the way back to the beginning of the section? Too many I’m sure. With SMB each level is a sprint, adding a very small element of luck to the proceedings, but at most it’s a controlled sprint and rarely do you get the feeling you’ve been duped by an unfair bounce or roll. The thing about this game is that when a mistake is made, and you will make a mistake or ten, it rarely gives you the usual level of frustration that most games of this genre do. True some of the letter levels do offer a fairly high level of controller smashing frustration but good old Nintendo built the good old Wavebird to last, and mine is still going!

The only thing that could possibly make this game better is some brilliant multiplayer action and fortunately this game has it! Firstly you can play against you mates in the main body of the game to see who can get through the most levels before running out of lives. If this were all the game had to offer in the way of multiplayer then I wouldn’t be too disappointed, it is after all about the same as you get in most puzzle games, but SMB isn’t most puzzle games. In addition to this admittedly standard multiplayer mode you have three readily available party games and three locked mini games. All of these extras are of a very high quality, some of which would work well as games in their own right. The three party games are, as the title suggests, best played with friends. Monkey Race, Monkey Fight and Monkey Target offer a quick fix of competitive Monkey Ball action.

Monkey Race, as the name suggests, is a racing game. Simple as that! Beat 3 opponents, be they friends or computer controlled, around a track. Monkey fight is like some crazed free for all of who can knock each other off the platform using a comedy boxing glove on a spring. Monkey Target is a bit slower. Imagine if you will a cross between ski jumping and darts, go with me on this. You roll your monkey down and off a big ramp then, using a gliding ability, try to guide you little ape friend onto floating platforms with different scoring zones on them. Sound easy? It’s not! You’ve got wind and random dangers to contend with. Bombs, spikey balls and clouds are all there to hinder your passage to the high scoring zones.

The mini games are unlockable by gaining enough points in the main single player game, this is only a mild diversion however as it’s quite easy to rack up the points and be playing these delightful mini games before it becomes a chore. The three games are billiard, bowling and golf and quite cleverly to stick with the theme of the whole game all the balls have monkeys in. Clever, don’t you think? All three are highly enjoyable and I’ve often found myself powering up the ‘Cube just for a quick go on billiards or bowling!

As a whole this game does have its flaws. It can be quite cutesy in places and there have been times when I’ve been a bit embarrassed to be caught playing it by my mates. This is easily overcome, however, by simply getting them to have a go. Even the music, which at times can grate, raises a smile upon loading it up for just a quick go. The overall presentation of the game is of a high standard with the usual polished graphics and level design we’ve come to expect from Sega, the games creators. I’ve not had this much fun playing a game in a very long time!

Dave Griffths
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Posted by Duane at 09:09

don't know about you, but I've certainly begun to tire of the tedious adherence to convention that saturates the RPG genre- Namco's recent "Tales of Symphonia" put the situation into perspective for me- what few elements of the story that were not completely ripped from other RPGs were combined with some of the worst character I have ever had the misfortune to experience, and some truly woeful attempts at humor to create a tedious, soulless shell of a story. The game's "spectacular story" feels like an illfitting patchwork of story elements from "classic" RPGs that came before it. Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy IX- you name it, the same plot "twist" was there.

That did it for me. If the designers can't be bothered to use their imaginations to craft a world that offers some new magic, rather than rehashing the tired old "save the world by reviving great mana tree" stereotype for the umpteenth time, then I'm not entirely sure that the genre is worth bothering with anymore.

After playing with my new Christmas present for a few hours on Christmas Day, I turned off the console, pulled out the loathesome Tales of Symphonia Disc 1, and threw in Skies of Arcadia Legends. All of a sudden, games became fun again.

Skies of Arcadia Legends is an enhanced port of the Dreamcast classic, "Skies of Arcadia". Whilst as a game, it may only be average, Skies of Arcadia manages to transcend the near-crippling flaws innate in itself to an entirely new plane of gaming greatness altogether.

Skies of Arcadia is one of the few games I have played to ever truly grab me with its story. Very few of the characters are developed to any appreciable degree, the story is riddled with tired old clichés in the storyline and script, and yet once you reach more than an hour into the game, it hits you that none of that matters.

What makes Skies of Arcadia so brilliant in its own way is the way it creates a seamless, fantastic world for you to play in. The world is certainly the most original part of the game- the world of Arcadia is comprised of a number of floating islands and continents in the sky. Due to this, all travel on the world map is done by means of airships.

