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Indie Game Mag Issue 2 Available!!

Issue 2: Winter 2009 is now Available!

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Nobody is safe from the Red Ring of Death!

After 2 long years of Xbox 360 Enjoyment, I was stabbed in the back by the system that has brought me so much pleasure. 2 Days ago, I was struck by the red ring of death. I can't imagine that anything in particular set this unfortunate series of events in motion...I guess I am just another statistic (1/3 or 33% of older Xboxes have this issue). Sadly, my manufacturer's warranty is way overdue and I cannot bear to spend $99 and be without my xbox as Microsoft toils away at a pathetic and rushed console. Instead, I bought a $199 Xbox Arcade yesterday...taking advantage of the new model's HDMI hookup, quieter fan, and supposedly one that is without red rings. If you are proficient at fixing this problem (as many have become) you can bid on my Xbox 360 on ebay. I am selling it in hopes of subsidizing the cost of this catastrophe. I can't help but think it's all some Microsoft conspiracy to break older xboxes (with the NXE perhaps?) so that avid gamers such as myself are forced to buy new ones...thus boosting their console sales...which they so like to gloat about.

Updating the Magic Toy Chest

Updating the Magic Toy Chest has taken a lot longer than expected, but after reading our reviews and critiques, I felt that I could easily make improvements to vastly improve the game. Sorry for the lengthy time that this update has taken, but as we worked on it, more and more things were included.

We still don't have everything done for the update...but we're very close. Check out the new graphics above (its only the load screen). Anyway, Here's everything we've been able to cram in the update so far:

  • Upgraded Visuals - Brand New backgrounds, Kid Avatars, and tweaked foregrounds
  • New Graphic effects - all foregrounds have a drop shadow to better distinguish themselves from the background
  • New Music - We've kept in the old music, but have added over 6 new tracks
  • Quick Reload - hit 'Q' to restart the level instantly - NO LOAD TIMES!
  • Trophies! - Visit your bedroom to check out what toy trophies you've earned. Work to unlock over 16 trophies by mastering all 80 puzzles and completing specific game achievements
  • Level Tweaks
  • Most importantly all your save files are 100% compatible with the please enjoy and BUY our great game NOW and help us pay for all these great and FREE improvements!

Gears of War 2 Review

Gears of War 2 is the follow-up to the enormously successful pop-n-stop shooter Gears of War. Developed by Epic Games and touted as "Bigger, Badder, and more Badass," Gears of War 2 delivers with the same addictive gameplay and spectacular graphics, but its blemishes are more visible this time around.

Gameplay: 9.5/10
The gameplay really hasn't changed that much since the first time around. You move in and out of cover with the A-button, aim with the left trigger and shoot Locusts with the right trigger. There are some great gameplay additions like the ability to grab a downed opponent and use them as a shield...and the OK chainsaw battles. The more important and necessary tweaks come in the form of giving bullets "stopping-power" which severely hampers shotgun bum rushes and making chainsawers vulnerable during the animation. The main campaign and story is also a lot better but still littered with some ridiculously cliche dialogue.

Graphics: 9.5/10
Unreal Engines still delivers in the graphics department and the animations, characters and levels all look spectacular. If you thought Gears 1 looked good, Gears of War 2 certainly won't disappoint. The multiplayer levels have a fantastic variety of looks, lighting, and color palletes. Unfortunately that doesn't translate to the latter part of the campaign where you spend a majority of your time underground in blase tunnels.

Sound/Music: 9.5/10
The voice acting is really good, but there is still some dialogue that is suspect. All the Locust talk is incredibly well done and the one-liners in multiplayer work well. The sound FX are fantastic. The weapons sound visceral and get your adrenaline pumping. The music is good but is dwarfed by the sounds of combat.

Lasting Appeal: 9/10
Gears of War 2 makes great strides in its multiplayer. It has 15 maps, a much improved spectator mode/camera, and some great new multiplayer modes (specifically Wingman, Submission and the incredibly addictive Horde mode). It also has implemented a matchmaking system...which was incredibly slow at launch and was recently patched...even still it pales in comparison to the matchmaking found in other games. The ranking system is also suspect since my fellow teammates and I have ranked up when we lose and ranked down after a win. There is still a significant host advantage, disconnects, and incredibly laggy multiplayer. Finally, multiplayer is in need of some sort of health bar...the red gear indicator is too subjective and there's nothing more frustrating than getting killed because you judged you and your opponents damage incorrectly.
Average: 93.75%
Tilt: +0.25%

Despite its flaws, Gears of War 2 is still a vastly entertaining experience. Yes it can be frustrating at times. But regardless of how many times you get killed, you never want to put down the controller. When it comes to multiplayer, GoW2 is not nearly as technically capable or refined as Halo 3, but the game itself is still just as fun.
Verdict: 94%

Rock Band 2 Review

Rock Band 2 doesn't mess with their original formula. They've made some much needed improvements to band setup and the menus, gotten rid of the broken "play songs in this order" single player modes and added in a multi-tiered challenge mode along with a Battle of the Bands Online component. There's also the 84 tracks and 20 downloadable songs that come with the game as well. All in all, it's a safe sequel that improves on the essential flaws, but I'm expecting more innovation and nuance for the next go around.

