Strategy games tend to be the best on PC, but with today’s technology, the game is tailored to the controller with ease. This year saw some great strategy games, but only a few really stood out from the rest. A great strategy game doesn’t so much as need a good story, but easy to use menus, lots of useful units, and a way to use them in a tactical and useful way. Upgrading and acquiring new units is key and also needs to flow and tie into the game.
Total War: Shogun 2
This was an easy pick mainly because it completely changes the way people thought about the last game, being this is a new game all on its own. With great units to use, tons of excellent DLC, and great visuals to boot Shogun 2 is a heavy hitter that stays true to the genre and that’s what put it on top.
Samurai II is a great-looking game but also sports brutal combat. It has a very generic revenge story so don’t expect anything interesting there. Now, this combat isn’t very deep, but the strategy is key thanks to the select enemy variety and each one has its unique moves. As you move through the chapters you will encounter more powerful enemies and bigger and bigger waves. Each section of every level will block you in an area and you must defeat waves of enemies. Each wave may have different enemy types like archers (defeat these first), yellow dual sword guys (save for last and dodge a lot), as well as some blue samurais, red ones, and big heavy guys.
The game could have just thrown random things at you and made you hate the game, but thanks to each enemy sticking to a specific move you can use strategy to defeat each wave and stick with that strategy through the whole game. Once you get to chapter four you will encounter every enemy type so from here on out it’s just about staying alive. You can upgrade up to 8 combos, but there is no magic or powers of any kind and I didn’t like this. You have heavy and light attacks to the chain so combat is very shallow. The only thing going for this game is the visuals and strategy in combat.
The game looks like Okami with excellent watercolor visuals yet the overall design is pretty bland and generic. Every so often you will get sections that give you obstacles to dodge, but the game is really simple, but great in 5-minute chunks for on-the-go gaming. The only thing resembling a powerful attack is that at random the game will slow down and you will do an instant kill, but with this being random you can’t use it when you’re in a pinch. There are also no health pickups so you have to stay alive through each wave. Overall Samurai II is very simple, but carries great visuals and has a great on-the-go pace.
Original Releases: Arcade, Sega Genesis, Sega CD, Sega Master System, Game Gear, SNES, GameBoy, PC, Amiga
Later Releases: PS2, Xbox
This is where it all began. This was the first video game I ever played and got me hooked at 2 years old. When I saw my cousin do Scorpion’s Fatality for the first time I sat there awe-stricken wondering how he just did that. He handed me the controller and I took to the game naturally even at such a young age where my motor skills weren’t fully developed yet. Of course, that’s what lead me to where I am now, but this kick-started the violent video game trend. The ESRB exists singlehandedly from Mortal Kombat, and that’s quite an accomplishment. It was also the only fighting game to use digitized graphics which were stop motion animations of real people. It made the game seem “realistic” and this stayed through the first three games.
The Arcade version was released to critical acclaim and made billions before it even hit home consoles. While only four guys and 10 months created one of the best games ever made, it paid off in full. Despite having such a small character roster compared to other fighters they were unique, and each had gruesome special moves (mainly Scorpion’s spear and that “Get over here!”). The Fatalities are what caused such controversy and the main one was Sub-Zero’s with his just popping off someone’s head with their spine hanging out, and holding it up for everyone to see.
Later that year Midway created “Mortal Monday” which was to hype up the console release with ads screaming “MOOORTAAAAL KOOOMMBBAATTT!!!!” It sold millions within its first year and was ported to every console available at the time by the end of 1994. Most people nitpicked at which console had the closest arcade port, and while the Super Nintendo did it lacked the Fatalities, blood, and some combo moves for the arcade so the Sega Genesis version remained the best. Voices were added to the game such as the announcer saying “Fight!”, “Finish Him/Her!” and “Fatality!”, and saying the character’s name during the select screen. The voice was pretty basic and not as sinister as the recent announcers, but it started this all off. While the gore was disabled in the Genesis version a code could be entered to enable it. The SNES version had gray sweat instead of blood and Fatalities were disabled. While you could do The Pit stage Fatality you were awarded no points. This was due to Nintendo’s policy of having no violence on their console. There were plenty of secrets thrown in such as the hidden Reptile fight at the bottom of the pit, and a few glitches.
