mg_cube

unnamedDeveloper: Gree8.0

Release Date: 2/15/2015

MSRP: Free

 

Also Available On

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The Good: Beautiful vector graphics, keeps you on your toes, great sound effects

The Bad: Takes too long to become challenging

mg_cube may have a weird sounding name, but this is one of the best freemium game out right now. The game is visually pleasing as well as fun to control. Controlling the colors green and red using the left and right side of the screen, players watch a vector cube bounce around a vector rendered world. As players approach each obstacle they have to decide what color to use to make the cube pass through and on to the next obstacle.

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It sounds simple enough, and takes quite a while to get challenging, but fun nonetheless. Obstacles vary from cubes, arrows that shoot you around, and bounce cubes. If you miss an obstacle the cube falls down into water with an ominous plop sound. Challenge levels get tough because as the speed of the cube increasing so do your reflexes. mg_cube is also a game about memory as players must memorize what each obstacle’s color is as you must pass through using the opposite color.

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If you love simple games, memory games, and vector graphics then this game is right up your alley. For a free-to-play game, mg_cube offers a lot of fun and doesn’t press for your money which is something we can all appreciate.

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Lost Sounds: Adventures of Poco Eco

89d9e601e9c9e45c9782ed38b2204c54-98Developer: Possible Games8.5

Release Date: 3/16/2015

MSRP: $1.99

Also Available On

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The Good: Fantastic soundtrack, beautiful visuals

The Bad: Extremely simple, very short, textures are muddy

Journey started a whole new genre of games. A visually stunning yet simple game that usually showcases a certain theme or gameplay element. Monument Valley was the first to do this on mobile devices and was considered a gaming classic right alongside Journey. Lost Sounds may not be a classic, but it does look beautiful and is a great bite sized experience.

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There’s not much of a story here, you play as a creature named Poco Eco who is trying to restore sound and music to his land. Going through a series of simple puzzles allows you to do this. In each level Poco walks around where you tap and the goal is to find red squares that will help you progress through the level. Some red button are laid around that you tap to move platforms around. Poco Eco is linear and it’s honestly not hard at all.

To make things even easier there’s a red fairy who you follow around as it shows you where to go. I’m assuming this game is geared heavily toward casual players, but there’s another reason to play this game. The music is just fantastic. Promoting a debut LP from DJ IAMYANK, the techno beats are just great. Everyone who buys the game gets a free digital copy of the soundtrack, and I honestly love the single form the album.

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The game looks fantastic with bright colorful visuals and beautiful vistas. The game is also technically impressive with long draw distances and great lighting effects, however the textures are something to be desired. Up close they look muddy and ugly.

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With all that said, Lost Sounds is a great experience for a cheap price and every fan of Journey, music, or Monument Valley should pick this up.

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F-Zero: Maximum Velocity

250px-Fzmvpackshot_usPublisher: Nintendo7.0

Developer: ND Cube

Release Date: 6/12/2001

Rating: Everyone

MSRP: $29.99

Available Exclusively On

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The Good: Great sense of speed, nostalgic feeling from SNES days, challenging

The Bad: Gets old quick, only four vehicles, feels more like an expansion to the original rather than a new game, difficulty can be overwhelming

F-Zero is a much loved series, but it doesn’t get much love from Nintendo. With the Gamecube having the last F-Zero game, fans are wondering if the series is completely dead and shelved by the big N. Thankfully, fans who loved the SNES classic can have even more with Maximum Velocity.

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Maximum Velocity is pretty much built on the same engine as the SNES using Mode 7 graphics. However, this may not have been the best choice to go as there are other more advanced racing games on the system. There are only four cars to select and I found the controls to be incredibly slippery and the AI to be extremely difficult to beat. The tracks are fun to drive, but the sense of speed is great, but the game is just lacking in overall content and polish.