Graphics: 9/10
You have to have quite the dicerning eye to differentiate RB1 from RB2 in-game. The most notable graphics changes/additions are some new venues and new filters. The characters are still excellently animated and all the venues and filters look pretty great. The crowd still could use some more polygons, and it really irritated me that I couldn't import my old character from RB1 into RB2 - the creator is pretty much the exact same with some new head shapes, clothes, etc.... so WTF? why did I have to do this all over again? The menus and user interface are vastly improved and much sleeker.
Gameplay: 9/10
The gameplay for Rock Band 2 still revolves around pressing and timing notes to music. Rock Band 2 is definitely more difficult than Rock Band and as the aforementioned new modes. It's really nice that they allow band members to swap between instruments in world tour...rather than tying your create-a-character to 1 instrument. The whole interface for World Tour, Quickplay, etc. is so much faster and smoother. The online world tour works pretty damn good too, with no noticeable lag. The new tiered challenge mode makes a lot more sense for a party game like Rock Band vs. keeping ties to the old Guitar Hero play every song in order method. A quick note on the new instruments - The RB2 guitar is better than the RB1 guitar but still vastly inferior to Guitar Hero guitars...the strum bar just sucks. The new wireless drums are great - reinforcing the kick petal and adding velocity sensitive drum pads. Why is there a wireless mic? Why not include the all-in-on wireless microphone controller?
Sound/Music: 10/10
The ability to use all your existing DLC and spend $5 to export all but 3 RB tracks into Rock Band 2 is absolutely amazing. Then there's the 84 tracks the game comes with and the 20 free DLC songs that you can register and download. There's just an unsurpassed amount of songs for the game. I would also like to give props to the new calibration system which perfectly calibrates the music/sound to your TV visuals.
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Music games like Rock Band 2 depend and Rock Band 2 has the most songs and is constantly releasing new songs every week (500 available by the end of the year supposedly). The music keeps you playing and definitely doesn't get repetitious. The Battle of the Bands mode is a really cool online leaderboard challenge mode where the challenges keep rotating and changing (they also use DLC songs). You'll always find yourself checking for a challenge you may like. There's also the same extensive World Tour mode (which shows BattleofBands Challenges on your map) which is now online as well. The game is an instant hit and parties and has limitless replayability.
Average: 95.00%
Tilt: +/- 0.00%
Rock Band 2 is the same great game that was released last year with more songs and the major issues fixed and some great new online modes. There's definitely more improvements that need to be made gameplay wise for the next installment. First off, the vocal overdrive activation needs to be available at all times... include a mic with at least a d-pad and a-button on it for RB3 and allow a tap of the a-button to initiate overdrive.... this will remove the needless failing when you have overdrive problem. I also suggest that there be songs that have lead guitar and rhythm guitar a la GH2. It would also be nice to allow the bassist and guitarist to switch parts between songs (currently you select bass/guitar prior to a set) or after a song is failed prior to retrying it. I'm sure there's other improvements that could be made as well, but enough talk... get this game, call up all your friends, and enjoy playing together because that is what this game is about.
Verdict: 95%

LittleBigPlanet Review

LittleBigPlanet is the much hyped (and soon to be over merchandised) playstation exclusive. It's a community based platformer for up to 4 players and includes a diverse and unsurpassed amount of creative community tools to create and share your own levels, objects, character costumes etc. The tagline for LBP is "Create, Share, Play" and while I think LBP is an amazing game, I'm not sure how well it delivers in the "Play" Category.

Gameplay: 8/10
My biggest problem with Little Big Planet is the gameplay itself. Platformers are great games, but one of the most important thing in a platformer is you ability to jump and move effectively. In LBP, jumping can be "floaty" and take a significant amount of time to just never is as precise as a Mario Bros. Game. The other problem is that LBP is played in 3 planes, the foreground, background, and middle. You can manually jump between these planes, but LBP has an autodetect system that works well for the most part...except when it doesn't and you fall to your doom and die. These two factors lead to mistakes, deaths, and failure - all of which leads to frustration. That being said, the game is much more forgiving and fun when you have multiple players (aka more respawns). I have had some trouble with gameplay performance online, but the servers just had work done on them...and it has improved. The physics additions to the platforming engine really gives the game some legs and allows for creativity to flourish online.

Graphics: 9.5/10
The graphics in LittleBigPlanet are mighty impressive....though not mind blowing. I really like the overall "pop-up" book visual style. The most important thing is that the sackboys have a great variety of looks, expressions and are fantastically animated. There's an immense library of items and level building blocks that allow for a diverse range of sights. The developer levels are all diverse and some community levels are quite impressive (especially the Mario Bros Lvl 1 remake which looks pretty spot). The developers have given everyone plenty of tools to keep this game looking fresh for years to come.

Sound/Music: 9.5/10
I am a huge fan of the charming narrator who provides some excellent voicework while you play through your first few levels or watch any tutorials. Word Bubbles pop up in-game and most of the time feature a sort of jumbled/mumbled made-up language or sound effect. Some of these "fake speech" FX are great while others are annoying. The music is very good especially the light fun beats from the early levels.

Lasting Appeal: 10/10
The developers really couldn't do any more to add to the longevity of this game. All of the developer levels are very good...even if they can be frustrating. You'll want to play them though because that's where you unlock a lot of the goodies to decorate your sackboy & create levels. The level editor allows for nearly any level to be created and you can instantly upload your creations to the server. One of the most fun I have had in the game has been browsing the online levels and playing them. The diversity of the levels online is quite interesting - I've been Batman, earned easy trophies, or simply experienced the humor of selected Xbox360 as the better console and having to do the walk of shame. Have I mentioned that there's up to 4 player online co-op? or the fact that you should be able to create levels online with up to 4 people in a future patch? Bottom line is that if you like'll be playing LBP for years to come.

Average: 92.50%
Tilt: + 2.50%

LittleBigPlanet is more of a creative tool than a game. It provides users around the world with the ability to create their own levels, characters, and objects and share them online with the world. The basic platformer infrastructure is really the only limitation (but a lot of people have already found ways around that...see tetris above). The overall presentation, grandness of the idea and fantastic execution allows LBP to transcend its flaws. The game is utterly charming, fantastically unique, and surely a game that will be remembered.

Verdict: 95%

Saints Row 2 Review

Saints Row 2 is the sequel to the popular GTA clone, Saints Row by Volition. It picks up right where the first one left off, with your character waking up from a coma after an explosion ended the first game with a literal bang. New gamers shoudn't worry because SR2's story is entirely self-contained (all you need to know is that your gang, the Saints, has been eradicated and that you're pissed about it). SR may have started as a GTA: San Andreas clone, but it is quite a different game than GTA4.

