Posted by Ben at 14:37

In this day and age where football makes millionaires out of 17 year old kids who havenít even made the first teamís bench, itís easy to see why people might pine for the simpler days. Days before billionaire foreign owners, when Ďsnoodí was just another racial epithet to shout from the terraces, and Pele didnít have erectile dysfunction. For those people who miss the days of no-seater stadiums thereís Championship Manager Legends 1970ís.

The move from PC stalwart to iPhone reinvention has been reasonably well documented, but it might well prove to be a smart one. Football Manager has the serious sim sewn up, so this way Square/Eidos can focus on the portable and digital market, maybe even taking the odd risk like CM Legends. And itís a risk that might pay off, you do want something a bit different for your handhelds. Thereís also plenty of people whoíll appreciate the novelty of taking charge of the old legends. Imagine a team that includes Keegan, Hoddle, Pele, Muller and Maradona, how could you not want to manage that?

The problem is that for every world star, or even just club favourite, the rest of your squad, and the majority of the transfer market, are made up of people youíve never heard of. I consider myself to have a decent knowledge of the game, enough to pick up some bargains on a regular management game, but Iíll confess Iíve no idea whether Unitedís reserve right-back is worth keeping. Itís not that I resent having to revert back to basic, more that it doesnít sit with the cheery gimmicky nature of picking your favourite year of the decade and buying up a horde of past greats.

The stat counting does help route the game in some depth, but thereís a lack of control on match day that takes it away again. Itís too easy to be on the end of a drubbing 20 minutes in and feel powerless to do anything about it. The lack of ability to really alter your gameplan is exasperated by a collection of other issues that take the gloss off match day. The number one way the opposition seems to score against you is by your own players, who have just made a tackle to win the ball back, are in acres of space, just playing it to the opposition forward. Defenders will stand around with the ball less than a foot away, and virtually every goal is a screamer from outside the area.

Away from the match day problems thereís also the interactions between the press, players, fans and chairman. Itís a nice inclusion, with the press conferences in particular showing potential. However itís a nightmare trying to please everyone, especially the press, answer a question about adding to your squad and you can guarantee at least one group is going to be seething.

Itís a shame because all things considered Champ Manager Legends is the best of the management games on the iphone. The interface is second to none, big chunky icons, easy to read, but thereís never too much on screen. When everythingís going right Legends is a joy to play for a football fan, but when things turn you canít help but feel helpless.

If Eidos can build on this for next years Championship Manager, or perhaps a Legends 90ís (Weah, Maldini, Cantona, Gazza, Romario) then it could be a must buy. As things stand itís best to go in with your eyes open, the novelty and nostalgia are there, but the full game experience isnít... yet.

iPod Touch/iPhone games are reviewed on a 2010 8 gig iPod Touch
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Posted by Ben at 16:05

Itís hard to find the balance sometimes between criticising a game for itís many flaws, and conveying that despite those valid complaints itís still a good game. Dead Space is one such game; littered with problems, but at points a genuinely impressive recreation.

Letís start with some good news, and what for me was a genuinely nice surprise. When you spend your £3.99 on Dead Space, what you get is actually a very full featured game. You get a whole new Dead Space adventure, featuring a new protagonist, and a well thought out (if a bit predictable) story. Itís set up quite similar to the main games, controlling not dissimilar to Resident Evil 4ís tank controls, picking off enemies limbs, all against a creepy Aliens-meets-Event Horizon backdrop.

Initially this portable Dead Space dishes out a surprising amount of scares. I donít mind admitting it managed to make me jump whilst on the train back from work. However, while the first time a monster pops up from what you thought was a corpse is effective, by the 3rd and 4th time itís managed to neuter itself. Same can be said for the moments where you catch a glimpse of one of the monsters as it scuttles across a corridor or steals a corpse, great the first few times, but once youíve killed a few dozen creatures you arenít so bothered about the thought of facing them any more.

The sound is a feature pushed by the game, with a recommendation you play using headphones every time you start Dead Space up, and it does sound great. Thereís lots of incidental stuff (again seemingly front loaded, indicative of the gameís increasing lack of subtlety), crying babies, screaming women, and creeping monsters. It sounds great, or horrible depending on your view point, and it shows that EA have really made an effort with Dead Space.

The same can be said for the graphics. Thereís slow down and frame drops when things get busier, some dodgy textures and repeated designs too, but all in all it looks superb. Itís genuinely impressive that theyíve managed to get the game looking as good as it does, while also mostly holding a steady, reasonably smooth frame rate.

