TitanFall – An addictive shooter with a massive double personality

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TitanFall from Infinity Ward, the developers behind Call of Duty, have delivered their next big title, and it’s addictive!

You are a “pilot” in a sci-fi world in the midst of a rebellion between a world-domineering corporation and a rebellion force. But don’t think too hard about the narrative, because there isn’t much to it (not that you’ll mind).

Kid-Friendlyness

I’ve shared earlier (blog) that I believe there is a difference between sci-fi shooters (e.g. Halo) and modern‑day shooters (e.g. COD) in that its easier for younger games to remember that they are playing a game and not imagining themselves within today’s world. As such, it’s easier for me to see younger gamers (12-14) starting with sci-fi shooters over modern day (16+).

Titanfall does not appear to have any/much abrasive dialog in the narrative, and there isn’t much detail when the seeing your opponents get shot (no blood spray), so they just fall over and dematerialize a few seconds later. So, other than the language that other real people might use during multiplayer chat and the acknowledgement that you are shooting at people (instead of aliens), I think it would play well with tweens and teens, ideally in a LAN party or closed-session among friends.

Gameplay

The real twist that Titanfall has over other shooters, and it is a fun one, is that you’ll spend part of your time in each battle as simply a Pilot (man), shooting as normal, and part of your time inside a mechanized goliath, dealing out massive damage. Each style, man or machine, has a variety of weapons (with customizations for each weapon) and additional options to let you play the way that you want. As you level up (earning XP for almost everything that you do during the game), new weapons, modifications, etc. will be unlocked for your use. As a man, you have some cool acceleration abilities to run on walls, big jumps, etc. – but the biggest reward is when your Titan falls (hence the name) to the planet so you can jump in and get busy. As in many shooter games, there is a “campaign” (story) to get you started and then endless-hours of multiplayer combat.

Campaign

But even the campaign, isn’t. The campaign is a series of cut scenes that knits together around a dozen multiplayer combat sessions. And that’s too bad because the faux campaign did something clever – you play on both sides of the conflict, first through the IMC corporation and then through the rebellion. But after those veiled multiplayer combats, then you’re free to do what Infinity Ward really wants you to do – lots more multiplayer combat.

Multi-Player Combat

If you are used to Call of Duty or Halo style multiplayer matches, you will feel right at home here – with the typical match types such as “attrition” (team deathmatch), “hardpoint” (capture the flag), etc. As the CoD developers that they are, the multiplayer combat is everything that you could hope for – very fast paced, diversity in the battlezones, and customizable Pilot and Titan loadouts (configurations of equipment that let you play your favorite gear, your way).

My only real complaint with the multiplayer is my same complaint with any of the COD games – the matchmaking system.

If you don’t jump in to the game early after release and then commit regular time to it, you will be cannon fodder for a while. In my very first match, I was a level 1 and the other five members of my team were between 22 and 45, with a majority of the other team being entirely between levels 11 and 19. I got killed a lot (by the teens on the other side), but my juggernauts killed them more – and our team won (yay?). Imagine a middle-school football player lining up on an NFL front line facing off against a highschool/college team, and you get the idea (with only a little exaggeration). Contrast that with the Halo series, where noobs play against noobs, enthusiasts against each other, and obsessives are challenged by their peers. Levels aren’t just a measure of experience, but also enable better weapons and modifiers that give even further advantages.

To the core COD/MW/Titanfall faithful, this disparity won’t matter – because the mechanics are close enough that you’ll eventually get there, and you are used to starting as cannon fodder. Before long, your long-developed skills will shine through and you’ll be using the fresh meat to help you level up further. For the rest of us (especiallly if you do choose to let tweens do this as their first shooter), the lack of equitable matchmaking will likely limit the long-term playability, as the diehards continue to dominate and the casual players fall away in pursuit of the next big title.

But until then, I will be among the mindless masses as I play “just one more round” repeatedly.

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March 15, 2014 · Jason · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Game Reviews, Games for Dads

HALO: Spartan Assault

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I am a personal fan of the Halo series – from the M-rated first-person shooters to the top-down action Halo Wars (rated T), even if they aren’t all “Xbox Dad Family Friendly.”Here are my earlier Halo blogs:

But I really like Halo: Spartan Assault (H:SA) for what I think of as a perfect hybrid:

· Its top-down view makes it more family friendly, due to less blood/interpersonal violence

· But it is a legitimate action/shooter, where you play as a single Spartan soldier

 

Commentary on Microsoft’s Three-Screens Approach

It is also a really good example of “Microsoft’s vision for Three Screens and a Cloud” that doesn’t get a lot of airtime, including offerings for Windows Phone, Windows desktop and (coming soon) to Xbox360 & XboxOne – powered by XboxLive. Interestingly, the game came out for Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 desktop first – and is only now coming out for consoles. By the way, it plays very nicely on my Surface Pro, including support for a wired Xbox gaming controller and looks great on an HDMI TV/screen (see accessories blog URL).