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You could write all that off on the age of the engine, the GBA’s inferior hardware, or lazy design. Maximum Velocity feels more like an expansion pack to the original game more than one that can stand on its own two feet. After you have memorized all the hazards and turns in each track it does get easier, but not by much. This game is for players who want a serious challenge with the retro feel.

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While the GBA isn’t exactly ideal for racing games, this one really stands out as one of the best, people going back in time may find it nearly impossible to play due to it’s ancient gameplay ideals and design. However, you are missing a great opportunity to spend a fun afternoon racing on your GBA.

Super Monkey Ball Jr.

Super_Monkey_Ball_Jr._CoverartPublisher: THQ/ Sega

Developer: Realism8.0

Release Date: 11/19/2002

Rating: Everyone

Available Exclusively On

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The Good: Fantastic graphics, great physics emulation, controls feel right, challenging

The Bad: Gets old quickly, not enough content

Super Monkey Ball is one of those odd games that, these days, feel like it should be on a phone. It’s good in quick bursts or to beat your high score, but that’s about it. SMB is all about tilting a world around to get a monkey stuck inside of a ball to a goal. It harkens back to Marble Madness and days when motion control was a new thing. However, simulating physics and tilting on a GBA with a D-pad seems rather impossible but it’s not. SMB Jr. looks pretty darn good and feels natural with the D-pad. It feels like the game was hand tailored for the GBA.

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My only concern is that there’s no goal or challenge mode. You can select from sets of 10, 20, and 30 courses, you get two lives per level, and 5 continues per set. The goal is to try and collect all the bananas while also getting to the goal before the timer runs out. Some levels are easy, some are hard, some feel nearly impossible. Tilting the world around to get the ball inside the goal is a lot of fun at first but then it starts to wear thin fast. After you beat all 30 areas there’s not much else to do.

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I won’t say SMB is a bad game, just shallow and lacks depth. It it were more like the Gamecube version it may have been better, but understandably you can only fit so much on a GBA cart and the hardware is extremely limited. What is here is impressive for the little handheld.

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If you missed this little gem, pick it up cheap on eBay. You will have one fun, and frustrating, afternoon.

Nintendo GameBoy Advance SP

307920_frontManufacturer: Nintendo9.0

Release Date: 3/23/2003

MSRP: $129.99

Colors: Blue, Black, Silver, Red

 

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The Good: Great ergonomic design, rechargeable battery, small and compact, backlight

The Bad: Backlight isn’t all that bright, no headphone jack, not ideal for large hands

While Nintendo may have dominated the handheld market before smartphones were even a forethought, there was something about them that made them just seem…ugly. Bulky, low end specs, battery suckers; these are just a few names that early handhelds received from the original GameBoy, the Atari Lynx, all the way to even the GameBoy Advance. Handhelds required large casings as CPUs hadn’t quite been perfected yet and were large and bulky, not to mention screen technology was the same still being used in Texas Instrument calculators. LCD was extremely expensive and not cost effective for small devices yet. Same went for battery power. Lithium ion batteries were extremely expensive and not ideal for handhelds. Then came the GBA SP. A sleek fold up GameBoy with a rechargeable battery. It was the first of Nintendo’s handhelds that shed the disposable batteries and improved on screen technology.

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The first thing you will notice is the sleek form factor. The GBA SP is an awesome looking device. The original model was bulky and didn’t quite fit in your pocket, thus having to walk around with those dorky GBA bags. The button placement was perfect and the battery lasted for an amazing 10 hours on one charge (15 if you didn’t use the backlight). There was just this perfect square in your hands and it would amaze school yard kids and gaming fans alike. I actually remember having one of these in junior high and original model owners were extremely jealous due to the form factor and the backlight.

Speaking of backlight it was a huge deal. Self-lit LCDs were quite available yet so Nintendo stuck a backlight in the screen to brighten it up as the original model needed and actual flashlight clipped on top. While the screen is still quite dark it made a world of difference and was so much better in the dark. Kids who stayed up late playing their GameBoys were grateful as they no longer needed a flashlight to see the screen and catch their parents’ attention. Later on, however, Nintendo release a newer model SP with an even brighter screen. These models are harder to find and were released towards the end of the GBA’s life cycle.