While I do want to make mention again as to how well theyíve recreated a full Dead Space game, the structure of it is one of the chief areas where it falls down. The tension at the start is incredible, especially considering the device youíre playing on. You begin fighting infrequently, precariously edging down corridors, but itís not long until it starts to throw more enemies at you. Once youíve been swamped by creatures spawning all around you, you start to pine for the game to end. Itís spent its best trick too early, now the thought of facing a monster one on one is bliss. A touch harsh, but it just emphasises the flow chart structure of the game.

Kill rooms become too common, as do the train journeys that act as an arcadey diversion, although one you have to play a little too often. Thereís plenty of other tricks that are over used, which I wont ruin here, and unsurprisingly familiarity breeds contempt. Worse is that it feels like game lengthening, which causes the game to drag, making you pine for the end well before it arrives.

Dead Spaceís biggest problem though is its controls. Everything Iíve mentioned would only be a minor issue if the controls worked better. The double touching style (one finger for movement, one for turning/aiming/shooting) works well to a point. Picking off limbs with a fully loaded gun against a single enemy is eminently possible, and a lot of fun. But when the lights go down and youíre locked in a room with spawning creatures, who move faster than you, and certainly faster than you can turn, you cant help but feel like youíve been handicapped. Add to that the clutter of the various things you can do on screen. Tap Vandalís back and you can activate the slow motion, or spin around, or edge forward, or do nothing. Try to reload by tapping the icon atop your weapon and you might move your aim, fire, pick up an item, stare at the creature whoís about to rip your throat out.

Hard to blame Dead Space for limitations of the touch screen I guess, but EA have chosen to make the screen cluttered. And thanks to the pedestrian speed you move, the telekinesis, which could be an interesting way to do damage and save ammo, becomes suicide, especially as tapping the screen doesnít often launch the item as it should.

Dead Space on the iphone is hugely impressive for many reasons. The presentation is brilliant, I canít commend them enough on that front, the sound, graphics and scope are above and beyond what youíd expect from your ipod/iphone. Itís a good length game too, taking me 4 hours, so easily offering enough game for your money. Itís just spoilt by control issues and increasing predictability.

Well worth your time though, especially with the eventual price drop the game will get. When it gets it right, which it does fairly often, Dead Space for the iphone is a good game in itís own right.

iPod Touch/iPhone games are reviewed on a 2010 8 gig iPod Touch
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Posted by Ben at 14:45

I wish I could tell you that the Sonic of old is back, that Sega have finally nailed it, only thatís just not true. That doesnít mean Sonic 4 is bad, only that it doesnít follow on from Sonic 3 the way Segaís marketing department have claimed.

Added to Sonicís classic roster of moves is the homing attack introduced in the Adventure games. Itís less used for taking out enemies per say, more for aiding your progress through the level, which often is one and the same. The physics are slightly different from the old games, you need to constantly be pressing a direction, letting go means Sonic loses momentum, as does rolling strangely enough.

The iPod and iPhone version uses a virtual d-pad that causes its fair share of problems. Itís among the better d-pads on the ipod or iphone, but itís imprecise and sluggish. The difficulty on this version of Sonic 4 is vast compared to the console versions, and this is largely due to the controls. I can forgive that, but losing lives because you walk backwards rather than duck takes some of the gloss off the game.

The game flies too, itís got slow down and itís not the smoothest game ever, dropping below itís 30 fps often, but it does feel a lot faster than its console brothers. It also seems theyíve zoomed the camera out slightly, probably to compensate for the lack of time to react due to the smaller screen, and it does ensure you arenít surprised too often by oncoming enemies.

The way the game is split up is worth a mention too, Sega have paid attention to the format and have allowed for a number of ways to tackle the game in bite sized chunks. You can pretty much play any level you want, in any order (aside from boss levels), even returning to early levels to stock up on lives or claim emeralds. Youíre also able to continue playing from the last checkpoint you hit should you have to stop playing halfway through a level.

What this, coupled with the heightened difficulty means is that the game will last you an age. Getting the Chaos Emeralds is nigh on impossible, and I canít help wishing that the controls were a bit better for the final boss, but thereís no denying you get more game for your money than the console versions.

Not that thatís necessarily a good thing given that some of that extra time is caused by frustration and exasperation, but if you are finding the console versions of Sonic 4 a bit too easy then there is reason to try this. As it stands Sonic 4 is a good portable platformer, perhaps not the most fun youíll have with your iphone, but certainly no disgrace to the Sonic name. I donít want to overstate things as itís not as much fun as the console version, but itís good enough for fans to get as a second purchase.

As usual iPod Touch and iPhone games are reviewed on an 8 gig 2010 iPod Touch
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Posted by Ben at 18:28

I try to avoid reviewing games by comparison. Either a game is good or it isnít, and not everyone has played the alternative. But sometimes itís the easiest way to explain the premise of the game in question, and thatís certainly the case with Nelson Tethers Puzzle Agent.