Gameplay: 9.5/10
Saints Row is just plain fun. It doesn't take itself to seriously, and has some ridiculously over the top activities and side missions. I'm a big fan of how you are required to play some of these side missions in order to gain respect and progress in the main story. Bottom line is that SR2 has great Co-op, a fantastic variety of activities and mission and a much more open-structure mission progression than other "sandbox" games. The multiplayer is decent with "Strong Arm" (get the most cash by killing the other team or competing in activities) standing out as a fun mix of things from the single player game. Missions have a friendly checkpoint system which reduces frustration and the 3rd person shooting mechanic works well. My only critiques of the gameplay would be that the story is a bit cliche and predictable and the game is a little on the easy side.

Graphics: 8.5/10
Saints Row 2 may be more "fun" than GTA4 but it certainly isn't prettier. While the character customization is fantastic, the overall graphics of SR2 are unimpressive and average. There is definitely draw-in and the occasional vanishing vehicle. This is all the more disappointing since the city of Stillwater is not that large. My guess is that in order to keep the online multiplayer running smoothly, sacrifices had to be made. Don't get me wrong, Online Co-Op is great and having the whole city unlocked from Mission 1 on is fantastic, but it doesn't erase the blemishes on the visuals.

Sound/Music: 9/10
The music selection is excellent. There's a great amount of radio stations to choose from with a variety of music ranging from funk, hip-hop, rock, classical, and 80s. The radio "joke" advertisements aren't nearly as well executed as GTA's ads, but the voice acting is admirable. The voice acting is especially impressive when you take into account the ability to choose from 6 different "accents/voices" for your main character. All in all it's a good "bang for your buck" audio package.

Lasting Appeal: 8/10
If you are an achievement whore, you'll have plenty to do: complete all activities and missions (and then again cooperatively). The multiplayer co-op campaign is fantastic and there's really no excuse for these open-world sandbox games not to offer this feature. Competitive multiplayer is Ok, but ultimately feels somewhat tacked on. SR multiplayer just cannot compete with more focused multiplayer games such as Gears of War or Halo.

Average: 87.50%
Tilt: +1.50%

The thing that you take away from Saints Row 2 is that it is just a blast to play. Think of it as the immature brother of GTA4, who's the life of the party. Yes, the graphics aren't as good and the production value isn't as high, but SR2's co-op and outlandish activities give you a plethora of things to do and enjoy. The checkpoint system keeps you from getting frustrated, and the shooting just feels right. The game is fun and open to enjoy from the minute you pop the disc in your system. Saints Row 2 has found it's niche; It's the fun over-the-top gang banging sandbox game. I mean let's face it, nothing beats riding an ATV with a fire suit on and setting people on fire.

Verdict: 89%

Blog Updated

The blog has a new look and a new focus. All of our indie game reviews have been moved to the IndieGameMag - Check out this great new site and magazine now!

This blog will still feature great next gen game reviews, retro gaming articles, top 5 gaming lists, and hopefully a lot more developer news/updates.

Top 5 Scary Halloween Games 2008

So this list is going to focus on more recent scary/dark games that I played over the past year.

5. Psychonauts

Not really scary, but for some reason when i think halloween this game comes to mind. The levels are based on people's nightmares & minds which can be creepy...weird is probably the best description for the game though.

4. Dead Space
Just came out, but it's pretty freaky and visceral.

3. The Darkness A very riveting 1-player campaign...and while it lacks jump in your seat moments, It certainly is dark and disturbing. Really good game.

2. Condemned 2
Play this is the dark, and you'll be creeped out. fact.

1. BioShock
If the Little Sisters, Big Daddies, genetic loonies and twisted dystopia of Rapture don't creep you out, then you're made of stone. The whole storyline and city is pretty f'ed up in this it's an incredible game and a must buy.

The Force: Unleashed Review

The Force: Unleashed is the latest game from Lucas Arts and takes place between Episodes III and IV. The game uses the Euphoria Engine along with the standard Havok Physics. The game sets you in the shoes of Darth Vader's secret apprentice and has you traipsing across the galaxy in standard 3rd player action fare, despite all the hype of unleashed force powers, the euphoria engine and other techie buzz words.

Gameplay: 7/10
Pros: The story is definitely interesting especially for star wars fans. The game starts out with a bang and the force powers are increbily entertaining to use and toy around with in the first 2-3 stages...
Cons: The game gets less fun and more frustrating as you move along. Enemies become cheap, and immune to your nifty force powers or are just too overwhelming to use the entertaining force grip. Leveling up doesn't really unlock anything new...combat gets repetitive.

Graphics: 7/10
Pros: The graphics are definitely AAA and the levels are all gorgeous. Using real actors to motion-cap adds authenticity.
Cons: The enemy animations are fantastic but oftentimes at a distance and wasted. Act 2 has you retread all the same planets from Act 1, as a result enemies are reused and it all just gets repetitive.
Sound/Music: 9/10
Pros: The Star Wars scoring and sound fx as always are excellent. The voicework is definitely above par for a video game and just as good as one of the canonical star wars movies.
Cons: I'm pretty sure they got some impressionists for Princess Leia and Vader...just not the same.

Lasting Appeal: 5/10
Pros: The Story is definitely worth seeing through to the end.
Cons: No real replay value, no multiplayer or noteworthy modes other than the single player campaign.

Average: 72.50%
Tilt: -0.50%

This is an absolutely perfect game to rent, beat and throw away. The gameplay is very fun in the first few hours and after that the story is worth suffering through the repetition and cheapness in the final levels. I guess if you are a huge star wars fan this warrants a purchase, but otherwise this game just has no legs other than its story. It would have benefited from a lot more RPG character leveling and more force abilities.

Verdict: 72%

Announcing: The Indie Game Magazine

Graduate Games' Blog is too big for its own good. After having some fellow bloggers critique and evaluate our video game blog, we have decided to refocus the blog on:

  • Current (next gen) Video Game Reviews
  • Developer News/Updates
  • Retro Gaming
  • Gaming Top 5 Lists

Indie Game Reviews are all being moved to The Independent Game Magazine is a physical/digital magazine that gaming enthusiasts can have mailed/emailed to them. All the reviews can be read online too. Indie Game Mag is the ONLY game magazine that focuses solely on indie & casual games. It is with great pleasure that we announce the release of the first issue!

Please visit to learn more about this new exciting indie game developer-focused game site & magazine. You can order the magazine there too!