The 3 Screens thing isn’t just about comparable offerings, but a unified offering. After having played through about half of the missions on my tablet, I bought the version for my phone – and my game save, including progress and status, came right in. In fact, a few Xbox Achievements lit up on my phone, shortly after having started playing – because I had finished those objectives (and earned the achievements) in the Tablet edition. I presume that the shared experience will carry to the console versions, though the console versions also promise some big enhancements, such as multi-player.

Game Play

As stated earlier, you are futuristic “Spartan” (armored super soldier) moving from one combat scene to another.  It’s hard to say anything negative against H:SA, other than the two-thumbs on sweaty glass controls can be a little frustrating on smaller Windows Phones, but totally works and is surprisingly intuitive on bigger phones, tablets and PCs – and as I mentioned, works great with a gaming controller.

  • Those familiar with the HALO franchise will immediately be immersed with recognizable Covenant baddies, the standard variety of UNSC and alien weapons, etc.
  • For younger players who haven’t tried Halo yet, this is a great first entry for them – and one that will be more “Mom approved” than the first-person shooters.

And for those newer players, I wholeheartedly also recommend the full-featured Halo Wars (URL) title, which you should be able to pick up used for under $10, with great fun (and co-op) for younger (9-12) gamers and friends/siblings/parents.

CO-OP-ness

The tablet/desktop and phone versions are single-player only, as is reasonable for that form factor – but the upcoming XboxOne and Xbox360 versions have many promised enhancements, including multi-player, and is expected to release on

December 24th (Merry Christmas, Spartans!!).

[blog note: I will update this section within a week or so of the console release]

 

As always, thanks for reading … Have fun playing with your kids !

Overall Score 7
Gameplay Win-PC=8 W.Phone=6
Co-Op-ness console only
Age Appropriate 10
Developer Microsoft

 

 

 

 

 
H:SA for Windows

H:SA for WinPhone

 

 

For those interested in Halo Wars:

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November 27, 2013 · Jason · One Comment
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: Game Reviews, Games for Dads, Games for Kids

Happy Wars – Battles for the whole family

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Happy Wars on Xbox Live Arcade may be the cleverest and cutest game that you haven’t tried with your gamer-kids.   This review, like the game itself, will jump right into the middle of it:  it is a game about constant battles of swords, axes, clubs and magic.  You’ll be battling within a few seconds of the game starting and continue doing so until the timer ends.  That may not sound like the description of a normal XboxDad Family-Friendly game, but this one really is.

Your character, as well as all of the other players, looks like a LittlePeople™ or PlaySkool™ figurine that your 4-7 year old might have played with.  You will then dress them up in some basic armor, a helmet/hat, perhaps a shield, and then a weapon (sword, axe, club or magic staff).  Some weapons look like fish or baseball bats, while the staffs/wands might be flowers, lollipops or plastic flamingos.  The three character types (Warrior, Mage, and Cleric) allow for offensive fighting, zapping from a distance or healing/building others, respectively.

The game is rated T (Teen) for Blood and Violence, neither of which should dissuade you:

  • It should be noted that there is no blood in the typical sense, such as from sword cuts or other battle damage, nor squirting or puddles upon being killed.  Instead, the only blood is seen as some weapons (a sword that already has some red on it, usually referred to as ketchup or strawberry sauce) or costume items (a hat that looks like a bandage covering a wound); but no gore of any kind.
  • The violence is similar to the Lego games or any other child-friendly action game.  You’ll run around whacking/zapping people (a lot).  You’ll whack them, they will whack you, and one of you will eventually run out health points (life).  At which point, the color on the screen will fade to black & white, your character might momentarily be seen with X’s instead of eyes or some other goofy expression, and then your person will re-spawn at your team’s nearest location.

Game Play

There are two main modes of play:

Story Mode (single player) – somewhat similar to the cut scenes from Angry Birds or Lego games, as a way to create a narrative before playing a range of single-player stories.  You’ll have a few AI players to help you, and battle numerous baddies as you progress through the story.

Quick/Co-Op Mode (multiplayer) – provides two teams of up to 15 players (or AI) each; red and blue.  Each side has a home base castle and seeks to take over the other team’s castle.  Along the way, there are multiple “towers” that can be claimed by either team.  When you get killed, your character can re-spawn in your castle or from any tower that your team has claimed.  You’ll spend a majority of each 12 minute battle round progressing across one of several colorful and interesting scenes, claiming towers and then defending them, while trying to take the towers from the opposing team.  When you make it across the map, you’ll try to knock down the other castle’s gate or scales its walls, before finally winning the game.  At which point, each player is rewarded, based on their contributions (see next section).