The world lends Skies of Arcadia it's greatest element- the desire to explore. When I say this world is "large", I might as well be understating myself. The world feels absolutely enormous. The Skies of Arcadia know no bounds. The player is encouraged to explore- the adventure, helped along with Vyse, the main character's optimistic "I want to see what lies beyond the sunset!" attitude, takes you to all corners of the planet, encountering a diverse mix of distinct cultures closely mirroring Earth's own, sailing through huge tracts of open sky, witnessing the wonders of the world... In Skies of Arcadia, every question you may have about what lies beyond that sky rift, or what lies past that obstacle, is answered. I'm not kidding when I say you get to see the world in its entirety.

You are given an incentive to explore by the "Discovery" sidequests- in each and every port in the world of Arcadia is a "Sailor's Guild"- where you can buy information about the location of "Discoveries"- lost ruins, wonders of the world, unconfirmed facts, which the Sailor's Guild would be most grateful for confirmation of their existence. You pay the Sailor's Guild a fee for a clue to the discovery's whereabouts, use the clue to find the discovery somewhere on the world map, and then report its location to the sailor's guild for a handsome sum of money. These "discoveries" range from ruins of old airships to entire new continents.

The graphics of Skies of Arcadia are beautiful. However this is a Dreamcast game, and it shows. They don't have a particularly high polygon count, by any stretch of the imagination. The world map's graphics are extremely rough around the edges. The stone reefs are ridiculously pixellated. Despite this, the world map still manages to look beautiful- leaves blow past your airship, carried on the wind from the great forests of the Green Moon. Huge waterfalls cascade from the skies. Misty rainforests stand before great mountains in the distance. The map is full of little touches which give it a great charm- you feel like you're exploring the wonders of the world. The joy of exploration pushes the roughness of the graphics into insignificance. The field graphics are slightly better- the polygon count is greatly raised from the world map. The locales are all alive with movement- water rushes underfoot, clouds fly past overhead, citizens go about their business, torches flicker on the walls- every locale has dozens of little touches that make it feel more than just a static collection of polygons. The battle graphics are of a similar quality- the polygon count is average, but the character designs retain their charm and flair. The characters are lifted straight out of some animé- large eyes, exaggerated facial expressions- the lot.

Gameplay wise, the game is nothing special. You walk around, talk to people, and follow the story. The standard combat system is completely turn based- you pick a set of moves for your characters to do, and watch them put them into action. Anybody who has played a typical Japanese-style RPG will know the gist of this system automatically from that comment. The elemental "alignment" of your weapon can be changed by pressing "Y"- fire element-aligned weapons are more effective against ice elemental enemies, lightning element-aligned weapons are more effective against mechanical enemies, and so on. Skies of Arcadia utilises a "Spirit Meter" system- at the top of the screen there is a bar. The fuller this bar is, the more "Spirit" you have. The bar charges up throughout the fight, and as your characters select the "focus" command in battle. You can use "SP" to use "S-Moves"- extremely powerful skills unique to each character. The battle animations for the S-Moves aren't quite on a par with the ridiculously flashy summon movies from the Final Fantasy series, but they're hardly an eyesore. Lots of flashes, bangs, and bright lights.

The sound effects in Skies of Arcadia are nothing special, once again. The usual assortment of RPG sword hacks, slashes, and magical "whoosh"ing sounds are found in abundance. The short voice samples shouted out by the characters in battle are excruciatingly bad- it sounds out of place in the wordless battles. The same voice samples screamed out at seemingly random places in the script in the game's story break the flow of the game- they usually have very little to do with what the characters are actually saying. It would have been nice if Overworks had given the option of stopping the voiceovers altogether in a menu option, but sadly, no such option exists.

The music is superb. Every single track fits its paired locations like a glove- the world map music changes depending on your airship, and the area of the world you are flying over- whilst flying over forests, you get bongo drums as a background noise ot the music, whilst flying over the glacial ice sheet, you get the tinkle of bells- it changes to suit the location. The tinny music for the frontier town of Esperanza adds immensely to the feeling of despair and decay that permeates the city. Likewise- the energetic music of the desert metropolis of Nasrad feels like being in the middle of a huge bazaar- a chaotic mix of instruments with the desert wind in the background. The music always complements the location, rather than being a simple space filler to fill in the silence.

Throughout the game, you'll encounter a different type of battle- Aerial battles in which you control your airship and take down your opponent in a battle in the skies. The aerial battles work on a tactical system- you have a 4x4 grid on which to place your commands- each "turn" allows you to place 4 commands- attack, evasive action, magic etc. At the top of the grid are a series of markers warning you whether your opponent will attack that turn, or whether you will have a strategic advantage over your opponent that turn. Once you place your commands, you get to see the two forces play out their commands in cinematic sequences. The problem with the aerial battles is that, whilst spectacular, and great fun, there is no option to speed up the attack scenes- they can take up to one and a half minutes per turn! However, this is a small niggle- and not one that affects the fun of the battles by that great an amount.