Kudos 2 Review

Kudos 2 is the sequel to Positech Games life simulator game, Kudos. The game puts you in control of making your character's everyday decisions from their 20th birthday to their 30th. If you are familiar with Kudos, then you definitely know what to expect in the sequel. Not much has changed since the first one except a significantly enhanced style and presentation.

Gameplay: 8/10
Pros: The same strategy gameplay from Kudos returns to Kudos 2. The game is very simple to play (but definitely hard to master) and surprisingly addictive. The new ability to customize your avatar really adds a lot to the experience.
Cons: Gameplay consists of clicking and navigating menus. The tutorial/instruction of the game is a little scant. Your friends are way too needy! and your never seem to have enough cash (ok maybe this simulator is hitting close to home).

Graphics: 10/10
Pros: I actually didn't notice how much better the graphics were till I looked at screens between the two games. Kudos 1 had freaky blank-faced character models and a washed out and colorless presentation (I guess it took place in Seattle or London) whereas Kudos 2 has slick customizable characters, and vibrant menus and a colorful presentation.
Cons: An utter lack of animation permeates the sequel, but then again, animation isn't really needed for this type of game.

Sound/Music: 9/10
Pros: Congratulations to Jesse Hopkins who does a great job with the music for this game. The music is very calming, laid back and subtle. The music does a fantastic job capturing the mood of the day and the atmosphere of the game. Sound is kept to simple clicks and what I would call "alert sounds" (ie. dog barking, rain falling, character coughing) that help notify the player of their situation.
Cons: Nothing really to complain about...

Lasting Appeal: 9/10
Pros: The bright and upbeat music and improved graphics of this sequel make a huge difference in the amount of time that you can spend playing the game. It takes a decent amount of time to live your life from 20-30 in the game, but the character customization and sheer amount of choices, skills and statistics add a lot of replay value.
Cons: I'm really not sure if this is a game or a simulator/strategy game. In many ways it's more similar to a board game with stat tracking character sheets than a video game. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but also makes this game not suitable to everyone.

Average: 90.00%
Tilt: +/- 0.00%

Kudos 2 is a life simulator and that's exactly what you get (and a vastly improved one at that) but if that explanation of the game alone makes you cringe than this game is absolutely not for you. It's a very relaxing and enjoyable diversion where you can live a virtual life. The sheer amount of choice in this game is ridiculous. I do have a suggestion for Kudos 3. I think it would be fantastic if the game placed you in your senior year of high school rather than your 20s as a poor waiter. As an 18 year old, you would have high school friends, finish out your senior year of high school, apply and select a college (or start in the workforce), and continue to try and maintain long time friends as you move away from school into your 20s & 30s. This would break up the game and vary the virtual life experience a little more. All in all, I look forward to Kudos 3 and thoroughly enjoyed Kudos 2. The gameplay is only subtly changed, but the overall package is vastly improved.

Verdict: 90%

World of Goo Review

World of Goo is the first game from Indie Game Studio, 2D Boy. Founded by Kyle Gabler and Ron Carmel, 2D Boy's goal (according to their website) is to "make games that everyone can play, with gameplay nobody has seen before." Well, they have certainly met this goal with World of Goo. World of Goo is hard to pigeon hole into one game genre, but I guess if I had to label it I would describe it as a goo-construction physics puzzle action game. Basically, you drag and drop goo balls to build towers, bridges etc. towards a vacuum pipe that sucks up all the remaining goos. The game is definitely out there and utterly unique, but it's also incredibly sublime.

Gameplay: 10/10
Pros: The gameplay is unlike any other game out there. It's sort of like building with K'nex...except their goo balls with little personalities. Each level poses a brand new challenge and the game controls are pretty basic (drag & click). The game introduces new goos at a great pace which helps keep the puzzles and goo building fresh. There's sort of a story and its interestingly told.
Cons: The game is over too fast, but great games always are. Large goo structures can be tricky to build and frustrating tip over...but the limited level skips are always enough to keep you moving along the campaign.

Graphics: 10/10
Pros: The art style is probably the best thing about the game. It is very odd...especially the cutscenes and some of the level pieces (Girl Goo Heads, Wacky Hands, Creepy Robot Heads, etc) but utterly charming. The game's first chapter is very clean and colorful...but as the game progresses the art style starts permeating through and gets weirder and weirder along with the wacky story. All this oddity is a good thing though. The visuals never get boring and the presentation and execution is excellent.

Sound/Music: 10/10
Pros: The music perfectly fits the art style and mood, but what really makes the games auditory experience so excellent are the sound effects. Goo giggles, mumbles gibberish, inflates, etc. and the People of World of Goo speak emphatic gibberish as well...but all along the way convey emotion. That coupled with the sheer humor of the it all makes it incredibly enjoyable.

Lasting Appeal: 8/10
Pros: There are 5 Chapters and an Epilogue, with each world having a decent number of levels (~10) but when a game is this enjoyable and completely lacks tedium you alwasy want more. The Global Ranking score system add replayability and the meta game of using extra goo to build the tallest tower also adds longevity to the title.
Cons: Ultimately the game can be beaten over a weekend and every level played.

Average: 95.00%
Tilt: +2.00%

What it comes down to is that World of Goo is one of the finest and most original games I have played in recent years. It may not be the longest experience, but much like XBLA's Braid, Goo maintains an interest and high quality throughout every level of the game. The game is a fantastic experience that will be thoroughly enjoyed, but then you can move on. This approach to indie games is excellent because ultimately and indie studio cannot compete with the longevity of a commercial studio game. This is what they do best - Wow you with originality, art stlye and uniqueness and offer you a fantastic experience for the fraction of the price of a full scale commercial title. World of Goo is an exceptional game at an exceptional price. There's really no excuse not to experience the creativity, art, and fun that permeates this game.

Verdict: 97%

World Of Goo is Released on Oct 13th

World of Goo is coming out October 13th on PC and the Wii. Lucky for me, I preordered it and will be playing it a whole week early. Look for a review on the game next Monday and support 2dboy - a fantastic indie developer.