The only disappointing part of Happy Wars is some glitchy network issues during multiplayer matchmaking, which seems to have been plagued with timeout problems since it first launched. As of March 2013, it seems to still be spotty – and can be frustrating. My suggestion, particularly with younger gamers, if it times out more than once, do something else and play a different day.

Either way, younger players might get along just fine by repeatedly mashing the (X) (A) and (B) buttons, while more mature players will appreciate the variety of attack styles and item customization.

Leveling Up and Item Progression

Like most battling games, your character will earn points based on how many people they defeated, as well as how many times they performed different tasks, helped others, etc.  As they reach milestones, they will progress from Level 1 up to 50, gaining more life (health points) and magic, defensive resistance, etc.  You’ll also earn the in-game currency, “Happy Stars,” which allows you to purchase new and better equipment, as well as upgrade the items that you already have.  You can also purchase items from the Xbox Marketplace, by first buying “Happy Tickets” and then purchasing items from the in-game store.

The Happy Wars game itself is FREE on Xbox Live Arcade, but if you are willing to put even $5 of real money into Happy Tickets and then buying a few premium items (better weapon, stronger armor, etc.) then the first few hours of gaming will be even more exciting and rewarding.  Frankly, most new players should just assume that the game costs $5 and then they are set.  After 5+ hours of play, your higher-level characters will continue to earn ever improving gear and you’ll eventually outgrow those starter weapons, but they do make the first few hours even more exciting, particularly against the rest of the players who started ahead of you.

Co-Op-ability

If you follow XboxDad’s blog, you know that I am most passionate about games that we can play together; and Happy Wars is a lot of fun as a family.  Simply become an Xbox Live Party before starting the game (or within the main menu) and then you’ll be playing together.  In my family, all of the gamers can talk to each other through chat, while not hearing any banter or language from anyone else on our side or the other team.  At the beginning, it is tempting to run around whacking other folks, and just laughing with your family or other Xbox Live Party members.  But after a while, you’ll see that the winning teams often have a few folks working together.  

So, build a team with a Warrior (or two) who will battle out front, a Mage who throws fireballs or electricity from behind the front line, and a Cleric who will keep everyone amped up and healthy.  And then, when you get to the enemy castle, don’t waste time knocking on the front gate.  Your cleric can build latters to scale the walls, your warriors will knock down whoever stayed behind (since most are out battling mindlessly) and your mage will zap the defending machinery from afar.  If you do it right, the game will not only be hilarious fun, but also teach a little bit of strategy and teamwork that your kids and you can learn through.

Parents, this game is fun for the whole family.  And if the T rating worries you, it’s free.  Play it by yourself on Friday night and I guarantee that you and the kids will be playing together on Saturday morning after breakfast.

As always, thanks for reading … Have fun playing with your kids !
                  

Happy Wars logo

Overall Score 7
Gameplay 7
Co-Op-ness 7
Age Appropriate 8 years old
Developer ToyLogic

Game Website 

Happy Wars Gameplay 1

Happy Wars Gameplay 2

Happy Wars Gameplay 3

 

 

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March 10, 2013 · Jason · 6 Comments
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: Game Reviews, Games for Kids

Advice for Parents with new Teens and Shooting Games

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When my kids were younger, I started this blog as a way to highlight games that were truly “family friendly”.  Halo-Reach-box

But my kids are getting older, and my oldest (now a teenager) is wanting to play the same shooters as his friends – family friendly or not. 

Disclaimer:

Let me be clear, there is a wide variety of amazing and immersive shooting games out there. And by 15-16, your kids may be playing them – and certainly Dad’s and Mom’s have lots of choices for themselves. The war-based games are well designed and can be a lot of fun for gamers who are emotionally and intellectually prepared for them. And you don’t have to agree with me … so (teenagers) please don’t spam me with why CoD is perfectly fine when you are 12. It isn’t.

This blog isn’t for Game Reviews in general.  For those, I use GameInformer.com

This site is from one dad, trying to help other parents learn more about gaming for and with their kids.

So, here is my opinion.  In a pure and Norman Rockwell world, kids wouldn’t play Rated M games until they were old enough to watch R Rated movies.  It is amazing to me how many parents will let their 8-11 year old kids play shooters.  

 

Most parents wouldn’t take their 8-11 kid to R-rated movie, based on its graphical violence and language and themes.

Those movies only last 2 hours – so, why would you let them play a game with the same criteria for 40-60 hours ?