The story of Skies of Arcadia, as I said before, in retrospect after finishing the game, is riddled with clichés. The script is nothing special, and the characters are almost cardboard in their depth. What makes this game special is not so much the story itself- it's the execution. The cutscenes blend seamlessly into the gameplay. The characters haven't got any torturous backstory to explore, simply because they don't need it. The main character, Vyse the Blue Rogue, an Air Pirate, is one of the key aspects of the game that drives it onwards. Vyse is the definition of the word "optimist". He has dreams- and he believes he can accomplish them. To sail beyond the edge of the world- his greatest aspiration. His "never give up!" attitude draws the player into sympathising with his character; Vyse is a hero- plain and simple. Where other RPG heroes go through torturous periods of self-doubt and confusion, Vyse pushes forwards relentlessly. He's someone you would follow in real life- someone who you could admire. He's too good to be true- the entire game world is too good to be true. But it's executed so beautifully well that you suspend your disbelief and just sit back and let the game suck you into its world. For the entirety of its eighty hours of playtime, you will be living Arcadia.

Unfortunately, it seems that the reduction of the Gamecube port of the game to 1 disc resulted in a noticeable compression of the music and textures- the game sounds noticeably worse than the Dreamcast original, and the texture quality is noticeably inferior. The PAL version of the game also feels unbearably slow in comparison with the NTSC version- the battles, designed to run at a fast pace, feel positively lethargic in the PAL 50Hz game, regrettably with no 60Hz option. Without playing the game in full 60Hz on the Dreamcast, though, these flaws are unnoticeable.

Skies of Arcadia is one of the greatest games I have ever had the good fortune to play. Its masterful synthesis of graphics, music, story, and script works so well you'll feel truly upset once it all comes to an end. The feeling of joy as you explore the world is unrivalled in its genre.

I take my hat off to team Overworks- the bar has been raised. Now all that's needed is for them to get started on the sequel and top it.

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Posted by Gareth Williams at 12:06

our years ago, the powers that be at Capcom held a board meeting to discuss how to maximise the quality of the company’s output. It has been rumoured that this was the very meeting that it was decided to enlist the aid of a Chinese Herbal Nutritionist to formulate powerful cognitive supplements for the various development teams on board… actually, I just made that up, but it would seem plausible because, looking at the company’s recent output, there must be something in the coffee at Capcom right?

Killer7 has been at the heart of much conjecture since those first stark, stylised cel-shaded screens were released all those years ago. Then came news that the game would be played on rails. Eyebrows were raised and questions were asked. It all looked very nice, but would it maintain the dizzying heights set by Resident Evil 4, Devil May Cry 3 and the rest?

After the opening hour or so of play, you would be forgiven for erring toward the negative answer. The player is dropped into the opening level with no back-story, and is faced with bizarre npc’s, drab corridors and even more bizarre enemies. There seems little to instantly impress. Towards the end of the opening level though, the game just clicks into place. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment the game begins to be fun, but by the time the first of many fantastic boss encounters has been dealt with, and the surreal plot of terrorism and subterfuge begins to find cohesion thanks to great mid-level anime cut-scenes any doubts are likely to have been put snugly to bed.

The game plays out simply enough. Harman, the leader of the titular 7, is a hitman, and he receives targets at the start of each stage. Each target has it’s own unique (and often visually stunning) location and army of Smiles to protect them, with their own strengths and weaknesses. A heavens Smile is the most common being slow with an obvious glowing weak spot, a hit upon which downs them instantly and provides thick blood that is used to power up your chosen character. Others include the suitably large Giant Smiles, who can only be downed with a direct hit upon their one Cyclopsian eye. Many other Smiles can only be stopped by using a certain member of Harman’s motley crew.

There are seven (well duh!) assassins for you to play as, each with varying skills. Kaede for example has a zoom attached to her weapon, making her the ideal choice for taking out those Smiles who need that little extra precision, whilst ex-wrestler Mask De Smith fires a shell launcher that, whilst extremely powerful, needs to be reloaded after every shot leaving him vulnerable. Each has obvious strengths, as well as expletive ridden quips at hand to use whenever thick blood is harvested. Each also has a special skill that only really has a use when faced with one of the games many puzzles. Blocked by a padlocked door? A quick change to Coyote Smith and his lock picking ability will soon see to that. Corridor blocked by motion sensors? Better switch to Kevin Smith (a personal favourite!) and go into stealth mode. There are plenty of other puzzles too, a lot of which hark back to Capcom titles of old; Resident Evil being the most obvious comparison.