Mercenaries 2: World in Flames Review

Mercenaries 2: World in Flames is the highly anticipated sequel to Pandemic's Mercenaries. Too bad, Mercenaries 2 disappoints in a big way. In fact, I was left wondering if Mercs 1 was really as good as I remembered it.

Gameplay: 7/10
Pros: The much touted destructable environment is pretty sweet. The controls are good, blasting things are fun, and the new hijacking minigames are cool.
Cons: So Repetitive! Idiotic AI and missions that are way too spread out.

Graphics: 8/10
Pros: The graphics are pretty good with lush jungle environments, and good detail. The draw distance is also very good and blowing up buildings looks fantastic. Framerate holds steady.
Cons: The cutscenes look horrendous. Animations can be stiff and the character models are subpar.

Sound: 7/10
Pros: The sound effects are all good and standard issue. Voice acting of the 3 main mercs is good.
Cons: Forgettable music, repetitive voice work kill anything that would differentiate the music in this game from any other military game out there.

Lasting Appeal: 7/10
Pros: Online Co Op is a good edition and there's a lot of missions and ground to cover...
Cons: It's just that its all repetitive and the Co-Op is limiting (players have to stay withing proximity of one another)

Average: 72.50%
Tilt: -2.50%

I was really looking forward to this game and it really let me down (I'm thankful I rented it first). The destructible environments are great, but ultimately open world games come down to the diversity of things to do in missions and sidequests... a whole game built around gunning down enemies and blowing up buildings needs to at least offer competent enemies. The game is a top-notch destructible playground, but I need more for my $60.

Final Verdict: 70%

Graduate Games has a New Look

As you can see from above, Graduate Games has a brand new look. Check it out and download some free games. We hope you like it!

Castle Crashers XBLA Review

Castle Crashers finally arrived in late August and has been surrounded by controversy. First, there was the alleged rumored price of $22.50 that caused the internet to erupt in worries though, the game is only $15. Then there were the 2 heinous bugs that caused the Behemoth's devlog and Castle Crashers site to crash. I have actually suffered both bugs.... 1 bug being that I cannot play online at all and the other being that my Level 28 knight, unlockables, and save file were erased on me right when I got to the Marsh level. Despite these bugs, I'm still a huge fan of Castle Crashers and have happily surpassed the point of first game erasure.

Castle Crashers exudes tremendous personality. Dan Paladin's hand drawn graphics are superb and there is a ton of humor and extra animation work that create mostly great moments (thief washing scrubbing clothes in the river, Ice/Barbarian Boss taking the time to laugh at you, Barbarian punching knocked down gray knight) and some not so funny ones (Thieves Forest animal crapping is just too much...Owl ok...deer & bear excessive). The sheer amount of work, animations, characters, levels, etc that went into this game is incredibly commendable.

Let's get to the particulars. I've already talked about the great graphics and animations, the story is thin... 4 knights have their 4 chicks stolen, but all the animated sequences (there's no dialogue) put together an interesting, if shallow story. The music is very catchy especially the shop theme and suits the eccentricity and theme of the title very well. The gameplay recreates the arcade co-op beat-em-up gameplay perfectly. It's instantly playable, and the leveling system gives the game depth. Leveling up unlocks deeper combos and magic abilities. There's also an immense amount of content to unlock from weapons, animal orbs, secret characters, etc.

It is a very big letdown that Online has been completely unplayable (I got about 30 secs of all you can quaff online once) but the Behemoth has assured its fans that a title update and downloadable content is on the way. I have played the game splitscreen and it is way more fun with a friend, even if a little less challenging. The major negatives for me have been the bugs (erasing my save was especially infuriating) and the annoying enemies that stand off the stage and shoot projectiles at you. All in all though this game is superb, utterly unique, and a must buy on XBLA. Hopefully, the online issues will be fixed and we'll all be questing online in the coming weeks.

Orange Knight Rules!

Gameplay: 9/10
Graphics: 10/10
Sound/Music: 9/10
Lasting Appeal 9.5/10

Average: 93.75%
Tilt: -0.75% (sorry gotta take some off for the bugs)

Verdict: 93%

Braid Review

Braid is a very commendable and entralling independent game by Jonathan Blow. First let me start off by saying that screenshots do not do this game justice. While the game is not pushing the graphical power of the Xbox, David Hellman's art for the game is simply fantastic. The game has a unique water color look to it and the swirling colors and especially the parralax backgrounds can astonish and fit perfectly into this surreal sort of fairy tale. The story of braid is interesting and has a pretty good twist of an ending. It's certainly one of the best XBLA stories out there. Since it's all presented in text form, it does lose something that other full priced games have. Let's get to it though, the best thing about Braid is the gameplay. It is a puzzle platform game revolving around time manipulation. This time manipulation reduces frustration (since if you die, you just rewind) and changes in each world keeping things very fresh.

Braid is doing everything right so far, but it does stumble. Braid is incredibly short and has little in the way of replay value (a speed achievement). While the shortness is refreshing (I really like that I've beaten the game, enjoyed it, experienced it and can now move on), 1 more world of puzzles with 1 more mechanic would have gone a long way to flesh out the package. The game is about $5 more expensive than a lot of the other XBLA games out there, but let's be honest, this game deserves to have you $15 and was made by an indie studio rather than Capcom or some other uber developer. Still, I can see people's complaints about price (as spoiled as they are) especially with the brevity of the game. My only other complaint about the game is the lack of different enemies/hazards (c'mon 2 enemies?) and a lack of graphical diversity (the opening stage looks to cool! why are all the levels sprawling green hills?).

Bottom line is that this game is not for everybody, but is a very delightful and engaging little title. It is a very unique game that is definitely worth your time and money. I downloaded the trial game and unlocked the full version before I was even finished with the trial. Give it a try, support an indie game developer, and discover the clever story twist.

Gameplay: 9/10
Graphics: 9/10
Music: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 6/10

Average: 82.5%
Tilt: + 4.50%

Verdict: 87%

Soul Calibur 4 Review

Soul Calibur IV is the 4th installment in Namco's (superior) fighting series. The differences betweent the Xbox 360 and PS3 revolve around the Star Wars Characters present. Xbox is good and has Yoda and apparently the Playstation is evil and has Darth Vader. The PS3 wins in the end because it has the ability to install the game on the hard drive which VASTLY reduces (as in almost eliminates) load times. Supposedly, the Xbox will get this at a later date so don't fret.