 

And besides, if they are getting that kind of stimulation at 10, what will they look forward to at 13 or 15 or 17 ?   Surprisingly, I often hear about younger kids playing shooters because they watch dad playing night after night, and eventually dad wants a playmate.

That being said, by the time that they are 12-14 … they are going to want to play, because their friends are.  At that point, parents have to struggle with social connectedness and moral lessons – and peer-pressure for acceptance.  So, I would offer the following suggestions, based on my personal experience and beliefs (yours will vary):

Age is not a magic number.  If you believe that your child gamer already has a solid moral compass and can differentiate between the fantasy in the game and reality, and that the language and activities in the game won’t affect their own personality and behavior – then, 13 vs. 15 vs. 17 becomes more subjective.

Things to Consider

In our house, I personally prefer the Halo series over Call of Duty or Battlefield, mostly because it is much more visibly fantasy and less “real”.   I know it’s a slippery slope, but most of parenting arguably is, as you lessen control while still offering guidance.

Here is the decision points that my wife and I have used … and how we explained it to our teen (13) gamer:CoD-WM2-box

People shooting people

Somehow, I see a difference between shooting visibly artificial aliens (Halo) and shooting other humans (CoD).  My hope is simply to defer the reinforcing of shooting other people for as long as possible, while I continue to reinforce the ethics and team play.  Of course, at some point, they may want to play multiplayer with their friends (in a private match, not on the public system) – and then, it will feel like playing paintball with their buddies.  Again, yes, I know it’s a slippery slope, but …

Artificial Surroundings

Kids know that they are not on another planet with laser guns (Halo) … or in 1940’s Germany (early CoD’s) … so I believe that games set in non-current surroundings help them stay clear that it is only a game.   Admittedly, the recent Modern Warfare or Battlefield games are near photo-realistic and look like they came off of CNN or the nightly news. To me, that puts even more "today" into the minds of younger shooters. My preference is that younger shooters have as many visual clues that the games are fantasy as possible.

Matchmaking online

One of the big draws of the shooter games is multi-player online.  Unfortunately, with the CoD matchmaking system, you really have very little control who your kids will be playing with — including objectionable language and ideas. In addition, my experience is that CoD doesn’t do a good job of matching newer players with other less-experienced players, so you may find yourself thrown in with experts … and essentially getting repetitively killed without enough time to really learn. (less fun). Some of the other game ecosystems (e.g. Halo) do a better job of matchmaking based on skill levels, and/or have options for only playing multiplayer with other already-established friends instead of the general public.

 

As I said, this is one dad’s opinion – thanks for considering it and I hope it helps you and yours.

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April 30, 2012 · Jason · 3 Comments
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TV Guardian — for protecting your kids’ ears

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One of my New Years Resolutions was to protect what my kids hear on TV … without being an ostrich in the sand and isolating them from the world.

I looked at TV Guardian a few years ago, with their embedded censoring technology within a DVD player — but they were limited to 480 (non-HD) resolutions.

Well, they finally released the TV Guardian HD and it is awesome!

The small black TVG box comes with two HDMI (and optical audio) inputs, along with one set of respective outputs, and a remote. The remote has literally five buttons and reminds me more of a car fob than something that belongs in my living room. With just a click, you can:

  • Choose which of the two HDMI sources should be routed through the TVG before going to your television
  • Determine what level of filtering should be applied, based on profiles like “Kids”, “Parents” and “Other”.
  • For each profile, you can define tolerance to Sexual references, Religious references and overall language to “Strict”, “Moderate” or “Unfiltered”

The device is most impressive in its elegance. Here is how it works:

  1. By co-connecting not only the HDMI connectors but also a standard video (yellow plug) connection, the TVG is able to read the Closed-Captioning associated with your TV or DVD feed (including most Cable and Satellite devices).

2.   If an objectionable word is seen in the text, then the sound mutes out in its place – and the text phrase appears on the screen below to ensure you see the context.

3.   That’s it — it really is just that simple!!

In the diagram above, pretend that the word “four” is a bad word. If an actor were counting out-loud, the audio would literally sound like “One … Two … Three … (silence) … Five” … with the same words (and blank) appearing below for just a second.

Currently, it appears that the only media types that TVG can’t support are Blu-Ray and Internet-Streaming. Coincidently, there is an online petition to include standardized Closed-Captioning within Internet Streaming as well, which would benefit families that want to use technologies like TVG but also our hearing impaired friends. Please click here, if you would like to add your voice to that petition.

Bottom Line on TV Guardian — There are several programs that I wouldn’t mind my kids watching, but today’s actors and game participants just seem compelled to add expletives like they were any other part of speech. And since the FCC and network censors have lowered their standards so much, my family viewing is continually strict.