While the handheld versions were piss poor due to their inferior technology the game never did better until it was released in compilations and other games in the series (Mortal Kombat: Deception had it in the Kollector’s Editions). While this version has held dear to every fan it evolved incredibly and will never be forgotten.
Mortal Kombat II
Original Releases: Arcade, Sega Genesis, SNES, Sega 32x, Amiga, GameBoy, Game Gear, Sega Saturn, PC
Later Releases: PS2, PSP, PS3, Xbox, NGC
This version was considered the best Mortal Kombat ever made. It’s revered by fans and non-fans alike and has never really been recreated. It contained a new art style, more detailed visuals, more characters, and new “-alities”. Surprisingly Kano and Sonya were the only characters missing from the first game, and this really made some fans angry. New characters introduced were Kitana, Mileena, Baraka, Jax, and Kung Lao which later became the series staple “classic” characters. Also, Shang Tsung was playable for the first time, as well as Shao Kahn and Kintaro being new bosses. Reptile was finally a playable character since his hidden version in the last game was so popular. He instantly became a fan favorite.
While the game looked better and had a different art style, the controls were tighter, more combos were added, and it was a lot faster. Each character had TWO fatalities this time and Babalities and Friendships were added to the game. If you entered a code like a Fatality it would turn your opponent into a baby, so this was more of a humiliation thing. Friendships were comic relief and the characters did something goofy. The Fatalities this time were gorier, more gruesome, and brutal. There were new stage Fatalities added such as The Living Forest, Acid Pool, Kombat Tomb, and The Pit II.
Console ports game a lot faster and the SNES became the superior version this time around not only in terms of graphics and sound but Nintendo allowed them to keep the gore in due to low sales of the last game. The most superior version was for the Sega 32x, but due to the low drive of the device, it didn’t sell many copies. Other versions had things missing such as voices, animations, and the Genesis version only had scrolling text for endings. Once again they couldn’t get a quality Arcade port out for this version until it was released for consoles later on (Midway Arcade Treasures, and Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks).
My favorite part about the game was the deeper combo system, aerial combat, new “-alities”, and the new character roster. I mostly played Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Baraka, and Liu Kang. I was younger so I mainly used special moves, but Liu Kang was easy to use as just a regular fighter. However, I didn’t really like the outfits for Scorpion and Sub-Zero because they featured a “snow jacket” type pattern and seemed flat. I also felt the proportions of the females were off a little. Despite all this, it was an amazing game, but I just wanted the art style to go in a different direction.
Mortal Kombat 3
Original Releases: Arcade, Sega Genesis, SNES, Sega Saturn, GameBoy, Game Gear, PlayStation, PC
Later Releases: PS2, PSP, PS2, NGC, Xbox, PC
This was the turning point for the series for the 16-bit era and was the last 16-bit game released in the numbered series. It was also considered the worst out of the 3 mainly because of the hard-to-pull off, and new, “chain combos”. While the graphics were even sharper and more realistic looking than ever. Newer consoles and more memory allowed more details, more animations, and more characters. This was probably the darkest of the three games and took a very serious turn, and even the new voice announcer sounded serious. I liked this version a lot due to the chain combos and even faster gameplay, plus it featured some of the best characters to date. All the “-alities” are intact here but a new Animality was added, but also never seen again in future releases. This had fighters turn into animals and devour or tear apart their opponents and got mixed reactions. At this point, everyone thought the “-alities” were getting ridiculous and wondered if they would be overkill in later releases. The Fatalities were even more gruesome than before and took a more raw approach due to the more realistic look and theme.