Gameplay: 8.5/10
Pros: The game has approachable controls, and good pick up and play appeal. The combat system is robust and deep, tons of characters to learn, great single player modes, amazing create a character mode, and excellent online
Cons: Many characters have been greatly altered. I find the combos to feel stiff and overly reduces button mashing yes, but it feels robotic. The fluidity of sword strikes/combos is somewhat lost.

Graphics: 9/10
Pros: The graphics, particle effects, animation and characters are all top-notch. Online plays extremely well with no noticeable lag in animations, movement, etc.
Cons: The arenas look great, but are small and boring (almost always square/rectangular). Perhaps DOA has set expectations for arenas and interactivity too high. The graphics aren't pushing the PS3's power.

Sound/Music: 9/10
Pros: During a match the sound effects and music is perfect and all AAA. Most character voices are good with decent sayings.
Cons: The narrator is very similar to past titles and can be a little much sometimes. It's more the script and some of the ridiculous introductions to battles than his performance.

Lasting Appeal: 8.5/10
Pros: Fighting fans will have very little to complain about and plenty to keep them busy. The character creator mode is incredibly versatile and there are pics all over the net of classic fighting game characters (M. Bison being particularly spot-on) placed into Soul Calibur 4 by using the creator's versatility. The online multiplayer is fantastic and the single player gives you plenty to do.
Cons: I found the amount of characters and stiff new fighting mechanics a little daunting. With all the multiplayer games out there, simple 1 on 1 fighting games don't offer the same appeal of the higher player count multiplayer games out there.

Average: 87.5%
tilt: -0.05%

There's nothing I can definitively point at fault in SCIV, but I haven't been compelled to play it in a few weeks. There's something to be said for that.

Verdict: 87%

The Magic Toy Chest Scores 90% Gold Star Review!

"There aren't many downsides to TMTC"

"Graphics are high quality and quite cartoony"

"This is a welcome brain-stretching exercise for all TIM fans, and ideal for parents looking to stretch their children - no violence, bright and cheerful, encouraging logical thought... and it might inspire them to tidy their rooms, but I can't promise anything in that direction! Now I'm off to try setting up a domino rally... "

Graphics 90%
Sound 88%
Playability 92%
Longevity 90%
Overall Score 90%

- Andrew Williams, Bytten (Read the Full Review)

Magic Toy Chest Version 1.01 Released

The New Demo version has been uploaded.

The full version patch can be downloaded here if you have already purchased the game. If you purchase the game now, you should have the latest version.

Version 1.01 Changes:
Fixed Total Game Time glitch where statistic increased too quickly
Graphically changed the title screen to make it easier to navigate
New Buy Now Screen (for Demo)
Fixed a Bug where Testing a Level without saving it caused an inescapable loop
Demo game setup no longer leaves start menu folder empty
Setup files and download size reduced/compressed

Magic Toy Chest Scores a Positive Review

1 day after release and the Magic Toy Chest already has a very good review under its belt.

Check out what Jesse Henning of GameCyte had to say about the game.

Highlights include:

".... the game is accessible, intuitive, and unimposing, presenting a colorful world full of amusing toys and an extremely basic premise and goal."

"Parents needn’t worry about their kids running this game, nor playing it — nothing even remotely objectionable can be found in The Magic Toy Chest, whose sole plot point is “The house is a mess. Clean it up.”"

"The new ingredients it does add to the formula, though, are all clever enough to interest experienced puzzle gamers."

"The Magic Toy Chest is a fun game, it’s true. It’s quick to learn and has a good amount of variety to its puzzles, and its cheerful motif will put a little smile on your face. Parents looking to amuse their young gamer progeny would do well to consider this title."

and don't worry we're already working on the few bugs/glitches mentioned.

The Magic Toy Chest is HERE!

The Magic Toy Chest is available for PURCHASE and DEMO DOWNLOAD NOW!

Check it out and support us and our passion for gaming.

The Magic Toy Chest will be Released August 12th!

Graduate Games is happy to announce that you will be able to download and purchase the Magic Toy Chest on August 12th! The game will cost $19.95 and you'll be able to pick up Storked! with it for 50% off. Be sure to check out the Game's Site to read the manual and get yourself ready for some wacky "incredible machine"- inspired puzzles.

3 Random Xbox Thoughts

1. Based on all of the fantastic Gears of War 2 Coverage I have been reading, Gears 2 looks to solve a lot of the issues I had with the first title. The Most important one being the irritating shotgun war that multiplayer became. Gears of War 2 also looks to provide a much more engrossing and intelligent single/co-op experience as well, so that’s good.

2. Whatever happened to Cheat Codes & Game Genies? Video Games used to be chock full of secret button inputs, codes, or simply hacked with devices such as the Game Genie. These days it’s hard finding any sort of Xbox Cheat Codes at all. I guess with all the new games, their save features, etc….cheat codes have just gone the way of the dinosaur.

3. Where’s GTA IV’s Downloadable Content? I specifically bought GTA IV for Xbox because of the DLC promised to come out, but it’s still not here…what’s the deal? By the time the DLC comes out will anyone even care about GTA IV anymore? I definitely got some more fun times out of the game with some of the Grand Theft Auto IV cheats (ok maybe cheat codes aren't dead) using the Cell phone, but I need more. C’mon Rockstar & Microsoft, where’s my exclusive Downloadable Content?