TV Guardian opens up new options in my house.

Check out the TVGuardian and thanks for reading.

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January 27, 2012 · Jason · 9 Comments
Tags:  · Posted in: Lifestyle

Green Lantern Rise of the Manhunters

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This is a great co-op game for youth and a movie tie-in … with one exception, the language.In general, there appear to be four types of super-hero (with/without movie tie-ins) games:

  • Single-Player greats – like Rocksteady’s Batman:Arkham Asylum and Arkham City titles
  • Single-Player mediocres – too many to count, but almost every movie gets one
  • Multi-player platformers – like the Marvel Ultimate Alliance or Fantastic Four titles, which are solid in most cases, and great in a few
  • Co-op titles – there are very few … but Green Lantern is one, and a pretty good one at that.

Game Play

Loosely based on the same premise and setting as last year’s Green Lantern movie, Hal Jordan is player 1 as a relatively new Green Lantern, still being coached by fellow lanterns Sinestro and Kilowog. Almost immediately upon starting the game, the lanterns’ headquarters planet of OA is attacked by Manhunter robots.

Over the next several levels, you will use your ring energy to create a range of weapons ranging from huge hammers to maces to a robotic mech-battle suit. There isn’t any blood.  The bad guys/robots disintegrate into energy — which not only charges your ring but also provides the currency for purchasing new ‘constructs’ (stuff to make with the ring) and upgrades to your existing ring powers.

The boss fights get progressively challenging, and the storyline and enemy scenarios vary enough to keep it interesting. And with up to 12 different ring constructs, along with various upgrades, gameplay will feel diverse enough to not be just another action button-masher and let each player beat up bad guys with whichever energy-formed weapons that they want. The constructs are chosen by mapping to each of the four buttons (A-B-X-Y) in combination with either the left or right triggers. Hence, up to eight constructs are available, along with immediate and charge-able regular (X) and strong (Y) attack buttons.

Co-Op Ness

While Player 1 is the lead movie character, Hal Jordan of Earth; Player 2 is the equally capable Lantern, Sinestro. The folks at Double-Helix did a pretty good job of enabling a good co-op experience.

All of the energy points (currency) that are collected during game play by both players ends up being shared when purchasing upgrades and new constructs. In fact, once a construct is purchased by Player One, Player Two has full use as well. In fact, the eight construct buttons are separately map-able by Player One and Player Two. When my son and I played through the game, we chose different constructs so that each of us had unique capabilities and ways to participate in the game.

This is not to say that the Co-Op experience is perfect – it isn’t.

Player Two’s button mapping doesn’t get saved – so each time that you start the game, or re-start a previously played level, player two will inherit player one’s buttons. Since my son and I played together, we eventually agreed that our right-trigger four would be consistent, so that he only had to re-map his left-trigger four, as needed. It’s a minor thing, but something that really ought to get addressed as a fix.

Player Two doesn’t get achievement points. I understand that it is more work on developers to track two game save files and so some accumulation “Did <Something> X times” might be harder to track or “Completed whole game“. But, a lot of the GL achievements are “Finished Level X” type. The game knows that two players started the level, finished the level and neither left during the level — so why not give Player Two some of the credit? One of the differences between a good co-op game and a great one is giving both players their due acknowledgements, when reasonably possible.

Language

While not normally part of an Xbox Dad review — there was so much of it that it had to be added to the Green Lantern Review. In short:

  • If on mute, the gameplay, story and co-op-ness is great for gamers as young as 8 and ideal around 10.
  • If you want to hear the dialogue, my suggested age goes up to 14.

Ryan Reynolds, from the movie, reprises his role for the game – and does some great work. Having the original actor definitely adds to movie tie-in games. But there enough Darns, Cruds, and Bugards (use your imagination) to really ruin the game for younger gamers and their parental co-players.  The only words I don’t recall were Fudge and Butch.  GL’s word choices add nothing to the story and therefore it is truly a shame that Warner Brothers Interactive and DC Comics allowed the game to be inappropriate for what will be their next generation of readers.

If you have a lower tolerance to dialog, or want to use it as a teaching moment (or twenty) — then Green Lantern is otherwise a great game to co-op through while saving the universe.

 

As always, thanks for reading … Have fun playing with your kids !

Overall Score 7
Gameplay 7
Co-Op-ness 7
Age Appropriate   8-on-Mute           14-with-sound
Developer Double-Helix

Game Website

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January 21, 2012 · Jason · No Comments
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MegaMind (is not an) Ultimate Showdown

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Earlier this month, I reviewed what I think is one of the very best kid-friendly co-op games, and certainly one of the best movie-based titles (not including the Lego series) — Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (CCM).