The game also featured 3D rendered backgrounds for the first time, and music took a more techno-modern theme instead of the heavy Asian themes of the past. Multi-tiered stages were introduced where you could uppercut an enemy into the ceiling and they would go up into a new stage. Two new stage Fatalities were introduced as the Bell Tower, The Pit III, and The Subway. New characters included were Cyrax, Sektor, Sheeva, Nightworlf, Stryker, Sindel, Smoke, and Kabal. These two were considered classic characters, but Stryker took the most criticism for his ridiculous “cop” style of fighting. Smoke was a hidden character behind the dragon symbol in the middle of the select screen and was unlocked via a cheat code. Each new character was wonderfully created with each having distinct special moves that still hold grounds today. MK3 was also the hardest game with Shao Kahn being extremely difficult and the new mini-boss Motaro being relentless and also being the biggest character created so far. Kombat Kodes was introduced which had three numbers for each player during loading screens, and these codes modified the game such as no blocking, no blood, fatalities disabled, special moves disabled, etc. These never saw the light of day until the recent Mortal Kombat (2011).
I loved the game a lot because I mainly didn’t know any better, and I loved Cyrax more than anyone. Sure the other guys returned (Kano and Sonya came back due to the criticism from the past game). Johnny Cage and Raiden took a hit this time and weren’t seen until years later, by this point everyone thought he’d show up again in Mortal Kombat 4. Noob Saibot was a playable character through the Kombat Kodes and was liked by many. The game was ported to every console again, but due to the aging 16-bit hardware, the superior version was for those lucky enough to win a Sony PlayStation. The SNES was good enough for people who couldn’t afford one, but the handhelds were horrible (once again), and the Sega Saturn version was also a good port.
Mortal Kombat 3 stands as the official turning point for the series, hated by many, loved by some, but there’s no doubt Mortal Kombat would stop here. While this marked the end of the 16-bit era for the series forever, MK3 was fantastic.
Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3
Original Releases: Arcade, Sega Genesis, Sega Saturn, SNES
Later Releases: iPhone, DS, PS2, X360, GBA
While this was loved as a cult classic by fans it wasn’t very successful sales-wise. This was considered the “real MK3” with bug fixes, chain combo fixes, a few new characters, stages, and weapons were introduced. These weapons came out during long combos, and another “-ality” was introduced as Brutality. These were extremely hard to pull off since the button combos were sometimes 20+ and you needed to be super fast. The characters would beat the opponent up faster and faster until they exploded into a bony and bloody mess. A new stage Fatality was added as Scorpion’s Lair. UMK3 also had the hardest time with porting since this was the transition from 2D to 3D. Surprisingly, UMK3 was never released on the PlayStation so it suffered from terrible ports on 16-bit consoles. If you had to get one the SNES version was the best while the Genesis version had problems such as Animalities removed, and the announcer no longer said the character’s names. Mercies were introduced which let you put a code in at the end of the match during “Finish Him/Her!” which gave back a bit of health for your opponent. This was never seen again, but also most people didn’t know about it. The Sega Saturn was the worst port with just UMK3 code dumped into MK3 so it was unbalanced and buggy as ever.
The Arcade version only featured three new playable characters and these were Ermac, Human Smoke (palette swap of Scorpion), and Classic Sub-Zero via a code. Both versions saw a return of Mileena and Kitana as palette swaps of Jade, and the console versions got the sweeter deal with more characters. Noob Saibot was a fully playable character, and not just an unlockable while Rain was brand new for console owners. UMK3 was a great addition to MK3 and is widely loved by fans and preferred over MK3. UMK3 never saw handheld releases until over a decade later, but the troubled porting and sales sparked some debate as to if the series was over.
Overall the 16-bit era of Mortal Kombat games was the best, and will always be remembered as some of the best games ever made. While the series took a bit of a dive towards the end Mortal Kombat II was the best of that period but by now people were wondering what they had in mind for 3D. The PlayStation and Nintendo 64 were already hot and Midway had to figure out how they were going to implement the classic 2D fighting style into a fully 3D environment! It was only three short years that the 16-bit era lasted for the series, but it seemed like a lift time for me.