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One major downfall of the SP is the lack of a headphone jack. The speaker is hard to hear in noisy areas with the volume all the way up, so headphones would be ideal. An adapter was required and went into the Link Cable port as an actual output would not have fit into the casing.

Aside from those issues the GBA SP was the portable gamers dream. A strong library with backwards compatibility for the GBA Color and original GameBoy what more could you want?

The GBA SP also came in several colors which wasn’t seen too often in the States. Flame Red, Onyx Black, Cobalt Blue, and Silver were amongst the colors available, while a pink model and a retro NES style model were released later on. However due to the GBA SP’s age it really shows its teeth. Let’s take a look at the actual specs of the machine.

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Powering the entire system is an ARM7TDMI CPU at a whopping 16 MHz. Yeah, it’s ancient tech even for 2003, but it got the job done. It had 128 KB of VRAM and 256 KB of DRAM. Yes, that’s kilobytes. The resolution was 256×160 and displayed an astounding 512 colors. However, those dinky specs were home to some of the greatest games of all time; it just goes to show that power isn’t everything.

With that said, the GBA SP is a must buy even for today. We have smartphones that are nearly as powerful as laptops now, the 3DS, and Vita that trumps the GBA in every aspect, but it’s the games that those devices can not bring back. While the $130 price tag was well worth it back in 2003, you will pay close to that or more for one in nearly perfect condition. Honestly, they don’t exist. They are scratched up, dinged, and chewed on. I had to buy my new one with a refurbished third party shell. If you’re a collector go this route on eBay. $60 will get you a new looking GBA SP. However, if you just want the games and don’t care, they run as low as $30 in pawn shops or eBay.

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number

Hotline_Miami_2_coverPublisher: Devolver Digital8.0

Developer: Dennaton

Release Date: 3/10/2015

Rating: Mature

MSRP: $14.99

Also Available On

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The Good: Fantastic music, vibrant graphics, fast paced gameplay, extremely violent

The Bad: Awful and confusing story, every strategy used in Miami 1 is abused here, poor enemy placement leads to frustrating restarts and trial and error, overstays its  welcome

Hotline Miami was one of my favorite games in 2013. It was violent, fast paced, had tight controls, and rocked a retro 8-bit art style like no other game has. The music was fantastic as well, but the best part was the “just one more level” appeal. Hotline Miami 2 brings back the epic music, great art, violence, and well…some other things we didn’t really want.

Wrong Number starts out by giving us some back story…well it tries and miserably fails at it. The story does not make one lick of sense because you are being flip-flopped between time periods and so many different characters. Each level just starts and the story is just there. There’s some dialog with no connection to the previous scene. It’s frustrating and makes you want the storyless original back. However, and it pains me to say this, but the story isn’t the worst thing in Miami 2. The game is excruciatingly difficult. Now Miami 1 was hard but satisfying so. It had great replay value because it was the perfect challenge. Miami 2 is a near frustrating mess of endless restarts and trial and error.

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You could say it’s worse level design but that’s not the case, I feel it’s more like poor enemy placement. There are so many enemies in each level and I mean tons. They all have a variety of guns, melee weapons, and a few can only be taken down with certain weapons. I feel the placement is haphazard where using strategies in the last game over way over used here and end up being used to exploit the game to advance which is not fun at all. Enemies will see you if you can see them, this is how Hotline Miami works. If you can pan the camera further away you can get a quick sniper shot at them and a free hit, but for fewer points. One good strategy is moving in and out of a doorway really quick and let some enemies see you, duck back into a corner and slice everyone up as they enter the doorway or round a corner. That was an infrequent strategy in Miami 1 but in 2 this has to be done to just get part way through one area. Miami 2 is also full of long winded levels that seem to never end.