PixelJunk Eden Review

PixelJunk Eden continues the tradition started by Monsters of great games in small packages. The gameplay of this game is so simple. In Eden, you jump from plant to plant and can swing on a silk line. Your objective is to collect Spectra but they only way you can reach these is by collecting pollen and growing your garden. You do this by hitting pollen pods to blast pollen everywhere, collect the pollen, and jump in a seed. The Graphics and Sound are fantastic in this game. They work really well together and really create an innovative and original experience on top of core gameplay that has been around since the NES (I'm talking bionic commando & Mario Here). Eden really seems like it might be repetitive after playing the first 3 gardens, but as you advance further, the gardens all start introducing new obstacles and challenges (portals, launch flowers, gravity changing levels). Basically, Eden really sucks you in right as you are getting bored and tired of it. The only really negative thing I can say about Eden is that it is a bit excessive to force the player to play each garden 5 times to collect the 5 spectra. I would've liked a lot more relaxed system that ended the level when you collected all 5 or when time ran out. This way, in the first few easy levels you could beat them in 1-3 playthroughs rather than the required 5. This fact was most evident in the first few gardens, since this mechanic works better in the later more complex levels. All in all, Eden is one of the most refreshing Downloadable Games I have ever played. It's not for everyone, but if the surreal atmosphere and unique look doesn't bother you, you definitely should give the demo a try.

Gameplay: 9/10 - The gameplay is simple, challenging, and enjoyable.

Graphics: 9/10 - I love the simple vector graphics and look of this game. I do wish the early levels weren't as monochromatic though.

Music/Sound: 10/10 - The music and sound design is definitely the highlight of the package and brings the tone and atmosphere of the game together so it all works.

Lasting Appeal: 8/10 - Multiplayer is welcome and really changes the feel and challenge of the game. The later gardens really challenge you and are very unique. This drives you to keep collecting spectra to unlock even more unique and fun gardens.

Average: 90.00%
Tilt: +/- 0.00%

Verdict: 90%

PixelJunk Monsters PSN Mini Review

PixelJunk Monsters also went on sale at the Playstation Store for $4.99, but unfortunately I bought it right before the price cut. Fortunately, the game is very addictive and challenging. PixelJunk Monsters is an endearing tower defense game where your tiki man builds towers to defend his Tiki Jrs (or whatever they are). There are ground and air baddies and slow/fast monsters and all these factors make selecting the correct tower quite difficult. The game is incredibly challenging and requires some trial and error, but the game is so enjoyable to play I haven't really minded replaying the levels. There's always that sense that you can correct your mistakes and strategize your defenses better. The presentation is excellent and the sound/music is very unintrusive and quaint. The whole game comes off as a sort of fairy tale land which works very well and gives it that wholesome and enjoyable tone. For $5, you gotta buy this game. There's even local co-op which is really well done.

Gameplay: 9/10 - Tower Defense done right - challenging, deep, but not too frustrating
Graphics: 8/10 - Simple clean 2d art looks great but definitely is not stressing the PS3's hardware
Sound/Music: 9/10 - Music and Sound are the final touches that create the uplifting tone for the game
Lasting Appeal: 8/10 - Challenge and Co-op go along way in extending the lifespan of this game, but it doesn't change the somewhat low level count.

Tilt: +/- 0.00%

If you love this game and need more levels there's always the Encore Pack, but honestly I was happy paying $10 for this game and would be thrilled to pick it up for $5.

Verdict: 85%

PAIN Mini Review

PAIN recently went on sale for $4.99 in the Playstation store (originally $9.99). The game is little more than a fleshed out tech demo for PS DLC, Ragdoll physics, and Havok. The game is also pretty darn fun and well worth your $5 bucks. If you bought the game for $10, Pain definitely comes up thin on the gameplay modes and features. In fact the most annoying thing about PAIN is that the developers clearly held back on content to nickel and dime you later. The game comes with 1 character w/ 3 costumes and 1 unlockable character and 4 different modes all in the same downtown level. What's annoying is that there are over 10 characters that you can purchase and of course the upcoming Abusement Park expansion level. Given the shear sophmoric fun I had with Pain, I may splurge for the level add on (depending on $$$) but I certainly don't give a hoot about a naughty santa girl and all these other characters. Why not make them unlockable? Why do I have to pay $$ for a new skin on my ragdoll? Having unlockable characters would give players some goal in the wide open PAINdemonium mode other than getting 1 more trophy. Ultimately that's PAIN's problem...there isn't much incentive to keep playing after the first couple hours. You use a Slingshot to fling and hurt your ragdoll...this is extremely fun for the first couple hours, and there's something to be said for exploring the level and finding all the explosions, jokes, etc....but ultimately after playing the 4 modes which are all built on the same mechanic there's no real motivation to keep going and it gets a little monotonous. Only having the 1 level certainly doesn't help.

Gameplay: 7/10 - I need more Levels, Characters and gets stale too fast.
Graphics: 9/10 - Graphics are pretty impressive for a DLC game and among the best I have seen for a Downloadable Game on XBL or PSN.
Sound/Music: 8/10 - No complaints...characters say some pretty amusing lines and the rock soundtrack is appropriate.
Lasting Appeal: 6/10 - This game needs some more gameplay wrinkles, modes, levels, and characters. It's a decent deal for $5 but the previous price of $10 is a bit steep.

Tilt: -1.00%

Bottom Line is this game is certainly worth $5 and will offer you several hours of entertainment before it gets stale. It looses some points for the blatant overuse of microtransactions for DLC.

Verdict: 74%

Puzzle Quest XBLA Review

Puzzle Quest got great reviews and was a good demo, but I could never take the plunge for $15 when everything else on XBLA is $5-10. Well, Microsoft dropped the price and I picked it up and man was I missing out on an addictive game. Puzzle quest is such a simple yet brilliantly executed game. The main game is a competitive match-3 puzzle game which introduces the concept of spells & moves during your puzzle fight. The RPG elements take this Match-3 game to the next level. There is so much incentive to keep playing and questing. You keep playing for that next spell, next level, more gold, etc. Another great thing about the game is that there is a decent difficulty level but you are never severely penalized for losing a fight. What it boils down to is that Puzzle Quest is a steal for $15. If you are a puzzle game fan, this game's RPG elements extend the playing time of the game significantly. You'll definitely be inclined to play the game again as a different gender or class (there are 4 classes: knight, warrior, magician, and druid).