MegaMind: Ultimate Showdown reminds me of CCM in many ways because for everything CMM did right, MegaMind falls short.

GamePlay

On its own, as a single-player title, it is a mediocre button masher – meaning that you will spend nearly the entire game repeatedly tapping the (X) shoot button, with the only diversity being when you punch (A) to jump over something and then resume shooting.

You are MegaMind, the primary movie character, and you will go through roughly ten levels where you will find numerous goon henchmen that are themed after one of three villains – Destruction Worker, Psycho-Delic and Hot Flash. For each of the three boss styles, the henchmen come in exactly two varieties and appear to bean endless number of clones — of either a wimpy baddie or a slightly-less wimpy/blimpy baddie. After three platforming levels of bad guys, with some very basic navigation, you’ll face that boss. Do that series three times and you’ll fight the final bad guy, which is loosely based on another character from the movie and has no other real tie-in to the story or the action.

MegaMind has four gadgets at his disposal:

  • a blasting ray gun
  • an miniaturizing ray gun
  • a glove that shoots electricity
  • a glove that blows wind

There is some cool potential in the gadgets in that they are upgradable and have some different affects on the environment and the baddies. But THQ lets you down because you can only carry one at a time – and it is completely scripted. Right about when you need a different item (meaning you truly cannot progress further in the level), the item you need is floating right there in the path. Game play would have been sooooo much better (or at least seemed less monotonous) if all of the gadgets were available on the four-position D-pad or other menu.

Along the way, you’ll want to destroy everything in the area – since any destruction of people or items results in glowing ‘Blinky’ which is the currency of the game, to be spent on upgrading the various items. The upgrades do enhance gameplay slightly – but since you are stuck with whatever item the story gives you, it is negligible.

If you have a 6-8 year old who absolutely loves everything about the movie and must have/play with all MegaMind-themed item, then this game is for them. For almost everyone else, THQ disappoints.

Note: THQ is no stranger to movie-related titles. Nor is this the first movie THQ game that disappoints in — see the earlier Xbox Dad blog post on Cars Race-O-Rama. In that title, most of the game goes well, but there are still glitches that THQ has never addressed, which is a shame.

Co-Op Ness

MegaMind had a lot of potential for a solid co-op title. After all, in the movie, the primary character had a side-kick named Minion. Player 2 is not Minion. Minion appears via an off-screen voice and the occasional pop-up in the corner of the screen, constantly telling you what to do next or where to go. Instead, Player 2 who can drop in and out easily (one plus) is a nameless floating robotic fish.

The real disappointment comes in that Player 2 isn’t a legitimate partner player.

  • Player 2 cannot use the gadgets described above, which makes their experience even more monotonous than Player 1′s. They have a simple ray gun permanently attached.
  • Player 2 doesn’t actually walk, so none of the platforming or navigation elements apply. Instead, they float around and collect blinky that the might be laying around or not picked up by Player 1.
  • And of course, Player 2 doesn’t earn achievement points/trophies, even though almost all of those are earned by completing this level or beating that boss.

Again, this game had a great deal of potential for being a neat co-op title … but falls short due to what can only be described as poor design decisions by the developer.

If you have an game savvy player 1 (older sibling or parent) who wants to run a younger MegaMind fan (ages 6-8) through the game that you purchased in a bargain bin, preferably used at that, then play it for an easy set of achievement points and 4-5 hours of distraction. Otherwise, there are many better movie-related games available — most of which come from someplace other than THQ.

 

As always, thanks for reading … Have fun playing with your kids !

Overall Score 4 of 10
Gameplay 4
Co-Op-ness 3
Age Appropriate 6 years old
Developer THQ

Game Website


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December 27, 2011 · Jason · No Comments
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Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

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Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (CCM) is officially one of my most favorite co-op games to play with younger kids — target age 6-9.  It has several of my requirements for a family-friendly co-op daddy and kid game:

  • It is based-on but not a scene-by-scene repetition of a movie (or TV show) – in this case, you’ll be battling and/or getting-rid of the overgrown food that has been created.
  • The 2nd player can drop-in/drop-out at will, without affecting game play.
  • It isn’t just a button masher — in that you have multiple tools available to you.
  • It’s fun on its own!

    GamePlay

    You’ll start out in Flint Lockwood (player 1)’s lab and receive requests for help, as the overgrown food continues to create havok on the town.   There are several different tools (weapons) available, depending on which jobs that you do:

    • Choper-er … for slicing
    • Forkamajigger … for picking things up
    • Upsucker Plus … for squirting stuff
    • Bigacious Pow … for hitting stuff
    • Hot Enougher … for melting

    Throughout the game, as you gather gameplay points, you will have the option to upgrade each of these from rinky to cool!  The tools are varied enough to add an extra dimension to gameplay, and yet intuitive enough for younger players. 