These descriptions of the gameplay will never be able to capture what the game achieves however, as so much of that is about style and atmosphere. The sheer spectacle of what Capcom have achieved with Killer7 really demands to be experienced. There are so many great moments in the game that I could use to illustrate the brilliance and originality on display here, from the epic boss battles with Ayame Blackburn, the Handsomemen et al to the inspired (and incredibly violent) anime cut scenes. To do so would be unfair.

Not everyone will get Killer7, and whilst the gameplay does suffer from the odd fault (backtracking and rapidly respawning enemies being the main offenders), there is so much to be applauded here. The maturity of the script, the grandeur of the presentation, the depth of the characters and the impact of some of the set pieces are things we see all too infrequently in the world of videogames, and for these reasons it is impossible to see Killer7 as anything less than a hugely important title.

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Posted by Sean Elder at 11:12

fter what seems too long a time, Nintendo's 1080 Snowboarding is back in the form of 1080 Avalanche and it hasn’t lost any of its fantastic gameplay. This is the sequel to the genre defining game that takes players back to the slopes. There are again five players to choose from, Ricki Winterborn, Akari Hayami, Kemen Vazquez, Tara Hunter and Rob Haywood. the game features more than a dozen action packed tracks, complete with various snow conditions, collapsing bridges, cave inn’s and as the title suggests, avalanche's. You can challenge opponents in match race, attempt the slalom in gate challenge or get extreme air in trick attack. And of course the game would not be complete without a multiplayer mode. Race against your friends, or enemies on one of the dozen courses. But a new feature is now included, LAN play. You can now connect Gamecubes and play against up to 8 friends.

Whether you’re cruising down a mountain at a leisurely speed of about 60kph, or barrelling as fast as possible to stop from being crushed by an avalanche, the visuals in 1080 are as clear as they come. There is a fluid movement of the characters as they weave their way down mountains and through cities. The detail in the characters and the whole of the courses for that matter as easily seen as you play through the game. One quite nice touch is in the way snow attaches to you boarder as you race down the mountains, and eve better, when you fall, you get completely covered in snow. However if there is too much happening on screen at one (usually only when an avalanche is catching you) there is a little slow down and can be a hindrance when playing. Also the fact that it stick to you character until the end of the race just shows the amount of effort and work that was put into this game to make it as realistic as possible.

But for a game such as this, good graphics are only part of the game. Anyone who has played the first 1080 snowboarding on the N64 are probably expecting a lot from its sequel. The same fluid action of the characters, the same fantastic multiplayer and the same single player game are essential for a worthy sequel that set the bar for all the recent and past snowboarding games. To the most extent, this has been achieved. The single player and multiplayer modes are just as exciting and enticing to play. Also, one cannot talk about 1080 Avalanche’s game play without mentioning the various tricks and stunts that can be used. As per the original there is a trick attack mode in which you can access the Air make, The Half pipe and the Nintendo stunt park. Here you can practice you move till your hearts content. However these tricks and stunts don’t only make you look good. They serve another purpose. When in match race, if you perform stunts you fill you power bar. When your power bar is full you glow and can knock you opponent over and slow him down, and thus entering a strategic element to the game(to a small extent anyway). Also, there is a difference in control, depending on what type of snow you are boarding on. Powered, deep snow will make turning harder, and ice will make you turns quite wide and again hard to turn. All of these different modes along with the gate challenge mode make 1080 Avalanche a contender for the best snowboarding game around.

Music in any game is simply a matter of preference for most players. If you like the standard rock/pop style of music in a lot of Nintendo’s games then 1080 Avalanche gives you more of the same. But the fact that the music is compose by real bands and not just made up in a music studio is some condolence. But the music is not all bad. Some of the lighter music complements the slower more relaxing courses in the game. However, the sound is a different matter altogether. As you glide down the various courses, especially the earlier and slower ones, you can hear the smooth sounds of you boarder as he or she weaves their way down the mountains. There is also different sound depending on what type of snow you are boarding one. For example, if you are on very hard snow or ice, there is a scratching sound. But if you are in deep powered snow then there is a quieter more smooth noise. This leads to a more realistic feel to the game which is a welcome addition to 1080 Avalanche.

Although there are many tracks, there is no real scope for exploration. There are numerous shortcuts, but that’s pretty much it. However, this is not a bad thing. Too much exploration in a game can lead to boredom and the game being, well boring. This is not the case with 1080 avalanche. There is very little exploration in comparison to the Amped series. But with the various modes and challenges to use and complete, the game has a considerable lifespan. The multiplayer mode adds countless hours of gameplay, be it in annihilating you friends in match races or competing for the number one spot on the tops scores table. On top of all that, there are four secret boards to unlock. As with 1080 snowboarding on the N64, the penguin board makes an appearance, the rest you will have to unlock to find out what they are.

So, is this the best snowboarding game yet? Well, you decide.
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