If youíve played Professor Layton youíll know how Puzzle Agent works. Segments of plot intersperse logic puzzles, and single-screen adventure sections. The plot is slightly more peculiar that Layton though, actually perhaps not, but it certainly has an odder feel to it. You play as Nelson Tethers, an FBI agent specialising in puzzles, tasked with finding out why the factory that produces the Presidentís favourite erasers has shut down. The story does take a further turn for the absurd, but itís the characters that are just a little off.

The game is presented superbly. Granted thereís personal preference to consider as to the graphical style, personally I loved it. Itís well drawn and has bags of character, plus thereís a full voice track which is a rarity for the ipod/iphone. However there are instances where moving parts (faces and hands generally) will suffer a massive drop in quality, looking blurry and compressed.

Thereís also the issue of the touch screen itself. The chewing gum Nelson can gather to aid his concentration can be near impossible to collect, as the screen doesnít put 2 and 2 together, and work out that youíre tapping the chewing gum to collect it. Also in puzzles, typically where you effectively have to connect dots, this frequently takes multiple attempts. Iíve also found myself accidentally exiting challenges or hitting submit because Iíve pressed a little too close to the edge. For the record my touch screen seems to be calibrated fine for everything else.

A good logic puzzle game should give leave you with a sense of satisfaction whenever you solve anything, and for a while Puzzle Agent does that. The puzzles start nice and easy, fun, but still with a enough thought involved that it feels like a game. Unfortunately youíll quickly encounter some you just donít like, made worse that almost every puzzle is repeated two or three times, with increased difficulty. I also found that too many puzzles werenít explained well. Once you understood what was being asked they were quite easy, but getting to that point, especially without using a hint or getting a wrong answer, could be far too difficult than it needed to be.

And ultimately thatís Puzzle Agentís biggest problem, at too many points itís just not fun. Getting hopelessly stuck is not a good thing in a game, nor is having no clue where to begin. The repeated puzzles mean you learn to dread a task just from the intro screen. However, when it clicks it is an interesting game. The style is great, and you do get a very full package for your £3, and Iíve no doubt some will love it more than me, but it just doesnít do itís basics well enough.
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Posted by Ben at 16:00

I cant pretend to have played every handheld fighter ever released, but Iím confident that the majority of them havenít been up to much. The Neo Geo Pocket Colour had a smattering of good ones, and one of my first reviews for Bitparade was the commendable Bleach on the DS. Truth is handhelds, traditionally, havenít really been built for fighters, so trying to bring Street Fighter 4 to the touch screen is idiocy surely?

Actually the ipod touch and iphone version of Street Fighter works better than you might think, though perhaps not in the way you might expect. The obvious issue is of course the controls, the lack of a physical d-pad is an obvious complaint, but it does create problems. Instead of a d-pad you get a virtual arcade stick, a nice touch but it doesnít work. Slight movements will make the arcade stick move, fooling you into thinking that youíre doing enough to pull off your intended moves. Surrounding the stick are eight directional arrows, seemingly intended to give some indication for the arcade stick, actually youíll find that hitting these is the key to success.

The problem is that this outer circle is quite large, certainly too big for the rapid response needed on the grown-up version of Street Fighter. But thatís not the only issue it creates; the lack of buttons means that the strength of the attack you land depends on the direction you press. This means that while it is still possible to pull off some impressive looking comboís, doing it on demand is unfeasible, as are pulling off some of the supers without resorting to tapping their respective meters.

The buttons are another problem, itís very easy to miss them in the heat of battle. I also feel that rather than giving up two buttons for the ink counter and double attack, the game would be better for removing those mechanics and opening up the potential combos.

The only other aspect thatís lacking is the character roster. Thereís something odd about calling the game Street Fighter 4 then only including one of the new characters. Had they dropped Abel for Zangief, and called this Street Fighter 2, then it may even have solved some of this iPhone versionís problems. However the characters that are present all seem to work well, and while some of their commands might have changed, itís commendable how many of the moves are present and correct.

Ultimately the game works, and is a lot of fun, and frankly complaining about a lack of depth in a game intended for your mp3 player or phone is a little unreasonable. It is worth mentioning though the developers are clearly aware of Street Fighter 4ís problems, as the game is far easier than its less portable counterpart. The A.I. leave themselves more open, and tend not to counter and combo as much as you know they could. Most importantly it still feels like Street Fighter. While it's clearly cut down it doesn't feel half-baked, you'll play it repeatedly, conceivably dipping back in until the inevitable sequel arrives. The high price may put you off, but if you're a Street Fighter fan, or just fancy a quality portable fighter, then it's hard to think of much better.

iPod Touch/iPhone games are reviewed on a 3rd gen 8 gig iPod Touch
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