    As the levels progress, navigating some of the platforms to reach locations becomes more challenging.  So, if your youngster is playing solo, a parent may want to jump in as player two on a few levels to help find the last food items.

    Nothing gets killed, though you will dissolve, slice or punch a lot of stuff.

    Co-Op Ness

    Player 1 is the lead character, Flint Lockwood … Player 2 can join as his faithful monkey friend from the movie.  When my daughter and I played through, she was my monkey … and we both had a great time.   Player 2 can use all of the same items, independent of the primary player.  This works out well, so that each player can take on specific “jobs” and directly contribute to the team’s success.

    Points accrued during the game are scored separately during gameplay, but combined at the end of the level.  Any weapon upgrade purchases apply to both players without distinction.

    My only co-op disappointment, and it is a fairly common one, is that Player 2 does not receive Achievement Points for their contributions.  Come on developers – even my 7 year old notices when the achievements pop-up, but she doesn’t get them!  Other than the recognition, gameplay is nearly identical for both players and therefore is a great co-op title for kids!

     

    As always, thanks for reading … Have fun playing with your kids !
                      

    Overall Score 8
    Gameplay 8
    Co-Op-ness 8
    Age Appropriate 7 years old
    Developer Ubisoft

    Game Website

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    Cloudy_with_Chance_Meatballs_IceCreamMan  

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    December 7, 2011 · Jason · No Comments
    Tags: ,  · Posted in: Game Reviews, Games for Kids

    Xbox Live adds Cloud Storage in latest dashboard update

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    Xbox360 new dashboard for 2012This week, Microsoft is releasing it newest system update for the Xbox 360, which is something of an annual event to add new capabilities and such.  Over the next several weeks, Xbox consoles will be able to gain access to a broader range of TV services (depending on where you are in the world), tighter integration and manageability with Kinect and Bing, etc.

    But my favorite feature, by far, is “Cloud Storage”.

    Until now, you’ve had local hard drives, sometimes internal memory, proprietary memory cartridges and some USB sticks.  The Cloud Storage feature is a 512MB repository per gamer, that is cached locally on the Xbox console hard drive and automatically sync’s with XboxLive in the background.

    ———-

    No More Cartridges or USBs

    Xbox360 memory unitXbox360 USB memory stick(slight exaggeration, but still)

    My house has more than one Xbox.  So, in my family, we each have our own memory stick – some using the proprietary cartridges and others with USB.  We have both formats because the older consoles only offered two cartridge slots, and the current OS only supports 2 USB sticks (even with a USB hub).   And when we want to play family four-player games, someone inevitably has to copy their profile from one place to another so we can co-exist.  Think “sneaker-net” for gamers.

    That all goes away, because each player has their own storage, you can each save your game saves and profile in the Cloud.  (read on)

    No more “Recover Profile”

    My nephew, Matthew, is the quintessential gaming teen, having grown up on game consoles and has certainly schooled his Uncle more than once in Halo.  I imagine that that over the years, he has often visited buddies’ houses with either a memory stick in hand or needed to “Recover GamerTag”.  The (RG) feature was a way to recreate your gamer profile on a console, when you don’t have it with you.  But in the process, it invalidated the old profile.  So, if you retrieved it while at your friend’s house, the original at home was no longer valid.  So, when you got home, you would have to recover it again, to bring it back where it belonged.

    Instead, the “Recover Profile” has been replaced with “Download Profile”.

    The primary difference, other then being light-years faster, is that you can leave your profile on more than one Xbox.

    Why this is Cool

    For roaming gamers like my nephew, there is the default option to “require password”, so that the profile isn’t used by anyone other than him.

    For families like mine, with more than one console, we can turn off this feature and now happily roam from the family room to a bedroom, as our game choices vary.

    Built-In Backups

    In my day job, I am a backup/disaster-recovery guy (my other blog is http://CentralizedBackup.com).   So, every few months, I would browse my Xbox360 USB memory stick and selectively copy my most recent game saves to a separate memory stick.  Why?   Because I didn’t want to lose 100’s of hours of game progress to a faulty bit on a flash-drive.  But now, I don’t have to because the cloud-storage is stored locally on the console and then automatically synchronizes with the XboxLive cloud service, and then to any other console, when I log on.

    Once, my wife swore off gaming for about six months, because the game save that she had worked on became corrupt.  Every time she thought about playing, she got so angry thinking of the lost time, that she just avoided it for a while.

    Getting Started

    To turn it on, go to System Properties > Storage > Cloud Storage.  Click the radio-button to “Enable Cloud Storage” and you are good to go.