“Endless” games are really popular on phones, but they are only fun for 10-20 minutes then tend to get boring. They are time killers to their core and aren’t really meant to be taken seriously. Super Mega Worm is probably one of the best out there in the sense that it keeps dishing out new stuff for people who keep on trucking. Unlocking new powers, and each level has a different goal to beat.
The game has classic 16-bit graphics with some gory humor thrown in for good measure. You start out by hatching from an egg underground, and you leap in and out of the ground eating everything above it. You have to maintain eating objects or your health bar will run down. You will eventually earn more pieces of your body to make you longer and faster (and reach people higher up in the sky). You have a boost button to give you some extra air, but it’s in the later stages that things get super fun and chaotic.
After a while, you’ll earn an EMP burst which slows down time and kills all vehicles on the screen. You can bounce off ground vehicles to create combos by eating groups of people before burrowing underground again. The enemies get tougher to kill, but you don’t have a health bar. Instead, you have to rely on skill to eat enemies up high once they start running out on the ground. Some goals require you to survive a certain amount of time, and other times you have to eat a certain amount of people.
SMW has some humor injected into the formula thanks to funny speech boxes, screams, and all the body parts flying around in a gory mess. to keep the frustration down you keep your power-ups if you die, but it’s slow to get back up to speed. Super Mega Worm is an excellent and addictive endless game that is well worth its price point. Just don’t go into this expecting gobs of deep gameplay, story, or characters.
Physics games on portable devices are a dime a dozen, but the ones that truly shine have unique gameplay ideas, cute characters, or interesting ways to manipulate objects. Another thing that is mandatory for a great physics-based game is fun objects to manipulate. Cut the Rope is a very unique game in the sense that it’s based on skill and less than luck. You have to time things just right and you actually feel like you’re manipulating the physics.
The main goal is to get a piece of candy to drop into the mouth of a little creature. To do this you have to maneuver the candy by cutting ropes, blowing air, popping bubbles, etc. Elasticity in the ropes also comes into play as well as avoiding spiky bars and other obstacles. Some blue dots have a circumference around them and if you get it in this area it will attach a rope to the candy. Swiping your finger to cut ropes (sometimes having to use both fingers) is a lot of fun as well as tapping blowers to push it through the air (when it’s in a bubble).
Sometimes there may also be a spider crawling down your rope so you have to cut it before it gets to it, so speed also comes into play. The reason why this game requires skill over luck is that it’s all about timing. Popping a bubble just in time to make it fall past an obstacle as it swings requires precise timing so this game isn’t exactly for babies. It’s just so fun to make these candies fly, swing, and float through the air, and it’s so satisfying when you complete a complex level knowing it was all thanks to your skill and not dumb luck (Peggle?).
Cut the Rope has sharp charming visuals that look great on the iPhone 4 and there are so many levels to play that you won’t get bored. Not only does the game have varied game elements, but it’s also very responsive and feels great to play. Cut the Rope is great for hardcore gamers (if you want to collect the three stars in each level) or casual gamers, and I think “casual” games need to have this kind of balance.
Didn’t the 3G touch just come out last year? It did, but this new iPod reflects the next-generation hardware of the iPhone 4. With the Retina Display (more on that later) and a new 1GHz processor, it trumps the 3G in every way. The addition of two cameras and a mic, this brings the iPod to a whole new level for Apple.
The new model is actually a bit smaller than the 3G, but just slightly lighter despite having more parts inside. There is one camera in the front at the top and once in the back. The touch screen also feels smoother and sleeker and seems a bit more responsive. Also, thanks to iOS 4 you can now multi-task, so pulling up a walkthrough for your game in Safari won’t require you to completely shut down your game so this alleviates having to save constantly. You can also just hit the home button, pull up your music, watch a video, or even jump into Facetime then go back into another app. Multi-tasking has come quite a bit late for Apple, but at least they’re catching on.
