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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%

Obama is a Gamer - Quite the Achievement

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.