Gameplay: 9.5/10 - Pretty genius gameplay concept that is fantastically executed.
Graphics: 8/10 - Nothing Special in the Graphics Department, but it's an XBLA game.
Sound/Music: 5/10 - Definitely the worst aspect of the game...terrible voice overs and repetitive and boring music.
Lasting Appeal: 10/10 - You'll put hours into this game without realizing it. Major replayability
Tilt: +8.75%

Puzzle Quest is greater than the some of its parts. It has immense replayability and longevity and the gameplay is incredibly addicting and easy to pick up and play. Definitely one of the best games on Live Arcade that I have played, certainly the one with the longest lifespan.

Verdict: 90%

Top 5 Surprises of E3 2008

5. Killzone 2 Multiplayer - Ok, Killzone Multiplayer was expected, but did anyone predict the extensive features? The Badge/class system sounds sweet, great clan support, squadrons, 32 player, medals, trophies, online stat tracking, etc. This game definitely is going to have it all.

4. Bungie Bumped from E3 - This is just a WTF screw-up by Microsoft. Something is definitely brewing in the Bungie Offices and I'm not sure it's in Microsoft's best interest...after all, they're not a Microsoft Owned Studio any longer. Bumping Bungie in favor of all the casual game stuff Microsoft showed seemed to be a mistake.

3. Rock Band 2 ...500 songs by 2009, Import RB1 tracks - While I am uber excited for Rock Band 2...I wasn't surprised about the announcement or seeing the game at E3. My excitement was taken to the next level when they announced 500 tracks for the game by the end of the year, 84 tracks for RB2, and the ability to import nearly all the songs from the RB1 disc over into the new game.

2. FFXIII for Xbox 360 - Microsoft's courtship of Square Enix was definitely a surprise, but it culminated in the Final Fantasy 13 announcement. How has Square Enix...long time Japanese Developer for Nintendo and then Sony jumped ship to Microsoft? Well, Sony is still getting FFXIII so they haven't jumped ship completely...but still surprising.

1. Mirror's Edge - Where did this game come from? Had anyone heard of it prior to E3? This game was not on my radar at all, but after it gained some pretty damn good momentum at E3 and the more I see of it, the more I think Mirror's Edge can really be an innovative and refreshing new title.

Honorable Mentions (but ultimately leaked or expected):
Xbox 360 Dashboard Update, Avatars, Netflix partnership, etc.
Resident Evil 5 Co-Op
God of War III Announcement

GRID Mini Review

GRID by Codemasters is the asphalt successor of DIRT. It even runs on the same graphical engine and has a "hip" 4 letter title too. I have no idea what the title means, but I do know that Grid is a very enjoyable racer which blends elements of sim and arcade racers and toes the line between the two pretty well.

Like sim racers such as Gran Turismo, Grid requires you to break and take turns at certain angles and is not Burnout, petal to the metal, on the dime arcade racing, but at the same time it is not nearly as hard and difficult as your typical sim. There are steering assists and warning lights which help tell you when to break and slow down. One of the big plusses for me is that there is no car tuning and monkey wrenching.

The game has the same tiered racing setup and selection that Dirt did and has everything from race sim time trials to the more arcadey drift battles and demolition derbys. The game does a really good job of presenting a diverse bunch of races that play very different. Of course one of the best new features (over Dirt) is the Rewind feature. If you are in the lead and mess up that final turn, you no longer have to restart the race...just press back, rewind the replay and tap X to snapshot back in time to right before your mistake. This new mechanic makes races much more forgiving and less frustrating.

The game nails all the graphical and audio high points. It looks gorgeous and has nice voiceovers, music and sound effects. There's an extensive single player campaign and online matches to get your money's worth on longevity as well. At the same time, the gameplay is really what will make you love or hate this game. If you love Burnout and arcade racers, Grid may be a little too realistic for you. If you love Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport, Grid is probably a bit too skimpy on the tuning, car count, and realism. Grid works for those people who enjoy a steeper difficulty and deeper racer but who can't meet the commitment and challenge of a race sim. Give Grid a try, you may be like me and fall into that in between category of racer as well.

Gameplay: 7.5/10
Graphics: 9/10
Sound/Music: 8.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 8/10
Tilt: +0.05
Verdict: 83%

Play the Magic Toy Chest Now - Public Beta 2 is Now Available!

Graduate Games is happy to announce that you can download our second (and probably final) beta starting today (7/7/08-7/14/08). The game has changed quite a bit since the last beta and hopefully everyone who has played the game before will notice the improvements.

You can download the Beta here.

What has changed since last time? Well there's now 20 Tutorial Levels that will teach you how to play and how all 16 toys work. There's also background filters for everyone that found the backgrounds too "loud." There's also a number of tweaks that make the easier tonavigate, etc and nicer on the eyes. Thank you to everyone who submitted feedback and helped us make these changes. Keep the changes and levels coming and you'll receive $5 off the final game...just make sure we have your email address.

Remember to sign-up for our newsletter so you'll know when the game is released.

Watch the Game in Action

Metal Gear Solid Series - Top 5 Boss Battles

5. Olga (MGS2)

For anyone who's played MGS2 on Hard, the Olga battle is intense and incredibly challenging. On hard, She becomes a head shot sharpshooter and the battle elevates to Wild West Shooter proportions. Of course this isn't even taking into account the amazing atmosphere, graphics and weather effects.

4. Fatman (MGS2) An incredibly fun and new boss battle where you had to fight the boss and defuse bombs, plus Fatman was on roller blades.

3. The End (MGS3)/Sniper Wolf (MGS1)/Crying Wolf (MGS4)

Yes, it's a little cheap to group all the sniper battles together, but at least I've ranked them from left to right. Obviously, The End which gave players several ways to fight was genious. Sniper Wolf started it all, and Crying Wolf brings a whole new atmosphere and intense situation where you are hiding from Frogs and fighting a boss.

2. The Fury(MGS3)

Visually, this boss battle was breathtaking and truly showed off the power of PS2. It's also an incredibly fun fight where you are constantly hiding in the shadows, setting traps, and firing at the man in a spacesuit.

1. Psycho Mantis (MGS1)

Nothing beats Psycho Mantis when it comes to memorable boss battles. Not only did he read off all of your save files, but he was also unbeatable unless you switched to controller port 2. This trickery definitely goes down in history as one of Kojima's best.