Under the hood, the device has the same GPU as the 3G, but the processor is a whopping 1GHz which is unseen on a phone let alone an MP3 player. If you just listen to music you won’t care, but this is what allows you to multitask and swap between apps without much slowdown. It makes surfing Safari faster and game loads are quicker. It also shares the same amount of RAM which is a huge 256 MB. The resolution has also been doubled at 960×480 but is still lower than most high-end phone models, but for an MP3 player, this is amazing. It allows for 720p video, so HD video watching has finally come to your iPod. The Retina Display is actually how the screen displays its graphics to you. Apple’s research showed that 300 PPI is the max amount the retina in the eye can see from about 12 inches away, and bumping the resolution up any higher wouldn’t make a difference to your retina.
The camera is pretty decent, but you have to have a lot of light or you will get grainy pictures. The video looks great though, so this is perfect for people who don’t have high-quality phones or cameras. Despite these features, the iPod can also play next-generation iPhone games that have higher texture resolutions, better lighting, and just overall look really close to current generation consoles.
There aren’t too many complaints about the device except for the power button. It used to be nestled right on top of the edge of the device on the left side, so it was just an index finger away. Now it’s on the right side and nestled on the curve so it’s a pain to get to and you have to kind of contort your hand to get to it. Was it because the camera is on the other side? Probably, but this was a poor design choice. Overall the 4G is an amazing device and adds a ton of new options to make it well worth a new purchase.
Shooters probably take the most flak from gamers and tend to be the most hated. Most gamers don’t like shooters due to their true-to-life reenactments, or just killing people with guns doesn’t sit well with most. No doubt shooters helped push consoles graphics-wise, and have some great stories to tell, and excellent cinematic moments.
Black Ops not only has astounding multiplayer, but the single-player campaign is probably one of the best this year when it comes to shooters. Most shooters have shallow stories, but Black Ops’ Vietnam/Cold War story is gripping, with some of the best set pieces seen in shooters. Excellent graphics, memorable characters, and awesome weapons make this a winner.
While it has its flaws and was overhyped there’s no denying the attention to detail in GT5. With over 500 cars, tons of real-world tracks detailed to every crack, excellent tuning options, and a slick interface what’s there not to like? With the new special events, GT5 is oozing with awesome content for car lovers. So flaws aside it’s the attention to detail that won this over the rest.
Physics games tend to be very popular on the App Store and Angry Birds is one of the best among them. The idea is to flick birds off a slingshot and have structures crash down around the evil pigs. There are various types of birds such as one that spreads into three when you tap it, one that goes really fast, then one that doesn’t do anything but cause damage, and a few other types.
At the start of each level, you get shown what you have to bring down and then you drag your finger to move to the slingshot. You can’t see where the structure is when looking at the slingshot so this provides a challenge, but also a lot of trial and error. Trying to find the weakest points in the structures can be a pain and tedious since you never feel like your birds are strong or heavy enough to do a good deal of damage.
You get rated at the end of each puzzle for how many birds you have left and how much damage you caused. Once all the pigs are dead you clear the level and move on to the next. It seems that there is no consistent difficulty increase and it just seems all over the map. The art style is nice and it feels fluid, but the sounds are really annoying.
Overall Angry Birds is an excellent physics game and is well worth your dollar.
Doodle Jump is one of those perfect pick-up-and-play games. You are a little erm…doodle guy who is trying to make his way up an infinite ladder of platforms. You tilt the device left and right to move Mr. Doodle and tap to shoot enemies. There are various items on platforms to help you gain more height. These range from springs, to flying hats, jet packs, trampolines, and more. Some platforms are wooden broken ones so you want to avoid those. Some platforms move left and right and side to side. Your goal is to get as high as possible, but Doodle Jump has a unique marking system so you can see your place marked every time you played as well as friends. The game connects straight to Twitter and Facebook so you can see where your friend’s highest scores were.
The game isn’t much to look at, but it does have a certain charm to it. The background is grid paper and everything looks hand-drawn thus the Doodle part of the name. Everything looks and plays simple and for only a dollar you get tons of fun out of this little game. This game isn’t good for long stretches, but it’s a good time killer. The game is also dangerously competitive thanks to its social-networking integration. If you love pick-up-and-play games this is your dream come true.