    When you first log-in with an Xbox Live Gold Subscribing ID, Xbox Live will check which console you most recently logged in from.  If it was from another console, it will notify you as a security precaution, which also lets your new console know that it needs to sync your cloud-based data down to this console.  Okay, now it has a local copy, which in technology terms, we call the cache.   The cache enables games to play with the local copy of the data, instead of waiting on the slightly slower XboxLive copy.   It also ensures that if your Xbox Live Internet connection were to break, you still have your game saves to play from locally.   Note, you may need to temporarily copy them from the local Cloud cache to the hard drive or USB stick for offline play.

    Other Stuff to Note

    With only 512MB (the size of the larger proprietary Xbox memory cartridges), you won’t be able to keep all of your downloadable content in the cloud.  Instead, for add-on packs and multimedia, you will need to manually download those items to each console.  You could admittedly keep them on a USB stick too, since they won’t change near as often.  To re-download them, simply use your dashboard and go to Settings > Account > Download History and re-download the items to second console.

    It is also important to note that this is a feature for Xbox Live Gold Subscribers only.  While there will likely be some Silver (free) members who complain, this is just one more way that Microsoft is creating value for those that pay for their gaming service.  Hey, how else do you pay for all of that extra storage and bandwidth that is about to be consumed in the Xbox datacenter?  It wont be from the minor margins made off each console sold. :-)

    So, there you have it.  Backups, Share-ability, and its too easy not to do.  There are other cool things in the dashboard update, but hopefully, now you are as excited about Cloud Storage as I am.

    As always, thanks for reading.

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    December 6, 2011 · Jason · 2 Comments
    Tags: ,  · Posted in: News and Events

    Kinectimals for Windows Phone

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    This month, Kinectimals for Windows Phone 7 was released — with more great reasons to visit the island of Lemuria. Depending on how you count it, this is the third offering in the Kinectimals line, including:

    1. The original Xbox 360/Kinect game (K/360) — see original review
    2. Its recent add-on for Bears (K/bears) — see last month’s blog
    3. And last week’s Windows Phone release (K/Wp7) – now available from Windows Phone Marketplace.

    In my opinion, the original Kinectimals was the best launch title from the original Kinect wave – and it recently received new life with the Bears add-on pack.  Kinectimals is a richly immersive experience where your Kinect actions were full motion and logical for the game, from running in place through challenge courses to broad gestures for training the cub to do new tricks.

    Before getting into the K/WP7 game itself, let’s quickly celebrate another great integration between the Xbox360 & Windows Phone. With Xbox Live as the glue, along with achievements and the ability to transfer your cubs from your phone to your console and vice versa, this is why every gamer should carry a Windows Phone.

    If you haven’t already bought Kinectimals – it now comes with Bears.  (Amazon)

    If you already have Kinectimals – the Bears are an add-on.  (Xbox Live)

    Either way, now there is Kinectimals for Windows Phone.  (Marketplace)

    With all of that being said, let’s talk about the K/WP7 game itself.

    In reality, K/WP7 is a revisit of the original game K/360, starting out with a cub and an empty map. Like in the original game, you can: Kinectimals_WP7

    • Care for your cub with various foods and drinks
    • Train your cub to sit, spin, jump and 20 something other tricks
    • Play catch with balls
    • Jump rope (instead of the kicking games)
    • Adorn with collars and pendants
    • Etc.

    See original Kinectimals blog post for more detail on these.

    For everything you do, you get training points which unlock additional cubs as well as new tricks, challenges, food items, and most importantly — unlock additional pieces of the map to continue your journey. In K/WP7, you’ll visit most of the same venues of the original K/360 game, including beaches, temple ruins, blossom orchards, etc.

    In lieu of the full-body controls of using Kinect, K/WP7 does a great job of using finger gestures to control your cub — with precise flicks of your finger to toss balls (with varying speed for varying distance thrown) and motions to induce the myriad of trained tricks that your cub will learn. The mini-games (challenges) test your memory and precision, though some of them can be a little finicky with the gestures.  And of course, it comes with Xbox Live achievements and gamerscore.

    In my family, my seven-year-old daughter finds K/WP7 easier and more fun than full-fledged handheld pet games (e.g. Nintendogs), my wife is obsessively fixated on winning Gold in all of the challenges and I am happy to have another immersive WP7 game that yields some pleasant downtime and some achievement points. Being able to earn new animals and send them to my 360 game is yet another perk … which, to paraphrase Pokémon, “ya gotta get ‘em all”.

    Hats off to the folks at Microsoft Game Studios for extending one of the best Kinect launch titles yet again — this time to Windows Phone.

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    November 12, 2011 · Jason · One Comment
    Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: Game Reviews, Games for Kids