Abusing Miami 1’s strategies is a crying shame here since this game could have had so much potential for more enemies and new strategies. After half way through the game the levels become large and hard to navigate with traditional Hotline Miami controls and gameplay. It’s almost like the game tried to go into a new direction but didn’t evolve its gameplay for it. Miami 2 is also twice as long as the first game, but it overstays its welcome after the second act. I literally felt like the game became a chore and just wanted it to end.

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However, that’s not to say the whole “one more level” thing is gone. I was hooked and the constant trial and error had me restarting levels dozens and dozens of times to try a new strategy, but it wasn’t really an enjoyable “one more level” feeling. A lot of times I had to exploit the enemy AI, only certain levels can really be completed one way and if you start a level with the wrong weapon, kill the wrong guy first, or even so much as to kill all the enemies in the wrong order you’re pretty much screwed. More often than not I was restarting a level not because my strategy wasn’t sound, but because the enemy AI screwed everything up because he wasn’t patrolling the correct corridor or left a room he’s normally in and blindsides me when I least expect it. Usually this is a good thing, but not when you’re forced to kill enemies in a certain way due to poor enemy placement being overwhelming.

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With that said, I hate to say that there’s really no reason to come back to this game after you finish. Do I want to spend an entire week restarting level after level again and again? Of course not. I’d rather re-download the first game and enjoy the excellent Miami-ness without all the hair pulling. All in all, Miami 2 is not really a must play even for fans, if you end up never playing this you’re probably better off sticking with the first game.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War

5Publisher: Ubisoft9.0

Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier

Release Date: 6/24/2014

Rating: Teen

MSRP: $14.99

Also Available On

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The Good: Fantastic storytelling and characters, teaches you the entire history of WW1, engrossing atmosphere, beautiful soundtrack, fun yet clever puzzles

The Bad: Action sequences can require a lot of trial and error, some very vague puzzles, puzzles get a bit stale towards the end

It’s been a long time since I have played a game through an entire day and couldn’t put it down. Valiant Hearts will keep you instantly glued to the screen thanks to its rich history, characters, and story. Valiant Hearts is probably the only WW1 game I can remember playing. There is a huge lack of WW1 games and I’m glad Ubisoft decided to make it a 2D platformer rather than an FPS. The game is brilliant on many levels and fans of these types of games will not be disappointed.

You play as four different characters all fighting the tragic war in France. A German, an American, a French woman and a Frenchman. The game reenacts major battles from WW1 and also gives you history on what really happened during that time period. You can also go around collecting trinkets that are from the war. It’s great for history buffs or anyone who’s curious about what really happened during WW1 since WWII is all anyone talks about.

With that said, the game mixes up stealth, action, and puzzle solving; all of which are excellent. There’s no real fighting in the game, you don’t get a gun. You are mainly just trying to survive this tragic war while you watch everyone around you die. It gives you a sense of helplessness and makes you realize just how terrible and brutal WW1 was. The game is played on several 2D planes. Using the background and foreground to solve puzzles; all of which are completely different but the mechanics tend to be the same and it gets a bit old towards the end. However, many sequences are cinematic and scripted which keeps you glued. I can honestly say the game is well paced and perfect for a one day gaming spree.

I did find some issues here and there such as a few puzzles being extremely vague, but it’s nothing that some trial and error and exploration won’t solve. There is a hint system for people who aren’t very good at puzzles, but it can also be turned off. Some of the more frustrating areas were the action sequences in which bombs drop and you have to dodge enemy fire. A lot of it is trial and error because the game rushes you through it. Expect to restart and die several times throughout this game.

The graphics alone are just gorgeous and the colors pop on PS4 and Xbox One. The sound is excellent and the music is wonderful. Many pieces are classical symphonies from the time period so it adds even more authenticity to the game.

With that said, Valiant Hearts is probably a hidden gem that many people will pass up. It’s tragic, it really teaches and shows you every step of WW1 and enlightens you on just how terrible the human race can be. From mustard gas bombings, to the creation of tanks and aircraft, WW1 was just a stepping stone for WWII.