Video Game Reviews – July 2008

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flOw takes video gaming in a new direction; instead of going for the bigger and more detailed environments seen in many new games, flOw takes away all distractions and puts itself under the microscope, literally. In fact, flOw’s biggest flaw may be that the game dares not leave the tiny Petri dish that is its universe. Beautiful, soothing and totally mindless, flOw is one of those games where you really can’t ever lose; you just have to play a bit longer if you mess up. There are no buttons to push, no combos to learn and no distractions with this game, just hours of video game style Prozac. The object of flOw is to guide a little single-celled organism to consume other, smaller organisms until you grow big enough to dive a bit deeper into the darkness to consume bigger, more menacing organisms. As the food gets bigger it will begin to nibble back, and once your character has lost all of the decorative goodies gained by eating the smaller guys, flOw sends you back up a level to build your strength again. Once all depths have been achieved, there is the option of taking on a new form or keeping your current one for the next level. I know what you’re thinking, and it really is as boring as it seems.
Control is achieved exclusively with the six axis PS3 controller, meaning that dipping the controller one way or the other translates into movement on the screen. As with every motion controlled game there is a certain ambiguity involved, but since this game requires no precision at all, it isn’t a problem. Available for download on the Play Station Network, flOw will set you back about $10. Although it may not be the next big hit or break any ground, flOw does stick to its guns and does not bother trying to pretend it’s anything that it’s not. So next time your 8 year old nephew is in town, or you need to help one of your friends come down, plug in and get with the flOw.
3 out of 5 drops of seawater bugs.

Online Chess Kingdoms
Board games/fantasy
I’m a bit ashamed to admit that Konami was nice enough to send me this game a year ago, and it wasn’t until recently that I actually had the time to bust out Online Chess Kingdoms and give the game a shot. However, on a recent trip I put this game to the test and was surprised to see what Konami has done with the classic game of chess. Besides your typical one or two player modes, there is a ton of environments to play in and even a generic version of the classic board game Risk, in which each battle that takes place is (surprise!) a game of chess. This single player campaign has a whole ‘universe at war’ backstory that goes along with it, but I’ll spare you the epic details of that. The chess pieces and setting of the board change in each environment. Each new style of piece also has different attacks, so when your rook takes your foe’s bishop there’s an animation of the attack. These animations get old quick, and there’s no way to disable them so get ready to see these little shorts quite often. You can, however, change the screen view to just a very simple chess board layout if you absolutely can’t stand to see the animations anymore, but you still have to wait the same amount of time that the animation takes to watch, which is a serious bummer. Another problem with Online Chess Kingdoms is that you have to pass the PSP back and forth to play; I was really hoping there would be a way to just set the PSP between two players and let one player use the D-pad and the other player use the PS buttons to make their moves, but no such luck! However, with five difficulty levels to choose from and even a ‘hint’ option, Online Chess Kingdoms provides a very entertaining way to hone your chess skills and share a game anywhere, with anyone.
3 out of 5 bishops who despise pawns.

Ninja Gaiden II
Team Ninja/Tecmo
Xbox 360
As some of my legions of dedicated readers may remember, I placed Ninja Gaiden II’s predecessor, Ninja Gaiden Black, amongst the best games for the original Xbox. Now, three years later, the sequel has finally hit the shelves. And, like a father letting his punk kid drive the car for the first time, I was worried that Team Ninja would meddle too much with all of the things that worked so well before and ruin the fine legacy that is Ninja Gaiden. Well, the car is back in the garage, safe and sound with a full tank of gas and a nice wax job to boot. I’m not telling you that this game is perfect, but it does get the job done in a big way.
First off, this game is not for everyone. If you haven’t played any of the previous Ninja Gaiden games, then expect a fairly steep learning curve when you start. The action is super fast, the camera is hard to control and the enemies are more brutal than ever. Once again, Team Ninja has gifted us with oodles of combos to deal death out by the steaming ladleful and an array of weapons that are guaranteed to poke an eye out. Remember when just decapitating enemies seemed gruesome enough? Those days are over, as most battle scenes end up looking like when you put your sister’s Barbie collection in the blender. As I said before, the camera issues have always been bothersome in these games and remain so here. Nothing new or surprising about that; bad camera angles are just a reality in third person games where direction changes and tight environments are abundant. There are also some issues with getting caught on simple environment obstacles which can make parts of the game frustrating. However, don’t let a few little problems stop you from nurturing your inner ninja. Ninja Gaiden II rocks audaciously from start to stop; the few little improvements and heaps of proven, bodacious slashing ensure that fans of the series will not be disappointed.
4.75 out of 5 ninja dogs.